If we understand what is happening at various hospitals designated for veterans across the country, it seems efforts are being made to phase them out. Two have been specifically mentioned, Parkwood Hospital in London, Ontario, and St. Annes in Montreal, Quebec. The goal appears to be to integrate them with civilian services, but veterans have different needs as well as difference experiences from the civilian population. One-size treatment does not fit all circumstances. For administrators to even suggest such plans shows an alarming and dangerous ignorance of the real needs of veterans.
As more and more potential recruits come to understand how poorly the government treats their own soldiers once their tour of service is up, the calibre of people who have, up until now, made the Canadian Forces recognized as the best fighting teams and best peacekeepers in the world will drop off significantly. It’s difficult to imagine what thinking person would volunteer to go in harm’s way for a government that does not look after its own.
For this reason I have invited Cpl. Kenneth H. Young CD (ret) to post his comments on this issue of closing VAC hospitals. Cpl. Young, who was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration for 12 years of continuous good record, says he knows what is it like to be a lab rat. He was a victim of Agent Orange in Gagetown and, because of the resulting effects, has died almost twice. He joined the military in 1965 and was medically released in 1977. Fluent in English, French and German plus a smattering of other languages, Cpl. Young was posted to UN peacekeeping duties in Cyprus with 1 RCR in 1966/67 and on returning to Canada left for 2 RCR Germany for better then four years. Upon returning to London, Ontario, 1RCR, in 1974, he was admitted to the Westminister VAC Hospital, sister to Parkwood. There he underwent a series of operations but dropped to 63 pounds and was sent home in 1975 to die.
Well, guess what? He didn’t. His spirit became the driving force behind a Group Home for Out-of-Control Teens he and his wife opened in northwestern Ontario. When his health began to fail again, he and his wife of 42 years retired to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, B.C. He is an active writer for the Agent Orange Association of Canada, and is a member of the UN soldiers of Canada, Royal Canadian Legion, NATO soldiers, RCR association, and Veterans of Canada. Part of the Veterans Ombudsman’s team, which held the August 17 press conference that drew Canadians and veterans together in their planned national protest November 6 for improved treatment, services and compensation, he spoke after the Ombudsman as the first Veteran to speak on the Agent Orange issue.
Cpl. Young’s battle to survive under the government’s failing veterans’ system is testament to his persistence and some might say stubborness to live as completely as he can. Here are his comments about the proposed closings.
This like the VAC pension system has been like a never ending cancer for veterans all across Canada, as our federal government continues to balance the budget on the backs of Canada’s veterans. After all, except for a very few federal ridings, veterans don’t make up enough of the voter block to make much if any difference to the election of MPs, and therefore not many politicians bother with veterans’ issues.
The closing of VAC Hospitals all across Canada started shortly after the amalgamation of the military branches and the disbanding of the Black Watch, Queen’s Own Rifles and most of the Guards Regiments and went hand-in-hand with the deterioration of the Armoured Corp, Artillery and was followed with the crushing disbanding of the Airborne Regiment.
Ottawa (regardless of who was in power) had found a way to save money without any political consequences. Nobody likes the cost of a peacetime military nor the cost of caring for broken and damaged veterans of past wars and definitely not for veterans who fought in non-officially-recognized wars such as the cold war or UN peacekeeping missions like Bosnia or Rwanda or the Gulf War. Heck, most Canadians including MPs in Ottawa do not even consider soldiers who weren’t in WW I or II a veteran at all.
The responsibility of hospital care for those on military disability pensions are still being farmed out to civilian interests such as insurance companies and provincial medical plans. In most cases, the cost hasn’t changed but Ottawa can now place the cost in the provincial transfer column and get bonus points for it, rather then in the column containing the cost of maintaining a Canadian Military. It’s number shuffling, but it costs the tax payers exactly the same, if not more, because of administration expenses. Even the provincial leaders benefit because, even though it may cost them more, they can claim that they got billions ( a great vote getter) in concessions from Ottawa.
We can’t really blame the present government because this has been going on for better then 50 years, except for the fact that they are in a position to stop this deterioration to veterans’ services and aren’t. We can’t really place the blame on any one given political party but we also can not hold any party blameless. Let us never forget that the NVC was voted in unanimously and although the Liberals and Conservatives are the only two parties ever to lead this country, there were often minority governments held up by the NDP, Bloc and, before them, by the Social Credit Party.
This is not now, nor has it ever been a one-party issue. All parties love to fiddle with the numbers and they all like to take credit for cost savings regardless of whether they are actual or just perceived savings, as long as it has no political cost.
Soon, just like veterans’ pensions, there will be no more veteran-dedicated medical facilities in Canada. Although this may not sound like a big deal, how many hospitals are equipped or staffed to actually deal with military issues or the type of injuries soldiers come home with? Do we really expect our veterans and soldiers to stand in line with as much as a one-year waiting time after all that they have already done and given up for this country?
Not being a large enough voting block to afford changes to Ottawa shouldn’t be the reason why Canada abandons their soldiers and veterans. Not liking the idea of war shouldn’t be the reason for cutting veterans services. If Ottawa wishes to maintain a military, if Ottawa wishes to have the moral and legal right to send our young men and women off to war or into harm’s way, then they need to continue to increase their responsibilities and commitments to the brave Canadians in uniform.
Cpl. Kenneth H. Young CD (ret)