I met Sheri Skanes at the Trenton Veterans Protest Rally November 6, 2010. She co-partnered in organizing the rally and afterward, she wrote the following to the editor of Belleville’s online newspaper, EMC, on Remembrance Day November 11, 2010.
I am an extremely proud military wife and supporter of our military troops, veterans and their families. On November 6, veterans and their supporters across Canada stood up and demanded changes to support our veterans and their families. I am honoured to have been one of three who volunteered to organize the National Veterans Day of Protest in Trenton.
I believe Canadians should not sit idly by while our veterans and their families suffer. We must stand up for them and demand changes to the New Veterans Charter and Veterans Affairs Canada.
Never in Canada’s history have veterans organized nationally and protested against anything, let alone against the very government that, by law, is mandated to look after them. Canadians need to know that veterans who are lucky enough to come home alive but injured (physically or psychologically) are not being cared for in the way they deserve to be cared for, nor are their families.
The other side to this is that by not supporting our veterans properly, the government is sending a message to potential recruits to our military. Why would they sign up to put their life on the line if they see their government will not take care of them if they are injured or take care of their family if they do not come home from battle?
The Canadian Forces depends on people to volunteer to step up for duty. If we don’t have recruits we won’t have a military, Mr. Harper.
We have been hearing many stories from our veterans about how the new Veterans Charter adversely affects them and the troubles they encounter in dealing with Veterans Affairs Canada. Canadians should be angry at the treatment of our aging and injured veterans by an unaccountable bureaucracy named Veterans Affairs Canada. For example, the fact that no bureaucrats have been fired as a result of the illegal access and distribution of Sean Bruyea’s confidential medical files is a “national disgrace.” Furthermore, having to fill in two and three applications because Veterans Affairs Canada has lost them, going to two and three doctors to prove their injury exists only to have a VAC doctor disagree with the diagnosis and deny their claim or low ball their benefits, is infuriating.
We have soldiers and their families who have been traumatized and are left fighting for support and help from a system that should be protecting them.
There is also another part to this story that we are hearing little about, how the military families who stand by our soldiers are affected by the New Veterans Charter. The financial and emotional toll for the wife/husband who has to quit their job to take care of the soldier who has lost both arms, the children who can no longer play soccer or run on the beach with their mommy or daddy because they have lost their legs serving our country. The family that survived off the income of the soldier who is killed in action. The babies that will never know their mommy or daddy because they were killed in action. Covering costs of bereavement services for those soldiers who do not return home. Our government needs to take care of all these families.
We support our husbands and wives when they must leave us to go to battle for months at a time. We run the household, be the mom and dad to our children while they are gone, counting the days until they come back to us, if they are lucky enough to come back to us. We are the silent victims when they come home injured or worse. We hear about honouring our troops, honouring our veterans, absolutely without question. But we should also honour the military families’ sacrifices by making sure they are taken care of and supported too.
The New Veterans Charter came into effect in June 2006 as a living charter, meaning they would continually review and evaluate the services and programs offered. In September, the government announced a series of measures to address some of the concerns of veterans (no mention of their families) and said it would be spending $200 million over five years to support the most severely injured veterans. Veterans Affairs Minister Jean Pierre Blackburn commented that the National Veterans Day of Protest is not linked to the government’s proposed changes saying, “It was organized before these changes that we’ve already been implementing in our government.” He also said “The Legions don’t support this day of protest.”
Make no mistake, we would have rallied no matter when these changes were announced because they are not good enough. It’s like throwing a dog a bone, not addressing the big issues, a band-aid quick fix. We knew the Legion did not support us, as they are no longer an organization that supports veterans. The largest percentage of their members are associates, not veterans. They sell travel insurance through Manulife Financial, the same company that owns SISP, the same company that claws back benefits to veterans. They are no longer the veterans organization they once were. It is upsetting that Mr. Blackburn refuses to acknowledge the issues we are and have been raising. The government is moving toward improving the system but the level of bureaucracy veterans and their families face is still too daunting. It is time to overhaul the whole bureaucracy that is Veterans Affairs Canada and get a Veterans Affairs Minister that stands up for our veterans and their families. It does not matter how much money the government spends on veterans if Veterans Affairs Canada does not filter the money down to those who need it. The system is broken and must be fixed now, not next year or in five years.
As Canadians, we have chosen to have a national Police Force and Military. As Canadians, we are responsible for the treatment of those who have served at our request.
To restore faith in our government’s claim they support our veterans and families, they must:
1. Address the issues facing veterans and their families under the New Veterans Charter and take action on the recommendations set forth in the June 2010 40th Parliament, third session report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs titled: “A Timely Tune-up for the Living New Veterans Charter.” By extension, all of the more than 300 recommendations regarding the NVC should be implemented.
2. The Government also must order a Royal Commission of Inquiry on Veteran Affairs and follow up on the recommendations made through this investigation.
3. Government and Veterans Affairs need to treat all veterans and their families fairly and equally, not in segregated groups, and care for the injured until the day they pass away and their families thereafter, including revising the definition of veteran to cover all personnel who serve in the capacity of military, paramilitary and related occupations on behalf of Canada. This should include military, police and civilian personnel (reservists) assigned to operations recognized as military- and security-related. Everyone designated as a veteran should be entitled to the same services and benefits regardless of where, when or how they served Canada.
4. Government needs to legislate the Office of the Veteran Ombudsman to be a Parliamentary Officer and report to Parliament in order to restore confidence in this position.
Canadians, write, email or call your local MPs and Prime Minister Harper and demand they support our injured veterans and their families by making changes to the New Veterans Charter and fixing the broken system that is Veterans Affairs Canada.