Kenneth H. Young has been contributing to the NEW SERIES explaining veterans’ issues. Today, his post requires special promotion, more than the NEW SERIES provides. Political waters are churning and for the first time conditions favour veterans’ issues, but to gain entitlement, veterans have to regroup together, refuel and power up their engines for the long course home. Everything depends on you now. Your representatives and advocates have done their part. BONNIE
To be heard, or not to be heard. That is both the question and now the choice.
Yesterday April 2nd. 2011 was a special day.
It was special because Veterans across Canada were, I believe for the first time, given a chance to put up or shut up.
Until now, we have been condemned to carry on moaning and groaning over veterans’ issues, letter writing and hoping that possibly some day we might be heard.
Well! We have been heard, understood and acknowledged. Are we willing to take YES for an answer?
Yesterday, Mr. Jack Layton leader of the Federal NDP, publically presented his election platform concerning Veterans issues, and it covered a significant number of the concerns that have rallied Veterans to protest nationwide. Their growing advocacy formed about five years ago, when both the CFB Gagetown Chemical defoliation program was first made public and the time when the New Veterans Charter (NVC) came into effect.
On August 17th of last year Pat Stogran, committed what amounted to political suicide, in order to let the rest of Canada know the truth about both Ottawa and Veterans Affairs Canada‘s mistreatment of our Canadian Veterans. Veterans’ advocates such as Sean Bruyea (most notable for his work against the New Veterans Charter and the VAC Bureaucratic invasion of his privacy), Dennis Manuge (most notable for his ongoing work with the SISIP Claw-back issue), me (who has fought for recognition and compensation for the Rainbow Chemicals sprayed at CFB Gagetown) and 40 other veterans advocates who had been protesting their respective issues with VAC and Ottawa, joined Pat in Ottawa for that press conference.
We didn’t join Col. Stogran to help him commit Seppuku (hara-kiri) or because our egos needed air time. We joined Pat to try and inform Canadians about how bad our plight really was, how far down the sink hole our treatment had gone, because they weren’t paying attention and, in most cases, neither were Veterans. I am not sure how many Canadians this press conference actually woke up, but it did rile Veterans. They, in dozens of locations all across Canada, in turn organized the November 6th nationwide rally that demanded Veterans issues be fairly and equitably dealt with.
I admit even I believed that the government had been listening and was in the process of dealing with Veterans’ issues. Announcement after announcement came out. Billions of dollars were promised and even changes to the New Veterans Charter were proposed. Month after month we continued to hear the same things followed by “soon.”
Finally some small changes were replayed, re-evaluated and redrafted. This resulted in a plan called Bill C-55. But, like the NVC, it was shoved through parliament before anyone had a chance to read let alone understand the fine print. In general, however, although C-55 may help a few more veterans, it changes very little because everything still depends on decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Veterans Review and Appeals Board (VRAB) – the very same and still unchanged politically appointed or bureaucratically challenged departments, who have long since demonstrated if not outright decided that they are working for Revenue Canada in order to protect the National purse, rather than for Veterans and their legitimate pension and service needs.
Now here we are in an election, and we advocates have been furiously writing letters, calling politicians, going to political campaign rallies, talking behind closed doors with any party and political staffer who would lend us an ear. We have demanded that all candidates and their Party Leaders make their intentions on Veterans issues publicly known.
Why? So Veterans and their families and serving Military personal can make a decision on how to vote on election day.
Barring any cosmic event, there have only been two parties who have seriously addressed Veterans issues in this election so far: The NDP, who covered almost all of our issues, and the Green Party, who also covered many but not all of our important issues. Yes, the Tories did, in passing, sort of mention half-heartedly a Helmets-to-Hard Hats plan (also in the NDP announcement) and the Grits did bring up the suggestion of further education (also in the NDP announcements) but that was as far as the two leading parties would go.
You see, although Veterans are in fact a very large voting block, it has not yet been tried, let alone proven that we veterans can actually deliver votes let alone seats in an election.
Seven hundred thousand Veterans — I repeat . . . seven hundred thousand Vets and their families can, if they vote as a block, not necessarily for a particular party but on a specific issue, CAN change the results of any election.
This is political power. This is “Veterans Issues” power.
And that is now, and will be from now on, the difference in any future election. The promises made to Veterans during the elections and whether these promises are kept after the election will be monitored.
If taking care of Veterans means seats in the House of Commons, all parties will be soliciting our votes.
However, if we can’t show them that we do make a difference, if we can’t prove that dealing with Veterans Issues will help get them elected, we will continue to be ignored.
It stands to reason. If there is no political gain in taking care of Veterans, serving Soldiers, and RCMP officers, no party will bother.
Let’s face it. Although there are a number of wonderful MPs who will always have our best interests at heart, (no names needed, we all know who they are) most politicians base their promises on the question, “Will this get me elected?”
It is a good paying job, but if our elected members cannot stay in for two full terms, they don’t get a government pension for time served. A minority government, although most often better for Canadians, is not very secure for elected Members of Parliament.
So, to make a long story short, we Veterans need to decide if . . .
1. We are going to show Ottawa that offering to take care of Veterans and their issues is a politically rewarding decision, or
2. Veterans issues are politically irrelevant.
Remember our decision here will change the political landscape for years and for many elections to come. We either show Ottawa and the Political Parties that Veterans issues matter, that it is sound political strategy to care for veterans, or go back to the way things were.
The choice is yours.
Lest we forget.
Kenneth H. Young CD