On Sunday many of us will gather around cenotaphs and in city squares for solemn ceremonies paying tribute to Canada’s service men and women. We’ll hear words like sacrifice and honour, some of them uttered by politicians.
But for some veterans they’ll ring hollow.
In 2006, Parliament unanimously passed the New Veterans Charter that changed the way injured soldiers are compensated. Instead of a lifetime pension, indexed to inflation, veterans injured after that year, or who had their injury diagnosed since then, would get a lump sum settlement.
But some injured veterans, like Burnaby’s Kevin Berry, say Canadian soldiers injured in Afghanistan, and those suffering the lingering mental and emotional effects of their tour, are getting substantially less support than they would have received with the former indexed pension.
A study by Queen’s University last year concluded most disabled soldiers will receive only two-thirds the compensation under the New Veterans Charter than they would have received from the old Pension Act.
Recently Canada’s Auditor-General criticized the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs for their shoddy treatment of injured veterans, saying the system to get them help is “complex, lengthy and challenging to navigate.”
Even in death, the indignities continue. A program that is supposed to contribute just over $3,600 to the funeral costs for destitute ex-soldiers has rejected more than two-thirds of funding requests since 2006. Even when approved, that money is still less than some social services departments will pay towards the burial of the homeless.
It’s one thing for Canada’s politicians to honour our veterans.
It’s another to treat them with honour.