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Government disengagement is killing our veterans

The following editorial was published in the Guelph Mercury, December 6, 2006.

As I write this, the Canadian military has just announced the deaths of two more Canadian soldiers in Kandahar. Reports speak with both sadness and pride about the bravery of our troops. Every one of the men and women who serve are putting their life on the line for our country. They all expect to come back. Some of them don’t.

The cavalier way Veterans Affairs Canada is dismissing the claims of soldiers who survived a horrific war 60 years ago is darkly foreboding of the consequences that today’s veterans can expect in years to come.

A lot of time will have gone by, and people will by then have forgotten the deadly trauma that fills today’s news. The passage of time will have dulled the pain. Today, that dullness has devolved into a sad disrespect for surviving veterans who fought in past conflicts.

A willingness to give your life should still mean something. But it doesn’t. Not to the bureaucracy that is Veterans Affairs.

Almost a year ago I wrote in this space about the story of Norman “Dinty” Ward, and the treatment of our war vets at the hands of Veterans Affairs Canada. But things have changed since then. They’ve gotten worse.

Since the election of the “New Government of Canada”, Veterans Affairs has consistently and systematically cut back on benefits provided to war veterans of every age. I’m not just talking about requests for new assistance. I’m talking about drugs and treatments that the department has previously approved, which are suddenly being denied. You’ll find a clue to this mentality in a vote on recent NDP-sponsored amendments to Veterans Affairs legislation, which was passed by the Commons despite Conservative party opposition.

Dinty, now 82, still resides at the Grace Christian Home in Lennoxville, Quebec—near the family farm that was deeded by King William IV in June, 1875. The Ward clan has scattered. Some live here. But Dinty and the family core continue as long-standing residents of the province of Quebec.

This is relevant because the Quebec government is doing more to assist with his care than the government of the country he ran off to defend. The Quebec health care system, its administrators and professionals—who speak mostly French and Dinty mostly English—have demonstrated a high level of compassion and financial support that recognizes the spirit, intent, and indeed, general limits, of the governing regulations.

At Veterans Affairs, it’s the exact opposite. They are nickel and diming every decision.

Virtually every medical request that has been made on Dint’s behalf has been refused. These requests are not unreasonable. They are for basic medications and dressings for chronic wounds fundamental to his care and quality of life.

His experience is not unique. The health professionals I talked to say the same thing is happening to other vets.

Decisions are being taken with little regard for the declining health of our veterans. Instead, the focus has shifted to more medical forms, and demands for overworked health care providers to fill out yet another one. Forms previously submitted and approved have to be resubmitted and reapproved.

In a classic case of “Catch 22”, Dinty’s doctor submitted a required report on his condition, indicating there had been no improvement in deep, chronic sores that Allevyn dressings had been prescribed to treat. And because there had been no improvement, Veterans Affairs cut off payment for these dressings.

If the doctor had answered that there had been improvement in the condition, I expect Veterans Affairs would have cut off the treatment as well, since the dressings would have served their purpose by then.

Decisions such as these are often appealed. In the appeals process, Veterans Affairs sends an acknowledgment, but not necessarily a decision. For example, last month Dint’s family received a pharmacy bill exceeding $600 for medications that Veterans Affairs cancelled without notification, even though they were previously approved. The pharmacy is effectively communicating the rulings of Veterans Affairs. I can only imagine the situation of a veteran who does not have an advocate working on their behalf.

Somewhere along the way, Veterans Affairs has disconnected itself from the people it is mandated to help. It’s all about forms now, not people. It‘s all about refusals, not approvals. And while we stand up and say how strongly we support our troops in Afghanistan, how strongly will we support them when they return home? They too will grow old. How long will it take before we forget their sacrifices?

I read with interest a Canadian Press article on Remembrance Day, about our Canadian military staging a training exercise by storming a beach in North Carolina at a cost of $19-million. The article finished by saying: “No military exercise has come this close to the major operations of the Second World War, such as the D-Day landings in Normandy and the Dieppe raid.”

It wasn’t a training exercise for our World War II veterans.

Small-minded policies administered by desensitized people are helping drive our veterans into the ground. They all have to die one day. Sometimes it’s at the hands of the enemy. Sometimes it’s facilitated by the disengagement of the government of a nation they once served.

©Garrett Klassen is president of Crunch! Communications in Elora, Ontario, Canada.



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