Commentary - soldiers deserve better
By: David Haas
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 06:00 am
William Shakespeare was blunt about rulers’ ingratitude towards their wounded soldiery. “I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered,” exclaimed Falstaff at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, “there’s not three of my hundred and fifty left alive, and they are for the town’s end, to beg during life.” Shakespeare was looking back nearly two centuries but the governmental approach hadn’t changed by his time.
Official indifference to war veterans was still in vogue after the Crimean War nearly 260 years later. Kipling’s scathing 1890 poem The Last of The Light Brigade looked at the destitute survivors of the famous charge at Balaclava in 1854. He didn’t mention anything worse than scars, probably by then those with graver wounds would have been dead. In point of fact we have an ongoing reminder of the lack of provision for combat amputees in those days. The still active Corps of Commissionaires was formed by a compassionate retired officer in 1859 from seven men all lacking an arm from the Crimean War or the 1857 rebellion in India. The new organization let such men earn a decent and honourable living.
The First World War left quite a few amputees who needed assistance with living. By then there were pensions – but there were problems. Locally this led in January 1920 to the formation of the Edmonton Veterans’ Amputation Association, whose aims included helping members to secure employment, and rendering what financial assistance it could. By the end of the year the group had 92 members, about evenly split between the capital and elsewhere in northern Alberta. Their president pointed out that perhaps only a quarter of the people in the province had any idea of the mistakes made by the pension authorities. One full disability pensioner was denied an additional helplessness allowance – despite tuberculosis and the loss of two legs. The president said sarcastically that the man should have lost two arms instead.
I don’t know what became of the Edmonton group, but another organization founded after the First World War, then furnished with a fresh crop of combat amputees after the Second World War, has done useful work to assist former service wounded then widened its scope efforts to help child amputees. That is the War Amputations of Canada. As previously noted in this column [May 27, 2006] the government of Alberta disgracefully denied the War Amps continued access to the motor vehicle registration information they had long used to carry on their funding campaign.
That year also marked the introduction of the federal government’s assault on our recent wounded with the new Veterans Charter, which substituted a single lump sum payment for injuries rather than lifetime care – this when medical advances have saved many hideously wounded soldiers who would have died in earlier conflicts, often leaving a greater need for ongoing care. Veterans groups have largely, and some vociferously, opposed the changes.
On June 6 veterans observed the D-Day anniversary by demonstrating on Parliament Hill against the new policy. Major Mark Campbell of Edmonton, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, has called the government’s return to war on the cheap a “grotesque travesty.” Soldiers who have put their lives on the line in the country’s cause and come back with ruined minds or bodies deserve better.
David Haas has served in both the regular and reserve army.