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Harper government's shame

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 06:00 am

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All Canadians, regardless of race, gender, age or social class, can agree on one thing, if nothing else: this nation’s war veterans have performed courageously and impressively in every theatre of conflict they’ve ever entered.

Well, almost all Canadians would agree with that. It would appear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, based purely on their comments and actions, are not among those who admire and respect Canada’s war veterans.

The Royal Canadian Legion, a proud organization that’s strongly represented Canada’s fighting men and women for decades, had to physically appear before the House of Commons earlier in March to decry the recently-amended New Veterans Charter, which was brought into play in 2006 by a Harper government that claimed to value veterans and their contribution to Canadian society.

The charter went through a five-year overhaul when it was revealed that, in essence, it took money away from veterans with pensions with its “one lump sum” approach which, no doubt, was introduced to save the government money.

Apparently the charter also neglected to include any communication strategy with veterans and their families to notify them of programs and services they have a right to access.

As if not getting respect isn’t bad enough, it also seems obvious that Canada’s veterans of Afghanistan are not getting the emotional and social support they need at home. There is an epidemic of suicide among veterans returning from Afghanistan.

On Dec. 25, 2013, retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern, 51, took her own life. In an interview with a reporter, MacEachern’s spouse said his wife’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms manifested after “protracted battles” with Veterans Affairs over medical benefits, and that she was having trouble living a “normal” life.

“She felt there was no hope as no one seemed to be addressing the root causes of her condition,” he told the reporter.

Further, MPs in the House of Commons went after Harper’s government, the Conservative government that claims to pride itself on the excellent treatment of military veterans, after it was revealed about two months ago that eight veterans or former members of the Armed Forces died by suicide between December 2013 and January 2014, about one a week.

Then there was the one-cent cheque episode. Justin Stark, an Afghanistan war veteran, committed suicide in the John W. Foote VC Armouries in Hamilton in October 2011. This year, his mother was sent a one-cent cheque from the federal Public Works department and the cheque was emblazoned “Canadian Forces release pay,” as some kind of sick “insensitive bureaucratic screw-up,” claimed Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson.

Really, the number of veterans in Canada is not large. Canada has one of the smallest militaries of the NATO or western nations. Yet Harper’s government pinches pennies while millions of dollars are made available for perks, golden handshakes, expense accounts and severance for politicians whose contribution to this nation is always questionable.

The men and women who’ve served in Canada’s military are some of the finest human beings ever produced in this country. The Harper government must start treating them that way.


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