POLITICS

Injured soldier given release after speaking out to MPs

06/11/2013 08:52 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT
Cpl. Glen Kirkland is hoping it's all just a coincidence.

After testifying last week at a Parliamentary committee hearing into the care of Canada's ill and injured soldiers, Kirkland was issued release papers from the military on Friday. Canadian Forces members can be released for a variety of reasons, including reductions in strength, completion of service or being unsuited for future service.

"I wasn't expecting it," Kirkland said Monday. "I am not technically being punished, but I feel like I am."

Kirkland said he has been told in the past to watch what he says about the military.

In spite of this, the 29-year-old soldier spoke emotionally about surviving a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan five years ago. Three of the five soldiers travelling with him were killed. Kirkland suffered hearing loss, vision problems and a brain injury that left him dependent on insulin. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He told the Standing Committee on National Defence last Wednesday, "I can't handle the anxiety of being around crowds. Survivor's guilt haunts me every day. When I was in the hospital in Afghanistan, I spoke to my father on the phone. My dad said, 'Don't worry. Canada will take care of you. You stepped up like we always have and you did your part, and Canada will do its part. It's only fair. Everything will work out.' My dad was wrong. I am broken and can't be a productive, useful soldier."

After speaking in Ottawa, he said he received hundreds of messages of support and was praised for his conduct when he showed up at CFB Shilo, his base in Manitoba.

But the timing of the release papers, which would mean Kirkland's military career would end in six months, have left him with lots of questions.

Kirkland said if he is released from the military he doesn't know what will happen to him or his medical bills.

"I have complex medical issues. I have all these question marks that haven't been answered. No one has told me what happens when you get released or how my medical costs will be covered," Kirkland said.

Raised in the House

In the House of Commons Monday, Liberal defence critic John McKay asked the Minister of National Defence whether he would protect Kirkland's career in the military in light of the release documents.

Peter Mackay told the House any veteran injured in combat will not be released as a result of those injuries, and said he was interested in helping. And he accused the Liberal MP of trying to score political points.

"I think everyone would be better off had the honourable member chosen to contact my office on behalf of this individual and we could work productively with him, which, of course, I'm very anxious to do on behalf of Cpl. Kirkland. "

Kirkland said he is a fan of Peter Mackay's, still trusts the government and is hopeful it will do the right thing.

But, he said, the issue goes beyond just his case. He wants to make sure all wounded soldiers get all the help they need.

In the meantime, he said he has declined the military release and hopes to be able stay for the next year so he will be eligible for a partial military pension.

Kirkland's father, both of his grandfathers and his great-grandfather served in the Canadian military. When asked what an early end to his career would mean, he told the Defence committee, "It would be devastating, because I have a long, rich military history. It would be absolutely devastating."