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Why You Should Look At Injured Veterans Before You Write Off Unions

03/01/2015 11:37 EST | Updated 05/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Just over a year has passed since I began working for Joe Comartin, Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh, working with Essex County veterans. With the closure of the Windsor office, a total of nine Veterans Affairs offices were closed around the country, representing $5 million in operating costs. Further, the $1.4 billion in lapsed funding, however, could have kept those offices open for well over two hundred years. This is not where the government will be saving most of its money. The real savings will be from the soldiers who will not being able to get the services they are entitled to.

I call the areas that used to have an office "Veteran Dead Zones" and encourage any soldier who will have to rely on Veterans Affairs to avoid living in these areas. The frustrating experiences that soldiers have to endure at the hands of an overworked understaffed offices only serves to exasperate soldiers further, resulting in a refusal to seek the services required. In essence, the government saves $5-million in operating costs, but the savings in providing the services will be in the tens of millions of dollars. To support my point, I want to highlight some of the cases that I have worked in the last year.

While working for Joe, I have helped soldiers apply for benefits, filled out their paper work, and provided advice and support for the multiple stalling techniques and denials soldiers endured. To be sure, it's not if you are treated with disrespect, it is when. For example, one of my first cases was an already open file that Joe's staff has had since 2010. A British artillery soldier that served in World War II who still has shrapnel in his body. He emigrated from England in the 1950s and only recently began to experience health issues that he claims are related to his service in the war. The issue that arose from this case was whether or not he subject to Canadian benefits because he served in the English army. After a simple search of the Veterans Affairs own website, I was able to find that the member qualifies for VAC as:

a former member of His Majesty's forces, or of any of the forces, other than resistance groups, of any of His Majesty's allies or powers associated with His Majesty in World War I or World War II, who

1. served during either of those wars during the period set out in paragraph 37(10)(b) or (c), as the case may be, of the War Veterans Allowance Act,

2. has resided in Canada for a total period of at least 10 years,

3. does not meet the Canadian domicile requirements of subsection 37(4) of that Act, and

4. served in a theatre of actual war as defined in subsection 37(8) of that Act, or receives a pension for an injury or disease incurred or aggravated during service in any such force during either of those wars or accepted a commuted pension.

I simply had to write a parliamentary inquiry on behalf of this soldier and bring his case to the attention of the Minister's office.

Another case I have been working on involves a former soldier who served in the 1960s and, while on a training exercise, was struck by lightning. Failures within the Canadian Department of National Defence have proved that there is no record of this on file and he has been fighting with Veterans Affairs for over 50 years now. The legion paid for his hearing aids, not Veterans Affairs. Further, Veterans Affairs say they have a medical file a man with the same name as their proof that his hearing is fine. The only way he can bring any attention to this file is if some of the soldiers who served with him are still alive to write witness statements about his injury. Some of the names that he remembers are Basterville, Collier, Hooker, and Reid. Fifty years after being struck by lightning, this man's struggles is the embodiment of the triple DDD policy, Delay Deny and Die.

Finally, there is the case of Robyn Young. Her story was brought to me by a Frank Favot as he was going door to door with the hopes of becoming the next Ward 2 Councillor during Windsor's 2014 municipal election. That is when he met Ms. Robyn Young and brought her story to my attention. Eight years ago, Ms. Young joined the reserves at the age of 16, and four years ago, while on a full time contract, she started to seek medical assistance for headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms. She was sent for a surgery to correct this, but the end result was worse because she did not actually have the condition the Medical Officer diagnosed. She had a surgery that she did not need, and at no time during her illness did the medical doctor order a cat scan. She now struggles daily with vomiting and vision issues as she has uncorrected binocular vision impairment as a result of the surgery. This is the very definition of malpractice. Finally, four years after she initially began complaining about the symptoms, she lost consciousness after completing her yearly fitness test. After that, a civilian hospital performed a cat scan and found a slow growing tumour on her brain and she went into emergency surgery within 48 hours. Her mother, then living in Windsor, Ontario, had to travel across the country on her own dime to be there for Robyn.

Because Robyn was no longer under contract and despite the failures she had to endure while on full time reserve contract, she was not covered in any capacity by the military. In fact, her mother had to rent a U-Haul and drive her daughter and all of her belongings across the country back to Windsor Ontario. Only recently has her medication, costing $1,000 a month started to be covered. Even after their story received national media attention and brought to Parliament Hill where Conservative MPs answered questions about the failure to help Ms. Young did she feel like her life was moving in a positive direction. This week, however, exasperation set back in while she was trying to move back to Victoria to begin her rehabilitation with the doctors she had developed a repertoire with. Upon her arrival to Victoria there was no representative from DND there to meet her at the airport and there had been no accommodations arranged for her as she had been told. Instead, NDP MP Murray Rankin picked her up and is putting her up at his residence until her living situation can be arranged.

I have just given you three examples of soldiers, living in the Windsor area, who have been treated so poorly -- one that was injured in battle, another during a training exercise, and another soldier who got sick. Each come from different generations and their backgrounds vary. The only constant in each of their narratives is this: when they were down and out and turned to their country for help they were each met with the same poor, ineffective and disrespectful treatment.

This is why I am a proud of the NDP. I have taken heat from those I have served with. Lifelong conservative family members have called me a communist and make fun of the colour orange. Through it all, whether it was my own nine-year pension struggle or those for whom I have been hired to help, there has only been one party that truly showed they care and that has been the NDP. These are people like Joe Comartin who recognized the need to hire me to help the soldiers who will fall further down the cracks with the closure of our Veterans Affairs office. Or Peter Stoffer who relentlessly advocates for our cause. Or Murray Rankin who would go to the airport and pick up a sick veteran and lets her stay at his own house.

Brian Masse NDP MP for Windsor West summed it up best as to how heartless the decision to close the Windsor Veterans Affairs office was. At his nomination meeting he stated in his speech that "During the height of the Afghanistan war Essex County was hit hard by the recession. As the manufacturing sector crumbled and our youth unemployment rates were in the double digits. The government capitalized on this and upped their level of recruitment in the area. Windsor's sons and daughters answered their countries call to arms, only with the expectation that if injured they would be cared for. The thanks they got was the closure of their office."

If anyone ever wonders what their lives would be like without union representation I argue that they need not look any further than the plight of the injured veteran. The veteran community has the potential of being a tremendous ally to the Unions. It is not just the veteran community the Conservative government is building the coalition that is going to bring them down. The unions, post office, our health care system, the scientific community, our environment, indigenous women, the manufacturing sector, the CBC, and our pensions are all under attack. Do not allow Canada to continue down this current path. I dare say I do not recognize the country I went to fight for. The ideals that I held to be true when I went to war are no longer a reality. A nation based on greed will not survive morally, economically or politically.

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