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How the Throne Speech Buried Veterans

10/22/2013 12:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The Speech from the Throne was a major disappointment for most people. Too long, too lacking in substance, and too little good news. To Canada's veterans, who were hoping for some indication the Harper government was going to address their issues, the Throne Speech was a big flop.

In case you missed it -- and you might have, if you went to the kitchen or something -- here's the total message for vets:

As our Government takes these steps, it will always keep faith with those who have defended Canada with pride. Our veterans have stood up for us; we will stand by them. Our Government has made unprecedented investments to support our veterans.

Our Government has:

• Increased support through its enhanced Veterans Charter;

• Ensured dignified funerals for our injured veterans;

• Reduced red tape so veterans can access the benefits they need; and

• Invested almost five billion additional dollars in benefits and programs.

Our Government has worked to help returning veterans re-establish themselves. We will:

• Reach out to homeless veterans and help give them the support they need; and

• Build on our successful "Helmets to Hardhats" program to place veterans in good jobs.

That's it, a total of 10 sentences. Only 2 say anything about Harper's plans, balanced by an equal number of empty platitudes. The other 6 sentences are self-congratulatory backslapping: more meaningless rhetoric from a government which appears to think supporting veterans is as simple as saying those words over and over.

Let's examine the Conservatives' "points of pride."

Increased support through the New Veterans Charter -- This is the program that has superseded the old Pension Act. The same program that has veterans across Canada crying foul. The same program that replaced lifetime pensions for pain and suffering with a one-time lump sum award worth far less. The same program that has veterans suing us. (I don't know about you, but I don't like my government wasting my money fighting my veterans in court. It feels wrong, it looks wrong, and dammit, it is wrong.) Veterans have been speaking out about the New Veterans Charter since before it was implemented, and still are. I wouldn't rush to herald this a success.... especially since it requires a comprehensive review.

Reduced red tape so veterans can access the benefits they need. -- Reduced red tape. Well, they reduced the bureaucracy anyway -- they closed VAC offices where veterans might go and get help filling out paperwork. In the offices' place, Veterans Affairs is strongly recommending its new smart-phone app. This is a great comfort to veterans who cannot afford a smart phone or tablet because they cannot access their entitlements. Or, VAC suggests, one might visit its web portal and apply that way. Again, a massive comfort to veterans who are too poor to own a computer and/or internet connection. Let's not forget, Harper shut down the Community Access Program a while back, so it's not like veterans can rely on going to the library or community centre to apply. The Conservatives haven't eliminated red tape -- they've digitized it.

Invested almost five billion additional dollars in benefits and programs. -- A fine claim, but since veterans face major problems accessing these -- or any -- funds, increased investment is a lot like telling a 4-year-old that his birthday present is $100...deposited into his education savings plan. If the benefits and programs are not paying out, then increased investment simply means government is using VAC as a savings account.

Enough nausea-inducing vapidities; let's look at the promises:

Reach out to homeless veterans and help give them the support they need. -- This is a fine commitment and it has inspired hope in the charities which deal with homeless veterans. However -- and this is a big however -- Parliament doesn't know how many homeless veterans there are. And Parliament has made no effort to find out. Groups like VETS Canada have sprung up entirely because government was neglecting homeless veterans. So the question is: How does Harper plan to reach out and support homeless veterans when he can't find them?

Build on our successful "Helmets to Hardhats" program to place veterans in good jobs. -- How do you measure success? According to a survey published in August, only 16% of Canadian employers are making an effort to hire veterans. Only 13% of HR Departments knew how to interpret military qualifications. And only 4% of companies are planning on creating a hiring initiative. So where's the success?

There's always been something vaguely unsettling about this program, anyway. If I understand it correctly, the plan is to take Forces veterans -- many of whom have developed, at minimum, knee and back trouble as the result of full-kit marches -- and put them to work in the building trades, where the most common injuries are to the knees and back. Which makes me wonder if Helmets to Hardhats isn't a long-term scheme to deny veterans coverage. In 10 years, is VAC going to be turning down these veterans, saying their injuries don't come from service but from working construction? I only bring that up because I happen to know a veteran of the Cyprus conflict -- a long-service Forces member going back to the days before ear protection on the ranges -- who has been repeatedly denied hearing-aid coverage on the basis that he worked construction after he got out. VAC feels the use of power tools, and not the artillery and gunfire, is responsible for that vet's hearing damage. Is Helmets to Hardhats simply laying the groundwork for similar denials?

That's it for government commitments in this Throne Speech: help for homeless veterans Harper isn't looking for; more money for a jobs program that employers aren't embracing and which could be used against the very veterans it is supposed to help.

But the Harper government is standing by our veterans. It even says so, right in the throne speech! Funny, last year the Harper government was supporting veterans -- the Conservatives said so every Question Period. Now it is just standing by veterans. What is it going to take to get the Conservatives to actually help them?

But there's one more line in the speech to discuss: the second pat-on-the-back, regarding veterans' funerals.

The Last Post Fund is a major bone of contention. It's supposed to ensure impoverished veterans receive dignified funerals -- but the program is failing. The Conservatives claim to have fixed it by pouring in more money. They didn't, however, change the qualifying criteria, which is a major problem as two-thirds of applicants are rejected. The Conservatives even voted down a private member's bill designed to fix that.

The Throne Speech, however, hints at something sinister:

"Our Government has... Ensured dignified funerals for our injured veterans"

When did we start burying the injured? Was this merely poor phrasing? Or is the Harper government planning to euthanize injured veterans instead of helping them?

Some say the lack of support by this government amounts to the same thing.

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