Why should we care what happens to our veterans?
If you ask that question, you will likely be the recipient of a good telling-off by those who think anyone who serves is a hero. However, some feel that blind hero-worship is both off-putting and non-responsive. Perhaps some are heroes, but are they all? And are they really defending our freedom? And, if so, then so what? Is it not like any other job? They didn't have to enlist. They knew what they were signing up for. Why should we care?
So lets strip away all talk of patriotism and freedom and democracy and stick to something we can all understand. Lets examine the question using enlightened self interest: what do our soldiers and Mounties do for us?
The RCMP provide safety and security. They patrol in dark corners and remote locations, applying the rule of law. Lesser known, but just as significant, are the search-and-rescue and safety patrols they conduct.
In a blizzard, on a highway, you will often find one of the Mounted hard at work, ensuring motorists don't ignore the Road Closed Sign and drive into danger. The RCMP use ground patrols and helicopters to find missing people. They pull victims from frozen lakes and carry them out of wilderness. They rush into danger to save people from harm.
The Forces perform similar tasks here in Canada, but on a bigger scale. The Canadian Forces, by dint of numbers and resources, can rescue entire cities from trouble. They hold back the floods in Winnipeg. They clear snow from blocked streets in Toronto. They deliver supplies and heat during ice-storms in Quebec and Nova Scotia. They fight forest fires in BC and re-build hurricane-destroyed roads in Newfoundland. They jump out of helicopters into the Arctic sea and North Atlantic to save sailors from drowning. They get food and medical supplies to every corner of the country, whenever people are in trouble.
But what makes them different? We have other police, firefighters, first-responders. Why do we need the Forces and RCMP? Couldn't we get rid of them; download the work to the others?
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with veterans following Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk salutes after laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Soldiers parade in front of the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony Friday, November 11, 2011 in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)
A man wraps a thermal blanket around a veteran to fight off the cold as they take part in a Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Two Canadian soldiers comfort each other as they pay their respects to a fallen comrade at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field.
Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay lays a touches one of the plaques at the war memorial during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday, November 11, 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
A soldier pays his respects to fallen comrades at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.
Sgt, Renay Groves, from St. John's Nfld, 21 Elecrtonic Warfare Regiment, sheds a tear during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.
People come to a halt to observe a minute's silence as a lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on Nov. 11, 2011.
A lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection as cars and people come to a halt to observe a minute's silence on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on November 11, 2011.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh greets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, salutes during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London.
Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, notices the mascot of the 3rd and 4th battalions of The Mercian Regiment 'L/Col Watchman V', a staffordshire bull terrier, as he meets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.
A veteran pays his respects as he takes part in the two minute silence at the National Memorial Arboretum on Armstice day on November 11, 2011 in Alrewas, United Kingdom. Sir James Hawley KCVO, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, led the list of dignitaries at the Armed Forces Memorial during Armistice Day commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.
We could, sure. But in order to make it work, these other groups would have to assume the same employment condition: unlimited liability. Unlimited Liability refers to the agreement one makes upon enlistment. One agrees to serve, to obey instructions, without regard to personal safety. This means that, no matter how dangerous the circumstance, you run in. Charge across that mine field? No problem. Jump 30' from a helicopter to the frigid ocean? You got it. Snowshoe through a blizzard to bring medicine to a stormbound community, despite the - 109 wind-chill? Sure thing.
The RCMP and Forces serve with the understanding, not that they might be injured, but that they will be injured. They expect to be a broken wreck by the time their enlistment is up, and just as likely, well before. They accept that role because they know that their sacrifice often means lives are saved. They understand that, in dangerous situations, someone has to get in and do what is needed. And that these jobs can only be done effectively by those who have been trained to disregard personal safety.
Even if we disbanded the Forces and Mounted, the work that they do and the ways it must be done will remain. Disbanding the RCMP and Forces would require us to find replacements who would serve under the same exact terms. The only thing downloading services would accomplish would be changing the name of the operators.
Which brings us to our treatment of veterans.
Given the principle of unlimited liability, we cannot escape our duty to those that serve. They agree to take personal damage up to, and including, giving their lives in service to us all. Therefore, it follows that we all have unlimited responsibility to look after for those who serve when those damages occur.
A responsibility which we have been evading for decades. Perhaps a century.
The myriad ways we have found to duck out cannot be listed here. But that list has been growing since 2006, when the New Veterans Charter put limits on the pain-and.-suffering award. Government continues to find ways to short-change veterans: fighting them in court, cutting service delivery, even violating their privacy to gain an upper hand. We keep putting limits on our responsibility after the individual has already given their body and mind for us.
Not only is this grotesquely unfair, it is also really bad for our future. If you ask around, you will find that military and police services are still largely family businesses -- the children of members will likely enlist themselves. Our recruitment forecasts count on that. So what happens when we short-change the veterans?
Veterans that are parents and relatives will tell their children not to enlist, that there is no honour is serving such a callous and uncaring nation. Other veterans will talk to their friends about what happened, about how they sacrificed for their country and their county tossed them away like trash. A massive word-of-mouth campaign. A veteran's story is precious to anyone considering joining up. As these horror stories get out, recruit may change their minds about signing up with the Mounties or Forces.
There goes our future recruitment.
This is already happening. Some veterans are telling their kids to do anything -- be plumbers, work fast-food, sweep streets -- anything other than put their lives on the line for us. Every failure of benefits or inappropriate incident at Veterans Affairs pushes those future recruits further away.
And those other forces? The ones you think would replace the RCMP and military? They have been watching as well. They know what we are doing to our veterans. I doubt they would be quick to leap into the breech.
If we don't start fixing the issues at Veterans Affairs, if we don't start providing proper and timely benefits to our veterans, then one day soon, we may not have a national police force or a military. We won't have anyone to save us, to help us, to keep us from danger. We will be left to our own devices.
Next week: So what if veterans are angry?
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