General, might I offer up that, at the heart of the problem of suicide in the Forces, is that soldiers feel trapped and with no way out? That the widespread stigma against mental injury and illness, that the attitude you present -- that helping is coddling, and that your condescending attitude exemplifies the problem which soldiers face?
There is a stark contrast between what Veterans want and need, and what the Harper Government is presenting. Veterans need benefits, pensions, enough money to live on, and assistance accessing programs. Veterans are in crisis across Canada -- mental health crisis, financial crisis, family crisis resulting from both -- and deserve help. Decorated Veterans are suing Canada for not providing for them; a shameful situation which decent people would settle quickly. What has Harper offered? No jobs, more expensive health plans, more emphasis on the depersonalized VAC web service.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's behaviour towards a group of veterans last week disgusted me. And, when he blamed his behaviour on the actions of a union I became outraged. The union may very well have told the veterans a one-sided story about how their poor members are being hard done-by. That doesn't excuse the minister's behaviour. As a free public service for cabinet ministers and others in leadership roles, I'm going to offer up some completely unsolicited advice, right here, right now, at no charge. When a veteran is angry with you for being late, you say, "I'm sorry."
In seven days, Canada lost four soldiers to suicide. They died of despair. Suffering mental wounds from their service, able to foresee the end of their careers but unable to see how they could survive after, they succumbed to their injuries and took their own lives. We might give it fancy clinical names, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Operational Stress Injury, but that doesn't change the condition: broken mind.
Our veterans deserve better than this. A dated criterion, initially aimed at WWII and Korean veterans is sadly, becoming less relevant to the needs of the current day. The Conservatives must step up their efforts and remodel these criteria in order to cater to the real needs of our modern-day heroes.
For a soldier, the battle does not end once you leave the warzone. I will be fighting the effects of my injuries from "the incident" for the rest of my life, and that is why I am writing this piece. Over the past seven years I have been fighting another battle, one for a pension that befits the injury and the effects that the terrible day in Afghanistan left me with. I have sought the help of my MP, doctors, the media, the military ombudsmen, and Veterans Affairs, but they have all left me no further ahead than when I started, and with the startling conclusion that 5% of a soldier's brain is worth a mere $22,000.
I choose to wear the poppy for a different reason. I choose to wear it because as a woman with Native ancestry, I want to remember those whose faces we never see in the Heritage moments or on the Remembrance Day TV spots. While we remember the many veterans who fought in the many wars Canada has been involved in, the iconic images of these veterans are whitewashed.
The 11th was named Remembrance Day for a reason. The name was chosen to remind Canadians that we must remember the sacrifices our Veterans make for us. It was also named to remind us to remember the obligations we have to those who serve -- an obligation our Government is working hard to deny. Currently, a group of Veterans are suing Canada for failing them. Remembrance Day is more than saying "We Will Remember Them" -- You actually need to do it.
Just months ago, the Minister for Veterans Affairs stood in a Legion in London, Ontario and promised members that soldiers would no longer be cut loose. Clearly, that practice continues. I am calling upon the government to stop giving weak excuses and apologise to these Canadian heroes who have been dismissed because of the Conservative government's efforts to balance the budget.
Forget the homeless Veterans. Forget the lawsuits, and how the Harper Government says they are not obligated to provide for Veterans. Forget the closure of VAC Offices, the cuts to staff and the consequent loss of service to Veterans. Forget the Veterans kicked out of the Forces before they are eligible for pensions. Forget the families of poor Veterans, denied funeral expenses.
For Canada's veterans the Throne Speech was a big flop. It devoted a total of 10 sentences to vets, and only two of them said anything about Harper's plans. The other six were self-congratulatory backslapping: meaningless rhetoric from a government which appears to think supporting veterans is as simple as saying those words over and over.
I see him everyday, standing out in the street in the heat or the cold fighting ghosts in his head. All too often in Canada, the street or the emergency ward has become the place where those with severe mental illnesses end up. Those with mental illnesses make up a disturbing percentage of the homeless.
A travelling tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan will arrive in your province or territory during the next year or two. The memorial appears to be straight-forward but, in reality, it carries with it a heavy dose of hypocrisy regarding the Conservatives' real objective of the tour and their treatment of military veterans.
If there's one thing I've learned during three years of working with veterans, it's this: Troops hate seeing military gear on civilians. Not dislike. Not have distaste for. HATE. The PM, if he is the huge supporter of the troops that he claims to be, over and over in the Commons, should have known that.