HALIFAX — It appears the Liberal government has stirred the anger of a veterans' group who just months ago battled the Harper government over Veterans Affairs' handling of applications for care and benefits.
The advocacy group Banished Veterans is organizing a public protest Thursday in Halifax over a decision earlier this week to deny a decorated 94-year-old war veteran entry into the federally funded Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital.
Organizer Doug Roberts says his group — which has about 400 members — fought hard against the federal civil service that he says used technicalities to deny benefits to veterans, and it won't stand by to see a similar approach flourish under the new government.
Petter Blindheim is seen in his home in Halifax on Friday, June 3, 2016. (Photo: Tim Krochak/CP)
"Most of the veterans voted for change ... but they're doing business the same way they did last year," said Roberts.
Ottawa initially rejected entry to Camp Hill for Petter Blindheim, a veteran of the Norwegian Royal Navy and merchant marine, because it said the Norwegian forces based in Britain didn't qualify as official allies.
Blindheim's family says the Department of Veterans Affairs backed away from that position, but then on Monday rejected the application on the basis that Blindheim could receive adequate care at provincial long term care facilities.
However, a spokesman for the Nova Scotia Health Authority said the current median wait time for a nursing home bed in the Halifax area is 285 days, and the family says Blindheim should have access to the better funded care at the federally subsidized Camp Hill facility.
Group to rally outside Veterans Affairs building
The veterans with the advocacy group plan to protest in front of the Veterans Affairs building on Thursday morning over the decision, along with the treatment of several other Second World War veterans.
Meanwhile, a Norwegian military historian said the Canadian rejection of Blindheim's application for care at Camp Hill has raised questions in the country he fought for.
Lars Borgersrud, the author of a number of books and academic articles on the Norwegian military, said veterans like Blindheim who served in both the merchant marine and the Royal Norwegian Navy are highly regarded in his country.
"It's very strange," he said.
"He not only served in the merchant navy but also in the Royal Navy. He did heroic acts by diffusing charges and he was on a destroyer that was sunk. He is among the few heroes from that time."
"Most of the veterans voted for change ... but they're doing business the same way they did last year."
Blindheim's action in rushing to the deck of a sinking ship and removing the primer from depth charges earned him decorations during the war.
He is to receive the Government of Norway's Commemorative Medal from the Royal Norwegian Embassy on Thursday afternoon at a ceremony in Halifax.
A spokeswoman for federal Veterans Affairs minister Kent Hehr said the federal Liberals are planning to improve treatment of veterans during their time in office.
Hehr's office defends actions
The office said in an email that the Liberal government has taken steps forward with Budget 2016, "which delivered $5.6 billion in additional support to ensure that Canadian veterans and their families receive the care, compassion, and respect they deserve."
The steps include reopening and staffing the nine Veterans Affairs service offices that were closed by the former government and increasing the number of case managers, says the statement.
"We are also increasing the disability award to $360,000 per year, expanding access to the permanent impairment allowance and increasing the earnings loss benefit to 90 per cent of a veteran's pre-release salary to ensure stability while they undergo rehabilitation."
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