There are 26 Special Forces soldiers in Iraq until at least October 5 acting as military advisors to the Iraqi military. I have worked with the Special Forces on two separate occasions and have friends that are members of this elite group of men and women. CSOR and JTF are some of the most trained forces on the planet and watching them work was among some of the highlights of my career. As I think back to being deployed to Afghanistan and times I spent working for these organizations, I am reminded of time when my platoon was fortunate enough to do a convoy dropping off supplies to the JTF. I can still remember dismounting and being told to go get a hot lunch at the mess. As I walked in the oppressive August heat I remember seeing the most built man I have ever seen riding a stationary bike in the sun. His beard down to his chest and the rapid pace he was pedaling did not match how easily he was breathing.
After lunch we were invited to partake in a tutorial in a range and one of the special forces operatives was gracious enough to let me use his rifle because I was carrying a C9 machine gun and would not have been able to part take had he not lent me his rifle. Any soldier that knows anything about being a soldier can tell you that letting another man use your rifle is not something that one does. You zero that rifle to your eyesight and a minor jolt can ruin the sights.
It was a week later that I was shot, I was convinced that I was going to die going in and out of consciousness, and as I was being carried to a casualty collection point I looked up to see who was carrying me. It was the JTF soldier that let me use his rifle, and I asked him if he remembered me. He said he did not and I don't blame him because at the time we met I still had a head that was not blown apart. I told him that he lent me his rifle and I thanked him for it, he realized who I was and said to me that I will be shooting before I know it. I must have lost consciousness again and lost track of him because that was the last time I remember seeing him. I had not thought of that story for years but as I hear the news about our special forces deploying to Iraq I can't help but think that some of the men I worked with could be part of that contingent.
Unfortunately my injuries prevented his prophesy to come true, and it is what has happened to me since my release that I hope no soldiers deploying in the name of this country has to endure. The department of veteran's affairs is not working, so making more injured veterans will only exacerbate the problem. A recent report released by the veterans ombudsman states that "nearly half of the country's most severely disabled ex-soldiers are not receiving a government allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds."
There is a reason that the tactics of Veterans Affairs has often been described as callous. The No Go policy where, if denied enough times, the injured soldier will get fed up and go away is practiced widely in Veterans Affairs Offices across the country. Here is one example of thousands; a World War II veteran, a man I know, that fought in Canada's famous Devils Brigade (our first JTF), was injured in 1944 in Italy when he was hit with shrapnel from Nazi artillery. He was hit in his back and was put on light duties for the remainder of the war. When he returned home in 1946, he applied for a pension. Although initially ignored, He continued to apply for his pension into the 1950's, until eventually life got in the way, and he stopped his pursuit. He had been told "no" so many times, that he made the decision to focus on his family and life after war, rather than stay stuck in a time warp with Veterans Affairs. Fast forward to 2010 when his health began to deteriorate. He turned to Veterans Affairs once again. And low and behold, he again faces the triple D policy; the department will Delay you long enough and Deny you enough times, until you Die. Think about this man's 70-year struggle with Veterans Affairs Canada. In the same 70-year time span, there have been 11 Prime Ministers who received their life long pensions, while this 92-year-old Canadian Veteran has been delayed, and essentially, denied his.
For a more contemporary example, we can look to the Equitas lawsuit out of British Columbia in which seven plaintiffs are arguing that the New Veterans Charter infringes on Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by violating the Crown's social covenant to provide adequate care for injured veterans and their dependents. The federal government will have this tied up in the courts for years to come, appealing and delaying as long as possible. One of the plaintiffs who was injured in Afghanistan ended up losing a kidney, his spleen, and part of his pancreas. Under the New Veterans Charter, this injured hero was awarded a $41,000 lump sum payment.
"To put that in perspective, if this lump sum was to be made into an annuity every month, the pension awarded to him would work out to roughly $140 per month."
The Canadian Forces situation is dire. Our compensation system woefully decrepit. Our government spends 1 per cent of the GDP on defense on par with Lithuania and Latvia. The Army, Navy, and Airforce were told that they will need to slash an additional 4 per cent from their budget, something that only the navy says they can feasibly do. Our infantry units are lucky if they get to the range twice a year. It was reported that technicians working on a Canadian military aircraft were so strapped for spare parts that they yanked some still-working pieces out of an ancient plane on display at the National Air Force Museum.
The equipment that soldiers use is in such a poor state that the probability of sustaining casualties is much higher. Casualties that veterans affairs can't possibly handle given the current state the department is in. The truth of the matter is Canada is about as ready for another war as the Hapsburgs were in 1914. I implore upon those deploying to Iraq to take care. I understand how much you want to deploy. You must understand that the current government support to you are hollow promises and even though you have given a blank cheque for this country the feeling is far from mutual if you return home missing pieces.
Bruce Moncur is running for the federal NDP nomination for the riding of Windsor-Tecumseh.
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