04/27/2015 09:39 EDT | Updated 06/27/2015 05:59 EDT

Being a Soldier Is Great, Until You Get Injured or Sick

JOHN D MCHUGH via Getty Images
GUMBAD, AFGHANISTAN: Soldiers from Reconnaissance Platoon, 1st Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry go on patrol at dusk from a Forward Operating Base in Northern Kandahar, 07 May 2006. Suicide attacks and homemade bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in military jargon, have become the main threat for soldiers with the US-led coalition and NATO force based in Afghanistan. Fifteen Canadian soldiers have lost their lives since the force arrived in 2001 to join the hunt for militants allied with the Islamist Taliban government removed from power in November that year. AFP PHOTO/ JOHN D MCHUGH (Photo credit should read JOHN D MCHUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine, if you will, that you are a 24-year-old soldier. At the age of 16 you signed on the dotted line, mainly because both of your parents chose to serve in the military. You have served your country for eight years. For all intents and purposes the military has been a major part of who you are: a base rat that joined at the first opportunity. You do not know any other life. You live and breathe the discipline, you know the drills and procedures of your job by heart, and you have forged lifelong friendships, the strength of which most civilians cannot even begin to comprehend.

Now imagine you begin to get headaches, unshakable migraines that no amount of aspirin or sleep can cure. Your vision begins to blur and eventually you see double. Your faith in the military is so entrenched that you go to the Medical Inspection Room (MIR) in the morning and put your health in the hands of the only community you have ever known. Months turn into years and yet there seems to be no improvement. Finally you are diagnosed with strabismus or "lazy eye syndrome" and sent for corrective eye surgery. You do not question the military doctor's diagnosis, willingly accept the need for surgery, and look forward to getting back to being a productive member of the military. You simply want things to go back to the way they were. You allow the military doctors to take a scalpel and cut your eyes. They perform a surgery where anesthesia knocks you unconscious, but the medical professionals assure you will that all of your suffering will soon be alleviated.

Unfortunately, the surgery was an unnecessary one. Your diagnosis should not have been "lazy eye syndrome," but rather a slow growing tumour at the base of your brain. Try to imagine running your yearly "beep test" and losing consciousness. When you wake up, you are in a civilian hospital and you are scared. Within minutes, an emergency CAT scan is ordered. It took the civilian doctors less than a day to order this life saving scan, something the military doctors didn't do in four years.

The news hits you like a tonne of bricks. Your fear is incurable. The prognosis for even surviving the necessary brain surgery is disheartening. On top of everything, the unwavering trust that you put into the military has been shaken. You can ill afford to focus on that, however. Now you have focus on how to survive. In the back of your head you just pray that you live long enough to see the military do the right thing, to reassure you that your eight years of service meant something.

Despite having doctors tell you to put your affairs in order, the surgery is a success and you pull through. The tumour is removed and you are relieved to be alive. It is not until the elation wears off that you realize the initial unnecessary lazy eye surgery is going to impede your recovery. This surgery has in fact left you with lifelong dizziness, nausea, and double vision. You will forever see double. Keeping food down will become a daily struggle. Your depth perception has you begging god to make the world stop spinning. Imagine feeling like you just got off a roller coaster every second of every day. You are at your lowest and you look to the military to take care of you. How could they not? You have given so much to them. Surely they will recognize that they erred and will at the very least make things right during your recovery.

You could not be more wrong. The Department of National Defence (DND) has turned its back on you. They feel they are not responsible for covering your medical bills. The pills you have to take cost over a $1,000 a month and they are not covered. You begin to ration the medication, trying to make them last. You move back in with your mother, taking a cross-country trip only weeks removed from brain surgery in a U-Haul with all of your belongings. The Canadian Military appears to be beholden to no one and you have fallen between the cracks. No one wants to absorb your costs into their budget. Departments will fight tooth and nail to avoid doing what is right.

It is only through word of mouth that your story is told to this author. He manages to get you to Ottawa and it looks like things are going to take a turn for the better. Minister of Defence Jason Kenney even states during question period that you will be looked after. The road to recovery suddenly seems brighter and any doubts about the military not caring seem to evaporate. You reason that your journey must have been an isolated incident and once brought before the powers that be it will all be resolved.

As time goes on, however, Minister Kenney's assurances seem to carry little weight. Do the Minister of Defence's orders get followed or do his subordinates merely ignore his word of command? You are left trying to pick up the pieces of your life. Simply surviving as an effective human being, let alone a soldier, seems an impossible target. The worst part of it all: an organization for which you sacrificed so much essentially turned its back on you when you needed it most.

There has always been resistance when altering the culture within the forces, and it is through their failure to evolve that they fail those that have given so much. In my experience, the military is a heartless organization that views its soldiers as disposable. It is the only organization not obliged to take care of its injured employees.

Being a soldier is a great career as long as you don't get injured or sick. Even when the military has cases of medical malpractice they do not take responsibility for their actions. If you don't believe me ask Robyn Young -- the story above belongs to her. Or ask the thousands of others like her who suffer at the hands of a company with no accountability. The Canadian Military is beholden to no one and does not ensure the recovery and wellbeing of its soldiers.


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