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      Deception, Lies & Betrayal
      Government of Canada Abandons Veterans

      By Nita Palmer

      Canada’s longest war may officially be over, but the deaths haven’t stopped. A recent report by the Department of National Defense showed that the Canadian Forces have lost more soldiers to suicide over the last decade than were killed in combat in Afghanistan.

      At least one hundred and seventy-eight Canadian soldiers have taken their own lives over the last decade - and that isn’t counting retired soldiers. This isn’t just another statistic. These are young lives cut short, families torn apart by the policies and failures of the government of this country.

      In light of these tragic events, I have one question for our Members of Parliament: how can your conscience allow you sleep at night, knowing that you are failing those who put their lives on the line for the war you sent them to fight? Shame on you.

      Some have questioned whether it is right to rest the blame of these suicides on the mission in Afghanistan, pointing out that half of those who took their own lives did not serve in Afghanistan. To those journalists and military pundits who have argued this, shame on you as well.

      Many of the Afghanistan veterans who took their own lives left for the mission as strong, healthy young men and women - and came back with their lives shattered, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and substance abuse. These facts are well- documented in the military’s own records. You can argue the numbers all you like, but these soldiers’ lives tell a different story. As Michael Blais, director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, points out “to compare a wound that was sustained in a military environment to the [psychological difficulties of someone in the] civilian population, that doesn’t cut it” (CBC News).


      Growing up in a military town, you get to know soldiers pretty well. Their reasons for joining the military vary - some sign up simply to get an education or a decent job; others join up out of a desire to serve their country and make a difference in the world. I don’t know any who signed up to be cold-blooded killers.

      Perhaps it is knowing these soldiers and their families that makes the way the mission in Afghanistan was portrayed, particularly in its early days, seem to me to be so reprehensible. When the mission began in 2002, it was portrayed to the public - and potential recruits - as being a largely humanitarian mission. Canadians would be there to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban, to help rebuild the country, to bring a better life to women and children. Images from Afghanistan on the Department of National Defense website largely portrayed soldiers giving candy to children, participating in elders’ councils, and patrolling the Afghan countryside.

      It wasn’t until a number of Canadian soldiers started being killed in firefights and by improvised explosive devices that we began to see the true nature of the mission in Afghanistan. It was dangerous - far more dangerous than the Canadian public and newly- recruited soldiers had been led to believe.

      As images of Afghans protesting the presence of foreign troops, including the Canadian Forces, began to surface, it became more clear that it was not just the Taliban that didn’t want troops there, but the Afghan people themselves. These soldiers were not sent to Afghanistan to liberate the Afghan people; they were sent to occupy and destroy a country. No amount of combat training could prepare these men and women for facing a people who were willing to sacrifice themselves to defend their country.

      Is it any wonder, given the level of deception with which the government portrayed the war in Afghanistan, that so many soldiers have returned with such deep psychological wounds? I don’t doubt that many are struggling to rectify their experience in Afghanistan with what they believed they were there to accomplish. Add this to the trauma of being under fire, of seeing friends and civilians alike die in terrible ways, and it is no wonder many have difficulty adjusting to “life as usual” in Canada.


      These soldiers, who put their lives on the line under the auspices of serving their country, have returned home only to be abandoned by the government of Canada. In 2006, as more Canadian soldiers began to return home in caskets, the Harper Conservative government - with unanimous support from all parties - introduced the new Veterans’ Charter. This new piece of legislation made fundamental changes to veterans’ services which had been in place since the first world war. One of the most significant changes was ending the lifetime disability payment for seriously injured veterans (including those suffering from mental trauma), replacing it with a lump-sum payout up to a maximum of $300,000. This amounts to a government savings of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per veteran in some cases. Challenged by veterans and the public alike on its attitude towards veterans, the government has cited $11 million which has recently been added to veterans’ mental health services, as well as other ‘improvements’ to Veterans Affairs... and spent $4 million on advertisements to prove it. However, this does not change the fact that since 2009, nearly 900 jobs have been cut at Veterans’ Affairs Canada, with the majority of cuts - 33% - coming from the disability awards department. In January 2014, veterans held a national day of protest as the government shuttered eight Veterans’ Affairs offices. By the end of 2014, it was revealed that Veterans’ Affairs has carried a $1.1 billion surplus since 2006, which was returned to the government as general revenue. Of this ‘cost savings’ $121 million came from the 2013-14 disability and death compensation budget.

      To add insult to injury, it was revealed in January 2015 that the government has so far spent nearly $700,000 in legal bills to fight a class-action lawsuit by disabled veterans who claim the new Veterans’ Charter is unconstitutional. Government lawyers have argued that the government of Canada has no ‘social contract’ or special obligation to provide veterans with services that have been guaranteed to them since the first world war. This government shamefully treats injured veterans as a cost to be eliminated, rather than as human beings in need to support.

      While all injured veterans have been affected by this legislation, those with invisible injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder and related mental and emotional trauma have suffered most of all. Without an obvious physical injury, many are told simply to ‘man up’ by their superior officers, or find it nearly impossible to be referred to get the help they need. Dozens of veterans with PTSD have come forward with stories of a system which has absolutely failed them in their time of greatest need. They face red tape and difficulty accessing services and a system which treats them as an insurance liability rather than a human being. Some have told stories of claiming to be homicidal just to get the services they need.


      There can be no denying that the problem of PTSD is increasing, and will continue to increase, as long as Canada is participating in bloody combat missions overseas. Recent Department of National Defense statistics reveal that the number of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder has nearly doubled since 2002. The growing problem of PTSD affects not only the veterans themselves, but their families, communities, and the country as a whole. A 2008 military police report detailed a dramatic increase in reports of domestic violence on or near military bases across the country. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that soldiers with combat-related PTSD had a significantly increased chance of being arrested for criminal activity. If we don’t provide veterans with the help they need, the social and financial costs will only increase. To our representatives in government, it is beyond my comprehension how you can live with yourselves, knowing that you have deceived these honourable young men and women, then discarded them callously one your ability to use them expired. If only you could know the horrors these veterans live with daily.

      To the good people of Canada: we must hold this government accountable for the blood and suffering which is on its hands. We did not choose to send troops to Afghanistan, nor Libya, nor Iraq, as polls have consistently indicated. Nor did the men and women of the Canadian Forces choose to be sent to these battlefields, where many have paid the ultimate price.

      We must demand this government provide full support for veterans who are struggling to piece together their lives while still reliving the hell of the Afghan battlefields. Full funding and a much more accessible program must be provided for those veterans suffering from mental trauma. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: what have we gained from over a decade of war in Afghanistan, from the missions in Libya, Iraq, and many other places? Is our country any safer when millions of people around the world now associate Canada with killing and destruction?

      We must stand up and hold the government of this country to account for the deaths of Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, and Canadians. We must hold them to account for the promising young lives which have been forever changed by the horrors of the battlefield. The only way to end this death and suffering will be to end these ongoing wars.

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