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).
DECEPTION & LIES
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”
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.
SUPPORT VETERANS! END THE WARS!
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
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
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