Every year, on this day, we remember the women and men who have served our country valiantly through two world wars, a police action, many peacekeeping missions and, most recently, in Afghanistan. We honour them by wearing poppies and attending ceremonies. Once the day is over most of us go about our business and put the sentiment away until the next November 11 rolls around. And this, my friends, is exactly what Stephen Harper and the Conservatives want you to do.
The Stephen Harper government is doing its utmost to make sure that our veterans are screwed, literally. They recruit young people to join the military and then deploy them to foreign countries to fight other people’s wars or clean up other countries and try to instill democratic values. In the course of their duties many suffer injuries. The war in Afghanistan has been particularly brutal on our soldiers where they are unsure of the face of the enemy and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are a regular occurrence. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife in our troops and many of our veterans come home disabled. Once back in Canada home, lifetimes of rehabilitation and healing become the new normal.
Many of us assume, incorrectly, that our injured veterans will be supported financially for as long as needed by the government. Some veterans may never be able to fully support themselves and their families as a direct result of their time in the military. It is a sacred covenant between a soldier and her/his country that in exchange for their service they will be assisted once they return home. Instead our government is denying services, financial and otherwise, to our veterans. They have closed many veteran affairs offices and sharply reduced staff who administer veterans programs. The government has made accessing veterans services a nightmare and what exists is not adequate. When the Conservatives came to power they changed the system of pensions to one similar to worker’s compensation systems run by the provinces. But soldiers are not ‘employees’ who have been injured on the ‘job;’ they are people who fight and die for their country.
As if cutting services was not enough, Harper has gone one step further. The Conservatives are now discharging injured soldiers from the military just prior to the ten-year service window. Arguing that injured vets are not ‘fit for deployment’ they are unceremoniously dumped from the Royal Canadian Forces. The reason for this is simple: at 10 years of service, veterans are eligible for a fully indexed pension. So, not only are we denying veterans services, making what services are available difficult to get through lack of personnel, now we are taking everything they are entitled to and kicking them to the curb just when they are eligible for a pension.
As a Canadian, it is my expectation that we support our veterans financially. Full stop. I don’t want our veterans being dicked around by a government who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the people they ship overseas to fight for Canada. I want a country where veterans are respected and properly compensated for the work they do. And when they are injured, I don’t want them to have to worry about anything but getting well. I want them and their families supported financially for as long as it takes.
It’s time to turn our remembering into action. We must let the Harper Conservatives know that this policy is completely unacceptable and antithetical to Canadian values. We must tell our government that we expect more. And when the next federal election rolls around in 2015, we must not elect the Conservatives again. One of my favourite history professors used to say: “Every generation must suffer a Conservative government.” My only hope is that we are done with the Conservatives for another 20 years otherwise I am not sure our country will survive.