Treatment of our disabled veterans deplorable

The status of benefits and services offered to Canadian veterans is in dire need of reform. Under current policies concerning veterans, the federal government is far from reciprocating the level of commitment given by former Canadian military personnel for their service.

Canadians’ exposure to the challenges faced by those in the armed forces is often confined to news updates complete with footage of Canadian soldiers conducting operations in Afghanistan. What often goes unnoticed in the media is how frequently the battlefield is extended to Canadian soil for the inadequately compensated veterans that continue to struggle to survive upon returning home with psychological or physical disabilities.

The amendments made to the benefits system for veterans through the Veterans Charter of 2006 blatantly neglects the long-term needs associated with the disabled who once served.

The legislation switched from the old system of paying out lifetime pensions to veterans in favour of lump-sum compensation and disability stipends.

Disabled veterans are entitled to a maximum of $276,000 from Veterans Affairs Canada. Once a payment administered in the form of a lump sum, the recent reform was restricted to an option of either a lump sum or annual installments rather than the amount of compensation itself.

The price the 21-year-old infanteer pays who loses both legs in an explosion is by no means proportional to a mere $276,000.

Lifetime rehabilitation and medical equipment expenses combined with limited opportunities for being employable far exceed the low and arbitrary amount that has been equated with the permanent suffering caused by service-related injuries.

What is also alarming is the extent to which those whose injuries are of a psychological rather than physical nature are either neglected or not given due consideration. Operational stress injuries (OSI) have just as many detrimental effects on an individual’s well-being.

The constant physical and mental duress experienced during military operations are often manifested through post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as severe anxiety or depression well after service has ended. These illnesses have been the cause of a series of suicides that are becoming increasingly common.

These changes are an insult to the men and women who sustain permanent damage and endure unimaginable horrors while contributing to the defence of this country. The lifelong consequences of an injury sustained during military service dictates that the government has a permanent responsibility to provide for the means necessary for our disabled veterans to live a dignified life.

Recently, veterans across the country were once again engaged in a mission — this time for due recognition and the need for systemic reform during the Canadian Veterans National Day of Protest that took place on Nov. 6, 2010. It is absolutely shameful when those to which we owe much gratitude for once willingly risking their lives in the cause of freedom must protest for assistance.

The amount of respect towards current and former members of the armed forces visible each year on Remembrance Day is something that Canadian society should be proud of. It is absolutely imperative that Canadians do more to honour their veterans than wearing a poppy or attending a ceremony by recognizing the problem and supporting policy changes that give veterans sufficient support to cope with their adversities.