Thane Burnett - March 18th, 2013
OSHAWA, Ont. — The Captain says we need to step back. Regroup. Rethink this strategy that he believes is leaving our wounded worse off than they were before.
Or at least — as a nation — fully understand there's a battle still going on.
I'm sitting in a messy officers mess inside the Oshawa Armoury — leather chairs and wooded tables pushed against armed forces Bric-à-brac. Clutter among great military order.
Captain Wayne Johnston, founder of Canada's Wounded Warriors (WoundedWarriors.ca) charity project, is leaning forward in one of those old chairs and offering up an opinion about Canada's greatest year, even before I ask the question.
We are not so far from the Highways of Heroes, the route used to repatriate the bodies of our fallen soldiers from Afghanistan. During each of those sad days, Hwy. 401 was lined with Canadians — hats off, hands over hearts or offering a salute to a soldier who died in our country's name. Though you likely know all that.
The man seated in front of me is every bit the soldier. The kind of man I saw often during time with our troops in Afghanistan. Canadian swagger. With his handle bar mustache and no nonsense demeanor, Johnston talks about Canadians soldiers and vets as if he's speaking about his brothers and sisters.
Which is how he wishes Canadian politicians would see them.
Johnston answers the unasked question — our most poignant moment as a nation came in 1917, he's sure.
That was the year of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, when Canada stormed from the shadows of our British parents to define their country. During that victory — with more than 10,000 killed or wounded — we also proved ourselves a brave force to be reckoned with.
"Vimy is woven into the fabric of our nation," he points out, believing the Highway of Heroes will be remembered in the same way.
But now, for a year where we seemed to have forgotten ourselves as Canadians. He says that would be 2006, when politicians of all political stripes supported dramatic changes to veteran compensation with the New Veterans Charter. The bulk payouts are now the focus of a lawsuit by injured soldiers.
"Can you imagine we've reached a point where soldiers are having to sue their government," says Johnston, before we get up and move into the armoury for photos.
Since 2006, the country has regressed in a commitment to vets that goes back to our 8th Prime Minister, Robert Borden, says the soldier, who was inspired and scarred by his duties as an assisting officer assigned to severely wounded Canadian soldiers sent from Afghanistan to Germany.
He started The Sapper Mike McTeague Wounded Warriors Fund, in part, because in that German hospital, he saw American soldiers given comfort from their country that the Canadians lacked. It including simple things like USA throw-blankets that the Canadians would inherit and be wrapped in.
"My soul has been torn," Johnston says of his own struggles.
When it comes to the changes to compensation and long-term support for vets — especially young wounded soldiers with a life-time of physical, psychological and emotional burden ahead — Johnston has a wish for Canadian politicians.
"That they look in the mirror and and ask 'what if it were them or their sons or daughters?" he recommends.
And for his fellow Canadians, he wishes they wouldn't be distracted by the "white noise" of politicians arguing that they are giving a great deal to vets and that this is all about where a decimal point falls.
He wants us, as we did along the highway for our dead, to stop what we're doing to understand the loss and sacrifice of our injured and hurting.
And how our plan for doing them right has been wronged. How it was better before. How we were better before.
And that we have to demand a moment to redraw the lines on how we got to a point where we seem to be leaving our wounded behind.
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