The Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA) uses the term Sacred Obligation when speaking to or describing the Government of Canada's responsibilities to Canada's Sons and Daughters who have been wounded or injured as a consequence of their service at home and abroad.
I am often asked, what is the definition of the Sacred Obligation?
In the context of military service, "Sacred " is a very special connotation and predicates great level respect for the living, life time sacrifice of the wounded and those who have offered the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the nation.
Legislatively, the Sacred Obligation was first defined by Sir Robert Borden through special provisions in the Pension Act, acknowledged the life time of pain and suffering Canadian disabled veterans experienced after returning from the battles of Passchendaele, Amiens, and Vimy Ridge. The standard of respect has been perpetuated and enhanced by successive Canadian parliament's who understood the uniqueness, the ultra-dangerous environment and patriotic sacrifice of those who have sworn allegiance to the Canada and the impact this sacrifice has borne upon their families.
When a Canadian Citizen takes the Oath of Allegiance/Affirmation when joining the Canadian Armed Forces, it is implicitly understood that the threshold from the comfort Canadian civilian society has been crossed and they have pledged their lives to defend the principles upon this great nation has been founded. The Oath that the 18 year-old CAF recruit swears to is very similar to those taken by the Prime Minister of Canada, Parliamentarians, Senators and Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada; indeed, this places those that serve this nation in some very prestigious company!
However, there is one caveat and CAF personnel are the only citizens of Canada who are eligible:
Unlimited Liability aka, the Sacred Obligation.
Unlimited Liability/Sacred Obligation is the ultimate demonstration of trust between nation and those they would send to war/peace, a concord underwritten in blood inclusive of ultimate sacrifice, so willingly volunteered in-trust to the People of Canada. Unlimited Liability and the Sacred Obligation extends to the soldiers family; their mother, father, husband, wife, children, all acutely aware of the consequences national service entails, all who share concern for the their loved ones during service and beyond when they have been released to our communities due to wounds or injuries.
The people entrusted with upholding the Sacred Obligation, those who bear the solemn authority to put the soldier in Harms' Way, serve the nation as our parliamentarians. Since World War 1, Canadians have deployed many times into the vortex of violence, tens-of-thousands of valiant men and women sacrificed their lives for the nation and many, many more were wounded or injured. They, as did those who deployed to Afghanistan, served this nation with the implicit recognition of the Sacred Obligation should they be injured or for their dependents if they die in the service of Canada.
The Sacred Obligation has been embraced by successive governments since WW1 until, in 2006, the Harper Government implemented the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and in doing so, abandoned its Sacred Obligation to those who would serve at a time when Canada's military would, for the first time since the historic battles of Korea, be called to war. 150 valiant Canadian men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice since 2006, over fifteen hundred have been wounded during Prime Minister Harper's stewardship of the war.
How does one define the Sacred Obligation to the wounded, to the mothers, fathers, widows and children of the fallen, those who have been awarded the Memorial Cross in recognition of their sacrifice? Just how does the New Veterans Charter discriminate against those who serve today, those who have sacrificed limbs, minds and souls to the nation? How do we measure ones level of sacrifice on a pain and suffering perspective, just how worthy is the traumatic amputation of a leg/s, an arm/s, a mind when the Sacred Obligation, established through decades of parliamentary respect, has been abandoned at a time of war?
The answer is clear, precedence has been set.
Let us compare Major Ortona, who is catastrophically injured in Italy, 1943 and Major Khandahar, who suffered the same, life altering injuries when struck down in battle at the height of Operation Medusa in Southern Afghanistan, 2006.
Both men suffer explosive amputation of their legs, severe internal wounds including the loss of their testicles, significant hearing loss-tinitus, brain system injuries and, as a consequence of their ordeal, severe PTSD and depression.
Major Ortona is medically released and returns to his wife and two young children. He lives for sixty years but requires long tern care at Sunnybrook Veterans hospital during the last fifteen due to his injuries and his wife's inability to provide home care. The nation recognized the life of suffering Major Ortona endured and fulfilled its Sacred Obligation to him and his family until death and beyond. Special Pain and Suffering provisions within the Pension Act accorded Major Ortona a monthly pension unto0 death. A supplementary pension was also accorded to his wife with the recognition of her sacrifice and the impact of providing care to double amputee with mental issues bears upon her life and future. Small pensions were provided to Major Ortona's two children and, when they sought higher education, financial assistance was available. When his wife could no longer care for him, Veterans Affairs Canada ensured he had a room at Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital, where he would life out his days in comfort and with the level of dedicated care required. When Major Ortona preceded his wife, his widow was accorded half his VAC pension and eligibility to VIP services. Over the course of his life, Major Ortona would be provided close to two million dollars, tax free, in recognition of the life time of pain and suffering he had endured.
Major Khandahar sustained the same catastrophic injuries. The Sacred Obligation, now abandoned, does not include the life time financial security inherent with the Pension Act monthly provisions, instead, he is awarded a lump sum award of 250 thousand dollars. By the time he retires, moves, buys/modifies a home and the family adjusts to his physical and mental disabilities, there is little left. His wife, who fears for his life –suicide- and must stay home is not, as was Major Ortona's wife, provided a small pension in recognition of her sacrifice. Nor, when Major Ortona precedes her, will there be any pension to share of VIP services to ease her financial burden during her twilight years.
When Major Ortona required Long Term Care, there was no Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital to care for him, the obligation been long abandoned to veterans who did not serve in WW2 or Korea. Major Ortona's children receive nothing, there is no supplementary pension to ensure their care is not affected by the financial discord that many disabled affected families confront daily. Assistance for university or college education is non existent,
The disparity in respect between the services provided when the Sacred Obligation was embraced and the standard applied to today's modern war wounded through the New Veterans Charter can only be described as obscene; to accord one standard of service of a veteran of one war yet not another is a glaring demonstration of the repercussions to Canada's wounded when a government looses its moral compass and abandons the Sacred Obligation to those they have sent to war.
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy does not dispute that there are positive qualities within the New Veterans Charter and/or Bill C-55, indeed, the harmonization approach that we have submitted reflects the need of incorporating the positive benefits of both programs into one effective mechanism capable of serving veterans of all eras equally and without discrimination. The disparity of the Lump Sum Award provisions when compared to the Fulfillment of the Sacred Obligation via the Pension Act, while not the singular issue in requirement of redress, must be a priority. The nation's obligation to Canada's most seriously wounded veterans, referenced by Veterans Ombudsman Parent's last report, is not being fulfilled, as such, our duty, our Sacred Obligation, is clear.
We must unite behind the wounded who, having no recourse or support from the traditional veterans organizations, have resorted to the courts to seek justice. What do they seek? They seek the same standard of respect that Major Ortona, myself and thousands of Canadian veterans have been accorded for pain and suffering as a consequence of our service.
They seek only fulfillment of the Sacred Obligation they believed to exist when they were wounded, no more, no less.
No other option is acceptable! Veterans organizations that do not support this position (Equitas), particularly formal stakeholders such as the Royal Canadian Legion and major organizations represented through the Legion's Veterans Consultation Group have not embraced the Sacred Obligation and are championing meager enhancements to the Lump Sum Award to a comparable level that someone injured on the job in Ontario would receive. This position does not reflect or respect the sacrifice of our Afghanistan War wounded or the very pillars on which the Royal Canadian Legion has been built. The standard of care they have fought so hard, through multiple generations of Legion leadership, to ensure the obligation was met and provided to World War 2 and Korean War veterans, is not being accorded to those who fight today.
One veteran. One standard.
The wounded, abandoned by government and veterans stakeholders alike, have united and with no other alternative, have been forced to seek redress through the courts. Their quest directly addresses the Harper Government's abeyance of the Sacred Obligation, an obligation this nation stood proudly behind for nearly a century, an obligation negated at the height of the most vicious combat this nation has experienced since the Korean War.
Is Major Khandahars's national sacrifice no less worthy than Major Ortona's?
Did they not both suffer the same catastrophic wounds, traumatic amputation of the legs, testicles, a lifetime of PTSD and depression with all the ugly, soul and family destroying horrors they bring to the veteran and his/her family?
I would suggest that their sacrifice on behalf of Canada is equal, that national precedence has been established with the blood, courage and great sacrifice of our forefathers.
I would suggest that this is and must be the only standard applied to those who suffer the same consequences of war today.
This is the Sacred Obligation.
A Sacred Obligation the Canadian Veterans Advocacy has been founded to restore.
CTV Interview, OVO Report, We will fight! http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1014735
CVA Harmonization policy http://www.canadianveteransadvocacy.com/index.html
Michael L Blais CD
President - Founder Canadian Veterans Advocacy
6618 Harper Drive, Niagara Falls, Ontario
905-359-9247 /// hm 905-357-3306
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