Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Sunday, April 20, 2014

New announcement: Senator Dallaire ‘pissed off’ at Con MPs complaining veterans ‘cost too much’

Senator Romeo Dallaire 'pissed off' at Conservative MPs complaining veterans 'cost too much'

Murray Brewster, Canadian Press | April 4, 2014 11:04 AM ET
More from Canadian Press

There are rumblings in the corridors of power on Parliament Hill that MPs have grown impatient with the cost burden imposed by Canada's military veterans, one of the country's most prominent former soldiers said Thursday.

Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a former lieutenant-general and ex-commander of the ill-fated peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, described a number of recent encounters with "politicians who are second-guessing the cost of veterans."

Dallaire — who made the comments in an interview with The Canadian Press before testifying Thursday at the House of Commons veterans committee — did not identify the individuals in question.

But he said he's been hearing privately from politicians who complain about the price tag: the Conservative government spends roughly $3.8 billion each year on the Veterans Affairs Department.

Now that they're home — and the ones that are injured — they cost too much?

"And I say: Oh, yeah?" said Dallaire, describing how he walks them through the dollar cost of equipping and deploying the military on missions like the recently concluded 12-year mission in Afghanistan.

"And then I say, 'Now that they're home — and the ones that are injured — they cost too much?' This has been sniffing its way around the Conservative hallways and it's pissing me off."

The rumblings stand in stark contrast to the Harper government's political messaging, which has been to strenuously insist that the Conservatives bend over backwards for Canada's veterans and will continue to do so.

Dallaire's remarks drew an immediate, sharp rebuttal from Nicholas Bergamini, a spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

"It is not appropriate to spread rumours without any kind of attribution," Bergamini said. "The fact remains that no government in modern history has invested more money for veterans services."

Yet, the government has pointedly failed to reconcile its political talking points with the legal stand being taken by Justice Department lawyers in a prominent class-action lawsuit being brought by veterans of the Afghan war.

In a statement of defence filed with B.C. Superior Court, the government argues there is no "social contract" between the country and its soldiers, despite their commitment to lay down their lives without question, and that promises made by past governments to care for the wounded are not binding on current and future governments.

Those assurances, which date back to the First World War, are merely political statements, not policy, which can be amended, they maintain.

There needs to be a legislated social covenant with soldiers, Dallaire told the committee Thursday.

Since 2006, tens of millions of extra dollars have been poured into veterans care, but that can't be considered a measure of success, Dallaire added.

The government's position in the B.C. lawsuit represents a fundamental shift in the way former soldiers are viewed by their government, and it's no accident the Harper government has not withdrawn it, critics say.

The veterans committee has been holding hearings on the New Veterans Charter, the legislation which spells out the benefits and entitlements of ex-soldiers. The lawsuit alleges the new system is less generous than its predecessor, which provided pensions for life to injured and maimed soldiers.

The committee has already heard a chorus of complaints from veterans — and there are signs it is starting to sting.

Conservative MP Parm Gill, Fantino's parliamentary secretary, set his sights on one particularly vocal group last week, demanding that Canadian Veterans Advocacy disclose its funding sources and accusing one of its leaders of being partisan.

"Do you think to help the committee you would be able to provide for the committee a breakdown of your funding for the past two years, and any activity you have engaged in with political parties in Canada?" Gill asked.

Also last week, Conservative MP Brian Hayes took issue with comments posted on a popular website for veterans, including one that said the closest Fantino had ever been to a trench was "a trench coat."

"It disturbs me to see a negative thread, a negative opinion like that allowed to stay," Hayes told the committee.

Ron Cundell, a veteran who is one of the site's administrators, said Hayes singled out one comment out of over 300,000, and wondered if Hayes was endorsing censorship.

"That is unfair for you to take away that person's freedom of speech," he testified.

On Thursday, Dallaire told the committee he believes that National Defence and Veterans Affairs should be folded into one department, each with its own budget, in order to provide uninterrupted care to the wounded.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Friday, April 18, 2014

**Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Online Request**

**Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Online Request**

Please click here to process your claim online:

For VAC you should request:

PPU: 055 (Pensions and Compensation), 560 (Disability Awards, Death Benefit and Detention Benefit), 030 (Treatment of a Pensioned/Awarded Condition), 550 (Rehabilitation Services and Vocational Assistance), 010 (Educational Assistance), 056 (Veterans Independence Program), 016 (Residential Care), 520 (Health Benefits Program/Public Service Health Care Plan), 020 (Health Care Programs (Non-pension Related), 080 Reviews, Appeals and 090 Bureau of Pensions Advocates and All Services All Summary Assessment.

For DND you should request:

PPU: 834 (Personnel Security Investigation File), 818 (Personal Information File), 836 (Unit Military Personnel Bank), 831 (Grievance File), 824 (Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada Centre for the Support of Injured and Retired Members and their Families), 817 (Canadian Forces Casualty Database), 810 (Medical Records), 811 (Dental Records), 859 (Pension File), 858 (Pay Records File), 805 (Human Resources Management Information System), 829 (DSSPM - Clothing Online).

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New announcement: Area Legion branches welcome to attend Rock the Hill rally June 4

Area Legion branches welcome to attend Rock the Hill rally June 4

Carleton Place Almonte Canadian Gazette

Apparently Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino hadn't heard the saying "don't poke the sleeping bear," when he brushed off a group of veterans who had arrived at the minister's office for a scheduled meeting on Jan. 28.

What had been a simmering pot of human emotions among veterans and advocacy groups reached a boiling point at the Fantino office debacle, and it would seem that enough fuel has been added to the fire to ensure a successful turnout of veterans for a rally which begins June 4 on Parliament Hill.

Rock the Hill 2014 is the brainchild of Rob Gallant, a former Royal Canadian Air Force member who was medically released in 2003 after serving his country for 20 years. Gallant intends to show the government "that we, as veterans, have been pushed to the point that we no longer will stay silent while they cut our programs, medical treatment, and benefits, without a fight."

He went on to say that if the expected number of people show up for the event, "it will show this government we will no longer stay the silent minority that they have always counted on. (We hope to) enlighten the Canadian public on all the misleading statements or half-truths stated by this government. In simple terms we will be filling in the blanks that the government seems to always leave out." Gallant's involvement in veterans' advocacy goes back at least to the Service Income Security Insurance Plan

(SISIP) Long Term Disability Class Action in March of 2007. The lawsuit was on behalf of Dennis Manuge and all other disabled veterans whose benefits were reduced by the amount of the monthly Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) disability pension they were receiving under the Pension Act.

A decision by the federal court in May of 2012 ruled in favour of Manuge, and that the government must stop clawing back money from veterans' pensions, and repay up to $1 billion that had been deducted over a period of nearly 30 years. A similar case, the Equitas Class Action Lawsuit, is currently before the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Manuge related that "Rob Gallant provided direct and continuous close support to me personally for the entire duration the legal challenge. He took the added volunteer responsibility for relaying direct SISIP class action information to a database of class members, veterans' organizations, and media members. Despite the SISIP court victory, there remains a multitude of issues facing the veterans' community and their families. The Equitas class action, suicide rates, reductions in staffing and office closures at VAC, homeless vets, systemic failure at Veterans Review and Appeal Board, the current minister's culture of disrespecting veterans, and the list goes on. This is why there is a need for Rock the Hill. Canadians need to hear from us and see us. It's an awesome initiative on Rob's part."

In an email interview, Gallant acknowledged that Canada's veterans and serving members "have definitely been let down by this government in so many ways it's hard to keep count. This current government has set veterans rights and benefits back at least a decade if not two. One only has to ask: Why do veterans, as a last resort, have to take their own government to court to get the system fixed?" Gallant referred to the two major court cases previously mentioned, the SISIP and Equitas class actions. He said that "in both of these cases the government knows what they are and were doing, is unfair and wrong, but they continue to use taxpayers' money to fight the same veterans that they proudly state in public they support. Not to mention the amount of veterans that have to endure a long and hard fight to get the benefits and treatment they are rightfully entitled to from VAC. Many are taking their own lives due to the way the system is set up against them."

The suicide issue relating to veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was brought to the fore on Nov. 29, 2013 when CBC's Rosemary Barton interviewed retired colonel and former Veterans' Ombudsman Pat Stogran.

"It's not news; it's bad news; it's not new news; there's going to be more," Stogran said in an impassioned response to Barton's questioning. At the time, three confirmed suicides had occurred in that month of November, and in just a few days there would be another. Although those suicides had occurred among serving CAF personnel, experts agree there are also many veterans across the country that are dealing with the horrors and suffering of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is thought to be the strongest link to suicide and attempts. Stogran will be one of the keynote speakers at the Parliament Hill rally.

That rash of suicides forced politicians, military command, and support organizations to address that previously unmentionable subject, when the Royal Canadian Legion, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the Minister of Defence all issued news releases on Dec. 4, 2013.

The level of public outrage was apparent in the CBC interview with Stogran, who is known for his outspokenness and criticism of the government. In a voice shaking with emotion, he asked Barton the rhetorical question: "How many ways do you say tsunami?" Stogran went on to say "how terribly we treat the worst cases and the people who are the most desperate."

Although the Legion has been strongly criticized in the past for not taking a stance on political issues, their news release at the time stated: "The Legion strongly believes that all Canadians trust the government will honour its obligation to the men and women of

the CAF and the RCMP who willingly risk injury, illness or death to serve our country, protecting the values and way of life we all enjoy. There is also a responsibility to the families of these men and women. These recent tragic events highlight that there is a perception by our serving members that there is no hope. How can a culture built on camaraderie and team work leave a soldier so isolated and so alone?" The release ended by asking: "How can we possibly justify spending money to mark the commemorations for our achievements as nation when the mental health care system supporting the men and women of the CAF, both Regular and Reserve, as well as RCMP members and all their families who serve our country, is overburden and lacking resources?" Public debate on how to deal with military suicides was renewed, wrote Andre Mayer of CBC News on Mar. 24, with the recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan.

"But veterans advocates say that the data collected by the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada on how many active and retired army personnel have committed suicide is incomplete, and makes it difficult to help soldiers who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

As of Mayer's news article, five military suicides had been confirmed in 2014.

Local Legions welcome to attend Legion Branch 244 in Perth plans to attend the rally as a group, and is encouraging other Legion branches in the area to join them. Perth and area Legions are no strangers to advocacy on behalf of veterans, as on Sept. 16, 2013, Medric "Cous" Cousineau and his service dog Thai were welcomed by Perth and other Legion branches during the Long Walk to Sanity, part of the Paws Fur Thought initiative, between Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia and Ottawa.

Cousineau was hailed as a hero in 1986 while serving as a tactical co-ordinator on an Armed Forces Sea King helicopter, when he and his crew responded to a call from an American fishing vessel in distress several hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. In spite of being injured during the mission, he managed to rescue the two men, and he was later awarded the Star of Courage by then Governor General Jeanne Sauvé. After showing symptoms of PTSD following the traumatic incident, Cousineau experienced a tragic downward spiral, and he was eventually forced to leave the military.

Paws Fur Thought was an idea born in 2012 and, while the "Long Walk to Sanity" ended on Sept. 19 at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the concept of Paws Fur Thought and other initiatives to assist veterans and their families continues on, thanks to the support of many dedicated individuals and organizations.

This old proverbial message goes to our current government: "Don't poke sleeping bears if you want to live a long and happy life." Perhaps Rock the Hill 2014 will be an opportunity for bureaucrats and elected officials to reach out to the many veterans and supporters assembled there.

Submitted by Terry O'Hearn, Zone G6 public relations officer, Royal Canadian Legion.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Crisis in the Military - The Social Contract

The Social Contract

Crisis in the Military

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: Veterans bang heads against Parliamentary, bureaucratic wall

Veterans bang heads against Parliamentary, bureaucratic wall

The government is clearly not holding up its end of the bargain on veterans.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Veterans pictured last year in Ottawa on Remembrance Day. Sean Bruyea says MPs have never debated or given serious independent and binding consideration of the dramatic changes that the NVC made to the relationship between Canada and those who were and are prepared to lay down their lives in her service.


Published: Monday, 04/14/2014- THE HILL TIMES

The hue and cry from veterans and their families has not dimmed but grown stronger since 2005 when Parliament passed the legislation we now know as the 'New Veterans Charter' or NVC. Will Parliament take up veterans' torch and finally make bureaucracy work for veterans? As the unaddressed recommendations accumulate, will the NVC become increasingly unfit to provide adequate shelter for our veterans and their families in the coming years?

Last week, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs wrapped up hearings on the NVC. We must remember that elected Members of the House of Commons have never debated nor given serious independent and binding consideration of the dramatic changes that the NVC made to the relationship between Canada and those who were and are prepared to lay down their lives in her service.

In good faith, far too many accepted the shoddy construction of the NVC because government promised to keep the renovations going. Near stagnant 'incrementalism,' a dirty word in the first 50 years of veterans' benefits in Canada, has become the sad new social contract between Canada and, our veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs Canada made pretenses to the glory of Canada's post World War II veterans' benefits. The original aptly-named Veterans Charter provided a host of programs for all veterans, whether injured or not. The NVC is not a charter at all but a cynical repackaging of already existing programs with few limited additions.

It took four years before the Veterans Affairs Committee wrote its first report in 2010 with 18 recommendations. Four years later, we are at it yet again with witnesses fighting to implement many of the same recommendations such as boosting the income loss program to 100 per cent matching projected career earnings, not just a fraction of true inflation as is now the case.

Bureaucrats claim to have implemented 10 recommendations from the Parliamentary report, including " VAC ensures that family members who take care of severely disabled Veterans are compensated appropriately." VAC's basis for this claim: the Forces have a "Canadian Armed Forces Attendant Care Benefit." Perhaps being so far away in Charlottetown, VAC senior bureaucrats do not realize veterans are ineligible for CF benefits. Misleading justification is repeated in most of the 160 recommendations that VAC claims to have implemented.

Canadians go to war, fight, die, lose limbs, minds and families, all at Parliament's orders, for our values, our nation. They sacrifice for all Canadians. The military does not do all of this for bureaucrats even though bureaucrats may think differently. Then, why is it that Parliament, through either inaction or inability, has failed to stand up to the bureaucracy?

There are greater problems with the NVC than just the empty and specious rhetoric coming from Charlottetown. I tabled 30 recommendations for this Parliamentary review in a report titled, "Severely Injured Veterans and Their Families: Improving Accessibility To Veterans Affairs Programs For A Better Transition."

As both sides of the committee table observed during witness testimony, at Veterans Affairs Canada, availability of programs does not equate to accessibility. Why for instance should widows or spouses of incapacitated veterans be time-limited on any program?
In legislation which pre-dated the NVC, the Pension Act, all programs were payable effectively on date of application. The NVC income loss program is payable when "the minister determines that a rehabilitation plan or a vocational assistance plan should be developed." Application for review of any decision must be made within 60 days of VAC's decision. The Pension Act did not place time limits on review.

Such pettiness is endemic in the New Veterans Charter.

Government is quick to march out the hypothetical 24-year-old corporal from the veterans' ombudsman report who is projected to receive $2-million from VAC over his lifetime. Ignoring that $340,000 must be repaid in taxes, when none of the Pension Act benefits are taxable, this corporal represents fewer than 77 individuals, or 0.1 per cent of Canadian Forces VAC clients.

The veterans' ombudsman noted of all the recipients of the permanent incapacity allowance, only one receives the highest grade of $1,724.65 monthly. As for the highly controversial lump sum which now stands at $301,275.26, only 148, or 0.35 per cent of all lump sum recipients have been awarded this amount in eight years. Currently, only two per cent of the 42,000 lump sum recipients have any long term economic assistance.

Contrary to VAC's claims, the NVC does not offer opportunity with security. Canada Pension Plan disability, once accused of being insensitive and lacking compassion now allows disabled recipients to earn up to $5,100 annually without reporting this to CPP. The VAC extended income loss program deducts 100 per cent of earnings. Troublingly, the most seriously ill veterans are also not supported to pursue education.

VAC derogatorily and deceptively claims veterans were focused on disability not ability under the pre-NVC system. However, the Pension Act guarantees, "no deduction shall be made from the pension of any member of the forces because the member undertook work or perfected themself in some form of industry." The Pension Act offered much security for the veteran to explore opportunities. Sadly, the NVC incarcerates our most suffering veterans in a lifelong psychological and financial prison of frozen human potential.

Would it not be better to provide access to life-enriching education and opportunities to seek employment without penalty while these veterans in turn begin to pay more taxes, hence offsetting some of their disability costs? Does that not make better economic sense?

All veterans and their families especially the most seriously ill, fulfilled their obligation at government's orders without delay, without complaint, without excuse. All they rightly expected was that government honour its end of the contract immediately, expeditiously and for as long as those veterans and their families live.

For our most seriously injured veterans and their families, miserly constructed and administered programs have soundly violated this quid pro quo. Government is clearly not holding up its end of the bargain.

This dire situation wherein even the most loyal and timid of veterans organizations speak out is a very loud alarm clock for our elected officials to stand up to the bureaucracy and stand up for our veterans once and for all.

Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, is a retired Air Force intelligence officer and frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans' issues. For Sean's report and testimony visit
The Hill Times

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New announcement: Why Fighting Veterans Affairs Is Like Fighting the Taliban

Why Fighting Veterans Affairs Is Like Fighting the Taliban

Posted: 04/07/2014 5:33 pm

When you are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) you spend a lot of time being analytical. Whether it's a therapist, a doctor, or even yourself, understanding the origins of your PTSD is essential to your coping, and eventual treatment. And after years of personal analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it was both my time in Afghanistan and the failures within Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs (VAC) that aggravated my PTSD since returning home.

In fact, I have gone so far to argue that my experience in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban (link to original blog post) was equally as damaging to me mentally as the fight I face every day on the home front in Canada, with VAC. The ineptitude that the Department of Veterans Affairs operates under led to my first blog post and I can attest that I am not the only soldier who feels they have not been taken care of when coming home.

The truth of the matter is that the only part of VAC that I have no complaint about is my case manager, who only became involved in assisting me after she read a story about my struggles with VAC in the local newspaper and asked her superiors to contact me. Think about that. The only person within the VAC system who has helped me, was only able to do so after reading about my struggles with VAC in the newspaper. And now, thanks to the government, my local branch is gone, and the one ray of hope, my case manager, is now over two hours away from me in London, Ontario.

The current state of Veterans Affairs is shocking, but is made even more so by the fact that how it operates creates a very specific type of mental illness, known within the psychiatric field as "sanctuary trauma."

Sanctuary trauma was first described by Dr. Steven Silver in one of the earliest papers about the inpatient treatment of Vietnam War veterans. Silver defined "sanctuary trauma" as that which "occurs when an individual who suffered a severe stressor next encounters what was expected to be a supportive and protective environment" and discovers only more trauma."

Essentially, the Canadian government's "insurance company" methods of dealing with injured and maimed veterans only exasperated the stress these soldiers were dealing with. Additionally, because these soldiers held the Canadian government in such high esteem, the betrayal of said government created a loss of one's sanctuary, and thus "sanctuary trauma." In my case, being deployed to Afghanistan, shot by Americans in a friendly-fire incident that nearly cost me my life, and then returning home with the expectations of care and proper compensation from our government only to be repeatedly denied, called a liar, told there is not enough proof, and to be given a fraction of what I should rightful have, has resulted in not only PTSD, but severe sanctuary trauma. The way Canadian veterans are being treated is causing a syndrome that first became recognized in American Vietnam Veterans.

As if this wasn't enough, the closure of the nine Veterans Affairs offices over the last year has only enhanced the seriousness of the sanctuary trauma that veterans like myself are dealing with. The federal government claims that the over 600 new points of contact that Service Canada represent will be the answer. By that logic you can put forms behind the counter of every McDonalds and have thousands of points of contacts. The triple DDD policy of Delay Deny and Die will only continue to flourish unless legitimate changes are made.

And so, in order to received the type of services veterans feel they deserve, in the confidential location of a Veterans Affairs office, we are now forced to travel. Unfortunately, under the new charter, our travel costs are no longer reimbursed. Consider this for a veteran from Thunder Bay, Ontario. The closest VAC office he or she can go to is now in Winnipeg, Manitoba, an eight-hour drive in optimal weather. This 1,708 km trek creates wear and tear on one's vehicle and will take at least three tanks of gas to fill. Estimated at roughly $1.25 a litre, the gas mileage alone would cost this veteran $281.00 out of pocket. (Keep in mind, government employees receive mileage compensation at $0.55/km, $939.40 round trip.)

But that's not all. The veteran will have to eat throughout the journey for the two days it will take, and would also require a hotel room to spend the night. Calculated again with the rates available to government employees, breakfast would cost $18.00, lunch $15.00, and dinner $40.00, meaning a total of $73.00 per day in food, $125.00 in hotel accommodations. Now throw in lost wages for having to take two days off work, and potentially childcare. Could you think of anything you would rather spend 1,500 dollars on? The faceless organization that VAC represents has made it so that thousands of veterans are left in this position, further enhancing their sanctuary trauma.

The solution to this is simple. Every veteran who feels that the system has failed them, and in doing so caused them extreme mental trauma, should fill out a disability claim for sanctuary trauma. To do this, you will have to document the failures within VAC that has led you to this claim. Outline all of the insensitive methods that this department has done. Documentation of this will be our greatest asset, because as the system gets inundated with the claims for sanctuary trauma, along with them will come testimonies of veterans about the glaring deficiencies within VAC.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Bruce, if they won't even give you proper financial compensation for being shot in the head, what is the point of claiming sanctuary trauma?" To that argue that if VAC refuses to recognize the existence of sanctuary trauma amongst its veterans, it will show how behind this organization is on the medical comprehension of the side effects of PTSD. There is 30 years of research on sanctuary trauma and by refusing to recognize a well-documented syndrome, then the government is showing that the main reason for the New Veterans Charter had not been to focus on rehabilitation of soldiers suffering from mental illness but the money-saving tactic in the implementation of lump sum payments. By flooding the system with these claims and outlining decades of failures, veterans can finally use the system to their advantage.

Here are just some of the reasons why I am claiming sanctuary trauma because of Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs: you closed my office, you gave me $22,000 for 5 per cent of my brain, you denied my Permanent Impairment Allowance, I have been appealing my pension for eight years, and the insurance company way of dealing with me. All of these failures will be on record within the department Sanctuary Trauma will be in a way a complaint department within the VAC system. If 1,000 soldiers submit a claim with 15 to 20 issues then there will be 15,000-20,000 registered complaints within the department.

By claiming sanctuary trauma then VAC will have to address the way it does business. Soldiers will be able to show VAC what is wrong with their system through disability claims, and the only way to stop more claims would be to fix the system. Once a claim is submitted then VAC has a choice to deny the claim or approve it.

As stated earlier, denying a 30-year-old syndrome with dozens of publications would prove just how inept the system is. An approval would then show that the department is taking responsibility for the sanctuary trauma its system caused and to prevent any further claims a reform of the system will have to be implemented.

Every vet that feels they have fallen between the cracks or have been fighting their pensions for decades needs to take a serious look at claiming sanctuary trauma, so that we can start taking steps towards change and truly creating a sanctuary within our country for the soldiers who safely return home.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New announcement: Retreat brings mothers of fallen Canadian soldiers together

Retreat brings mothers of fallen Canadian soldiers together

Society expects parents to get over a child's death too quickly, counsellor says

By Erin Ellis, Vancouver Sun April 4, 2014

Sian LeSueur, left, and Nancy Szastkiw of the Mainland BC Military Family Resource Centre, stand at the cenotaph to Canada's fallen soldiers on the Walk to Remember in Langley.
Photograph by: Ric Ernst , VANCOUVER SUN

Sian LeSueur threw a 26th birthday party for her son last month with friends and family, cake and candles. But Garrett Chidley wasn't there to make a wish; he died four years ago while serving in Afghanistan.

"I love to talk about Garrett. I'm going to keep talking about him because I sometimes feel that if I don't, I'll forget things. Because all I have now are these memories," says LeSueur from her home in Surrey. "You have to make memories without them being here physically. You hope they're here spiritually."

In today's Canada, where the sacrifices of wartime are a distant notion, mothers of fallen soldiers make a small, sometimes lonely group. Seven such women who live or have lived in B.C. came together for a retreat earlier this year in Vancouver and eight fathers are doing the same this weekend. LeSueur first came up with the idea and Nancy Szastkiw, a family liaison officer with the Mainland B.C. Military Family Resource Centre in Vancouver found the money to make it happen.

The Toronto-based charitable foundation True Patriot Love contributed about $10,000 toward the mothers' event and the Military Family Resource Centre fronted the same for the fathers. Both are unique in Canada.

"The common thread is that their child is dead and their child had been in the military," says Szastkiw. "You've lost your child. You're devastated. The paperwork has been done and there's a funeral. And then what? ... They may be dead but it's not like they didn't exist."

Szastkiw says many of the women were reluctant to sign up at first, but ended the three-day psycho-social program feeling they had made new bonds with other women whose sons died in Afghanistan or later at home, either by their own hand or, in one case, by the hands of police.

When the last troops came home from Afghanistan last month after operations there since 2001, the number of Canadian casualties totalled 158 soldiers, two civilian contractors, one diplomat and one journalist.

LeSueur's son died along with four others on one of the deadliest single days for Canadians in Afghanistan when the armoured vehicle he was driving was destroyed by an explosive device.

"There's no time limit on grieving and when it's your own child it never — ever — goes away. I remember people saying to me a few months after Garrett died, 'When is the old Sian coming back?' Well, she's never coming back.

"I say to my husband, 'I will never be the person that you married. You have to love me as I am because I'm different now.'"

For LeSueur, there's a Silver Cross, a medal no one wants to receive, for a son who died during service to his country. For those who lost children to suicide, there are no honours.

"I think they've been through a lot more than I could ever imagine. Knowing that your child comes home and you finally think that they're safe then they take their own life … They need the help more than anybody," LeSueur says.

At least 10 suicides were reported in the ranks in 2013, although no official count is yet available. A report by the Canadian Armed Forces noted 42 confirmed deaths by suicide among regular military personnel and reservists in 2011 and 2012.

Among them is Justin Stark, 22, who died in Hamilton, Ont., in October 2011 after seven months in Afghanistan as a reservist. His mother, Denise, attended the Vancouver weekend and later received a one-cent cheque dated Feb. 28, 2014, from the Government of Canada marked "release pay."

She went public, prompting an apology from the defence minister in the House of Commons.

"I don't think that enough is said for the ones who have committed suicide, who have been just as brave as the other ones," says Lorraine Matters of Prince George. The death of her son Greg was the subject of an inquest, which ruled it a homicide, but blamed no single individual.

"Or the way my son was killed. They're all heroes among their brothers in arms."

Greg Matters was 41 years old, living with his mother and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when he was shot in the back by an RCMP emergency responder in a 2012 standoff. He was holding a hatchet at the time.

Matters was a career military man at the rank of master corporal before this discharge and had served with peacekeepers in Bosnia.

"I feel that my son gave 15 years of his life to the army," Matters said in a telephone interview, still sounding fragile. "My son is a hero as much as any other."

For Matters, the retreat marked the first time she has felt comforted by people outside the tight circle of her family and friends.

The weekend started with a makeover mixer for fun, but moved on to practical advice for dealing with trigger points like birthdays and holidays, proper nutrition, relaxation and mindfulness techniques — calm awareness of each moment of the day, while observing passing feelings without judging them good or bad.

Lynette Pollard-Elgert, executive director of Living Through Loss Counselling Society of B.C., was the keynote speaker at the women's weekend and will do the same at the fathers' event. She has worked in the field for 30 years and says their experiences are exceptional in several ways: those who lost sons to war are told the deaths were heroic which can make their sadness seem less legitimate; suicide and violent deaths often revictimize the grieving parent for somehow not doing enough to protect their child. Add to that a general unease with overt grieving and the result is isolation.

"North America is a death and sadness-denying society. We don't know what to do with you if you're sad or crying. We are uncomfortable and we have very few rituals other than a funeral. After that you're on your own," says Pollard-Elgert.

"The loss of your child is one of worst losses you can experience. Yet the community allows any kind of loss to be supported for between six weeks and three months and after that we want you to be healed and be back to normal. The problem is that most people don't even know what happened to them until three or four months later because the shock is so intense when you've lost a child, especially through something like war.

"Mums or anybody who has had that kind of traumatic loss needs to talk and retell their story and keep the name of their son alive and not to be forgotten. So they need to say the name, to express their sadness, their loneliness, their horror about what happened to their child and their family."

For the rest of us she advises showing up without being asked.

"I think the best thing we can do is be there and not say to people, 'Call me if you need help' because people who are in deep grief don't have the energy or wherewithal ask for help.

"I think grief takes a lot longer than anybody expects."

Generations have passed since the First and Second World Wars when most Canadian families felt the death of a loved one overseas. Now families of the fallen have to seek out others spread across the province and the continent.

Leona Stock, now of Cochrane, Alta., reluctantly travelled to Vancouver for the mothers' weekend, which she found unexpectedly therapeutic.

"We felt a connection. We weren't alone in this. We were able to talk about it without having to give a backstory, an explanation.

"I cry at nothing and I thought it was weird, but I talked to other parents and it's the same for them."

Her son Stephan died at 25, killed by a bomb in Afghanistan in 2008. The family used to live in Campbell River and then Tsawwassen where Stephan graduated from high school and played football for the school team, which has since retired his number.

"If you can talk about your child — not only how the child was lost — if you're able to open up, you help other people, but you're also helping yourself."

Her husband is here for fathers gathering in the hope, too, of finding solace.

"I've always said that dads feel the same, but there has always been more emphasis on the mothers."

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New announcement: W5 Transcript: Q&A with a Canadian special forces commander

W5 Transcript: Q&A with a Canadian special forces commander

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Mercedes Stephenson, W5
Published Saturday, April 5, 2014 9:00AM EDT


Lieutenant Colonel Hank Szelecz was an operator and chief instructor with Canada's Joint Task Force 2 before taking command of CSOR. Below is a transcript of his first ever television interview discussing Special Operations with CTV's Mercedes Stephenson.


I'm a very active person and there is a certain love of adversity that defines any special forces operator. I like shiny objects, I like to be challenged. So since a very young age, I was always attracted to the army. And so far 25 years later I haven't regretted a single thing. When I got that first taste in the infantry, I gravitated towards reconnaissance platoon. So I commanded reconnaissance platoon as part of a rifle battalion. So the next logical step with me for that love of a physical and cognitive challenge was Special Operation Forces.


Within the military we're very much a performance oriented culture. And it's always that fear of failure that prevents a lot of guys from just, you know, taking that chance and stepping forth. So I always tell the guys, that is the biggest criteria for success, just taking that step forward and applying.


When we talk about the Special Forces individual and the training that goes into the individual to be able to do all these things, from humanitarian assistance to intense battle, we really boil it down to four essential elements: shoot, move, communicate and think.

Because first and foremost we want cognitive operators. And if we have selected the right people with the personal attributes, that love of adversity, that adaptiveness, that innovativeness, they will be able to adapt to any situation that the Government of Canada wants us to be involved in.

And in the end, a Special Forces Operator isn't someone special. And really all that an operator is, is someone who knows the basics and he's mastered the basics. So he knows them extremely well. And he has those personal attributes, that innovativeness, that adaptiveness, that he can apply those basics to any situation no matter what the adversity.

All through repetition and training, we build up those skills, so you don't succumb to the physiological pressures of stress.


You've got Type A personalities who are hugely invested in their jobs and they just want to knock it out of the park


First and foremost, everything that Canadian Special Operations has done is driven by the Government of Canada's interests. And the policy framework that allows us to work in those regions is the capacity building program under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development. And really all we're doing is assisting Foreign Affairs in delivering the capacity building programs in those regions.


Absolutely. Ah you know, it's like in any relationship, especially at the start. A relationship, as you know, is built on trust and you don't get that every day. So as we work and partner with different nations, especially in initial stages of a relationship, we're always cognizant of what we're doing in terms of capacity building.

And that's why the foundation of any program of instruction or the foundation of any military to military interaction or training always goes back to the basic tenets of respect for human rights, use of force in the laws of armed conflict. And that's something that continually is reinforced through all our capacity building programs.


I have a wife and I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. And the 3-year-old is a little dude there. He's definitely going to be an SOF operator right? So my daughter, she's got the other side. She's keen, she's smart, she's intelligent, and also a little bit of a diva.

We always say that the Special Forces business is a bit of a family business. And I'll speak here from a commander's perspective, because my wife is like any other wife in the Canadian Armed Forces. She bears a lot of the stress back home when I'm deployed. And she can handle it because the men and women in the regiment are very strong-willed people and they tend to have spouses that are very strong-willed spouses, girlfriends, significant others, very strong-willed as well. So everyone gathers their own -- has that ability to compartmentalize, has that ability to sort of create a steady state if you will, build a routine in absence of the other. And then of course when you catapult back into your home, it becomes a disturbance. It dislocates that rhythm.

That whole cycle in the Special Operations community is often disruptive. A lot of what we do, because of the nature of our high readiness, can happen very quickly. So there isn't that opportunity to psychologically build. All members of the regiment being a high readiness regiment, have to have their families at high readiness in order to react to being deployed on a moment's notice.

But personally from my perspective, it's very difficult, but you find ways around it.


Well I mean the term secretive sounds so nefarious right? In reality what we're talking about is operational security, right? And there's two aspects to that. There's you know, classification of information and then there's the sensitivity of operations.

So it protects the people that we put in those positions, much like at local police forces. Those people involved in undercover criminal investigations, you know, their identities are obviously protected. And the reason they do that is not to keep it out of the public domain. It's to protect them and their families. So there's that aspect of operational security.

And there is a small component of protecting of course national interest. But really the operational security that we have all comes down to really force protection and protection of the information, right. So there certainly is no nefarious intent behind it.


I hope that we continue to deliver what the Government of Canada has asked us to do. When I say delivered I always say that in our community not only do we under-promise but over-deliver. And I just hope that we keep doing that.


Well, to be honest, when I look at Exercise Flintlock and I look at all the things that we are doing here -- the capacity building, the partnerships and cooperations. We're building a better place. We're promoting regional security. And I think Canadians will be proud of that.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

New announcement: Families of fallen soldiers invited to Ottawa service must pay own way

Families of fallen soldiers invited to Ottawa service must pay own way

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Richard Madan, CTV News
Published Wednesday, April 2, 2014 10:05PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 2, 2014 11:26PM EDT

Family members of Canadian soldiers who fought and died in Afghanistan have been told to pay their own way to attend an elaborate service in Ottawa honouring the fallen, CTV News has learned.

CTV News obtained a letter dated last month by the "Director of Casualty Support Management" at National Defence, written to all 158 next-of-kin families.

It describes the May 9 National Day of Honour as a way "to commemorate our service and our sacrifices in order to achieve the security and stability we brought to Afghanistan."

But in the next paragraph, it tells family members: "your attendance would be at your own expense."

For the father of Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female soldier killed in Afghanistan, it was like a slap in the face.

"It was kind of like, 'We're having this big special event and you can come if you want, but you have to buy your own ticket,'" said Tim Goddard, who lives in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

NDP MP Jack Harris said fallen soldiers' families "have every right to be upset" about the invitations.

Many families of fallen soldiers told CTV News they do not have the financial resources to pay for flight and hotel to Ottawa.

Priscilla Blake, who lost her husband, Petty Officer Craig Blake in an explosion in Kabul four years ago, says the money being used for the Afghanistan commemoration would be better spent on helping returning veterans suffering mental and physical injuries.

"They're coming back with medical problems, mental disabilities; they need money than we need a flight Ottawa," she said from her home in Dartmouth, N.S.

Taxpayers forked out more than $850,000 for a similar commemoration ceremony on Parliament Hill to mark the end of the NATO-led Libya mission in November 2011. There were no Canadian casualties in that mission.

But the Afghan mission has been marred by a suicide crisis, and demands for mental health workers to help injured soldiers and their families cope with their loss.

Critics say the Harper government is using the National Day of Honour for political gain.

"This government will use the pain of others as a prop for their own political spin," said Liberal MP Wayne Easter. "It is just so wrong."

But late Wednesday, it appeared that the government was poised to reverse course. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told CTV News he'll soon announce "financial support for the families of the fallen travelling to Ottawa."

Below is the letter sent to families. If you can't see it on your mobile device

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Conservatives claim they are improving veterans lot shameful

Conservatives claim they are improving veterans lot shameful

Arnprior Chronicle-Guide
By Andrew Fogarasi

Earlier this year, there was a flurry of news items about the federal government shutting down over 10 per cent of its Veterans Affairs offices.

You may even remember Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino treating a group of veterans with an appalling degree of rudeness and disrespect when they were scheduled to meet with him on the issue.

Except, of course, the Conservatives are hoping you don't. In fact, they are counting on it.

How else to explain MP Cheryl Gallant's recent mail-out trumpeting the joyous news that veterans now enjoy over 600 'points of service' for their dealings with government? Never mind that these exciting new points of service are nothing more than existing Service Canada outlets, already understaffed and unable to effectively serve their areas.

Never mind that instead of having instant access to dedicated professionals intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of each client's case, veterans are now expected to wait in line for God knows how long in order to speak with someone who has no clue who they are or how to handle their questions.

Why, if the feds only had the foresight to stuff a pile of forms behind the counter of every Mc-Donalds in the country, they could be proudly announcing thousands of points of service! The gall of MP Cheryl Gallant and her fellow Conservatives simply boggles the mind.

They not only expect Canadians to approve of this reduction in the scope and quality of services for veterans, they are actually trying to spin it as a great achievement.

What's next for the Conservatives and their friends? Perhaps "Mike Duffy has done more to expose corruption in the Senate and the PMO than any other Canadian in recent memory."

Or "The Fair Elections Act: improving democracy by making it harder for those who are likely to vote against us to vote at all."

And I look forward to Rob Ford's new mayoral campaign: "Rob Ford, getting crack off the streets ... one rock at a time."

Unfortunately for every Canadian, the Orwellian doublespeak from the federal government is not really a laughing matter. The way they treat those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country is shameful.

The fact that they are trying to convince Canadians that they are improving things for our vets when they are actively making them worse is disgusting.

These are the kind of people who would kick you in the teeth and praise themselves for their forays into dentistry. The Liberals and their scandal-plagued days in power look downright quaint in comparison.

Andrew Fogarasi


Widower of Canadian soldier says it's his duty to speak out about wife's suicide
Dallaire says Conservatives are 'second-guessing' the cost of veterans
CTV News Channel: Families should be helped

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New announcement: You're not alone - Mental Health resources for CAF members and families

You're not alone - Mental Health resources for CAF members and families

Are you in distress? Are you having anxiety attacks or thoughts of suicide? Call the Member Assistance Program right now at 1-800-268-7708. Personal, confidential service available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If it is an emergency, call 911.

Are you worried about your family member? Is he or she feeling sad, hopeless or angry? For immediate assistance, call the Family Information Line right now at 1-800-866-4546. Personal, confidential service available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Please visit for very important message:

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Ron Clarke fights his government and the ghosts in his head

Ron Clarke fights his government and the ghosts in his head

Published March 31, 2014 - 6:50pm
Last Updated April 1, 2014 - 12:17pm

[color=blue]Check the Video[/color]:


Ex-boxer, infantryman has lost battle to keep DVA offices — so far

Ron Clarke strikes his old boxing pose.

And moves in for a knockout.

"I perfected it, as a matter of fact," he says of his overhand right.

His 73-year-old body — waiting now for a major back operation — bobs and weaves. Shadow-dancing in the reflection of framed black and white photos. And his glory days.

SEE ALSO: Veterans battle their own government

"I would always throw a bunch of left hooks at you … and what happens when I go to throw that? You move this way, don't you?" says the former welterweight, edging forward. "And then, bam!"

The Canadian Forces veteran laughs for a moment, thinking about the move that earned him a stellar record in the ring.

Thirty-two fights. Two losses. Twenty-one wins by knockout in the first round.

But that was a long time ago.

And these days, he might have to go the distance — up against his own government and the ghosts in his head.

Many Canadians know about his battle with the federal government. They see him as the tough, feisty senior citizen who took on Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino while fighting, unsuccessfully, to save the department's district office in Sydney, where vets say they got the kind of personal touch they need while facing everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to the aftermath of strokes.

Ottawa closed that support office and seven others in late January, after countrywide protests. And after testy exchanges between Clarke, other vets and Fantino, when he arrived late for a scheduled meeting with them at his office.

But the Georges River resident vows to fight on, to help defeat the Harper government and get those offices back. And he's become something of a folk hero along the way — admired by former soldiers and "civvies," strangers who call him today just because they're lonely or want someone to champion their own unrelated cause.

But sit with this scrappy former infantryman, military postal clerk and peacekeeping vet for a little while and another man emerges.

A man who came from a hardscrabble life on the wrong side of the tracks and grew up to see things that still keep him up nights.

He points to a picture of his late uncle, Edgar, one of dozens of photos or military plaques covering the basement walls of the home he shares with his wife of 56 years, Elsie, recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

"He suffered from (PTSD)," Clarke says of his uncle, a Second World War veteran. "But in them days, they didn't know what the hell it was. God love him … great guy when he was sober. When he was drinking, he was a great guy with me too, you know, around us guys, but he was a tough, rough character.

"My … older brother Billy and I, whenever we had the opportunity, we'd pick him up, take him with us fishing. … Yeah, he loved that."

His voice trails off. And he starts to cry.

"I'll be all right," he says, asking for a tissue. "See, that PTSD, that's what it does to you, this is part of it, right. Anyway.

"The medication hasn't kicked in yet," he says with a laugh, shrugging it off.

"That's another thing I do … I use a lot of humour to get around my problem and that helps.

"And, of course, that little place in the back room there," he says, pointing to his bar. "That helps too, believe me. But I'm not like Uncle Edgar was. I mean, I don't drink to get drunk. I have my brandy every night and maybe a liqueur with it and that's it."


But his doctor recently upped his antidepressant medication, something he's been taking since he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2002, 10 years after he retired from a military career that included a decade of those infantry boxing bouts and peacekeeping in Cyprus, Namibia and beyond.

The medication helps, but not always. Lately, with all the pressures of this recent battle, he's been breaking down too often, he says. He thinks he may need more to stem the trauma he traces back to 1973 and a six-month stint with the International Commission of Control and Supervision — tasked with monitoring ceasefires and the release of prisoners during the Vietnam War.

"Yeah, Vietnam," says the Clarke, who grew up between North Sydney and Gannon Road, "the roughest place on this side of the water," where men were stevedores and kids threw rocks at cops who crossed the railway line. He lived there with his mother and 11 siblings (one brother later died on the tracks) in a "poor" household with a heavy-drinking father, who didn't beat them but scared them so much sometimes "we had to go down the back steps and go up to my grandmother's place and stay there."

But then he joined the army at 16. He trained in the infantry, where he boxed as Babe Clarke, for 10 years and switched to the military postal service. And, eventually, went to Vietnam.

"When I arrived in Vietnam, the first day on the ground, I met this first sergeant, that's like a chief warrant officer, a Canadian and he was from Newfoundland and he was American forces," Clarke recalls. "He had his own vehicle and asked me if I wanted to have a look around … we looked around the base and then he went off the base and went up a dirt road."

He takes a breath and explains the rest.

"There was Vietnamese bodies stacked like cordwood, like it would be picked up and taken away. Whew, that was heavy. Anyway, we actually got back to base and he took me over to one of the airplane hangars and it was the mortuary for the Americans. There were thousands, and I mean thousands, of body bags stacked up waiting to be moved back to the States.

"The smell of the place was just…

"And one of our own lads, a captain, he was shot down while we were there. We retrieved his remains and they brought him back and when we took him off the airplane, the smell was just — it stays with me to this day. The smell of death."

The images stay too. Those and others of released prisoners of war, emaciated and confused. He starts to talk about them but stops, overwhelmed by these and other pictures that play over regularly in his dreams.

"Some nights I wake up and I'm a little bit upset," he says.

"I was up 3:30 this morning … no sense going back to sleep because you don't know what goes through this thing up here."

[center] If it wasn't for us veterans, not me in particular but those guys who were in combat, if it wasn't for them, you know (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper wouldn't be sitting up there today … So look, remember what your veterans did for you, did for this country, and treat them with dignity and give them what they need, whatever they need.[/center]

Cape Breton vets like Terry Collins, who served in Afghanistan and also has PTSD, say they're grateful Clarke has taken on the task. The Florence resident, on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills for his illness, participated in a few protests and media interviews about the closures but then had to withdraw because it made his symptoms worse.

"We're lucky that somebody like that can actually go as long as he's been going," Collins says. "I could only do so much and then my head became too full."

"I think it's great," Elsie Clarke says of her husband's mission. But she worries about him too.

"He does need help," she says. "He's got too much to do."

But Clarke sees the ongoing fight as a matter of principle and respect. And decency, toward veterans he says were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

"Why do they want to treat their vets like that? " he asks.

"Christ, one of the boys said 'why the hell do the vets have to beg for everything they want?' … And I agree with that statement.

"Jesus, you know, if it wasn't for us veterans, not me in particular but those guys who were in combat, if it wasn't for them, you know (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper wouldn't be sitting up there today … So look, remember what your veterans did for you, did for this country, and treat them with dignity and give them what they need, whatever they need. And closing the offices on them was one of the worst things they could ever do."

Clarke also bristles at Fantino's claim the vets have been used by the former employees' union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Yes, he says, the union offered to help and paid for the vets' delegation to Ottawa. But that was after he'd already been involved in two protests in Sydney.

"I said sure, anything to help. The government certainly wasn't helping us … but they (the union) weren't running the show, we were."

Clarke is working with the union again to gather complaints from veterans across the country, now that the offices have been closed. He plans to send them to the federal ombudsman. He's already hearing from vets who've had trouble getting through or getting to the Service Canada offices. And he says they're certainly not getting the immediate action they did from the former Sydney employees. Plus, a recent report from the department itself acknowledged the closures could hamper service delivery to vets.

He's also started what he calls a war chest, a fund, to help defeat the Harper government in the next election. The phone rings today with an offer of $1,000.

The father of four, including a baby who died at just six weeks old, isn't quite sure why he's struck such a chord with the public. He's been told he's articulate. But he wonders about that, since he only has a Grade 8 education.

"They know I'm sincere and they know I'm fighting a good fight, I guess," he reasons.

And that's something he'll continue to do.

"You know, I may be 74 come April but by Jesus, (if) you're in front of me, I've still got this right hand and right arm and you best be careful.

"I may not be as fast as I used to be, but I'm as powerful.

"Even more powerful," he jokes, "because I'm a heavyweight."

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.