One Day of Honouring Veterans Will Never Make Up For a Lifetime of Disrespect
When I was asked to write about the Day of Honour I found it difficult. I knew that the sooner I finished the better, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. The ceremony itself went off without a hitch. The military worked within the seven-week time frame flawlessly, DND followed the word of command and put on a parade that would make Caesar jealous, while cities across Canada honoured the 40,000-plus Afghan veterans with a display of gratitude that was truly appreciated. Despite these facts, I have misgivings about painting a happy picture of military affairs in Canada. One day of organized remembrance does not undo the actions -- or lack thereof -- of our government on every other day. I fear that our veterans continue to be mistreated and disrespected within a system that ignores their sacrifices on a daily basis.
It is truly amazing to watch Canadian soldiers work with what they have. Very few nations can boast of a military able to overcome such adversity. Canada has ships that break down in the Pacific and have to be towed to Hawaii, there are submarines that don't sink or float, and the Sea King helicopters require 100 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight time. I've heard that the company that made the Sea King has even requested an inspection of the helicopters because they never intended them to be used for over 40 years. The current Canadian contribution to the NATO mission supporting Ukraine is a great opportunity for other nations to see the equipment that their grandfathers used. Combat tested reservists -- men and women who volunteered to go to war, putting job and family on hold for over a year -- have returned to their civilian lives and reserve units and due to budgetary cutbacks are forced to use militia bullets (the act of saying "bang" with your mouth) on weekend exercises. I've done it.
The day before the National Day of Honour, I decided to visit the National War Museum. As I walked through the museum I noticed that it ended at the Canadian mission in Bosnia. There was no indication at all that Canada had ever sent a mission to Afghanistan. I followed my visit with a walk along the Ottawa River and as I went to cut up Elgin Street, I found construction crews working on the National War Memorial. Communication for the May 9 ceremony was abysmal, apparently the plans leading up to parade for the Day of Honour were need to know, and veterans did not need to know.
Originally, families of the fallen were told that they would not have to pay for their travel expenses to attend the Day of Honour. Unfortunately, within 24 hours of that announcement the decision was reversed. Further information was quickly released that the charity, True Patriot Love, was going to cover the expenses. However, to cover the costs, a breakfast was held on the morning of the ceremony at the Ottawa Convention Center where donors could pay 1,000 dollars a plate to attend. In a Dion Quintuplet type scenario, the families of the fallen were to be put on display to the highest bidder to cover the cost of attendance at their day of honour. It was at this time that I became aware of the fact that doing nothing might be better than doing something.
It was Facebook that showed me how to sign up for the National Day of Honour. If it were not for the Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA -- a group dedicated to improving the quality of life of our veterans), I would have had no idea how to even sign up for the parade. The government made no attempt to contact me or -- to my knowledge -- any other Afghan vet.
When I arrived at the ceremony I did not anticipate having to march on parade. I was conflicted, and yet I fell in to ranks. A retired colonel began to delegate, immediately appointing a Regimental Sergeant Major RSM to form us up. They began to call out drill, but I could not bring myself to follow the word of command. Being called to attention, after all of the grief my injury caused me, was too difficult. Veterans Affairs of Canada legislation is set up in such a way that a penetrating head injury like the one I sustained in Afghanistan will garner you 10 per cent of 298,000 dollars. I will not come to attention.
Julian Fantino compares Rob Ford's addiction struggles with the PTSD suffered by soldiers like myself. I will not turn to the right in threes. The conservative government is currently arguing that the "moral obligation" owed to injured veterans spoken of by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden does not apply to those veterans now. When we were a poorer country, with more veterans and less people, there was a moral obligation. But when we are a richer country with less veterans and more people, the moral obligation no longer applies. I argue that you must possess and act in honour to declare a day in support of it.
This should be a cautionary tale to everyone. The veterans' inability to come together proved to be their downfall. Anyone currently serving will not speak up about poor treatment. World War II veterans are dying at a rate greater than a 1,000 a month. Veterans' associations are working in their member's interests, but do not appear interested in working together. Charities will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars so that the government does not have to pay to bring 158 families of the fallen out to Ottawa. Twenty years ago, the legion had 500,000 members. Today there is only a little over 300,000 and of that number 70,000 are veterans, 40,000 of whom are above the age of 80. The legion will soon have to transition into a civilian organization to survive. Our failure to unite as veterans has left us vulnerable and the government has seized the opportunity to slash the department of Veterans Affairs.
The honour that I witnessed on May 9, 2014 was that of a group of men and women who will continue to be mistreated and disrespected. They will continue to hold their heads high and follow commands from a man that speaks of honour and then allows his representatives to walk out on veteran delegations and dispute moral obligations to those injured in war.
There is nothing left to protect the rights of veterans in Canada but the Canadian people. There is no union. A soldier cannot sue the federal government. I believe that no one is safe from a government able to do this to veterans. I have often wondered if Canada was like this when I went to war in 2006. If it was, instead of my brains back I want my naivety.
Bruce Moncur: Canadian Afghanistan War Veterans Association https://www.facebook.com/groups/219903948077143/
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.