Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Canada’s war vets a potentially powerful electoral force: Tim Harper

Canada's war vets a potentially powerful electoral force: Tim Harper

Tensions between vets and their minister, Julian Fantino, continue to simmer and no détente appears on the horizon.


By: Tim Harper National Affairs, Published on Thu Aug 28 2014

So far, it sounds like loose, angry talk.

But the governing Conservatives are playing with fire with the country's war veterans.

If they can — as they have threatened — organize, mobilize and speak with one voice during next year's federal election, the government will have a major problem on its hands; a problem of its own making.

Right now, the Conservatives are dealing with veterans who have yet to find that united politically damaging voice.

But relations between Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and those who have returned home with physical and psychological wounds have not improved during the summer, with social media the main battleground in ongoing battles that are simmering just below the public eye.

A day of protest in June largely fizzled, but one veterans' advocate says he doesn't have to mobilize the multitudes on Parliament Hill to let Canadians know the manner in which they feel they have been treated by the Conservatives.

"We merely have to tell Canadians our story,'' said Michael Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

"If I have to make YouTube videos of stumps to show Canadians how egregiously we have been treated, I will damn well do it.''

As first reported by the CBC this week, veterans groups are now raising objections to the amount of money the Harper Conservatives are spending to commemorate past wars, while cutting back spending on helping veterans in the here and now.

They know the value of remembering but point to the total of spending.

According to documents obtained by the federal Liberals, Canadian Heritage budgeted almost $40 million to commemorate the World Wars and the War of 1812 between 2010 and 2015.

National Defence has budgeted some $27.5 million between now and 2020 to mark events of the 100th anniversary of World War I and the 75th anniversary of World War II.

Veterans Affairs has budgeted another $80 million to mark events of the world wars over the next two years.

According to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the contract for advertising for this year's Remembrance Day services has gone to a Halifax company for $678,000.

This, veterans will tell you, is millions spent on promoting a government that uses the military for self-aggrandizement while shortchanging those who have served in Afghanistan.

"Sending Canada's D-Day heroes back to the beaches of Normandy, many of whom were in their 90s, does not come at the expense of treatment for veterans here at home,'' said Fantino's spokesperson, Ashlee Smith.

Anyone suggesting that veterans should not be properly honoured is doing them a "disservice,'' she said.

This week, the veterans' ombudsman, Guy Parent, and the Canadian Forces ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, jointly agreed to probe the arduous process wounded soldiers face while transitioning to civilian life.

The wounded soldiers have had to validate their conditions with doctors upon release from the forces, beginning a process that can take months and has cost some their benefits.

Parent, in a study, concluded half of the most badly wounded war veterans are receiving no disability benefits, while those who are receiving benefits routinely receive the lowest-grade payments.

A social media war was triggered by Fantino, who took to Facebook and Twitter to make the case that disabled veterans are being treated generously, but veterans and critics labelled the minister's charts and graphics misleading because so few of the permanently disabled vets receive the amount of money he claims is available.

This has, of course, been a bad year for Fantino, who has fumbled the file in two highly publicized events, arguing with veterans and appearing to snub the wife of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the minister is refusing to swap his combativeness with empathy.

He took matters into his own hands with a letter to the Halifax newspaper this month, because, he said, it was time to explode some myths.

He pointed to a Statistics Canada report that veterans are receiving $60,000 to $70,000 per year and he — again — accused public sector unions of using veterans for their own purposes, then trying to block their entry into the public service.

It is an ongoing puzzle why Fantino mounts such an aggressive counterattack against those who have served this country in wars.

There are no signs that the coming year will result in a détente between the minister and the country's veterans.

Right now, the government can benefit only because veterans groups seem unable to speak as one political voice.

Should that change, there can be few other lobby groups that could mount a more powerful or politically damaging campaign against a government seeking re-election.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

To repair fractured relationship with veterans, Fantino must go

To repair fractured relationship with veterans, Fantino must go

August 28, 2014

By Deveryn Ross

In an op-ed entitled "It's a myth veterans are mistreated", published in last Wednesday's Halifax Chronicle Herald, Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino lashed out at veterans who are unhappy with the treatment they're receiving from the Harper government, and at unionized members within his own department.

The minister wrote that, "One myth is that veterans no longer receive monthly benefits and just receive a lump-sum payment. This is simply not true. Veterans are eligible for a range of services and benefits that enable them to get the financial help and support they deserve."

He cited a Statistics Canada report which he claimed, "found veterans who are receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada are earning approximately $70,000 a year. This independent report also found that veterans who are medically released earn approximately $60,000 a year. This is in addition to a lump-sum given where a veteran is critically injured."

In a shot aimed at public service union members, he added that, "Another myth is that unions put veterans ahead of their own interests."

Fantino's claims are contradicted by findings contained in a report by Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent, released last Tuesday. Parent concluded that almost half of Canada's most severely disabled veterans are not receiving a government allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds.

"Many severely impaired veterans are either not receiving these benefits or may be receiving them at a grade level that is too low," wrote the Ombudsman. "This is unfair and needs to be corrected."

The next day, the Canadian Press reported that "Fantino told a House of Commons committee last spring that some permanently disabled soldiers receive more than $10,000 per month, but figures from his own department show that only four individuals in the entire country receive that much."

Brandonite Glen Kirkland, an Afghanistan veteran and leading advocate for his comrades, is unimpressed by Fantino's latest broadside.

In 2008, Kirkland was the victim of a Taliban ambush that killed three other soldiers. He suffered serious injuries, including the loss of 75 per cent of his hearing, a partial loss of vision and a brain injury that has left him permanently dependant on insulin.

"I was critically wounded, am on life sustaining therapy (eight - 10 insulin injections a day) and since I've been released, I have had zero coverage", he told me on Wednesday. "I am in the process of getting compensated but am currently paying over $3,000 per month for my medicine that was a direct result of serving Canada."

Kirkland says what he and those who served with him in Afghanistan want -- and what the Harper government refuses to provide -- is the same treatment as veterans of earlier conflicts receive. "In 2006, the government amended the pension program which covered wounded military personnel. The changes were made months before Canada took on its largest combat mission since Korea. It wasn't done to look after the soldiers, but rather to save money on the backs of those who serve."

"What soldiers are fighting for now is not more financial gain but to have one standard for all", he says. "Whether it's the older WWII veterans or the more recent veterans, they are coming home with the same injuries and deserve equal compensation."

Kirkland's position, resting on principles of fairness and common sense, is reasonable. The belligerent position taken by Fantino in response to veterans' concerns is not.

It begs the question: What justification is there for the minister of veterans affairs misrepresenting the plight of Canada's veterans and questioning the motives of his own departmental staff?

Since assuming the veterans' affairs portfolio, Fantino has taken a combative, adversarial approach toward Canadian men and women who have experienced actual combat, with many having the scars to prove it. Soldiers such as Glen Kirkland.

Far from being their advocate, Fantino has repeatedly portrayed them as ingrates, malingers and, in some cases, liars. Wednesday's salvo is the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example.

Enough is enough. If the Harper government has any desire to repair its fractured relationship with veterans before the coming election, it starts with a new veterans' affairs minister. Fantino must go.

Care to comment?
Email:, Twitter: @deverynross

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New announcement: Why Soldiers Miss War

Returning home from a combat tour is an extremely confusing experience to say the least. For the duration of your tour you are looking forward to getting home, seeing your family, and drinking that first beer. But for most, all the built up excitement and expectation of a glorious home coming is snuffed out by an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.

When I came back from my first tour to Panjwai, Kandahar I found myself sitting in my basement wide awake on the first night, browsing through photos and videos from the place I had wanted to get away from for the past 7 months. Within 12 hours of getting home, I was already missing it. The question I couldn't answer at that time was "What about tour was I missing?". It definitely wasn't the heat, boredom, locals, sand flies, IED's, mortars, rations, Thursdays, etc…so what was it?

The majority of grunts will tell you that they miss the adrenaline you can only find in a firefight, which is definitely true for most, but I believe Sebastian Junger hits the nail on the head with this incredible Ted Talk.


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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New announcement: Ombudsmen to study handling of wounded vets

OTTAWA - Two military watchdogs are opening a joint investigation into how ill and injured soldiers are treated during their transition to civilian life.

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent and Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne will join forces to look at a system that has been the subject of thousands of complaints, both formal and informal.

Walbourne says over half of the 1,500 complaints his office received last year related to end-of-career issues, including transition.

The two men will focus their investigation on the duplication that exists between National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

"There is an arduous process that goes on for months," Walbourne said. "There's doctor's visits. There's forms to be filled out. There's the CF-98 (form), which talks about the injury and how it happened.

"All that is done and once that is done, they start a new process the next day when the person is released. There's an 18-page application to get into the (veterans) system."

Many soldiers, wounded in Afghanistan and too ill to continue serving, have found upon release that the veterans bureaucracy requires them to validate their condition by visiting different doctors.

In some instances, they have been denied benefits for injuries that cost them their careers and Walbourne says this is one of the inequities that will be covered in the investigation.

"Why are there two processes?"Walbourne asked. "Why can't the exit process be the automatic entrance process?"

Because of overlap, injured veterans end up having two case managers during their transition — one from each department. The House of Commons veterans committee heard complaints about the quality of case workers during its recent study of the legislation that governs benefits for ex-soldiers.

"Transition is a time of great adjustment in the lives of Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans," said Parent said. "We need to ensure that their transition is as seamless as possible with clear information and transparent communication."

Last year, veterans and advocates complained publicly about the number of soldiers who wanted to continue serving but were released from the military on medical grounds, many of them with post-traumatic stress.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson insisted under questioning in the House of Commons that everything was being done to prepare members for life in the civilian world, including career counselling and access to job training.

But Parent told the Commons committee last year the many soldiers find it difficult to get access to education grants if they choose a career that's unrelated to the skills they acquired in the military.

The committee, in a report released in June, said the government must work harder to support not only the soldiers, but their families through the process of re-entering civilian life.

A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said the Conservative government supports the investigation.

"Like the veterans ombudsman and National Defence ombudsman, our government believes in the importance of providing a continuum of service to veterans," said Ashlee Smith in an email.

Earlier this year, Fantino asked his department to conduct an independent, third-party review of the Veterans Affairs Transformation Agenda, which is a five-year program intended to modernize overall service delivery and make it "hassle-free," as one official described it during 2012 testimony to Parliament.

The department, last week, awarded a contract for that study.

Walbourne said transition is a complex topic and the multi-part investigation will tackle each issue one at time over the next 15 to 18 months. Findings will be released in a series of interim reports.

On average 5,000 to 6,000 full-time military members are released annually.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New announcement: History of mental illness linked to PTSD

History of mental illness linked to PTSD

By Elizabeth Payne, Postmedia News August 21, 2014

Having a history of mental illness puts soldiers at higher risk of posttraumatic stress disorder after a combat mission, new Canadian research suggests.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, was based on post-deployment interviews with more than 16,000 Canadian Forces members who served in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. It found 10.2 per cent of those deployed to Afghanistan had at least one common mental health problem after returning, including depression and PTSD.

The researchers found a strong correlation between those who had previously been treated for mental health issues and post-deployment mental health problems, including PTSD. Studies of U.S. military personnel have found a similar link, but the Canadian report's authors say it would be wrong to screen military personnel based on previous mental health treatment, because many people who had previously sought mental health treatment "were in good post-deployment mental health.

"Thus selecting people for deployment on this basis alone would result in the unnecessary exclusion of many people who would do well."

The authors suggested people seen as high risk might be offered interventions to prevent relapse before, during and after deployment.

"The strong correlation between current mental health care and post-deployment mental health problems simply demonstrates that people in care are there for a good reason."

The authors said additional research should be done to better understand why some military personnel with risk factors, including a history of mental health problems, did well after deployment to Afghanistan while others did not.

The Canadian findings differ from previous U.S. and U.K. studies in significant ways. Canadian reservists, according to the research, are at no greater risk of PTSD and other mental health problems than regular forces - a phenomenon identified in U.S. and British research. The Canadian study also found longer or multiple deployments did not appear to be risk factors. Francophones were less likely than anglophones to suffer from PTSD and other post-deployment mental health problems, in contrast to civilian data that, according to the authors, suggests "if anything, worse mental health for francophones in Canada." But, given that francophones in the military are largely concentrated at a limited number of bases, the authors suggest there may be other factors at play.

Exposure to combat had a strong correlation to later mental health problems.

The study comes at a time when researchers are better understanding the effects of combat on the mental health of Canadian military personnel, based on interviews with veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Earlier this summer Statistics Canada said one in six full-time regular members of the Canadian Forces reported experiencing symptoms of mental illness or alcohol disorders in the 12 months prior to a major 2013 mental health survey.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Veterans across Canada plot campaign against Conservatives

Veterans across Canada plot campaign against Conservatives

Published August 11, 2014 - 9:31pm


A network of veterans across Canada is planning a co-ordinated campaign against the Conservative government during next year's election.

The plan was sparked in January by a disastrous meeting in Ottawa with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. In interviews, half a dozen organizers across four provinces say thousands of veterans will take part in the movement.

The plan is similar to the ABC campaign — urging people to vote Anything But Conservative — waged by former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams.

"When the election is called, you're going to see some large fallout, believe me," said Sydney veteran Ron Clarke.

"As soon as the writ is dropped, we are in action."

The two main issues driving the movement are the closure of nine regional Veterans Affairs Canada offices and the government's new veterans charter.

The charter gives veterans who are wounded in combat a lump-sum payment instead of regular payments to support them throughout their lives.

About a dozen regional organizers have been in regular contact through conference calls.

The tactics vary. Newfoundland and Labrador organizer Paul Davis said veterans will be specifically targeting Conservative ridings to tell voters about how they have been mistreated by the government.

One group is even mulling getting a bus to take the cross-country campaign on the road.

Others say their protests will be more informal but nonetheless vocal.

"We have no co-ordinated thing planned, but I know that every veteran in the area is pissed," said John Scott, a former peacekeeper in Cyprus who lives in Prince George, B.C.

The ball started rolling in January when a group of veterans gathered in Ottawa to meet Fantino. The minister was 70 minutes late and things only got worse when he did show up.

Fantino chastised one veteran for pointing his finger, and

the minister walked away, seemingly exasperated, a few minutes later. News cameras caught

the interaction.

Afterwards, several angry veterans who were present started to make plans.

"Up until he screwed up, it would have probably been a fairly quiet thing," said Scott. "But he made the big mistake of mouthing off to the veterans, and a couple of them, of course, didn't take it very well."

Some veterans are also angry that the department spends money on advertising campaigns after cutting the regional offices to save costs.

New tendering documents show the federal government will spend $678,000 this year on "advertising and creative services" to mark Remembrance Day. Target Communications of Halifax, which operates as

Compass Communications, won the contract.

That ad budget is the same or more than the annual costs of running several of the regional front-line offices closed earlier this year. The total costs of running eight regional offices came to $5 million per year (the annual costs of the ninth closed office, in Prince George, are not known.)

Veterans who spoke to The Chronicle Herald said the department has its priorities wrong and has been regularly spending on advertising while cutting front-line services.

But the department said the Remembrance Day campaign is well within its mandate.

"It is part of the mandate of Veterans Affairs to keep the memory of the achievement and sacrifices of veterans alive for all Canadians," said an emailed statement from the department.

"It is important to note (Veterans Affairs) advertising expenditures will not impact the department's budget for veterans' services and benefits."

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: 1 in 6 Canadian Forces members report mental health or alcohol issues: StatsCan

1 in 6 Canadian Forces members report mental health or alcohol issues: StatsCan

August 11, 2014 10:38 am
By Staff Global News

TORONTO – One in six Canadian Armed Forces members have reported suffering symptoms associated with selected mental health or alcohol-related disorders, according to a Statistic Canada study published Monday.

About 6,700 full-time regular members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and 1,500 reservists were interviewed from April to August 2013 to collect information about the mental health status and need for mental health services within the Forces.

The results of the 2013 Canadian Armed Forces Mental Health Survey found that one in six members reported experiencing symptoms associated with at least one of the following mental or alcohol disorders in the previous 12 months: major depressive episode, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, alcohol misuse, and alcohol dependence.

IN-DEPTH: Invisible Wounds – Crisis in the Military

The survey was developed by StatsCan in collaboration with the Department of National Defence (DND).

A look at the most common disorders

According to the CAF website, approximately 15 per cent of regular personnel access mental health services each year. CAF said that although efforts have been made to reduce the time its members wait before seeking care, it remains a problem in the CAF and in the general population.

Depression, or a major depressive episode, was the most common disorder, with eight per cent of full-time regular Forces members meeting the criteria in the 12 months prior to the survey. The disorder is identified "as a period of two weeks or more with persistent depressed mood or loss of interest in normal activities, as well as other symptoms including: decreased energy, changes in sleep and appetite, impaired concentration, feelings of hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts."

Other results of the survey found:

3 per cent of regular Forces members reported symptoms consistent with PTSD.
7 per cent reported symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder.
4 per cent reported symptoms consistent with panic disorder.
5 per cent admitted to alcohol misuse, while 2 per cent of CF members said they're dependent on alcohol.

'Need for mental health support'

In April, Global News spoke with five current and former members of the Canadian Forces, each with post-traumatic stress disorder. Read their stories.

READ MORE: Campaign urges soldiers to connect to fight mental illness stigma, suicide

Veteran advocates have previously spoken out about the urgent need for more mental health and transition support for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and a spate of suicides within the Forces the past year has prompted a lot of public attention on the care and services available to soldiers and their families.

The Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program has a confidential 24/7 toll-free telephone advisory and referral service for all military personnel and their families: 1-800-268-7708. If it is an emergency, call 911.

Earlier this year, more than 200 Canadian military personnel who have suffered a mental health issue and sought care have reportedly come forward to share their stories in a series of online videos for the DND.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New announcement: Veterans Affairs’ disability compensation tweet is misleading: critic

Veterans Affairs' disability compensation tweet is misleading: critic

By Murray Brewster The Canadian Press

August 6, 2014 4:36 pm

OTTAWA – The Harper government has taken to social media to make the case that it's being generous to disabled veterans, but critics and the opposition say Conservatives are posting misleading information.

A chart laying out different scenarios of compensation was posted on the Veterans Affairs Facebook and Twitter accounts last week, showing benefits ranging from $6,743 per month to $10,260 per month, depending on a soldier's rank.

The chart compares the "maximum" disability earnings with the pre-release salaries of a private, a sergeant, a captain and a major, and in each case suggests the veterans are coming out ahead.

It also contains a series of caveats – "support varies depending on individual circumstances," for example – but NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer says the chart is only being published to deceive the public.

Stoffer said the government is throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into the calculations knowing full well the vast majority of soldiers never collect benefits that get anywhere near those numbers.

A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said the government is simply responding to the demands of ex-soldiers and the country's veterans ombudsman for more details about the kind of support that's out there.

"Veterans have said they want access to clear, easy-to-read information about the range of benefits and supports available to them, like the fact that they are eligible to receive thousands of dollars each month in just financial benefits from the government of Canada," Ashlee Smith said in an email.

But Stoffer said the government is trying to make a case that it has already fulfilled its obligation to those who have served and that no further improvements are needed to the system.

"It is extremely misleading and they are just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Canadian people," Stoffer said.

"Many, many veterans come nowhere near those amounts."

READ MORE: Veterans rally in Ottawa over federal government's 'breach of trust'

Ray McInnis, director of the service bureau at the Royal Canadian Legion, said the figures the government is using are accurate, but only in theory.

The calculation, for example, uses a Grade 2 rating for the permanent impairment allowance, when in fact the vast majority of wounded troops fall under the Grade 3 rating.

"I don't have a problem with them getting (veterans) to understand what you could be entitled to," said McInnis.

"Hopefully, the person looking at this is not going to look at that top number and just go across the board without reading the fine print."

Other veterans groups say the information is blatantly misleading, suggesting that it portrays ex-soldiers as greedy in light of a class-action lawsuit that's currently making its way through the courts.

The challenge, launched by veterans of the Afghan war, argues that the new system of lump sum benefits introduced in 2006 is discriminatory when compared with the pension-for-life regime introduced following the Second World War.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino cited the $10,000 per month figure last spring in the House of Commons and during an appearance before the veterans committee.

What Fantino didn't say was that only four out of 521 severely wounded veterans in the entire country qualify for that maximum entitlement. The eye-popping figure also includes the monthly Canadian Forces pension, a payment that's made whether a soldier was injured or not.

Invisible Wounds: Less money to help veterans, more to remember them

The figures included in the newly released chart use the same calculation.

Indeed, when Veterans Affairs officials were asked in June to justify the minister's claim, they would only say the figure represented a "scenario" and that precise calculations, given the cross-section of individual benefits, stipends and supplementary payments, was extremely difficult.

At the time, they estimated the average payout as ranging between $4,000 and $6,000 per month.

Stoffer said the chart is also misleading because it doesn't accurately portray the hoops ex-soldiers have to go through in order to qualify for benefits.

Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he believes the chart is meant to placate Conservative supporters upset by the protests and the lawsuit.

Support for the troops is a core value of the party and the growing unrest has been greeted by dismay among the party's rank and file.

READ MORE: Veterans Affairs Canada spent $100,000 on promoted tweets

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Canada's veterans deserve better

Canada's veterans deserve better

Michael Taube, Special to QMI Agency

First posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 07:42 PM EDT | Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 07:49 PM EDT

There's no doubt the federal Tories strongly support Canada's military. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's commitment to our troops, which includes a more robust and confident organization to take the lead in international missions such as Afghanistan, has made many Canadians proud.

When it comes to supporting our military veterans, the government's record has been much, much dicier.

In my view, the problem rests squarely on the shoulders of Julian Fantino, the minister of veterans affairs.

Fantino, as many Canadians know, had an excellent record on the police force. He was well-respected during his tenure as Toronto's chief of police (2000-2005), and as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner (2006-2010).

Alas, his career in federal politics has been anything but. His notoriously crusty demeanor, and poor relations with veterans' groups, has likely caused the PMO's communications department their fair share of grief.

In one notable example, Fantino had a few choice words with some military veterans earlier this year. The minister had arrived late for a meeting to discuss the closing of several veterans' offices, and the language got - shall we say - a bit testy.

While this was a difficult topic to deal with, and frustrating for all those involved, the Tories could have lived without video of this meeting appearing on our TV screens.

Now we have word that two recent Statistics Canada reports show some of the problems our military veterans have had in readjusting to civilian life. Some have faced difficulties in obtaining proper medical services, and suffered from chronic physical and mental health problems. Meanwhile, while a regular force veteran's average income "in the year prior to release was $70,900 (in 2011 constant dollars)," a wounded soldier released for medical reasons could witness a potential 20% drop in overall income.

From my standpoint, there's nothing to discuss.

The Tories must ensure that our brave men and women in uniform are always taken care of - even after they give back those uniforms. They are heroes, and it's the least we can do for all they've done to protect democracy, freedom and our way of life.

Harper and his senior advisers would be fundamentally aware of this. (They should be, anyway.) I would be very surprised if the PMO hadn't already instructed Fantino and his staff to handle this particular issue with the utmost of care and respect for our military veterans.

Closing veterans' offices was a bad political decision, but can at least be attributed to reducing wasteful spending and increasing efficiency. It would be political suicide for the Tories to ignore growing concerns about decreased income levels and inadequate medical services for military veterans.

Unfortunately, a big problem remains for the Tory government. If Fantino handles this new veterans' issue like he previously did with the veterans' offices, I wouldn't want to be Harper's director of communications for all the tea in China.

No, scratch that. If this issue explodes, I wouldn't want to be within earshot or eye level of the PM.

Ottawa, therefore, needs to ensure the Canadian military is behind its efforts in every way, shape and form. This includes our brave active soldiers and our heroic veterans.

Here's what I would suggest. The PM should either shuffle, demote or remove the sore spot, Fantino, from his current cabinet post.

While it won't completely resolve this issue, a fresh new face would show that Ottawa is always willing to listen to the concerns of Canada's military.

* Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.