By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times
Thursday, October 30, 2014 8:31:18 EDT PM
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The federal government has pledged to make upgrades to the veterans charter, but "they're certainly not breaking their back ..." says one local Second World War veteran.
Bud Weeks said the feds' treatment of veterans has improved since he returned to Canada in 1946 after serving four years overseas, but it's almost come too late.
"If we'd had some of this help, some of it, back about 40 years ago, it would have helped immensely," the Orillia man said. In October, the Conservative government agreed to implement 14 recommendations to strengthen the charter, made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in June.
The charter was introduced in 2006 and amended in 2011.
It was only after the 2011 amendment Weeks was granted compensation for the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he has lived with for more than 60 years.
Weeks landed in France 48 days after the Normandy invasion. He came dangerously close to suffering the same fate as the 20 or so Canadian soldiers who were infamously murdered by the SS at Ardenne Abbey in 1944. He said he was captured by the same SS division that shot those soldiers in the back of their heads and was spared only because an ordinary German soldier threw him down a flight of stairs at the last minute.
"It was one hell of a feeling with that SS bugger behind me taking his pistol out of his holster," Weeks said.
"I can remember every … darn minute of it and every thing else," he said.
Weeks first applied for compensation in 2007, after he realized soldiers returning from Afghanistan were being awarded it, but was told he didn't qualify.
"I just got a letter back saying it wasn't covered. That was it. That was the end of it. So, I let it go," he said.
Ramara Township resident Harold Rowden was among the soldiers who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day. He said he only began receiving compensation for PTSD in 2012.
"They're just hoping for us old farts to die and then they won't have to pay nothing," he said.
Rowden feels the government's treatment of veterans has improved in recent years, but, like Weeks, he was frustrated by earlier experiences while seeking compensation.
He survived the D-Day invasion only to be knocked unconscious a few weeks later in a barrage of enemy artillery fire. He woke up in a hospital with one of his legs mangled.
"When I came back from overseas, I was assessed. I think they called my wound a 3% wound," Rowden said. "They didn't give you a pension unless you were 5%."
Rowden received a letter from the government in 1967 telling him his services were worth $150 and sent him a cheque.
"Wasn't that damn decent?" he said.
Before 2006, any kind of disability pension was provided under the Pension Act, including pensions for post-military service, said Simcoe North Conservative MP Bruce Stanton.
"The New Veterans Charter was brought in to overhaul that and to try to improve and address the varied complaints they received about the limitations in the Pension Act," he said.
When asked why Weeks was given the runaround when he sought compensation, Veterans Affairs Canada declined to comment.
However, Janice Summerby, the department's media relations adviser, said in an email the federal government agrees with "the spirit and intent of the majority of the of the recommendations" made in June.
When asked what recommendations the government didn't agree with, Veterans Affairs again declined to comment.
The recommendations came following another review of the veterans charter. The focus of the review was on the delivery of programs and supports, including financial ones, for the most seriously disabled veterans and their families.
Implementing the recommendations will be done in phases.
"The first phase of the government's formal response to the committee report includes ensuring that Canadian Armed Forces personnel are medically stable before they transition to civilian life …" Summerby said in the email.
When asked if former officers were previously reintegrated into society unstable, the department again declined to comment.
As part of the first phase of implementation, the number of counselling sessions available to veterans' families will be doubled, Summerby said.
She said the government will reduce the amount of red tape around processing benefit applications.
The department did not provide a timeline for implementing the recommendations.
The federal government's "benefits and investments for veterans have increased by more than $4.7 billion since 2006," Summerby said in her email.
Stanton said the government "knows and understands" Canada owes its veterans everything.
"We really cannot do enough for them for what they did for us. That's the sort of jumping-off point that we begin with," Stanton said. "Each and every case that a veteran brings to us, we have to take up with the greatest degree of interest and attention and compassion. Where that does not happen, we need to find out about it and do what we can to make it right."
MORE WORK TO DO
Although the government accepted the recommendations, there are veterans' organizations that still have concerns.
There are three major issues the Royal Canadian Legion says still need to be resolved.
Two pertain to perceived inadequacies with the earnings-loss benefit, a monthly sum that currently raises veterans' total incomes to at least 75% of their pre-release military salaries.
The legion said the figure should be higher for former officers and reservists.
The legion also said the disability awarded to soldiers must be raised so it is consistent with damages awarded to injured civilian workers in courts.
Jack Gillard, president of the Orillia Army Navy Air Force Club, attended the veterans' organization's Dominion Command meeting shortly after the recommendations came down.
Gillard said he hasn't heard negative feedback in response to the proposed changes from local veterans but noted working with the government to rejig the charter is "an ongoing thing."
"They still haven't fully listened, but strong voices have been talking to them in the past few years," Gillard said.
The Army Navy Air Force Club recommended compensation reservists get while serving with regular forces be upgraded, Gillard said, as well as enhanced coverage of funeral costs.
Both are being looked at, he added.
"We would not be where we are today had it not been for the many who gave the final sacrifice for the benefits and freedoms that we have today," Gillard said. "And I think that is the most important part …"
— With files from QMI Agency
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.