Playing Soldiers

At the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa this year there was an impostor. Frank Gervais attended ceremonies in Ottawa in a military uniform, but was later found to be playing a despicable game of dress up. He is facing well deserved charges, but is not the impostor I was referring to.

The impostor was Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government he leads. They were posing as a military supporters while it’s our veterans who are getting played. That may not carry criminal charges, but pretending to care about Canadian veterans deserves as much scorn as pretending to be one.

Likely for as long as their have been armies and politicians, the latter have publicly praised the former in the name of good press. I believe people who rise to serve their country’s forces should be thanked, loudly and publicly. If doing so also benefits any given politician so be it, it’s worth it.

In the specific case of our government and our veterans, the disconnect between the words at the cenotaph and the locked doors of the service centre is too great to bear. Earlier this year, both young and old veterans protested the closing of several service centres. These centres provide a range of services from counseling and therapy, to pension and benefit claims assistance.

In the House of Commons the Prime Minister claimed centres being closed serviced very few people. To the best of my knowledge Mr. Harper did not indicate how many veterans are needed to be worth serving. Fortunately for us and a great many around the world, when asked to serve our veterans did not first conduct a head count of how many would benefit.

More recently the Auditor General released a report taking the government to task for the delivery of the veterans services it still does provide. Among the issues were Veterans Affairs not monitoring the effectiveness of its mental health strategy. This in the shadow of statistics released this fall showing in the last ten years more Canadian military personnel have committed suicide than lost their lives in the twelve years of Canada’s Afghanistan mission.

The report indicates Veterans Affairs does not monitor the time it can take for veterans to find out if they are eligible for assistance. According to the report that wait time can be up to eight months. Had Veterans Affairs spent the money they were allocated instead of returning it to the treasury, service might already be in better shape.

One would think the Minister responsible might have resigned in the face of all this. Unless one was familiar with Minister Julian Fantino that is. Concerned veterans scheduled a meeting with him in January, which he was over an hour late for. He finally arrived only to abruptly leave when they objected to his late arrival.

Being late is ironically also the issue with the Conservative government’s latest announcement for veterans. They proudly announced $200 million dollars in funding recently to address mental health issues. They failed to mention funding would be paid out over fifty years, not the six initially implied. Having already been criticized for making veterans wait for help, the Conservatives decided they should wait longer. Perhaps longer than some may have.

This government’s treatment of Canadian veterans is shameful. It is painfully obvious why news outlets have joined opposition parties in calling for Minister Fantino to resign. Though it is equally painful the Prime Minister refuses to ask him to, it is not surprising.

The appalling treatment of veterans by the Conservative government is being best illustrated in a B.C courtroom. Lawyers for the government will stand in a court of law and argue government commitments to veterans were just “political speeches” and not “solemn obligations”. They are wrong.

We do have a solemn obligation to our veterans. Having gone overseas to fight wars and come home to fight personal battles, we owe them the same duty of care they have shown us. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government don’t care enough to meet that obligation, they should stop pretending they do.

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