Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t in Kabul last week, when the last contingent of Canadian soldiers departed. From Ottawa, however, he issued a statement saluting the troops, promising to personally welcome them home and vowing to unveil details of a “formal commemoration” of Canada’s 12-year-long Afghan mission. Our soldiers’ “courage and dedication has brought much pride to our country,” he said.
Fine words for our soldiers to hear, but when it comes to this government following through with meaningful support for our veterans, it’s been an entirely different matter. The Conservatives have gone so far as to argue in court that the federal government has no moral obligation to veterans. They have altered pensions in ways that harm veterans, and they’ve cut disability payments. The Defence Department was for years dragging its feet in hiring the full complement of psychiatrists, psychologists and other staff needed to provide support and critical care to injured veterans.
A spate of soldier suicides last year highlighted the extent to which Canada is failing injured vets, particularly those with PTSD. In the wake of these deaths the Chief of the Defence Staff, Tom Lawson, reassured Canadian soldiers that “your brothers and sisters in arms are with you in the fight against mental illness.” But vets need to know that the Canadian government is there as well.
The New Veterans Charter has emerged as a central issue in how this country treats veterans. Under the old rules, a disabled vet was entitled to financial support for life. Under the new charter, a single lump-sum payment, up to a maximum of $301,275.26, took the place of that lifetime pension. A study by Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent estimates that hundreds of incapacitated veterans run the risk of falling into poverty once they turn 65.
The government announced a review of the Charter last fall, but has so far failed to act. In a recent op-ed, Mr. Parent said the problems are obvious, and well-documented in endless hours of testimony and numerous reports. “We have all the information needed to make the necessary substantive changes. We just need to act,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more. About 2,000 soldiers were wounded during the Afghan mission, and many more carry unseen wounds. They deserve a “formal commemoration,” but they have a right to expect far more. They need to know the same government that sent them into battle will have their backs, now that they’re back home.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that $250,000 is the maximum lump-sum payment available to disabled Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans. In fact, the current amount is $301,275.26.