Roméo Dallaire is a Senator and retired Lieutenant-General in the Canadian Forces.
The Canadian Armed Forces Mission in Afghanistan has ended. As we pay tribute to those who served as part of that mission, we must neither forget nor abandon the veterans who continue to struggle on the home front.
Over the past 25 years, Canadian forces have been deployed on active missions throughout the world. The better known operations were in Cyprus, the Gulf War, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti and, of course, Afghanistan – the end of which we marked this past week through public ceremony.
All Canadian Armed Forces members and their families have sacrificed a great deal for these missions. One of the ways that deployment has changed in the last two decades is with respect to ever-accelerating communications. With news travelling the world in a matter of minutes, families of deployed soldiers may now learn of incidents confronting their loved ones in real time. The front lines have effectively been redrawn to include families’ homes, and a deployment of forces overseas is also a psychological deployment of their families in Canada.
Our gratitude to CAF members and their families must be embodied through a renewed commitment to supporting veterans and their families. Beyond the ceremonies – which are important – our country must honour its social covenant with veterans by making them and their families whole where their service has resulted in injury.
This normal framework requires our government to acknowledge that those who serve commit to an unlimited liability. In return, the country holds a genuine obligation towards veterans and their families, to help them meet the challenges resulting from this unlimited liability.
This quasi constitutional obligation – which in my opinion is inseparable from the very power of the Crown to mount and deploy armed forces in the first place – is much more than a capital program or a line item in a federal budget. It is indeed what we must do as an appreciative country with and for those who have served on our behalf.
The home struggles of our veterans and their families are very real. Any attempt to belittle or whitewash this fact is unbecoming of grateful nation. Veterans require not merely “technological fixes,” but a lifetime commitment to mitigating the challenges and crises that they and their families endure.
Over the last two and a half decades, many CAF members have been affected by Operational Stress Injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is evident in our veterans’ communities throughout the country, and this manifestation will only continue to grow. While we may never be able to return veterans and their loved ones to the time before their injury, by caring for them with adequate government policies we may succeed in preventing these invisible injuries from becoming fatal.
A 2013 study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated that out of 30,000 Canadian service personnel deployed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2008, 20 per cent were diagnosed upon their return with a mental health disorder attributed to their service. Furthermore, a 2012 study suggests that 8.5 per cent of Canadian military personnel respondents deployed to Kandahar in 2010 “exceeded civilian criteria for symptoms of acute traumatic stress, major depression, or generalized anxiety.” Experience has shown us that these internal injuries can be fatal. It is therefore imperative that we make every effort to mitigate these losses, because one soldier lost to these injuries is one soldier too many.
When we honour the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces and their families over the last two decades, let us also recommit ourselves as a country to the noble mission of protecting lives, preventing genocides and making peace. The legacy of these sacrifices should be a world made better. To honour these sacrifices fully means moving beyond ceremony and taking care of our veterans adequately.