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The Globe and Mail

Britain presses other NATO countries on veterans support

British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves the EU Council building at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, early Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. In a letter to North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders last month, Prime Minister Cameron called the issue a “personal priority” and said he would like to see other countries sign on to a charter that could be modelled on Britain’s own Armed Forces Covenant.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

Britain is pressing other NATO countries to adopt a formal declaration supporting veterans and their families when the military alliance meets in Wales this week.

In a letter to North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the issue a "personal priority" and said he would like to see other countries sign on to a charter that could be modelled on Britain's own Armed Forces Covenant.

The British covenant sets out the country's moral obligation to military members and their families and is linked to specific commitments on access to health care and affordable housing.

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Howard Drake, Britain's High Commissioner to Canada, said the NATO commitment would likely take the form of a declaration, rather than a charter or covenant, but said he didn't believe the terminology would make a difference.

"We're talking about the same thing," he told The Globe and Mail in a recent interview. "I think it's going to be called a declaration, but to be honest, I don't think that matters. It's about underlining in a public way the allies' shared commitment to their armed forces."

The declaration would not be legally binding, Mr. Drake said, but rather a political commitment at the level of heads of state. "Because basically, the view we take is how we treat our armed forces, all of us, is a clear demonstration of the importance we place in them."

A Canadian government source said Canada supports the idea of a commitment, subject to discussions at the NATO summit this week.

Canada has faced controversy over its own treatment of veterans in recent years. Earlier this summer, a parliamentary committee issued a report with a series of recommendations for Canada's Armed Forces Charter, which has been criticized for the way it handles compensation and financial assistance for wounded veterans. The government has until this fall to respond to the report.

A spokesman from the Prime Minister's Office wrote in an e-mail that Britain's push for a commitment on veterans is "one of many important issues" that would be discussed at the summit.

Jason MacDonald said the government would continue to work on improving its "strong record" on veterans affairs, "and is committed to improving these benefits where necessary."

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Mr. Drake said Britain is not trying to push a particular idea on other alliance members or raise any criticism about how other members treat their veterans.

"This is not a commentary on others," he said. "This is something which we think, as the alliance, it's the right time to send a very powerful signal of support to our military who, of course, in all of the alliance countries, are a hugely important and respected part of our societies."

He said Britain has been involved in conversations with Canada and other NATO members on the matter ahead of the summit.

Mr. Drake said the goal is to recognize publicly that NATO members rely on the armed forces to defend them against threats and should, in turn, ensure that they are treated well.

"The degree of threats which face us all these days, as we all know, are evolving very rapidly, and you know, the freedom that we all depend upon depends upon brave men and women on the front line," Mr. Drake said. "And we need to recognize that."

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