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Disabled veterans finding doors shut to jobs in federal civil service

A Canadian soldier searches a compound in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in June, 2011.

David Goldman/The Associated Press

At the age of 50, Master Corporal Kelly Carter saw the writing on the wall. His injured body was no longer capable of keeping up with the infantry soldiers at the Edmonton Garrison where he was stationed.

With four permanent injuries due to military exercises and drills, Mr. Carter could not do the rucksack trek. He couldn't run. He needed hip surgery. And, even though his Armed Forces career had been spent in human resources, he was required to maintain the fitness standards of the Land Force Command.

Before he could be declared unfit, Mr. Carter retired to his home in Calgary in August, 2013, on a small Canadian Forces pension. He immediately started looking for a job in the federal government.

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Even though taxpayers had spent tens of thousands of dollars training him to do his job, he quickly learned that his years of service to Canada meant little to federal employers.

Men and women whose physical or mental injuries force an early end to their military careers, who are discharged because they no longer meet the "universality of service" test of being deployable anywhere at any time, are not finding easy entry to the bureaucracy.

The government says veterans get priority hiring, but Mr. Carter said, "I am one of those people who can walk into 85 or 90 per cent of the clerical jobs and, until this week, I have not been called for testing or interviews, not even the professional courtesy of a phone call." Only recently, he was invited to apply to be an appeals officer with Revenue Canada.

The former Conservative government brought in a law on Canada Day of last year that said veterans who were released for medical reasons were to be first in line for civil service jobs and that all veterans would get "priority entitlement" to government vacancies. That legislation also meant, for the first time, that former soldiers, sailors and air personnel could apply for the internally listed postings that are open only to civil servants.

In the first seven months after that law took effect, the Public Service Commission says just 146 of the nearly 20,000 people hired by the federal government were veterans who used the preference provisions of the law.

Meanwhile, as of May 16, there were 424 medically discharged veterans waiting on the priority list to be hired. And there were an unknown number of veterans who, like Mr. Carter, were not released for specified medical reasons but would like a federal job.

The current Liberal government came to office promising to expand job opportunities to veterans.

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Earlier this month, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr told reporters: "When people are deemed unable to meet universality of service, we have to ensure they are getting opportunities to rebuild their lives, whether through education, through employment, through other areas to find their new normal."

Questions about what can be done to improve the participation rate of veterans in the civil service were put recently to Mr. Hehr. His staff told the The Globe and Mail to direct them instead to Judy Foote, the Public Services and Procurement Minister, whose staff redirected them to the Public Service Commission, which did not respond.

Brian McKenna, a former warrant officer who was unwillingly discharged as a result of medical issues, says: "There's a lot of things that the Department of Veterans Affairs does really well, but one of the things they do on the employment file, unfortunately, is they punt to the civilian sector all the time."

Mr. McKenna says members of the Armed Forces should be able to transfer to any other open government position for which they are qualified, just as someone who works in the Fisheries Department can transfer to Immigration. But a soldier without a medical release, instead, must start at zero, he said.

For "some people, the reality is, due to their physical or mental injuries, they may not work again," Mr. McKenna said. "But the vast majority of guys can and will, eventually, if they are given the right aid. And the taxpayer ought to want that. We ought to want people to be fending for themselves as best they can, especially if you are dealing with young men. Young men are what they do."

That is part of the motivation for Mr. Carter's job search.

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The other impetus is money. His pension earnings do not meet even the low-income cutoff for a single person living in Calgary. Now 53, he hopes to collect at least another 12 years' worth of wages and perhaps a second pension so he does not have to receive top-ups from Veterans Affairs for the rest of his life.

"My body's trashed," said Mr. Carter. Although his Armed Forces job was largely clerical, the years of exercises and drills with heavy packs and weaponry have taken their toll. It is awkward for him to hobble into job interviews with civilian employers, he said, "like a pirate with a wooden leg."

But he said he could be of benefit to Canada if the government would give him a chance. "I am dying to get out there," Mr. Carter said of the civil service. "It would be really nice to continue serving my country."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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