Mark Ross first asked Veterans Affairs Canada for help with post-traumatic stress disorder in June 2019. More than two years later, he is still waiting to see if his request has been approved and if the government will cover the costs. costs of its treatment.
“This is why I am upset,” said the former soldier in a recent interview at his home in Pembroke, Ont. “Because they say if it’s post-traumatic stress, they’ll hear it real quick and they’ll do anything. Well, I’m 100 weeks old now.
Like Ross, tens of thousands of other Canadian veterans have been forced to wait months and sometimes years to find out if their disability claims have been approved due to psychological and physical injuries sustained while they wore the uniform.
The backlog is one of several issues that have become a source of stress, frustration and anger within Canada’s veterans community, but which was conspicuously – and exceptionally – absent from the federal election campaign. .
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Canada’s veterans community is far from united, but it is large, with approximately 700,000 Canadians serving in uniform. When it has mobilized in the past, political parties have made a number of big promises.
The most famous example dates back to 2015, when veterans rallied against the Harper government’s decision to close several Veterans Affairs Canada offices across the country and lay off hundreds of departmental employees, which resulted in triggered the backlog.
This fight coincided with the high-profile Equitas trial, in which six Afghan ex-combatants fought in court to restore lifelong pensions for soldiers with disabilities, a program that was adopted after World War I but superseded in 2006 by a system characterized by lump sum payments.
While the exact numbers are difficult to confirm, it is widely believed that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s promise to reopen offices, rehire staff, stop fighting the Equitas lawsuit, and restore the pension system to him. won many votes.
Yet as the Liberal government reopened offices and hired staff, the backlog continued to grow as demand exceeded resources, adding that what the Veterans Ombudsman has repeatedly warned is stress and strain. additional difficulties for injured veterans.
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The Liberals also continued to fight Equitas, which the Supreme Court rejected in 2018, and they created their own pension system rather than reinstating the old one, which the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2019 said provided more money to veterans.
Then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer sought in the 2019 election to turn the sense of betrayal many former military personnel felt towards Trudeau into support for the Tories, whom many see as the party veterans traditionally vote for. .
Among Scheer’s promises were the elimination of the backlog, the introduction of legislation enshrining in law a “military engagement” between the government and ex-combatants, and the creation of a “reliable and reliable pension system. reliable ”which is“ fair to the most disabled Canadian veterans ”.
Fast forward two years and the issue has been conspicuously absent from this election campaign. None of the leaders went out of their way to woo the community or underline their party’s promises, while the issues that arose in 2015 and, to a lesser extent, 2019 have largely gone under the radar.
This is despite what Jim Scott, president of the Equitas Company, which led the lawsuit of the same name, says there is continued frustration that there are now three separate systems offering different benefits to veterans. suffering from the same injuries.
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Many like Ross are also devastated by the backlog of disability claims of around 40,000.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the short duration of the campaign were cited among the reasons veterans’ concerns were not raised. Another factor, advocates say, is the community’s focus on rescuing hundreds of Afghans who served alongside Canadian troops as interpreters and support personnel from 2001 to 2014 and who are now at risk of retaliation from the Taliban.
“It demanded the attention of a lot of veterans because they cared deeply about their colleagues with whom they worked in Afghanistan,” Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Vancouver-based Veterans Transition Network, said Wednesday.
“They literally offer the shirts off their backs because they care so much. So I think we may find that the veterans are so focused on trying to help the Afghan evacuation effort that they may be less vocal about their own needs.
Scott also recognizes a level of fatigue within the community, with many veterans tired of fighting what has so far been a largely lost battle for the benefits, service and respect they have been promised.
“The veterans have just moved on,” Scott said in an interview Thursday. “A lot of them just said, ‘You know, this is an unhealthy place for me to fight the government. At the end of the day, I have to move on. Because I don’t get any support.
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He said he is also concerned that with the war in Afghanistan fading more and more in the rear view mirror, Canadians do not have as much attachment to the military and to those who have served in uniform.
This does not mean that the parties did not include promises in their programs for veterans. The NDP, for example, has promised to create a pension system, while the Conservatives say they will restore the lifetime pension for veterans with moderate to severe injuries.
O’Toole and the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, are the only two leaders to have signed a pledge proposed by the Equitas Company, pledging to introduce a social alliance with the military and a bill of rights.
Yet none of the leaders went out of their way to talk about their promises. Even O’Toole spoke of his 12 years in the uniform, but not that he’s a veteran.
The Tory campaign leader also did not insist on his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs in the past 11 months of the Harper government, for which he received praise for starting to repair the damage done under the watchful eye of his predecessor, Julien Fantino.
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The lack of discussion of veterans’ issues during the election does not suit Royal Canadian Legion National President Bruce Julian.
“We have found that if these issues do not become public and are presented where the public can see them, discuss them and take a stand, they do not become priorities for governments when they take power,” he said. stated in a recent interview.
Back in Pembroke, Ross isn’t surprised by the lack of attention to people like him.
“We have been swept under the carpet for years,” he said. “They don’t want to talk about it (in elections), they don’t even want to talk about it in parliament. Because it is a delicate question and there are never any answers coming out of it. “
© 2021 The Canadian Press