Cracks in the system, part two: Broken faith

September 1, 2015 by Adam Day & Sharon Adams

 

 Canada’s lost veterans and
the lawsuit that shook a government

 

This is a simple, age-old story. Across Canada there are soldiers and veterans who were injured in Afghanistan and who haven’t yet healed. They exist in the no man’s land between war and peace, living with the consequences of a conflict that now seems so long gone. Whether they saw combat or not, whether their minds were injured or their legs were blown off, whether they served four years or 34, it’s a story as old as war itself: soldiers are asked to give everything, but are too often forgotten once the shooting stops.

The system for compensating and caring for these veterans is imperfect; it has gaps, it may even be broken. And while everyone knows there is a problem—military leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, the public—the problem remains. Here’s the upshot, so it’s easier to understand what’s at stake: in many cases injured veterans receive a lump-sum payment for their injury and then little else. Sometimes, this system works perfectly. Other times, soldiers suffer grievous injuries and then receive a small percentage of what other disability systems, such as workers’ compensation or private employer benefits packages, would award.

In other cases, permanently disabled soldiers receive ongoing compensation, but even that is calibrated so that a middle-class lifestyle is next to impossible. 

Imagine living life as a disabled combat veteran, unable to afford a house, vacations or tuition for offspring. Imagine decades of what is essentially a life of near-poverty.

In terms of numbers of individuals, this is not a huge problem. Some 2,000 soldiers were wounded or injured in Afghanistan, and while many more may have unseen mental injuries, the overall number needing help is not insurmountable. In terms of money, the amount it would take to fix veterans’ compensation is a tiny fraction of the total federal budget.

If the will existed, this would be easily fixed.

Everyone fought their own war


One of the untold horrors of war is that it turns out that the old expressions are true:

There are no true war stories.
(Every war story is based on lies.)

If you weren’t there, you’ll never know what it was like.
(Even if you were there, you still might not be able to describe it.)

In the end, only the places and dates have any dignity.
(9/11, Kandahar, Masum Ghar, Panjwaii.)

Here’s a new one:

The heroes and the dead get remembered, but the wounded are forsaken.

Soldiers accept the risk of death or injury, particularly when they’re in a combat zone. What is hard to accept though, and what they barely consider when in a combat zone, is what their life will be like if they return home wounded. They’d expect, at least, to be treated with care and respect.

Now think of Afghanistan, of the whole 12-year conflict: the mission didn’t really have much impact on the daily lives of most Canadians. It’s not so much that Canadians must never forget the sacrifices of these soldiers; it’s that they never really grasped them in the first place. You can’t forget something you never knew.

The isolation isn’t just a matter between the soldiers and the population they fought for, but between the soldiers themselves. Every tour was different, every unit had its own experience; apart from the guys right beside you, no one else had a solid grasp of what you did. Everyone fought their own war. The outcome is a community of veterans unto themselves, often critical of the government and of other veterans’ groups, and with too many not getting the attention they are due unless they go off the rails, unless they become lost. And by then it’s too late.

Cracks 1
Retired Major Mark Campbell has spent years fighting the government in court to establish better treatment for veterans. With the appointment of Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole, Campbell says he is “cautiously optimistic” they can work together to resolve shortcomings in the system.
Louie Palu

One bomb to change a life


Retired Major Mark Campbell is kind of a hard-ass. Even now, he still smiles when he thinks back to how unrelenting he was then.

In 2008, a Legion Magazine writer was embedded on an Afghan operation led by Campbell. He was then serving as one of the leaders of Canada’s effort to mentor the Afghan army and the operation, named Ateesh Bazi, was about as hardcore as anything could possibly be. The entire task force—comprised of relatively few Canadians and a great number of reluctant Afghans—spent a night sleeping in enemy territory on the fringes of the Registan Desert, lying on sand infested with scorpions, snakes and spiders, then woke up to walk nearly 30 kilometres through the outskirts of what was then the capital of the insurgency—Nakhonay.

Campbell could be seen throughout the operation exhorting his troops with the utmost profanity, leading the charge, eating lollipops for breakfast (literally) and generally acting like he was untouchable.

This is a man whose aggression was unmistakable and sometimes startling. His final exhortation to his junior leaders before everyone stepped off into the outskirts of Nakhonay was simple and brutal:
“This is for real,” he growled. “Don’t. Fuck. It. Up.”

That operation went well, but just a few months after Ateesh Bazi, everything got supremely fucked up for Campbell.

It was either the Taliban, or traitorous Afghan soldiers tired of Campbell’s hard-charging ways, or a combination of both, which is most likely.

Campbell stood above the bomb and somebody detonated it. He went up and back, remembers landing, remembers seeing bright red arcs of blood shooting out of his femoral arteries. One leg was gone, the other hanging by threads. His lower body was shredded.

At this point, please stop to imagine how Campbell felt. A warrior his whole life, aggressive to the point of distraction, the kind of guy who wore a Team Canada patch into battle, right beside one showing his blood type. Now he’s lying there, legs gone, genitals mutilated, yellow fluid running out his ears, blood spraying into the dirt.

It’s enough to mess anyone up. Make no mistake, that Campbell survived at all is incredible. In any of Canada’s previous wars, the technology to save him would not have existed and he would have died. Today, Veterans Affairs Canada rates him at more than 150 per cent disabled.

While not exactly eager to tell his story, Campbell will talk under the right circumstances. And so, after a long flight to Alberta and a long drive into the suburbs north of Edmonton, it was a process of elimination to discover which of the homes was his.

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Campbell in Afghanistan in 2008, a short time before being wounded.
Adam Day

The front door opened and seconds later, Campbell’s unmistakable voice boomed out instructions on how to deal with the dog charging toward the door. (Don’t let it out.)

Then Campbell rolled into view. Now nearly 50, formerly a senior officer in one of Canada’s toughest battalions, a genuine warrior, Campbell was slumped in his wheelchair. He looked up and smiled. “Welcome,” he said.

Cracks in the system


There is a struggle underway. The veterans’ revolt, we call it. It’s an upsurge of discontent and outrage aimed at the federal government and the legislation that determines how today’s veterans are treated.

Up close, the VAC system is extremely complex: rates of compensation vary based on percentages of disability; stacked benefits so individualized that hardly any two veterans receive the same compensation and/or services; veterans receiving wildly divergent benefits packages who differ only in their willingness to battle VAC or be heard in the media.

On the other hand, the system is so vague that even those who understand it speak about it in almost mystical terms. But forget that, because the vagueness is actually really simple, and the complexity is a smokescreen. The only thing that matters here is that veterans should be well cared for, given that they earned it.

Still, some basics may be in order. Members of the Canadian Forces are federal employees, although they are unique due to the contracts they sign, which give the government and its military leaders the ability to order them into danger, possibly to their death, and the ability to terminate their employment if they are injured doing any of the things they are contractually obligated to do.

The first clause, the to-the-death part, is called unlimited liability. If a platoon of soldiers has to be ordered to do something potentially fatal, such as conduct a frontal assault on a machine gun or cross
a known minefield, then that’s just what they have to do, contractually. Other federal employees don’t sign a contract like this.

If soldiers are then disabled in the course of their duties, they may be released from the military under a legal contractual clause called Universality of Service, which means that if an employee of the Department of National Defence is not fit to fight, can’t be deployed, then he or she can be released. The upshot of this is that when soldiers become disabled, their military career likely ends.

While the system is relentless, it is also slow. It can take years for injured soldiers to be released from the military. Once they are out, responsibility for them shifts fully from DND to VAC, where the regulations for how they are treated and compensated come from two pieces of federal legislation, the Pension Act—for those injured before April 2006—or the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-Establishment and Compensation Act, better known as the New Veterans Charter (NVC)—for those injured after April 2006.

This is where the problems start.

Campbell’s take on the situation


During an exclusive interview with Legion Magazine in April, Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole took great pains to stress that VAC was evolving to become better at serving its clients—‘veteran-centric,’ as he calls it—while he offered up several explanations for the dissatisfaction among some veterans in Canada.

“In terms of claims reviews, we also have to deal with some myths out there: you will hear about someone being extremely frustrated with a denial,” said O’Toole. “But more than 70 per cent of claims to VAC are accepted on the first instance. You wouldn’t know that from some of the dialogue on Facebook. But we have a duty to the veteran and to society to make sure that we have a fair, quick, less stressful system, but one that is evidence-based. Because, for example, people in the Canadian Armed Forces, and ultimately veterans, represent a cross-section of Canadians, so there will be people who join the forces with pre-existing mental health issues.”

Confined to his wheelchair in the kitchen of his house north of Edmonton, Campbell’s reaction to hearing this quote was physical, visceral. First of all, Campbell stated tersely, “That’s not true, it’s a selective slice of Canadian society.” And he’s right: entry into Canada’s military is selective, based on mental and physical health as basic attributes.

Campbell leaned back and thought about what to say next. “That’s a nice attempt to defend the goings-on at Veterans Affairs,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that I don’t believe those statistics at all, as a client of Veterans Affairs who’s had legitimate claims denied.”

“At best, inadequate disability compensation for soldiers
is seen as an imprudent austerity measure;
at worst, it is a reckless abandonment
of the Government’s obligation.”
— Equitas lawsuit

 

And the issue isn’t only about claims approved or denied, he added, but about a constant struggle against the bureaucracy. For example, VAC recently changed the way it calculated Campbell’s compensation under what is known as the Veteran’s Independence Program (VIP), which pays for services such as housekeeping and home maintenance. “I’ve had arbitrary things happen to me,” he said, “like when they adopted the new grant process for VIP, they announced that I was going to get a grant of $5,800 next year. Wait a minute, you were giving me $12,000 a year, $1,000 a month for housekeeping, prior to the new grant process, so why are you reducing me by more than 50 per cent?”

On this issue, Campbell was able to complain loudly and forcefully enough that VAC restored his benefit to the previous level. “They sorted out my case by going back and working some sort of voodoo magic on the administrative side,” he said. “But how many other veterans got their VIP slashed and either didn’t realize it or didn’t have the wherewithal to do anything about it?”

(Legion Magazine contacted Veterans Affairs Canada for a response to assertions made by those interviewed for this story, but none was forthcoming at press time.)

Where Campbell really takes exception to O’Toole’s statistic is that even if a claim is accepted, “You don’t necessarily win,” he said.

Campbell’s case in point here concerns what is known as the clothing allowance. “First and foremost, I wasn’t told about the benefit,” he said. “I was two years into my time with Veterans Affairs before my wife realized that I was entitled to a clothing allowance. It’s only $170 a month,… it’s a pittance, but the fact of the matter is I wasn’t getting it and I was entitled to it. It turns out there are three levels of clothing allowance. So VAC said, ‘Yes, Mr. Campbell, you are entitled to a clothing allowance, but unfortunately it’s only retroactive for a year and you’re at the lowest rate.’

“Why am I at the lowest rate? I’m missing both legs, which means I have transfer issues. I’m tearing out the seat of my pants all the time. I’ve got to get everything tailored or otherwise I’m tucking pant legs in underneath me all the time. So I can’t believe I’m at the lowest level. What would constitute more? So we fight this battle, back and forth it goes until they increase my clothing allowance to level two. I still don’t understand who’s getting the highest level or how you would go about it—maybe you have a claw for one hand that tears the ass out of your pants every time you scratch your butt? I don’t know. But even when you win, you don’t win.”

Indeed, it is hard to square the positions O’Toole put forward: To be veteran-centric and at the same time be evidence-based does present some problems. Perhaps that’s an understatement. Going back in history to the origins of the Pension Act, the intent was always to give veterans the benefit of the doubt when it came to claims for compensation. As Afghan vet and former Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran points out: the intention of benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that in 50-50 cases the award goes to the veteran. It means that “if there is any way the veterans claim could plausibly be true, then the claim is awarded,” said Stogran. Seen this way, VAC was always intended to be veteran-centric, but not necessarily evidence-based.

Instead, Campbell and others veterans find that when they make a claim for an injury such as hearing loss or back pain, they are required to prove the injuries were definitely a result of service in the military.

“Years ago, we were told that VAC had changed its policy and was now recognizing wear and tear for combat arms trades. But it doesn’t seem to be happening,” said Campbell. “The government didn’t necessarily get the best deal in the world when they bought my legs from me, because my knees and ankles were pretty shot as it was. My hip clicks and my lower back is just a mess. It gives me no end of trouble. It’s fucked from carrying rucksacks and from bad parachute landings. I’ve got x-rays to show all the old compression fractures, but I’m not getting any sort of award for that because I have to prove I have a bad back as direct result of what? Of wear and tear, of being in the infantry.”

Unless the claim can be proved to an indisputable level, Campbell said, VAC’s method “seems to be to deny at the outset to avoid having to give out resources…and assure that only legitimate claims get through. Well, all they do is ensure that only the really dedicated get through.”

Mr. [Daniel Christopher] Scott was hit with numerous of the mine’s metal balls, one of which went through his body armour and through his chest. Mr. Scott’s left rib was fractured, his left lung was collapsed, and his kidney, spleen and pancreas were damaged. Surgeons removed his kidney, his spleen and the tail of his pancreas. Mr. Scott lost 1.5 litres of blood.

Mr. [Gavin] Flett sustained injuries in the form of a broken left femur and a smashed right talus (ankle). His right talus bone was fractured into several pieces; too many to count on the X-rays. Mr. Flett was airlifted out of Ashakay (Afghanistan) as a priority Alpha (life threatening injuries).

The explosion blew off both of Mr. [Mark] Campbell’s legs above the knee and caused extensive injury. He lost a testicle and received numerous lacerations to his remaining genitalia. He also suffered abdominal scarring and a ruptured right eardrum. Mr. Campbell…had to be resuscitated on the operating table.

As a result of Mr. [Kevin] Berry’s duties, there was long-term damage done to his knees including, but not limited to, patella-femoral pain syndrome and osteo-arthritis.

Mr. [Bradley] Quast…forced off his right boot to make way for the swelling and could see bones sticking out of his skin.

Mr. [Aaron] Bedard sustained a traumatic brain injury and whiplash when an anti-tank mine was triggered…

One complicating factor in understanding the plight of modern veterans in Canada is that due to privacy laws, hard numbers on compensation are difficult to come by. However, as an example of why the Equitas lawsuit has merit in the eyes of the courts, consider the following numbers from the suit’s official material:

Veterans Affairs Canada awarded Mr. Scott $41,500 based on:

1) Loss of spleen = 0%

2) Left pneumothorax = 0%

3) Fractured left 12th rib = 0%

4) Gastric ulcer = 0%

5) Damaged pancreas = 0%

6) Loss of left kidney = 13%

7) Pain & suffering = 0%

8) Post traumatic stress = 0%

9) Reduced quality of life = 2%

What Mr. Scott received as a lump-sum payment was 15 per cent of $275,000. Based on information from a Canadian bank during 2011, when converted to a 25-year annuity, this settlement amount would equal a payment of approximately $140 per month indexed at three per cent per year, but taxable. The Equitas Society contacted WorkSafe BC in 2011 and determined that the B.C. provincial workers’ compensation program would pay for the same disability approximately $1,400 per month, which would be both tax-free and indexed for long-term inflation.

Based on this preliminary worker compensation assessment, the settlement awarded under the NVC, as amended by Bill C-55, is less than 10 per cent of what a provincial worker compensation program would award. Converted to cash [Mr. Scott] would have received $630,000 less under the NVC.

The lawsuit’s authors sum up the situation with what may be the most apt sentence possible:

At best, inadequate disability compensation for soldiers is seen as an imprudent austerity measure; at worst, it is a reckless abandonment of the Government’s obligation.

The government is fully aware of this and other gaps in the NVC. There have been multiple studies in the past few years recommending that changes be made to the NVC. In some cases, such as the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs report entitled A Timely Tune-up for the Living New Veterans Charter (June 2010), the recommended changes are largely the same as those sought by the Equitas lawsuit.

Overall, the NVC represents a method of saving money compared to the Pension Act it replaced. As Campbell said, “I think it is bad policy derived from number crunching. I think, first and foremost, that it was a desire at Veterans Affairs or the government, at whatever level it originated, to fundamentally reduce costs through the guise of doing more with less.”

Meanwhile, injured Afghanistan veterans living under the NVC are hoping the Equitas suit will succeed, and will result in some tangible change.

However, the suit was officially put on hold in June. The government, led by O’Toole, has worked hard to convince the plaintiffs and their legal team that the best resolution will not be through the courts. In legal terms, the suit is in abeyance until May 15, 2016.

“The minister told us that what has been done thus far, pre-election in the current budget, is just the beginning,” said Campbell. “The question is, once the election bubble has passed, will there still be the political will to do more? And that’s what we’re not convinced of. That’s what we’re waiting to see.

“We’re not shutting up unless we get what we want and, quite honestly, what we want is to work with the government knowing that the resources are in place to fix these problems sooner rather than later. We don’t want to go to court for the next seven years any more than anyone else does, because when we come out the other end victorious, we still have to solve all these problems and that’s the key, to get the problems solved.”

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Almost a decade ago, Paul Franklin was among the first Canadians wounded during the combat mission in Kandahar Province. After a long recovery, Franklin has become an active advocate for veterans in Canada.
Louie Palu

 Mr. Franklin is not amused


Paul Franklin is one of the first of Canada’s seriously wounded Afghan veterans to become nationally prominent, and remains one of the most recognizable and outspoken. In the very early days of the war in southern Afghanistan, Franklin was a medic riding through Kandahar City in a lightly armoured SUV when a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle and exploded.

The blast was massive in every way. The jeep was torn apart, Franklin was torn apart, and Canada’s whole-of-government reconstruction-centric war effort in southern Afghanistan was blown apart with the death of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, who was in the vehicle with Franklin.

With Berry’s death, most Department of Foreign Affairs staffers in the war zone were thereafter restricted to base—that federal department doesn’t have the same kind of Unlimited Liability contracts. The war zone was now too dangerous, and so plans for these civilians to be a prominent part of Canada’s strategy were also frozen.

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Paul Franklin’s vehicle was hit by a suicide bomber in Kandahar City.
DND

Much like Campbell, Franklin deposited a significant amount of blood from his femoral arteries into Afghan soil. Now, as he likes to joke, he has no knees, although he still feels pain in them.

Franklin was most in the news last spring as the subject of a Rick Mercer rant on CBC, the topic of which was that VAC was still asking him to periodically prove that his legs were still missing. His legs have been missing since Jan. 15, 2006. They will not be coming back.

“I keep telling VAC that the lumpsum payment
is the hill 
you guys are going to die on.
— Paul Franklin

 

Apart from his injuries and his longstanding support of veterans’ causes in Canada, what makes Franklin unique is that he is one of the few Canadians injured in Afghanistan who is being compensated under the old Pension Act instead of the NVC. As a result, he maintains a standard of living that is relatively free of monetary pressure, though not free of frustration at the way VAC treats veterans.

For example, in 2014, after an accident in Banff, Alta., where he was hit by a car, Franklin went to a retailer and picked up a new wheelchair and took it home. VAC refused to pay for it and the retailer asked Franklin to return it, which he did. The retailer told him VAC did not approve the purchase because Franklin didn’t have the appropriate paperwork.

It wasn’t that he didn’t need the wheelchair, or that he had violated some law and committed fraud, he just didn’t do the paperwork right. And instead of working it out with him, VAC demanded that the wheelchair be returned. After returning the chair, Franklin, incensed, made a few phone calls to people in very high places and got the chair back.

This is troubling for Franklin because “a lot of dudes don’t have the power that I have.… What are they doing to these guys who aren’t in the media, who don’t have connections?

“Veterans aren’t confrontational. Most of us signed up because we believe in the government of Canada. When the government says you’re a liar and a faker, it hurts. And I don’t want to fight it really, but I have to.”

Franklin’s solution is simple, and is echoed by Campbell: the way the system works is backwards. The onus should be on VAC to prove that veterans are faking or filing fraudulent claims. It should be a reverse onus, based on trust, just as income taxes largely work.

“There is no reason that a person who was in the infantry, in combat, has to prove anything,” said Franklin. “It is up to Veterans Affairs to prove him wrong. When he says ‘I jumped out of airplanes for 20 years and now I have a bad back,’ that should be enough. Of course he’s got a bad back. But he doesn’t have medical proof, because at the time it was minor.”

The problem, Franklin said, lies with the statistics that O’Toole presented above, concerning the 30 per cent of claims that are not approved. “Are you literally calling 30 per cent of all veterans claimants fakers? For 30 per cent of people to be lying? The problem isn’t with us. It’s with them. If you want to prove that I’m a faker, then bring it on. If you think we’re fakers, charge us. We all believe in the law. I’ll take the charge any day of the week, any good soldier would.”

Franklin also believes the old system of awarding disability pensions to the injured makes far more sense than the NVC’s lump-sum payment method, and in this regard, he views the Equitas lawsuit as one of the most important veteran’s initiatives in years. “I keep telling VAC that the lump-sum payment is the hill you guys are going to die on. It makes no sense.”

Franklin believes the government’s temptation to save money on the backs of veterans will ultimately lose out to Canadians’ desire that their veterans be treated with respect. “This is not new stuff,” he said. “It’s an easy [budget] cut because there are so few of us. But what they don’t understand is that we still have power. What they have misplaced is that the sacred obligation is real.”

A failure of leadership


To those interviewed for this story, the root cause is clear: this is a failure of leadership. Whether it’s at the level of the prime minister, the Veterans Affairs minister, the chief of the defence staff, it’s clear to the veterans on the ground—the ones suffering—that no leader is stepping up to fix the situation.

“How does a true leader knowingly and willingly allow soldiers to be released into positions of financial distress?” said Campbell. “Whatever happened to leadership tenet number two: Know your men and promote their welfare. When was the last time you heard any senior leader in the Canadian Armed Forces speak out against the New Veterans Charter and what it does to our veterans? Never. There is an abject leadership failure at the senior levels of the Canadian Armed Forces regarding treatment of casualties. An absolute failure.”

There has been an influx of military veterans into staff positions at VAC in recent months, likely intended to counter this perception. At the top bureaucratic post, former Chief of the Defence Staff General (Ret’d) Walter Natynczyk was appointed deputy minister. (He declined a request to be interviewed for this article.) His appointment to VAC is widely seen as yet another move by the government to help quash the veterans’ revolt before it can become an election issue in the fall.

In any case, the difficulties faced by veterans on their return to Canada—and the systemic failures to care for them—have not only given rise to a feeling of betrayal, but have provoked some positive responses as well. Across Canada, veterans are stepping forward to take care of themselves.

During the height of the conflict in Afghanistan, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry set up a little known but highly effective Regimental Veterans Care Cell in Edmonton. It worked so well that The Royal Canadian Regiment sent out a team to investigate and then started a similar initiative.

The Edmonton cell has since been stood down, but across the digital domain—and with even less official sanctioning—multiple peer-support groups have sprung up. Among the most prominent and enduring is Send Up The Count. This group was started by a couple of veterans in Shilo, Man.—notably Master Corporal Dan McInnis—after they experienced the suicide of one of their military friends.

“It turned out,” said McInnis, “that he’d reached out to a bunch of people by phone. But it was late, so no one picked up the call.”

And so an idea was born—a 24/7 online Facebook support group for Canadian Forces members, both serving and retired, who now have a place to go for help, no matter what time it is. Nearly 10,000 members strong, the site has become a remarkable success story.

It is a nationwide network of people who care for each other and check up on each other. For example, some time ago there was a post on the site much like this: “How do you tell someone you’re feeling suicidal? They tell you to be strong, but I am tired. I just want to die and have some peace. I know I’m weak, but I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore.”

Within moments after that post went up, the network sprang into action. Hundreds of messages of support poured in, but alongside those were calls to action, to locate the poster and get help to them before the worst happened. The poster ended up in hospital, and survived.

The lost


Whatever happens with the Equitas lawsuit in terms of financial solutions to fill the gaps in the NVC, the plaintiffs are also seeking something else: the recognition that the government of Canada, whichever government, has an absolute obligation to take care of its veterans, an obligation so powerful that it could be called sacred, something so important that to violate it is unthinkable, unconscionable.

There are soldiers out there who fought for their country and now feel abandoned. There is a clear line of causality, a chain reaction from their point of injury in Afghanistan to their release from the military to their current situation. They are hurt, if not disabled. They lost their careers, became isolated from their peers, and have a long future of living with their injuries and with the legacy of their service. They gave
all they had. What is sacred now is Canada’s collective debt to them.

In the days leading up to the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, Prime Minister Robert Borden spoke to the troops and assured them their sacrifices would be not be forgotten. “The government and the country will consider it their first duty to prove to the returned men its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country and Empire; and that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.”

 

“Once the election bubble
has passed,will there still be
the political
will to do more?
— Mark Campbell

 

They fought, and died, and won. At Vimy Ridge, these soldiers helped create Canada’s national identity. They fought to the top at all costs. None of that victory, inspired by that speech, should ever be lost.

And although the current situation is dire—lawsuits, suicides, anger—one thing is clear; nobody wants what’s happening now.

No public servant would ever say: “I want to embody the worst of a faceless bureaucratic system. I want to be the red tape that binds and delays. I want to make every veteran fight for every cent they get.”

No civilian would ever say: “Our system for dealing with veterans’ compensation should be as stringent and difficult as a team of lawyers can make it. Don’t trust them to tell the truth, and give them as little compensation as possible.”

No politician would ever think: “My best chance of re-election is to nickel-and-dime our veterans.”

And absolutely no Canadian would ever say: “Our disabled combat veterans should live in poverty.”

And yet, here we are.

 

MARK CAMPBELL SPEAKS…

 

We asked which was harder, fighting the Taliban or fighting the government?

 

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Retired Major Mark Campbell
Louie Palu


There’s no question.
Fighting the government of Canada has been far more emotionally and psychologically taxing than being injured and going through that whole rehabilitation and recovery process. I can’t say that my experience is the same as anybody else’s; I think they’re all unique. I was trained to deal with adversity throughout my entire career. All they did was keep throwing bigger and bigger challenges at me to see what I can manage, to see if I’m worthy to rise to the next rank. My life in the Forces has been full of genuine and manufactured adversity, you could say, so I’m trained to deal with adversity.

“Quite frankly, getting my legs blown off was just the ultimate adversarial situation, so in a way, I was trained to deal with that. Psychologically, at least. “Oh shit, this sucks, but I’ll manage”—was kind of the idea. So recovery was never a question in my mind. It was: how far am I going to be able to recover? That was the only question.

“What I really hadn’t counted on was the fact that I would come home and fight my biggest battle against the government I had served. That just blew me away psychologically, mentally, emotionally, even physically. It was taxing and difficult to get over. It threw me into a clinical depression, which I’m pleased to be out of because it was a horrible, horrible, horrible time of my life. But I would directly attribute that depression to the fact that I was embroiled and fighting the government, and at the time was frustrated by the fact that I didn’t seem to be making any headway, by the scope of the problem, by the scope of the fight. Before I hooked up with Equitas, it was a long and disheartening slog. At least with Equitas, we know we’ve achieved some things.” 

  • Guy Lefebvre

    I was working security for a salvage disposal company in Edmonton this spring. A black Ford F150 came in with no visible damage on the outside, but when you looked into the cab, you could see a hole in the roof along with smaller holes in that area. Information got back that the truck was owned by a veteran who unfortunately took his life with a firearm in that truck. The company cleaned the inside of that truck and promptly sold the truck in an auction, claiming to the unsuspecting buyer that the truck was a recovered vehicle from a theft. I found this somewhat disturbing to say the least. I soon decided that this company wasn’t for me and I quit shortly after. I wasn’t impressed with the level of respect given to this soldiers demise, it just seemed wrong to sell that truck without at least telling the new owner the circumstances of said truck.

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  • vern huffman

    All Canadians who need help should be taken care of, not just Veterans. If we can afford a war half way around the world, one not fought for the defense of Canada, not fought for the civil rights of Canadians, we can afford to take care of each other. That was the message I heard as I grew up, surrounded by veterans who fought in the Second World War of the Twentieth Century, including my father and five of my uncles. During the 1930s economic depression there was no money for “relief”, as they called it back then, for job creation, for help in hard times. Then the Europeans started to kill each other again, and that continent is soaked in the blood of hundreds of war, and there was money to waste. Remember those, in the last few decades who talk tax cuts and cold heartily running the country like a business. This has affected many Canadians who need help when sick, injured or laid off from their jobs. We need a mind change in general. We had two chances to get out of that land war in Asia and failed to do so even though we only amounted to 1% of the pro-government forces.

  • Jordy Jordan

    You are just a case number to the va’s and they have a budget. End of story.

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