Wednesday April 16, 2014





Paillard: Lest we forget during election

On Sunday, Kamloops saw its biggest crowd in recent memory gather at Riverside Park to pay respect to war veterans.  

Maybe I’m only noticing it because I’m getting older, but it seems to me that the public is growing more sentimental with each passing Remembrance Day.

To be clear, I think it’s wonderful that increasing numbers of people acknowledge lives sacrificed out of a sense of duty and honour. But the respect shown on Nov. 11 means little if needy veterans continue to be cast aside the rest of the year.

The reality is that combat soldiers who seek financial support for physical or psychological injuries suffer the same suspicion and baffling bureaucratic hoops as someone claiming EI or workers’ compensation. (The inappropriateness of those systems can wait for another rant.)

That runaround and disrespect has been enough to further marginalize many veterans, with some ending up homeless and alone. It’s a turn most of them would never do their fellow countrymen, as evidenced by their career choices.

And the rest of society is complicit since our political choices reflect out priorities. Although we read the poverty statistics and hear the tragic stories, we turn a blind eye to these betrayals.

From this apathy, is it surprising that the message politicians get from its electorate is to spend less no matter what the cost?

Lest we forget, indeed. Gives all our Remembrance Day ceremonies a bit of a lip service feel.

The truth is the vast majority of us are incensed at the thought of an impoverished veteran desperately jumping through loopholes only to be denied the support they were promised.

And it’s just indecent when bureaucrats conspire to discredit veterans who are pressing for their entitlements.

We should all remember Sean Bruyea. The Gulf War veteran won a lawsuit after hundreds of senior bureaucrats accessed his confidential medical information in an alleged smear campaign.

And plenty of other veterans have made similar complaints.

But Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney made the shocking decision to order the veterans ombudsman off an investigation into the breach of privacy.

The reason he gave was that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is best suited to handle the matter.
Blaney’s predecessor was either a shrewder politician or had a better handle on decency because he was the one to order the ombudsman to investigate in the first place — and this order came while the privacy commissioner looked into it as well.

At the root of these cagey attempts to keep veterans from their entitlements is the pressure bureaucrats are under to pinch every penny. That’s certainly a job desperately needed in many federal departments, including military sections.

But do we want this as a top priority at Veterans Affairs?

Those civil servants should be trained to facilitate veterans’ access to benefits, ease their transition and seek out those who fall between the cracks.

If that ends up costing too much, then it only goes to show that we’re writing cheques we can’t cash — we’re deploying men and women on dangerous missions without the infrastructure to support them when they return.

On Nov. 11, we gather to remember a legacy of honour. Let’s not forget on election day.


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