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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Ottawa: Forgetting Veterans on Remembrance Day?

Despite Canadians' growing interest in paying tribute to its fallen soldiers,  many veterans  say Ottawa  is treating  them unfairly. 

A recent poll from Ispos Read says 30 %  of Canadians plan to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony  tomorrow compared to 16 per cent in 2008.  

The survey also shows that 80 per cent  of  respondents  plan to observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day in order to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.  

Afghanistan Makes it "Real"  

Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of the Historica-Dominion Institute said this trend is due to Canada's younger generation becoming more aware of soldiers' sacrifices in more recent conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. 

 "The events of yesterday have a very direct effect today. Our history affects our present and our future, " he said.  

Wilson Smith said the number of Second World War survivors and Korean war veterans now include the thousands of soldiers who fought as part of the nine-year mission in Afghanistan.

"This younger generation of soldiers have had a great success connecting with  Canadians as they tour schools and other community events spreading a message of remembrance."

"With younger soldiers , it's very much in the here and now," he said. "They see them in uniform,. They can visualize them doing it. The impact is immediate. "

 Veterans Feel Neglected

But, while Canadians may be feel more respect for those who were injured or died  in war, many veterans feel the government is treating them badly.  

On Thursday a group of injured veterans, joined by families and widows of dead soldiers protested on Parliament Hill, telling stories of neglect and frustration as they try to cut through  the bureaucracy  that's supposed to take care of them. . 

Retired master corporal David Desjardins, who is paralyzed from the waist down., said he felt like he had no choice but to go public with "serious concerns' about how Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies treat injured ex-soldiers. 

Desjardins said that he has had trouble finding any kind of  job because of his disability.

Retired master corporal Dave Desjardins can't find job
"There's a number of able-bodied people in expensive suits that will state that there are all sorts of wonderful programs and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, especially those that served in the Canadian forces.

 Well, I'm here to ask those suits one simple question. Show me. Show me where those opportunities and jobs are? "

Tracy Kerr, the wife of Cpl William Kerr, who was injured in a blast in Afghanistan and lost thee limbs, said the federal government has been dragging its feet in helping Kerr's rehabilitation and even providing basic needs like a bath lift. 

"I just want a quality of life, happiness for my family. When we make requests for his needs, I want to actually get them. If I don't get the help, I don't know what is going to happen." 

Veterans Protesting Unfair Pensions

Meanwhile, a group of former soldiers is challenging the New Veterans Charter legislation which completely changed the way ex-soldiers are compensated and moved away from . a pension-for-life system into a workers compensation- style lump sum payment. 

The veterans want the same benefits veterans of  World War 1, World War 11 and the Korean war received. 

"No matter how the government dresses it up," said Mike Blais of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, " the system has created two classes of veterans: those on the old system and those on the new system, who often get less and face a variety of caveats. 

"We believe in one veteran, and one standard" Blais said. 

"Justice is what those veterans involved in the class-action lawsuit are seeking. They do not want anything more than those that served at Juno Beach were accorded. They do not want anything more than those that fought at Dieppe.
Ret. Sgt. Tom Hoppe shows off his medals, including the Meritorious Service Cross and the Medal of Bravery, at his Kingston, Ont. home.
Ret Sgt Tom Hoppe shows off his medals, 

Soldier Won't Wear Medals 

Several of Canada's most decorated soldiers, have refused to wear their medals as a formal sign of protest at the way veterans of the Bosnian mission and Afhanistan war are being treated.  

Retired Sgt Tom Hoppe  earned the Medal of Bravery and the affectionate nickname "Dances with Bullets" for his 1194 heroic rush into into sniper fire to rescue three children pinned down in  Visoko.  

I don't know what else to do," Hoppe said Thursday in an interview with the Canadian Press. " As long as people understand there's no disrespect to veterans whatsoever."

"It's just a choice I've made because I can;'t sit on the sidelines and do nothing anymore. And I've tried everything I can. I've tried to work with Veterans and the government, but every time we go to Veterans Affairs with ideas and stuff, it's a confrontational  approach."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the government has been transforming the system, pointing to a recent $177-million injection of cash to halt a long-term disability clawback.

"We are just a phone call away" for help, Blaney said.

That didn't stop disabled veterans and military widows from unleashing a broadside of frustration Thursday on Parliament Hill, complaining of bureaucratic indifference and red tape that flies in the face of Blaney's reassurances.

All Information from Canadian Press, CBC News, CTV News 

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