Updated on on 15 June 2016. This post first appeared on October 4, 2013. New government is a lot like the old government as we veterans are now told by federal lawyers there is no ‘duty of care’ to Canada’s veterans.
I first learned the Government of Canada is closing the Veteran’s Affairs office in Saskatoon back in the fall. It’s part of a cost cutting regime our federal Conservatives have been embarking on for the past year or so as they try to reign in the deficit. And really, this closure has nothing to do with former Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force personnel – it has to do with the civilians working at the Veteran’s Affairs office here in town. It’s about eliminating federal public service jobs because they eat up a large chunk of the budget. We veterans are just caught in the line of fire, that’s all.
I suppose I could be very shrill and sanctimonious – I could say government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was very quick to put our military personnel in harm’s way as part of an aggressive foreign policy that had nothing to do with international peacekeeping and everything to do with supporting the U.S. “war on terror”. But I won’t. There’s lots of special interest groups and opposition political parties that are trying to score points. It’s what they do.
And you know, I’ve never really had mind-blowingly amazing service any time I darkened the doors of the Veteran’s Affairs office here in Saskatoon. Everything is behind thick panes of glass – you know, security glass. You walk into a waiting room with some tables and generic semi-comfy office chairs. There’s copies of the Royal Canadian Legion’s magazine and of course lots of pamphlets on programs and services available to veterans. But every time I paid a visit, I didn’t really feel that welcome – how could I or anyone? The civil servants that are supposed to guide vets through the labyrinth of complex federal regulations deliberately written in vague bureaucratic language that you need a lawyer to decipher speak in that very same language – a language, ironically, that veterans don’t speak.
(The regulatory language of what veterans are entitled to and more importantly, how to access benefits is unbearably difficult to understand, and I’m a word guy. I write books for crying out loud! The media should be reporting on how vague and complicated it is to actually understand how to access veteran’s services.)
I don’t blame the public servants working there, of course – bureaucrats and the Ministry decided to turn Veteran’s Affairs offices into the unwelcoming places they are. I guess all the locked doors and security glass, the talking through a tiny window in the glass to a civil servant exists because the powers that be are afraid veterans are going to go postal. That we’re going to suddenly become violent because we aren’t getting the help we need because of what Canada asked us to do on its behalf.
There’s a lot of symbolism in thick panes of security glass.
I have a regular non-civil service job. I get that our government has to cut back on its payroll to balance the books. I know that most Canadians support these cuts because none of us has any kind of benefit package including a pension and annual sick days that comes within ten miles of what civil servants receive. There’s an old saying in Canada: everyone hates the public service and everyone wants to work for the public service.
But, there are some things that shouldn’t be cut. Veterans programs and services need to be at the top of that list because it is about a bargain the country struck with volunteers who signed up to serve. We (military personnel) will serve our nation faithfully. We will lay down our lives if necessary to protect you. And you (Canada), when the time comes … you must take care of us because of what we did.
It doesn’t matter if the service person is a veteran of combat in Afghanistan or a recently retired administrative clerk who has spent twenty years filing military paperwork on a safe Canadian military base somewhere: We served our country. You didn’t. You owe us.
All in the name of government restraint, I suppose. We’re told that we can access many of the services online now, but that ain’t service. That’s a freaking website. That’s not talking with a case worker. If the regulations are vague and hard to understand, a website is a thousand times worse. Military personnel and veterans know all about service – we know more than any public servant, elected politician or Canadian civilian can ever possibly conceive.
Unfortunately none of this resonates with most Canadians. (Seriously. Whenever I visit the United States and the folks there learn that I am a veteran, they immediately shake my hand and thank me for my service, even though I am from a foreign country. In Canada, if someone learns that I am a veteran I generally get a blank stare and a polite “oh”.) The government knows this. The cuts will come and let’s say that Harper loses the next election. Does anyone in their right mind think the Liberals or NDP will reopen the offices that are now closing? Not a freaking chance. UPDATE – was wrong on that one. But they might as well remained closed since everything is behind locked doors and security glass, but I digress.
I think a lot of veterans give up. I think that’s why the government can point to the fact that of the 600,000 veterans in Canada only 130,000 have a file with Veteran’s Affairs and only 7,500 have an assigned case manager..
The ongoing rash of veteran suicides is a symptom of a much larger problem that nobody really wants to talk about. Combine this with the fact that military personnel are trained to suck it up and soldier on from the first day of boot camp, well, you know the drill.
Nobody is marching in the streets in support of Canadian veterans. They won’t either. The cuts will continue and nobody really gives a damn. Harper’s people know it. The Liberals know it. The NDP knows it. Nothing to see here, folks. We’re just veterans, that’s all.
It is so exhausting.
It’s so unbelievably soul destroying to know that the country you volunteered to serve, protect and possibly lay down your life for, doesn’t give a damn.
Dear Canada, let’s be honest for once – all of us. If you truly cared about about your veterans, better services would exist. Our national leaders would be held to account. That’s not happening. Veterans issues aren’t even a blip on anyone’s radar. .
And there is probably still that thick protective glass in the waiting rooms of the remaining Veteran’s Affairs offices in Canada.