Supporting Our Veterans in the 21st Century

It is Remembrance Day in 2014.  It is the day we remember those who sacrificed for our country.  We remember those who gave their lives in the Great War of a 100 years ago.  It is a day we remember veterans like my father who served in World War 2.  It is a day for solemn and reflective thought for relatives many of us never knew because they never returned from places like Flanders or Korea.  This has been the tradition of Remembrance Day however the world of veterans has changed.

Uncle Pete military and scout master
Uncle Pete military and scout master

I am sad to say I have no military pictures of my father.  He was a gunnery sergeant and never spoke of his experiences until much later in his life.  The picture to the left is my uncle, my dad’s brother.  Their lives became forever intertwined, not just as brothers, but as veterans as well.  Today we remember both of them, now passed on.  We remember with the poppy but the meaning of the poppy has now gone further than Flanders Field.  To the new generation of veteran the poppy stands for remembrance more than a field of fallen in some faraway land and that is by no means meant to denigrate Flanders Fields.  These are the new veterans and Flanders was not exactly their war.

War has changed and the way it is reported has changed.  Veterans can no longer come home and not talk about it.  Or at the least not be questioned about it.  We no longer live in a time where the only reports we ever received on the war effort was the five minute “World News” segment before the movie started in the local theatre.  That was the way of World War 2 and the Korean War.  By Viet Nam mass media had taken over.  We were bombarded with it on TV.

And now we have “embedded” reporters traveling with the troops.  We get a front seat on the war from the camera’s point of view.  There is no privacy anymore for our veterans.  Hell we even have a highway to commemorate the fallen.  We receive national exposure every time a hearse travels the Highway of Hero’s.

The world of veterans has changed since my fathers day.  We can no longer deal with vets like we did in the 60’s and 70’s.  This is a brand new breed and society has changed.  There is no way our veterans should have to come home and engage in yet another battle to receive the services they fought to protect.  And yet this government continues to erode services for those most in need.

Yes veterans return home and re-enter their community successfully.  And yes many veterans requiring assistance receive it however many don’t.  A growing number return with disorders much more complicated that many of the vets from the past can even think of.

The technology of war has changed and with it the post-war disorders.  And yet, from all reports, veterans are coming home to engage in even more conflict just to receive the assistance they were told would be there for them.  We now have system that is governed by policy and regulations while being administered by gatekeepers.  Gatekeepers whose hands are tied by bureaucrats.  This is not care, this is production line processing.

And unfortunately, from all reports, it is also taking it’s toll on the veterans community.  This government is now pitting different veterans groups against each other.  Much of this conflict is generational which is a topic for a whole different article.  So I go back to my initial assertion that the world of veterans has changed.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is what veterans share, a brotherhood.  Although they may not all be in agreement with the current state of affairs, it is very important for the unity to remain among them.  It is so important for the brotherhood of veterans to stand strong.  They may not recognize many of the issues that are not common between different generations of veterans but one thing is certain…they are all veterans.

This Remembrance Day lets make them aware that every Canadian stands behind them and support their fight for services.  This Remembrance Day don’t just wear a poppy, send a message.  E-mail your MP and let them know that taking care of veterans is not a one day a year job.

Just one man’s opinion and let’s not forget!



Social Contracts, do they mean anything?

I have been following this latest issue in regards to “social contracts” in Canada and what has been promised to veterans.  Let me start by presenting a common definition of “social contract”.  According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and many others,  a social contract is defined as “an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each“.  I have grown up with “social contracts” and have seen them over ruled, ignored or just plain forgotten.

However when one as important as the one expressed by Prime Minister Robert Borden and has survived the test of time for almost 100 years is threatened it requires some attention.  To put this in perspective I have supplied the quote attributed to Borden, a Conservative Prime Minister, only days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  The battle that cost over 10,000 Canadian lives.

And I quote “You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as head of the government I give you this assurance:  That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to your country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done…The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your efforts and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home…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.

That statement, also referred to as the “social contract” the Harper government is now denying, has stood up for our veterans through two world wars, the Korean affair, thirty years of peace keeping action including almost fifty years in Cyprus, the Bosnian conflict, and most recently the Afghan war.  This social contract has been the backbone of the safety net supposedly in place to help our veterans, be they old or young, work through the horrors of war and make the transition back into a life of “normalcy”.

Social contracts are not new to governments around the world and many of these contracts get dropped or broken along the way after the benefit of political photo ops disappears.  In the mid 50’s the Canadian government entered a social contract with all polio survivor’s stating those who had contracted the disease would never have to worry about disability related costs.  In part because on March 26, 1953 American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a new vaccine to protect against polio.  On July 3, 1953 I was diagnosed with polio along with thousands of other Canadian.  The vaccine was not used in Canada until 1955.  There was no socialized medicine at that point in Canada.  That social contract disappeared somewhere in the early 70’s.

In the 60’s the government promised help to all of the families of the Thalidomide babies.  This became known as the Canadian Tragedy because the government of the day had been aware for almost five years of the danger of this drug.  It’s distribution in Canada was not halted until 1962 even though cases of birth defects were astronomical and well documented.  A “social contract” was established then by telling the families assistance would be provided.  Any families wanting support had to fight for it.  If they were successful in their fight they were prevented from discussing their settlement which was accompanied with a government imposed gag orders.

In the 80’s the tainted blood tragedy affected thousands of Canadians with HIV and Hepatitis.  Again the government entered into a “social contract” to assist those most affected.  The Krever Inquiry later showed that the victims of this scandal were dying faster than they were being settled with.  There still remains estates to this day waiting for settlements promised by the government.

These “social contracts” went by the roadside because the political optics were no longer there.  There was no longer a political opportunity for photo ops.  However the Harper government have made a whole marketing campaign out of draping themselves in the flag and swearing unending support for our troops which, by extension, includes veterans.  Suicide rates among our vets appears to be on the rise.  A recent study in the States shows that more veterans have died as a result of suicide than they did in recent wars.  I’m sure the same can be said of Canadian vets but this government has become so good at massaging information that actual stats are hard to find.

When a member of our armed forces can survive the military front and come back alive it is to be celebrated.  However when they return and die by their own hand often due to lack of proper supports then it should be a “war crime”.  This is one “social contract” that demands Canadians pay attention to.


Just one man’s opinion!

Chipping Away at Age

Mom and John
Mom and husband John. Mom was 84

When you first arrive to Kelowna you quickly discover there are two types of seniors.  There are the ones my age closer to 60 than 90 and there are 80+ like my mother.  When you are here to help out your mother you start to realize just how important a distinction this is.  The picture here is my mother and her husband John.  Both had enjoyed long marriages prior to meeting each.   Both lost their spouses to cancer.  Mom had been married to dad for 52 years while John had been married to his wife for 48 years.  They are both from that generation where it wasn’t really acceptable to live together with out being married.  So when mom was 76 she remarried so the two of them could blend their incomes and have a bit more financial security.

This generational distinction is important.  It is this generation of seniors that are being hit the hardest by budget and program cuts.  I am seeing this everyday as I assist my mother with many day to day issues.  After almost ten years of a happy marriage John’s dementia got to the point where my mother just didn’t have the energy anymore to be a caregiver.  John is now in a separate care centre and mom remains in her assisted living residence.  She enjoys it there, has a lot of friends of the same generation and has a system watching over her shoulder in the event she needs assistance.  My role here to make sure that happens and that is where the generational shift occurs.

My mother is from the generation that grew up during the depression, came of age during World War 2 and gave rise to the baby-boomer generation.  In other words, me, my siblings and my peers, the new generation of seniors.  My mother’s generation grew up being thankful for the things they had, an affect created by the Great Depression.  World War 2 brought prosperity to Canada including a greater understanding of  the need for democracy and freedoms.  It was a generation that attributed success to a democratic system of government.  It was a generation that didn’t question.  After all compared to the depression and the war their government was providing huge successes.

And this generation birthed the baby boomers.  The baby-boomers a generation of make love not war, a generation of social activist, anti-war protestors, a generation of people not afraid to speak out.  The generation our parents belonged to believed in hard work as a means to improve their children’s’ lot in life.  They had no guarantees except what they could provide for their children, us the baby-boomers generation.  My parents generation didn’t even have a guaranteed retirement.  The Canadian Pension Plan never came into being until 1965 under the government of Liberal leader Lester B. Pearson.  That was the same year the age of retirement dropped from 70 to 65.  Our parents plan for retirement was to put their faith in the extended family concept and hope their kids would be there at the end.

The baby-boomer generation had different plans.  They were busy marching, protesting, going to university (most of our parents were lucky to have grade 10) or heading into a trade directly from high school.  We were scattering around the country and moving away from the extended family concept.  We were becoming consumers who wanted charge cards, store bough bread, canned and/or fast foods, TV’s, two cars, and on and on.  Things our parents had never even dreamed of.  After all they were busy trying to provide a better life for the baby-boomers.

Now my mother lives in an assisted living centre worrying about when her money will run out.  She sits back while programs and services are scaled back without so much as a word.  After all the government is there to help, right?  And while the government is “taking care of things” the rate of homeless seniors is on the rise in Vancouver.  In Toronto the number of homeless seniors has doubled over a four year period.  In Kelowna the amount of seniors using food banks has risen over 20% while the Canadian Revenue Agency removes the charitable tax status of a seniors food bank.

But this is a generation that won’t speak out.  When I called the MP, Ron Cannan, to discuss a variety of matters in the Kelowna area all I received was scripted rhetoric and then given the brush off.  Yesterday while visiting with my mother we had coffee with friends of hers.  A couple in their late 80’s living solely on their CPP and OAS.  They live in fear of one of them passing away and leaving the other destitute.  And what is Ron Cannan and our government doing, closing Vet Centres while manipulating the electoral process.

The level of assurances this generation has is non-existence and it’s now time for the baby-boomers to drop that self centred approach and step forward.  We are now our parents caregivers and that is as disruptive to their esteem as their dependence on a system that doesn’t exist anymore.  They won’t fight it because that’s not who they are.  It is unrealistic to expect that generation to change after 80 years of conditioning and believe.

It’s time for the baby-boomers to become the care givers our parents hope for.  It’s time to stand up for your parents the way they spend their life standing up for us.  Personally I am tired of watching the services for seniors stripped away.  Government policy like the Fair Elections Act is just another erosion of the safety net that was suppose to be there for our parents.  How do you vote when you live on the street and no longer have a fixed address.  It’s time to stand up in  defence of our parents and speak out against this new type of democratic reform that is stripping away the services our parents invested their life in.  They can’t, WE MUST.

Just one man’s opinion!