How Veterans Affairs fails Canada’s heroes

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For a government that applauds its military’s service and prowess, lauds its warriors’ nearly mythological battlefield achievements and routinely augments its own fat-bellied, peacetime ambitions with the hard sinew and patriotic service of its men and women in arms, Harpertown has a strange way of displaying its appreciation to its avowed friends.

Some truly intrepid, hard-slogging reporting by Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press paints a tale of stunning incompetence at Veterans Affairs of late – a record that does not evidently stem from, as the Prime Minister’s Office wishes it might, the bureaucracy, but from the political office, itself.

As Mr. Brewster reported on December 11, “The inability of Veterans Affairs to spend $1.13 billion over the last eight years should have come as no surprise to the Harper government, which was warned two years ago that the department was struggling to forecast the needs of its clients.”

That might have had something to do with the fact that this government’s widely publicized exercise in public-sector pilates since 2008 (18.5 per cent staff cuts across the board or go home and cry into your mama’s pea soup) has effectively eliminated 900 full-time positions at Vets.

Still, Mr. Brewster relies on an unimpeachable source for his conclusions: Auditor-General of Canada Michael Ferguson’s report on the subject in 2012.

“Buried deep in. . .(this) report,” the reporter states, “was a warning that Veterans Affairs was producing inaccurate forecasts of future client needs that were based on historic data, rather than current information. The same report also took aim at the case management and referral system for operational stress injury clinics, which was the focus of (November’s) much-hyped $200-million overhaul.”

Predictably and nastily, the Harper government has chosen to defend itself by laking the low road.

As Mr. Brewster reports, a class-action lawsuit in British Columbia brought against the federal government for its ham-handed implementation of a veterans charter it has endorsed since 2005 (when the former Liberal government of Paul Martin first flew it up the flag pole) met with this spicy bit of disingenuity from Mr. Harper, himself, earlier this month:

“It (the legal action) is actually a court case against the previous Liberal policy. . .In any case, we have repeatedly enhanced the benefits under that policy to the tune f $5 billion, opposed every step of the way by the Liberal party, who has voted against all those benefits. They can keep voting against those benefits for veterans. We will keep bringing them forward.”

And what do Canada’s actual servicemen and women believe? That entirely depends on whom you ask, but if you ask the Canada Coalition for Veterans, they’ll have this to say: Fire Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino immediately, and, next fall, kick the Tory bums out of office.

According to a CBC report last month, “A group of angry veterans, who want the Harper government defeated in the next election, is appealing to serving members of the military to join them in protest. Ron Clarke, a member of Canada Coalition for Veterans who has been campaigning against the closure of Veterans Affairs offices, made the appeal Wednesday during a Parliament Hill news conference. It may put those in uniform in an awkward position, but Clarke says they need a government sensitive to veterans and their needs. ‘We need a government that looks after our veterans,’ he said.

“The plea is just the latest move in what is a major rift in the veterans community, one that has the potential of undermining the coalition’s aim of galvanizing votes against the Conservatives. Last week, a group of outspoken veterans advocates announced that six organizations had formed a coalition that would, at a minimum, boycott government announcements and photo-ops.”

All of which has cast the worst possible light on a government that has clearly failed to fulfill its responsibilities to thousands of discharged soldiers, untold numbers of whom continue to suffer from untreated physical and mental battlefield injuries.

Indeed, with friends like this, who needs enemies.

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