Injured soldiers deserve pensions not pink slips

As we prepared to honour Canada’s veterans in Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country and MPs stood in silence in the House of Commons, we were reminded that our commitment to the men and women who serve in the forces today is not as rock solid as it was in generations past.  

I have written about the shortcomings of the Veteran’s Charter as well as the challenges facing impoverished veterans including the Last Post Fund that helps finance funerals for those individuals.  Those are items that can be addressed as not being entirely black and white and, some might argue, can be explained as oversight that can be addressed.  In other words, it is not impossible to imagine that those items fell through the cracks.

Not so with the practice of discharging injured soldiers from the military before they reach ten years of service - which is when they would qualify for a pension.  That is the stuff of cold-hearted calculation and, along with significant cuts in regional services for veterans, marks a victory for the bottom line of the balance sheet over compassion and caring.  If it doesn’t mute any patriotic claims the government makes with respect to veterans, what will? 

The increase in these discharges since the Conservatives have taken office is undeniable.  The percentage of soldiers who are medically released before becoming eligible for pensions has grown from 10% in 2001 to 16% in 2011.   It means that over 200 injured military personnel a year are being discharged in this way.

Part of the problem is the universality-of-service rule, which requires Canadian Forces members to be fit to deploy at all times, at home and abroad.  The other part of the problem is a government that refuses to amend the rule to allow injured soldiers to serve in domestic positions or retrain for other duties that better suit their post injury abilities.  This type of accommodation is made available in other parts of our civil service, but no so for our forces.

It is a cynical way to treat people who volunteer to do a job that has a significant risk of injury and is entirely essential for Canada to honour international commitments and be prepared to defend itself.  These soldiers risked their lives, were injured, and are now being abandoned to an uncertain future. 

Without ongoing support, these injured soldiers are being released and left to their own devices.  Many are unprepared to manage their own rehabilitation.  If this past week was any example, they won’t be going away quietly, nor should they.  Canadians need to hear these stories in order to demand that the government amend the rule being used to balance the books at a cost we aren’t prepared to pay.