Veteran’s Face Department Cutbacks and Loss of Popular Ombudsman

The Conservative Government has recently committed to stripping services from veterans who have admirably served our country. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the subject of two current controversies, both of which have been imposed on it by our government.

The first came from Veteran’s Affairs Minister, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who said that the department will need to shrink as a result of 1,500 of the remaining 150,000 veterans of the Second World War and Korean War passing away monthly. While this is an unfortunate reality, Blackburn has not commented on any of the other major conflicts and peacekeeping missions Canadian veterans have taken part in, including the veterans of peacekeeping missions in Rwanda, Haiti, and Kosovo, the War in Afghanistan, or many of the other missions our Canadian Forces have taken part in since Korea. He also neglected to indicate that the RCMP falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well.

In fact, there are over 700,000 individuals currently eligible for services through the Department of Veterans Affairs. There has been a sharp increase for service requests from veterans of recent combat missions who are suffering from injuries or mental health problems, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, creating increased workloads for civil servants at the DVA, and a backlog of requests from vets seeking assistance. Blackburn, in a recent article in CBC, stated “I'm just saying if we have less veterans, we should have less employees too.” This mentality is completely unreasonable, and stands in stark contrast to the Conservatives standard pro-military stance. It’s one thing to stand up for soldiers in wartime, it’s quite another to honour our veterans with the care and support they deserve when they return to Canadian soil.

The other major issue comes with the Conservatives’ refusal to renew the term of employment for Veterans Affairs Ombudsman, Colonel Pat Stogran - one of the most prominent critics of the bureaucracy veterans are forced to deal with to receive pensions and benefits. Stogran has been outspoken on behalf of all veterans who have fought for our country. In a recent press conference after the news fell that his contract would not be renewed, Stogran raised significant questions about how modern veterans are being treated by this and previous governments. Blackburn has refused to comment on why Stogran’s contract was not being renewed, while veterans have openly protested Stogran’s departure.

During the press conference, Stogran said "it is beyond my comprehension how the system could knowingly deny so many of our veterans the services and benefits that the people and the government of Canada recognized a long, long time ago as being their obligation to provide." He has been especially vocal about the treatment of modern veterans, and the difficulties they face trying to gain access to appropriate benefits. One of those sitting with Stogran at the press conference was disabled veteran Dennis Manuge, who has headed a class-action lawsuit against the government representing 6,500 veterans fighting the clawback of disability pension payments by the federal government. While Manuge’s battle is certainly admirable, it isn’t one that any veteran should have to fight.

‘Support Our Troops’ is a mantra the Harper government likes to use freely, but when it comes time to actually support those who return from combat, they seem to have no problem leaving them behind.