Canada 2014/16 – military & veterans

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Ottawa’s legal manoeuvre on veterans benefits called ‘a betrayal’
Lawyer for injured Afghan veterans says court action turns ‘Liberal election campaign into a lie’
The federal government is taking veterans back to court to try to block certain benefits for injured and wounded soldiers, despite a Liberal campaign promise to better support them after an era of Conservative cuts.
“It’s a betrayal,” said Donald Sorochan, the lawyer representing the six Afghan war veterans who initiated a class-action lawsuit over pensions and other benefits.
“They have turned the Liberal election campaign into a lie. I sat at tables [during the campaign] with some of the people who are now in cabinet. Those ministers have been turned into liars by the Department of Justice,” he said Tuesday, noting the election platform explicitly promised that no veteran would have to “fight the government” for the support and compensation they have earned.
A peace agreement of sorts reached by the previous Harper government and the veterans, the plaintiffs, expired Sunday. The two sides failed to reach an out-of-court settlement, and now government lawyers have informed the B.C. Court of Appeals that they will pick up the lawsuit where it left off.

The plaintiffs have argued in court that the government has a sacred obligation to its injured soldiers and that the lump-sum payment wounded veterans receive under the New Veterans Charter — as opposed to the pension that was previously offered to veterans before 2006 — is inadequate compensation, as they receive less money over the course of a lifetime.
1 April
maple leaf insignia-1Canadian army generals to get maple leaf insignias back
The country’s army generals are getting their maple leaves back so that allies can identify them as Canadians.
(Ottawa Citizen) Almost three years after the Conservative government ordered Canadian Army generals to abandon the maple leaf insignia in favour of British-style pips, the army is returning to its previous look.
The move was prompted by concerns that military allies were having trouble recognizing the generals as Canadians, sources say.
The Conservatives’ decision to revert to the traditional British military terminology and insignia for Canadian units was greeted enthusiastically by monarchists and some veterans. … military sources say the changes were not universally welcomed by a generation of army officers who proudly served under the Canadian-oriented insignia and designations for almost 50 years. There was also confusion among some younger soldiers who were having difficulty identifying the ranks of army generals, sources said
5 February
Parks Canada rejects Mother Canada memorial
(National Observer) “It’s a sweet victory not just for our group and all those who know and love Green Cove,” said Sean Howard, spokesperson for the Friends of Green Cove.
“I think it’s a victory for the national parks system, the country. Hopefully it marks the end of an era of neglect, privatization and commercialization and we can turn the corner now and restore integrity and credibility to the whole system.”
Meg Stokes, spokesperson for the foundation, said … “This is disappointing to veterans across the country and the current members of the Canadian forces who support this project.” [Not at all sure that veterans wanted to see funds spent on the stalinist-era statue rather than on the services so many need.]
Stokes said the foundation hopes to still find a place to honour the Canada “war dead.”
7 January
Veterans Watchdog Guy Parent Staying Put Despite Liberal Demands To Step Down
Five years ago, Parent competed for the job after the Conservative government refused to reappoint the country’s first veterans ombudsman, retired colonel Pat Stogran.
The Liberals, as they have done in other instances, backed down. Parent has the full support of Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, spokesman Christian Duval said in a statement.
“In the last months, Minister Hehr has built a fruitful working relationship with the ombudsman and he looks forward to continue working with Mr. Parent and receiving his insight, advice and recommendations,” Duval said.
Parent’s initial five-year term was set to expire in November, almost immediately after the federal election, but the Harper government quietly approved an extension on July 28, just days before the election was called.
There are some in the veterans community who applauded the Liberal demand for the ombudsman to step aside, accusing Parent of being too cosy with the former Conservative government.
6 January
At least 2,250 veterans homeless in Canada, study finds
(National Observer) “It’s shocking in Canada that we would have any veteran who is homeless, but it is a sad reality,” Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country’s top military commander, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The report noted that the data still has some holes in it and does not capture the number of veterans who do not use shelters. The national findings contradict counts being done in individual cities, which analysts suggest means that “veterans are more likely to be found outside shelters.” Researchers also found that veterans who end up homeless tend to be older than non-veterans in the same circumstances and that ex-soldiers are more prone to so-called episodic homelessness — meaning they are individuals with disabling conditions who’ve been on and off the street three or more times in one year.
Soldiers who are being released on medical grounds, particularly for post-traumatic stress disorder, are among the most vulnerable.
An independent report prepared last spring for Veterans Affairs found that there’s “little evidence” the department is adequately dealing with — or reacting quickly to — the increasing number of soldiers being let go for medical reasons.
The former Conservative government boarded up nine regional veterans offices, saying they were being under-utilized — a decision that sparked a public outcry, with the Liberals promising to re-open the offices.

2015

3 December
Kent HehrKent Hehr gets personal as he outlines plan to revamp Veterans Affairs
Calgary MP, minister in charge of veterans services relates own struggles after he was shot in 1991
(CBC) Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr related his own experience with needing help, feeling like a burden and transitioning from one stage of life to another as he laid out his vision for revamping the way Canada treats its former service men and women.
“Although I am not a veteran myself and I still have much to learn, I know and understand how important it is to find help when you need it,” Hehr told an audience gathered for a “stakeholders summit” on veterans issues that was held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa this week.
“And, more importantly, I know how difficult finding help can be.”
The Liberal Calgary Centre MP reiterated his government’s promises to restore lifelong pensions as an option to injured veterans, reopen shuttered Veterans Affairs offices, hire more front-line staff, improve career transition support and “advance and enhance” mental health services.
Liberal government to hire shipbuilding expert after costs soar
(CBC) Interviews for new adviser begin Friday amid fresh promises to make costs more transparent
The new Liberal government has moved to reform Canada’s costly National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, promising a new system to evaluate costs, launch quarterly public updates and provide annual reports to Parliament.
Public Services Minister Judy Foote is also hiring a shipbuilding expert to advise the government, filling a gap in expertise in her department, tasked with managing the massive multibillion-dollar ship program, CBC News has learned.

In an indication of how swiftly the government intends to move to repair the shipbuilding program, the government is expecting to begin its interviews of experts as soon as Friday.
The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy was developed by the government to assist in rebuilding the Canadian industry and providing domestic capacity to rebuild the fleets of both the navy and the Coast Guard.
17 November
Trudeau: Canada Will Up Its Number Of Canadian Forces Trainers In Iraq
(CP) Trudeau has remained firm that Canada will withdraw its six CF-18 jet fighters before its March 2016 commitment expires, but has faced pressure to climb down from that promise because of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
“I’ve committed repeatedly to my allies that we were going to do more on the training front and that means obviously more than just 69 trainers,” Trudeau said.
“How many that will be, what form that will take, what kind of engagement we’re going to have, those are things that we’re going to work out.”
10 November
Defence Minister orders top soldier to examine rise in military suicide rates
Newly minted Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has ordered the country’s top military leader to examine why suicide rates have risen in the army in recent years, after a long entrenchment in the Afghanistan war.
Mr. Sajjan, who served three tours in Afghanistan as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, said Tuesday he is concerned about the rise. He has asked the chief of the defence staff to make this issue a “priority” and “identify a way forward.”
“Throughout my career, I have seen first-hand the demands of military service, and the sometimes enormous impact it can have on members and their families,” Mr. Sajjan said in a statement. “This is particularly relevant given our long combat mission in Afghanistan.”
The military released a study Tuesday that showed deployment, particularly trauma connected to the Afghanistan war, may be emerging as a risk factor for suicide. The Forces had previously said it had not found a consistent relationship between deployment and increased suicide risk.
4 November
Harjit SajjanHon. Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
Harjit Sajjan has served Canada and his community as both a soldier and a police officer. He will continue his service as the Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver South.
Harjit is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces and a combat veteran. He has deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and served three separate deployments to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Harjit has received numerous recognitions for his service, including the Meritorious Service Medal for reducing the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar Province, and the Order of Military Merit – one of the military’s highest recognitions. Harjit also served as an Aide-de-Camp to the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Harjit was a police officer with the Vancouver Police Department for 11 years. He completed his last assignment as a Detective-Constable with the Gang Crime Unit specializing in organized crime. He proudly tackled gang violence and drug crimes in Vancouver. Harjit is also a Human Security specialist, lecturing to a wide audience in both Canada and the US.
21 September
Veterans say Harper couldn’t pay vets to attend his events
(iPolitics) Veterans who gathered to hear Tom Mulcair speak at an NDP rally Monday said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper couldn’t pay veterans to attend his events.
In fact, a number of veterans at the Dartmouth legion said they used to vote Conservative – but now that’s a thing of the past.
… most of the supporters who attended the rally were there because of NDP candidate for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, and veterans affairs critic, Peter Stoffer.
“We’ll support Tom Mulcair and we’ll support Robert Chisholm, but we’re here because of Peter Stoffer”.
Mother Canada veterans affairs
2 September
Bruce Moncur: Why the Military Should Take What the Liberals Say With a Grain of Salt
(HuffPost) The last time the Liberals were in power was described by former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier as “the decade of darkness.” The Liberals have had two high-profile veteran candidates leave the party on principle in the recent months, which I think is more newsworthy than the Liberals’ recent $300 million dollar announcement. It is indicative to their inability to deliver and their past history of promising what they have no intention of delivering has caught up to them. The truth of the matter is that there are 700,000 veterans in Canada and, with a spouse and two dependents, that number approaches nearly 10 per cent of the population. An overwhelming majority of them vote, and with 40 per cent of Canada’s population abstaining in 2011, the veteran vote could very well sway the upcoming election.
The recent announcements were made by a Liberal government trying to fix Liberal-implemented legislation. The New Veterans Charter came from the decade of darkness, and countless soldiers have suffered because of it. …the elder Trudeau’s morale-killing reorganizations have made a lasting impression on generations of military men and women who have been burned by the Liberals one too many times.
By pandering to the veteran community, the Liberals are hoping that the memory of soldiers does not go beyond the year 2000. For the last few decades, the Liberals have alienated generations of soldiers. Many of the men and women that have served will never support the Liberal party especially after the reprehensible treatment that they have had to endure during past Liberal mandates, particularly during the aforementioned decade of darkness when the Liberal party humiliated the forces. …it was the Liberal party that went to the bureaucrats at Veterans Affairs Canada and told them that they had to figure out a way to implement a rehabilitation program with the same amount of funding. What was to follow was the implementation of the new veteran’s charter , a living, breathing piece of unanimously passed legislation meant to save money that singlehandedly ruined the ability of those maimed by war to retire with dignity.
27 August
Conservatives looking for veterans to sing praises of Harper: email
An email being circulated among former Canadian soldiers suggests federal Conservatives are looking for a few happy, satisfied veterans to appear in television ads backing the prime minister, The Canadian Press has learned. …
It’s another sign of how much heat the governing Conservatives are feeling over the treatment of ex-soldiers. Prior to calling the Oct. 19 election, the Harper government embarked on a series of reforms to benefits and services for not only those who served, but their families.
The appeal for happy volunteers comes just days after the Liberals unveiled a $300-million-per-year plan aimed at addressing all of the long-standing grievances of veterans over pensions and support.
It’s clear, however, that both Conservatives and the Liberals are furiously courting the vocal constituency, whose default vote would have been for Harper in bygone days.
24 August
Canada election 2015: Liberals set to unveil plan to court veteran vote
Party promising to reopen 9 regional veterans affairs closed in recent years
The pledge is part of a comprehensive pitch to woo disgruntled ex-soldiers, whom the Conservatives have long considered their natural constituency.
Trudeau will deliver the promise Monday at an event in a southern Ontario community that hosts the largest and busiest military air base. The proposals give advocates, including the veterans ombudsman, everything they’ve been demanding.
The Harper Conservatives have faced unrelenting criticism from the veterans community and responded earlier this year with a series of initiatives, including a family caregiver’s benefit and a one-time $70,000 lump sum payout to injured soldiers.
4 June
Choppers bought for parts may live to fly another day
Former White House aircraft poised to join search-and-rescue fleet
Lost hikers or stranded fishermen could find themselves being rescued by helicopters once designed to transport U.S. presidents.
Jeremy Tracy, a spokesman for Agusta-Westland, which builds the Cormorant, said the firm has always been supportive of converting the presidential helicopters to a search-and-rescue variant.
A fleet of 21 helicopters would allow for better coverage, particularly in the Arctic, Tracy added.
The Harper Government Glorifies the Boer War
In their bid to brand Canada a “warrior nation,” Stephen Harper’s Conservatives seek to glorify Canadian military history, regardless of its horrors.
On Saturday Canada’s Minister of Veteran Affairs released a statement to mark “113 years since the end of the South African war.” Erin O’Toole said, “Canada commemorates all those who served in South Africa, contributing to our proud military history.”
But the Boer War was a brutal conflict to strengthen British colonial authority in Africa, which ultimately led to racial apartheid.
31 May
Ottawa shelves fight with wounded veterans over disability payments
The federal government has shelved its legal battle against a group of wounded military veterans fighting for fair disability payments.
A so-called “abeyance agreement,” signed May 27, stipulates that the veterans will work with the federal government on reforms to the current system.
Veterans Affairs officials blamed former minister Julian Fantino for making ‘bad press’ worse
Veterans Affairs Canada officials felt former minister Julian Fantino’s public relations’ disasters had “intensified” what was already a glut of “bad press” that had “taken its toll” on the department’s reputation, internal documents show (Well, yes).
19 May
Navy turns to ebayDocuments show navy mechanics had to use eBay to find ship parts
Newly released government records show that navy mechanics in Halifax had to scour the Internet and use eBay to find parts for one of its two supply ships.
But the briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press, prepared for navy commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, show the technicians were fighting a losing battle to keep HMCS Preserver on duty.
The documents show many of the parts on the 45-year-old ship were “beyond acceptable limits” because corrosion issues had begun to compromise the vessel’s structural integrity.
4 May
Delayed trucks now due in 2017
Canada’s army expects to receive new trucks almost a decade after they were promised by the Conservative government.

But there are questions about whether there is enough money to maintain the new vehicles when they do arrive.
The government originally announced the truck purchase in 2006, saying they would be delivered two years later. But the trucks will now be delivered starting in 2017 … the contract would be awarded to the winning bidder in the summer. Defence industry officials expect that to occur sometime in June. The $725-million project will see the purchase of 1,500 trucks.
1 May
Company to be chosen by 2017 to design new navy ships
A company will be selected by 2017 to design new warships to replace the Royal Canadian Navy’s frigates and destroyers, but senior government officials acknowledged Friday they have no idea of the final cost.
The project, known as the Canadian Surface Combatant, will see up to 15 ships built. At this point, the budget is estimated at $26 billion.
Senior government officials said they don’t know what the actual cost will be. Delays in building and inflation could increase costs or decrease the number of ships built.
17 March
Patrick Lamontagne Improved Veterans' ServicesErin O’Toole to unveil new support for veterans and their families
Ottawa to offer new benefits to family caregivers, expand existing program
According to government sources, the minister will announce new support for family members who care for severely ill and injured veterans, as well as an “important” expansion of an existing program.
13 March
Ottawa to increase compensation for severely injured veterans
Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole will increase compensation for part-time reservists who are seriously hurt in the line of duty, a change he announced at the end of a week that began with a proposal for a new benefit to lift some senior disabled veterans out of poverty.
Veterans’ advocates say more announcements are coming as the Conservative government tries to plug gaps in the New Veterans Charter – the document that dictates how former members of the military are compensated for injuries – and to deflect criticism of its handling of the sensitive file before they head into a general election
On Friday, the minister took the podium at a naval reserve unit in Halifax to stress over and over again the government’s respect for the military.
Starting in April, he said, the government will ensure that part-time reservists who are severely injured will receive a minimum annual income of $42,426 while participating in a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program or until they are able to return to work. That is nearly double the amount to which they are currently entitled, and puts them on par with full-time members of the Forces. …
Some veterans complain that the retirement benefit proposed by the government on Monday will disadvantage those injured before the veterans charter took effect by clawing back their lifetime payments for pain and suffering.
3 March
Top soldier stepping down at critical time for Canadian Forces
This changing of the guard comes at a critical time for the Canadian Armed Forces, which are grappling with a budget squeeze, difficulties buying new equipment and the challenge of managing a peacetime army that, aside from a detachment of special forces troops in Iraq, is largely out of the fight.
Gen. Lawson, a former CF-104 Starfighter pilot, turns 58 this year. His tenure began in October, 2012. He’s presided over a military struggling with cutbacks and recruiting while mounting an aerial combat mission in Iraq as well as air and sea deployments to help the NATO alliance counter Russian aggression in eastern Europe.
27 February
This must be such a relief for the veterans. NOT.
Veterans must verify lost limbs every three years, Ottawa says
A wounded soldier who lost both legs in Afghanistan and has had to prove to Veterans Affairs every year that he still needs a wheelchair, will now only have to go through the experience every three years.
12 February
Michael Den Tandt: Stephen Harper focused on coming election
(o.canada.com) The Kenney move is intriguing. … Defence is nothing to sneeze at; particularly now, with Canadian warplanes and special forces in Iraq. Of greater consequence, though, particularly from the point of view of the Prime Minister’s Office, may be that Kenney won’t be easily bamboozled by his new department.
Within Conservative circles there is a view that the F-35 fighter meltdown was bequeathed to the government by the Defence Department, and that it might have been avoided had the minister at the time, Peter MacKay, been less deferential to the military brass. Since then Defence has been shorn of much of its authority over procurement — but that hasn’t turned out to be any kind of fix.
More than two years after the F-35 purchase went supernova, and even as Canada’s old warplanes are coming in handy in Iraq and Eastern Europe, there is still no progress on a new fighter. Meantime, with Arctic sovereignty on the boil, the first of five or six new Arctic patrol ships is not due to float until 2018, at the earliest. The Navy last year retired two destroyers and two supply ships. Its Halifax-class frigates are undergoing a refit.
Amid these straits, the Canadian Forces needs an influential minister who will pound the table for more resources, and have the PM’s ear. Kenney qualifies. His appointment further signals that Defence will loom large both in the coming budget, and the Tory election platform.
11 February
Lee Berthiaume: Budget cuts hit RCAF flying hours
Cutbacks affect aircraft upkeep, documents show
(Ottawa Citizen) Federal budget cuts have been quietly clipping the wings of the Canadian military, with the air force’s fighter jets, search-and-rescue helicopters and other aircraft spending more time on the ground in an attempt to save money.
The belt-tightening, combined with increasing fuel, utility and training costs, has also made it more difficult for the Royal Canadian Air Force to pay for such essentials as removing snow and ice from runways, and has forced it to cut back on preventive aircraft maintenance.
The revelations are contained in internal business plans prepared by 1 Canadian Air Division, which manages the RCAF’s numerous aircraft fleets. The documents pre-date the current conflict in Iraq, raising further questions as to how that action is affecting the air force’s already stressed budget.
6 February
If Anyone “Distrusts” The Military It’s Harper
By Andrew Leslie, retired Lieutenant-General and
Harjit Sajjan Liberal candidate for Vancouver South, retired Lieutenant-Colonel
(HuffPost) This is the Prime Minister who praises reservist members of the Forces, but who has decreased the budget dedicated to reservist pay, and reduced their training budget to pay for things like income splitting — a $2000 tax break for the wealthiest few. Furthermore, our reserve units are now under strength due in part to this government’s closure of recruiting centers.
This is the Prime Minister who eliminated danger pay for our soldiers in Afghanistan, depriving military of pay for serving in incredibly dangerous places, risking life and limb in service to their country. It was only when this cut went public that the Prime Minister felt sufficiently embarrassed to reverse his decision.
When a Canadian Forces soldier took her own life, and her parents decided they wouldn’t participate in the Board of Inquiry into her death, Mr. Harper’s government not only sent them a legal summons to force them to appear, it also sent them the bill for the cost of that summons.
And the shoddy treatment Mr. Harper displays towards our Canadian Forces members doesn’t end with when they leave active duty. In fact, they continue to be treated terribly as veterans.
Mr. Harper has closed nine Veterans Affairs offices that help retired Canadian Forces members access the services to which they need. Each Year, Veterans Affairs Makes Me Prove I Lost My Legs
30 January
David (Jones) Support our troops: America’s veterans expect the best, but it comes at a steep price
vs
David (Kilgour) Support our troops: Canadian veterans shouldn’t have to fight for benefits and services
28 January
Harper Government Spends $700,000 Fighting Veterans Class-Action Lawsuit
(Canadian Press) The federal government has so far spent nearly $700,000 fighting a disgruntled group of wounded Afghan veterans in court— a revelation that on Wednesday rekindled a political controversy the Conservatives had hoped was behind them.
During question period, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to cast the ongoing court battle as the legacy of a flawed policy that was foisted on Parliament nine years ago by Paul Martin’s Liberal government.
“The government is defending a decision of the previous government, supported by all parties in the House of Commons,” Harper said, referring to the new veterans charter, which the Conservatives have championed since coming to office in 2006.
23 January
Erin O’Toole, veterans affairs minister, announces ‘veteran-centric’ approach
‘The veteran has to be at the centre of everything we do,’ new minister says
“What is necessary as minister of veterans affairs has been listening and coming up with a plan, and today I’m going to share with you a few reflections on my first few weeks listening and meeting with veterans and advocates from across the country,” O’Toole said to a crowd of current and former servicemen and women at the Rotary Club of Toronto in his first major speech.
He said the government’s three-point plan includes:
A “veteran-centric” approach to policy and programming.
A “seamless integration” with the Canadian Forces.
Creating “a culture that strives for service excellence.”
5 January
Three cheers! And about time.
Julian FantinoJulian Fantino out as veterans affairs minister
Durham MP Erin O’Toole, former RCAF officer, takes helm of embattled ministry
(CBC) In a release Monday, the government said Fantino will remain in cabinet as associate minister for defence — the same post he held before being named international co-operation minister in 2012.
This time, Fantino will focus on Arctic sovereignty, information technology security and foreign intelligence, the release said. Oh, dear!
The change was made during a quiet ceremony at Rideau Hall around midday and addresses for now what has been a nagging controversy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

2014

Global News: Crisis in the military

Invisible wounds
Canadian soldiers have officially left Afghanistan. But for many men and women in the Canadian Forces, an invisible war still rages.
Global News spoke with five current and former members of the Canadian Forces, each with post-traumatic stress disorder.
What they revealed amounts to a crisis in the military.
They all described debilitating injuries and difficulty in getting treatment, either initially or long-term.
These soldiers spoke out as a spate of soldier suicides made headlines, forcing Canadians to acknowledge the damage the war in Afghanistan inflicted on those who made it home.
A tense confrontation in January between Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino and veterans over the closing of office locations highlighted the disconnect between the two sides.
At the same time, the Canadian government was reviewing the New Veteran’s Charter, a document that came into force in 2006 and fundamentally changed the way veterans were compensated.
It meant that soldiers being medically released from the military, including those with PTSD, would receive lump sum payments instead of a pension. Many of these veterans were also depressed, addicted to alcohol or drugs, or suicidal.
Less money to help veterans, more to remember them
Overall funding for Veterans Affairs has dropped, with many of those cuts coming from disability, health care and reintegration services. The department says there’s less need for those “traditional” services, even as soldiers return home from serving in Afghanistan with needs of their own.
Meantime, funding for Canada Remembers, a program intended to honour veterans, increased by double digits this year.
The cuts hit programs such as disability and death compensation, health care and re-establishment services such as helping vets find jobs.
Spending on the Canada Remembers program, meanwhile, is projected to increase almost 21 per cent

7 December
Veterans Affairs’ Disability Branch Saw Major Cuts From 2009 To 2013: Report
(Canadian Press) Some of the biggest job cuts at Veterans Affairs in recent years have been in the disability awards branch — the division targeted in a recent auditor general’s report for taking too long to decide on the benefit claims of ex-soldiers.
Departmental performance reports stretching back to 2009 show that roughly 897 positions have been eliminated across Veterans Affairs, with 33 per cent coming out of the section that administers pensions and awards. Those same records show the health and rehabilitation branches also took a sizable hit — roughly 372 positions during the same time frame. Commemorations, the division that celebrates past wars and maintains memorials, was reduced by 17.2 per cent, while internal services — Prime Minister Stephen Harper described it last week as “backroom administration” — lost 71 positions, just 10.1 per cent.
2 December
Den Tandt: Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino enters the slow spiral dive
(Canada.com) the inescapable fact is that, whatever tough situation he finds himself in, Fantino invariably makes it worse, through a combination of reflexive combativeness, insensitivity and bluster. …
A better politician than Fantino would have understood that in a televised discussion with a decorated veteran, the correct thing to do is doff your cap. The same politician would have intuitively grasped that the wife of a struggling veteran is someone to be brought into the office for coffee and a talk, not shunned – again, in full view of TV cameras.
Any politician worth his expense account would have known that, with the auditor general on the march, the safest place to be is under the hot lights, taking one’s punishment.
1 December
Julian Fantino, Veterans Affairs Minister, Must Resign: NDP, Grits
(HuffPost) Both the opposition New Democrats and the Liberals piled on during question period Monday — Fantino’s first since auditor general Michael Ferguson tore a strip off the government for making soldiers with post-traumatic stress wait up to eight months to find out if they’re eligible for treatment.
Fantino, who was in Italy last week attending commemorative Second World War events while controversy raged at home, brushed aside the criticism.
Aaron Wherry: Should Julian Fantino be fired? No? How ’bout now?
(Maclean’s) It has been a full 11 months since the opposition parties last sought Fantino’s dismissal. That was after the minister had a rather disastrous interaction with a group of veterans who were unhappy with the government’s decision to close nine veterans’ offices. (Note to concerned citizens: Please refrain from pointing at Fantino.)
Eleven months later, things are not going well. In May, video cameras recorded a veteran’s wife chasing after the unresponsive minister. Veterans’ groups have announced a boycott of government announcements and a desire to see the Conservatives defeated in 2015. Fantino met with some veterans’ groups two weeks ago, but was criticized for who wasn’t included. And then came the auditor general’s report, which reported shortcomings in the delivery of mental health services.
28 November
Fine print on Ottawa’s $200-million veterans fund: It’ll take 50 years to pay
The federal Conservative government has trumpeted a new commitment of $200-million to help veterans deal with their mental-health issues, but it has been less vocal about the fact that the money will be paid out over the next half a century.
“It is deceptively caustic to the trust and the well-being of the veterans because they are waiting for services now,” said Sean Bruyea, a retired military captain who is a defender of veterans’ interests. “For them to say to veterans, ‘You’ve already given your sacrifice to Canada, but we are going to delay your payment for that sacrifice for another 50 years’ – how absurd.”
The announcement of new and expanded mental-health initiatives for veterans, military members and their families came two days before Auditor-General Michael Ferguson released a gloomy report saying many vets are waiting months – and in some cases years – to access mental-health disability benefits.
In response to that audit, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who is travelling on official business in Italy this week, released a statement saying the government’s action plan “supported by our $200-million investment will further improve an already strong continuum of mental health supports and services.”
Most of that money – $159.2-million – is designated to pay for the creation and ongoing operation of an Operational Stress Injury (OSI) clinic in Halifax and nine other “satellite” clinics in different locations across the country.
But the documents released by the government to explain their investments in those clinics were less than specific about the timeline of the payout. They said only that there would be “an immediate investment of $19.1-million and the remainder will be provided over the life of the program.”
(As It Happens Part 3) Sean Bruyea read the fine print. And what he found was that the federal government’s promised expenditure on veterans with mental-health problems wasn’t a five- or six-year plan — it was a 50-year plan.
27 November
Bruce Anderson: Why do the Conservatives treat veterans so poorly?
Ottawa closes a handful of veterans’ services offices, to save a paltry sum. It endures painful protests by veterans advocates, treats the protesters with scorn, and months later has billions of dollars to spend on tax cuts and other benefits.
This government is known for playing to “its base.” Military families are at or near the top of the list of voters the Conservatives would want to call their own. For photo opportunities the Conservatives are happy to stand with Canada’s military personnel. But for help in times of need, not so much.
This government routinely spends money on things that serve their partisan electoral strategy. Fiscal prudence? Not when it comes to advertising its economic management.
Hundreds of millions have been spent on baubles and trinkets to appeal to voters who fall into the right categories in the Conservative database. …
With a mandate that is not complicated and a budget of $3.6-billion, Veterans Affairs Canada has the resources it needs to meet our obligations to those who have served this country. But if they care about veterans, they seem incapable of showing as much. …
Ottawa closes a handful of veterans’ services offices, to save a paltry sum. It endures painful protests by veterans advocates, treats the protesters with scorn, and months later has billions of dollars to spend on tax cuts and other benefits.
25 November
Veterans waiting months or years for mental health benefits, auditor says
Veterans are waiting months – and sometimes years – to access mental health disability benefits due to a web of complex forms and slow responses from Veterans Affairs, according to the Auditor-General.
In his 2014 fall report, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson singles out Veteran Affairs for heavy criticism over the lengthy wait times faced by Canadian veterans seeking mental health support.
24 November
Tories defend timing of expanded funding for vets in advance of auditor’s report
The Conservative government says it’s merely a coincidence that a big mental-health spending package for soldiers, veterans and their families has been unveiled shortly before a report expected to be critical of Ottawa’s performance on this file.
Rona Ambrose announces funding boost for military mental health research
Health minister, True Patriot Love Foundation commit to $10M in new research funding
Research on the mental health of Canadian Forces members and veterans will benefit from $5 million in new federal funding, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose says.
The True Patriot Love Foundation, an organization that raises funds to support veterans and their families, will invest an additional $5 million to improve research.
Julian Fantino says $1.1B in lapsed vets funding ‘not lost money’
‘We are not in any way shape or form disadvantaging any veteran who does need help.’
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino says the department’s $1.1 billion dollars in unused funding over seven years is “not lost money.”
The department was unable to spend more than $1.1 billion of its budget over seven years, and like other departments that are unable to spend their appropriation within the budget year, Veterans Affairs was required to return its unspent funds to the treasury.
But Fantino told a news conference in Halifax on Sunday that the funding is recycled back into programs for veterans.
18 November
The existing policy is simply outrageous.Good for Global for ‘outing’ it.
Ottawa to change reservist death benefits following Global News story
After Global News reported the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo would not be entitle to the same death benefit as other soldiers because  he’s a reservist, the federal government confirms it will make an exception. But could that have repercussions for other reservists. Jacques Bourbeau reports.
(Global News) On Monday, Global News published a story outlining the way Ottawa’s bending its own rules to ensure the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a reservist shot to death at Ottawa’s National War Memorial last month, gets all the benefits due to a regular forces member.
Were Cirillo treated as any other Class B reservist in Canada, his family would be entitled to $1.8 million less – by the time his benefits expire when he would have turned 65- than a member of the regular forces who was the same age and died in the same year.
The federal government is fixing a decades-old inequity in the way families and survivors are compensated after a reservist is killed serving Canada. “We are working on fixing this discrepancy for other reservists killed in the line of duty,” a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said in an email Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday, Global News published a story outlining the way Ottawa’s bending its own rules to ensure the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a reservist shot to death at Ottawa’s National War Memorial last month, gets all the benefits due to a regular forces member.
Canada’s military ombudsman is one of many who’ve been raising the issue of unequal treatment for reservists for years.
It was a recommendation in a report on Canada’s new Veterans’ Charter. At the time, Fantino said he’d consider changes.
His office’s statement Tuesday indicates he’s made a decision – at least as far as death benefits go.
When it comes to reservists who get badly hurt doing the same service as their better-compensated regular force colleagues – many of whom have wounds that will stay with them for life – it appears the Minister is still thinking. UGH!
13 November
Angry veterans group plans campaign against Harper’s Conservatives
Canada Coalition for Veterans campaigned against closure of Veterans Affairs offices
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.
The coalition says a low-key approach to confronting the government has not worked and spokesman Mike Blais says the Royal Canadian Legion seems satisfied with current disability awards for the most severely wounded troops.
Soldiers injured in combat are eligible for a one-time, lump-sum payment for non-economic loss that ranges up to $350,000.
“The Legion believes $350,000 is OK and the consultation group they have formed believes that’s OK. We do not,” said Blais, who is president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “We have done extensive consultation with those who have suffered the consequences of war in Afghanistan. I have spoken to memorial cross mothers and those who are suffering.”
Blais argues — as does a group of Afghan veterans in a lawsuit against the federal government — that the old system of pensions for life was more generous than the new veterans charter, introduced by the Liberals, but fully embraced by the Harper government in 2006.
11 November
Rick Mercer Veterans Rant Targets Tory Cuts On Remembrance Day (VIDEO)
Mercer focuses on cuts to Veterans Affairs which will lead to the closure of nine offices and, consequently, more obstacles to access for those who have served Canada in uniform.
“So if you’re a World War II vet and you have a problem, what do you do? Well, you don’t go to an office and talk to a real person — those days are over,” Mercer says. “There’s a 1-800 number they can call, or — this is my favourite, bearing in mind the average age is 88 — there’s an app they can download to their smartphone which will allow them to navigate the Veterans Affairs website, a website that will send them to the nearest Service Canada office where, if they need to make burial arrangements, they have to take a number and stand in line behind some guy like me who’s waiting to get his passport renewed.”
“I’m sorry, if you fought on the beach in Dieppe and survived, you should not have to spend any portion of your final days on this Earth in a Service Canada office.”
Harper and vets
(iPolitics) We’re proud to present a chapter from iPolitics’ columnist Michael Harris’s bestselling book about the Harper majority government, Party of One. In the following chapter, Harris describes how budget-cutting and bad messaging put Stephen Harper’s government on a collision course with Canada’s veterans as the Afghan war was winding down.
Delay, deny and die: The Harper government and veterans
It didn’t seem possible that the Conservative government could ever be criticized for its treatment of the military. During the Afghanistan War, it had promoted the highly successful “support our troops” campaigns, and many Canadians began wearing red on Fridays. Stephen Harper admired, and did not hesitate to deploy, Canada’s soldiers, sailors, and pilots. When he was a member of the Official Opposition, Harper had wanted Canada to go to war in Iraq, and had abjectly apologized to Americans after Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to join in the invasion. As prime minister, Harper committed Canadian forces to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in March 2011, and was proud of the fact that a Canadian led the NATO mission. The Harper government had spent $850,000 on a November 2011 flyover to mark the end of the Canadian mission in Libya, where the only casualties were Libyan. Retired general Lewis MacKenzie told me, “The trouble with that victory fly-past in Ottawa, which reminded me of Bush and the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, is we don’t really know who we ended up supporting in the end. Now the warring has started again between the Libyan factions.”
Concluding paragraphs:
The prime minister caused a protocol flap when he decided to receive the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan from a relay team of injured vets, rather than our real commander-in-chief, Governor General David Johnston. It was a Harper event: A twenty-one-gun salute, parades, helicopters landing, planes overhead, tanks in the street — and, having closed the file on Afghanistan, photo ops for 2015.
The problem was, returning veterans with mental and physical wounds inhabit a harsh and ongoing reality: how to push your kid on a swing minus an arm or a leg, or how to fill a war-weary heart with good human emotions again. The party that had courted, lionized, and used the military now turned its back on them when priorities changed.
9 November
Veterans’ complaints a tricky issue for Harper
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends Remembrance Day ceremonies Tuesday, he will have cut short his attendance at an international summit in China to pay tribute. Yet for an increasingly vocal set of this nation’s veterans, he is guilty of paying too little attention to those who served.
His government has lionized Canadian military symbols, and sent equipment to troops in Afghanistan. Many Conservative MPs care; many see veterans as part of their natural constituency. So why did Mr. Harper’s government become a target for veterans? How did its image instead become Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino lecturing a medal-wearing vet not to point his finger, or dodging a veteran’s wife?
Now, Mr. Harper’s government has appointed a Mr. Fix-It in the form of the country’s former Chief of Defence Staff, retired General Walter Natynczyk. He has stature in Ottawa, credibility with the military community and was part of Afghanistan-war-era efforts to expand support programs for military families.
That could be critical, because the experience of injured Afghanistan vets has certainly fuelled current criticism.
As troops in 2008 or 2009, many felt support from the public. But those who are injured go from being “members” of the Forces to “clients” of Veterans Affairs. Forces’ members go through a medical board when they’re released because of an injury, then a new one when they apply to Veterans Affairs, Mr. Leonardo said.
The case workers at Veterans Affairs Canada care, he said. “It’s not the front line. They’re the most caring people in the world. The problem is the policies, the bureaucracy at the top, the funding.”
Much of the anger grew from the New Veterans Charter, put forward by Paul Martin’s Liberals and tweaked by Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. It was supposed to be a new deal, but sparked complaints, particularly about lump-sum settlements injured vets received instead of pensions.
16 February
Injured Canadian ex-soldier battles Veterans Affairs after eight district offices closed
Bruce Moncur was seriously injured in Afghanistan in 2006 and credits the Veterans Affairs office in Windsor for helping him get his life back. Since Ottawa just closed that office, he now has to drive several hours to visit the nearest office — in London.
4 February
Veterans Affairs Office Closures Ignite War Of Words With Harper Government
The recent closure of eight Veterans Affairs offices has ignited a war of words between former soldiers and the Harper government over access to benefits and other services.
Veterans and their supporters say they’ll have a harder time getting the help they need.
The Conservatives counter that moving more services online and to Service Canada outlets will actually make them more widely available. … Figures provided by the union show some Veterans Affairs offices will inherit huge caseloads because of the closures. Most offices aren’t getting more staff to help with the increased workload.
31 January
All we get is lip service’: Thousands of furious veterans picket offices in battle with Julian Fantino
Harper government, unions spar over veteran office closures as protests continue
The government — and Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino specifically — is accusing the Public Service Alliance of Canada of ‘manipulating’ the emotions of veterans with regard to their reaction to the closure of eight veterans service centres.
The issue hit a climax this week with a testy exchange, caught on tape, between Fantino and several veterans who flew to Ottawa in a last-minute plea to save the offices. The meeting concluded with the disgruntled veterans calling the minister disrespectful and asking him to resign.

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