The case for a VAC ombudsman

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Injured Soldiers are Not Disposable

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:54

By Sean Bruyea – HALIFAX CHRONICLE HERALD-Published: 2008-03-06

No doubt thousands of cards and good wishes were sent to soldiers on the frontlines in Afghanistan for Valentine’s Day. Back home, a different expression of affection is being shown more than 4,200 injured soldiers whom the bureaucrats and policy makers would rather Canada forgot.

Last month on Valentine’s Day, a Halifax courtroom wrapped up a request to certify a class-action lawsuit to stop the federal government deducting pain and suffering payments from disabled soldiers’ long-term disability plan. SISIP or the Service Income Security Insurance Plan is reportedly the only plan of its kind which deducts pain and suffering payments.

Why should Canadians care? Canada has suffered approximately 750 casualties in Afghanistan. The next federal election could be fought on whether or not to risk the lives of more Canadian soldiers. At a time when $20 billion has been earmarked for new military equipment, many disabled military members are quickly forgotten once the uniform comes off.

Of the 4,260 soldiers affected by what the National Defence Ombudsman has called “profoundly” and “fundamentally unfair” deductions, more than 1,500 are currently so disabled as to be unemployable. These are the most vulnerable of our military, suffering psychological and physical incapacity as a result of serving in such conflicts as the Gulf War, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

Since these soldiers were wounded as a result of their service in the military, they receive pain and suffering payments from Veterans Affairs Canada. In October 2000, changes to legislation permitted serving soldiers to collect their full salary plus pain and suffering payments.

If the soldier is so wounded as to be unemployable, the soldier is forced out of the military, has his/her salary reduced to 75 per cent of their income while deducting pain and suffering payments from the lower income.

The injustice attracted the attention of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs; in 2003 it passed a motion imploring the Minister of National Defence to stop the deductions and “accept and enact the recommendations forthwith.”

Ironically, the current minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, as well as the Prime Minister, the president of the Treasury Board and the minister of Veterans Affairs were all associate members of this committee when the motion was passed.

New programs stipulate that soldiers injured after April 1, 2006 receive a one-time lump sum payment for pain and suffering instead of a life-long monthly disability award. This lump sum payment is not deducted from the long-term disability, but the monthly payment continues to be deducted.

In November 2006, a majority in the House of Commons passed the Veterans’ First Motion sponsored by MP Peter Stoffer, which called for an end to the “unfair deductions.”

Why has nothing been done? One can only imagine that the bureaucrats standing in the way have little idea of what it means to serve in the military. Unlike the 9- to-5 public servant, the military member effectively signs a contract with Canada for what our military calls “unlimited liability.” Not surprisingly, the bureaucrats have ensured that Canada has a very limited liability in caring for disabled soldiers.

These same senior bureaucrats receive their disability plan free, paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Interestingly, their plan is not allowed to deduct pain and suffering payments. Unlike the Public Service, neither the military nor the veterans have a union to protect them.

In court, the judge received an affidavit from the president of SISIP, André Bouchard, who served in the military for “almost 30 years.” Mr. Bouchard claims that should the plan stop deducting pain and suffering payments, the result would be “exorbitant premiums which would impose significant hardship on the members of the Canadian Forces.”

How “exorbitant” is this hardship? Currently, a corporal in the military pays approximately $9.40 per month for the long-term disability policy. Mr. Bouchard predicts that premiums would increase by 40 per cent or $3.76 a month, the price of a café latte.

Mr. Bouchard makes further excuses to continue the unfair deductions because a disabled soldier “could effectively receive more than 100 per cent of his or her former income.” This statement is patently untrue. The “former income” included pain and suffering payments, plus 100 per cent of their salary. The long-term disability pays only 75 per cent of the former salary.

Furthermore, for many of these disabled soldiers, they were forced out of the military when there was a pay freeze. The same corporal would be earning approximately 50 per cent more today than 10 years ago, whereas SISIP has only increased approximately 20 per cent. (SISIP allows for an annual inflationary increase of a maximum of two per cent vs. the public service plan at three per cent).

Senior federal public servants on rehabilitation can earn up to 100 per cent of their former income and still collect their Veterans Affairs payments if the servant had been previously injured in the military. Why the double standard?

Such obvious discrimination led the previous DND Ombudsman, Yves Coté, to state “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation, as well as the protection of the equality provisions set out in section 15 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

We have all seen the signs of a disposable society, but this has been possible because replacements are cheap and the long-term costs are not included. The same holds true for soldiers. We have too long disposed of those when they are obsolete, once wounded psychologically or physically.

Canada must renew the broken trust with these forgotten 4,200 soldiers by giving back the money that has been wrongfully taken from them. Only then will the soldiers consider trusting the very society for which the soldiers have sacrificed so much.

’At a time when $20 billion has been earmarked for new military equipment, many disabled military members are quickly forgotten once the uniform comes off.’

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

Original Article available on ChronicleHerald.ca (may require subscription or archival access)

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/03/injured-soldiers-are-not-disposable/

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Homecoming: a new direction to welcome our soldiers back into Canadian society

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:56

We invest millions of dollars and decades into a complex process to ‘transform’ the civilian into a soldier. So why is there so little to help the soldier retransform back into a civilian?

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-March 10, 2008

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have been engaged in some of the most intensive combat since Korea. Those Canadians who have never worn a uniform see the military with a vacillating proportion of awe, fascination and incomprehension.

But the soldiers were once civilians. We invest hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars over years and decades in a complex process to “transform” the civilian into a soldier. Why is there so little to help the soldier retransform back into a civilian?

We have forgotten how to welcome back our men and women who gave up so much in uniform so that others can loathe the idea of ever putting one on.

The military, Veterans Affairs and the Canadian public are now learning that while a soldier takes off the uniform he/she may psychologically never leave the military. And that is not only a problem for the veteran; it is a problem for society. Soldiers are not reintegrating back into civilian life as successfully as hoped. Why should they?

It is easy to understand why soldiers think in different ways from the rest of society. The first thing that greets the civilian recruit is months of constant bombardment with indoctrination, drills, sleep deprivation, mental and physical obstacle courses, trust, confidence, and skill-building exercises and a host of other tools which allow Canadian soldiers to become the fine examples they set for the world.

“The military becomes you and you become the military,” explains Dr. Augustine Meier, professor of psychology at St. Paul’s University. “It’s not just a way of thinking; it is a way of being.”

The change from civilian to military life is profoundly transformative and goes far beyond education or job training. Experiences of combat in peacekeeping operations or wartime only reinforce this new “way of being.” Over the past decade and-a-half, many soldiers have served in multiple operations such as the Gulf War, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Such experiences reinforce the transformative process, expanding the gulf between soldier and civilian.

And yet the complex and lengthy process to create the soldier is quickly forgotten in trying to unmake the soldier. There has been much talk and some successes in rehabilitation with a focus on job training and placement. This is valuable, but employment is just one part of rehabilitation. The other sorely-needed component is a method of retransforming soldiers back into civilians.

“Everybody must transition, everybody must take the uniform off,” says retired Sergeant Tom Hoppe, who completed his masters in leadership and organizational management. “We don’t realize until the uniform comes off that all of a sudden we have all these feelings we don’t understand.”

Helping the soldier “understand” must transcend seminars and “talk-therapy.” The next step must be taken. We must create a program of courses, follow-up, coaching and what Dr. Meier calls “transformative therapy.” All this would go beyond job placement while assisting the military member retransform into civilian life. The goal would be to cultivate a strong sense of trust and belonging between the veteran and society.

In creating a soldier, the individual is immersed in an experiential environment in order to establish life-giving and life-saving trust with peers, subordinates, supervisors, the unit and the military as a whole. Trust, experiential training and a strong sense of belonging are the keys which help ensure survival and mission success.

This same experiential approach can be integrated into a “homecoming” course. Instead of military-only participants, civilians, including local businesses and family of the military member, could learn together, act together, and rely upon each other to accomplish tasks, build trust, and develop a sense of belonging. In this way, military members can learn to establish a newfound and appropriate level of trust with civilian culture. Civilian culture can then better understand the military forge in which the soldier was created.

Soldiers know the military will manage pay, healthcare, relocation, career planning, training/retraining, paperwork and a myriad of other administrative and professional services. This allows the military to devote more of the individual to the “unlimited liability” all soldiers must accept whatever the mission.

Understandably, the soldier may expect civilian life to take on these same responsibilities. However, the course and its follow-up components would help the releasing soldiers know at a deeper level, not just cerebral, what society can be trusted to provide and what the soldiers must learn and relearn to manage their lives. Communities may also develop new ways to provide services and support which benefit more than just the veteran.

Imagine a network of courses run throughout Canada. Government, businesses and communities, large and small, would send participants who would help the soldier and the community and eventually society grow through this mutual retransformation.

On an individual level, soldiers would be ‘life-coached’ for more than just retraining and employment. The most effective coaches would be veterans and some civilians having in-depth experience with the military culture. It would be imperative that the coaches successfully make or profoundly understand the psychological and emotional process in transitioning to civilian life.

Training in relevant areas of rehabilitation/psychology would allow the coaches to develop trust with the soldiers during what can be a frightening process to leave behind decades of indoctrination and security.

“There needs to be assistance to enter civilian life which acts as an adjunct to what is already in place,” says retired naval lieutenant and nurse, Louise Richard. “In order to build trust and be effective, assistance to soldiers leaving the military needs to operate at a different level than what is currently offered.”

A coordination of resources would allow the creation of this much-needed evolutionary process in recognizing the obstacles faced by military members rejoining society. Of course Veterans Affairs, National Defence, the Operational Stress Injury Support System, and experts in rehabilitation/psychology will be necessary components. However, the most important architects of this reintegration plan would be the soldiers, their families and the members from the communities they will join.

Everyone benefits from successful reintegration. The soldier has a higher quality of life while maximizing education and work potential. The family is more stable and supportive. The community grows in understanding and society has a valuable new participant.

Often, popular culture has been quicker than government at responding to the problems plaguing ex-military as they reintegrate back into civilian life. The other night, my wife and I watched the 1946 Hollywood movie, The Best Years of Our Lives. Made just as the Second World War ended, the movie poignantly tracks the experiences of three service members as they struggle to re-enter civilian life. Instrumental to their reconnection with civilian society is a delicate balance between self-discovery and hands-on involvement by the civilian support systems. Civilians learn they must actively welcome back the infantryman, the sailor and the airman. In this way both the veterans and the civilians learn from each other and all are positively transformed by the experience.

More than 60 years later we must relearn what we once knew in helping our military return home.

The time is ripe to implement a transformative way of welcoming back our military men and women into the homes, schools, and workplaces. They need our time and effort just as much as our lives depend on their sacrifice. However, for those that survive, they sacrifice more than just their health or time away from families. Soldiers sacrifice that sense of trust and belonging they once shared with “civil society” but must now rejoin as fundamentally different individuals.

For most, if not all, who have served in the military, it is a “way of being,” thinking and valuing life, deeply rich with reward and satisfaction. There is no reason why we cannot make the years our soldiers spend after the uniform comes off even more richly rewarding and satisfying as those years they sacrificed protecting us.

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/03/homecoming-a-new-direction-to-welcome-our-soldiers-back-into-canadian-society/

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Stop the insanity: let’s end discrimination against disabled Canadian soldiers

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:02

Many disabled soldiers suspect their sacrifices are less important than sacrificing those dollars necessary to pay for the human cost of war.

By SEAN BRUYEA-The Hill Times-Published April 7, 2008

Whether or not we agree or disagree with the Afghan mission, Canadians are united in standing behind the returning injured soldiers and their families who need all the support available. That is why it is shocking to hear the federal minister, responsible for the “care, treatment or re-establishment” of wounded soldiers, imply that it could be “lucrative” to have a disability.

Last month, Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson appeared in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs. The committee noted the minister had omitted in his presentation the issue of ending the deductions of Veterans Affairs payments for pain and suffering from the soldiers’ long-term disability plan known as SISIP. The minister hypothetically responded: ” ‘I am disabled, so I should get that little extra benefit’. The other thing is…some in the insurance business will argue that if you make it lucrative for someone to have a disability, it has a downward effect on the program as a whole.”

The comment escaped all in opposition except for NDP MP Peter Stoffer, his party’s veterans affairs critic, “I am incensed that Minister Thompson would infer that making changes to SISIP could be lucrative for someone to have a disability,” said Stoffer, who is also vice-chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “This statement is completely insulting to military personnel who were injured while serving their country and to all disabled Canadians. At no time is it ever lucrative to have a disability. Thompson should immediately apologize.”

Although other Parliamentarians remained silent, disabled soldiers were quick to respond. “It infuriates me,” explains Dennis Manuge, the injured soldier who initiated a class action lawsuit to stop the unfair deductions. “It perpetuates the shame we feel as military members when we are disabled. We are quickly labelled as ‘sick, lame, and lazy.’ We try hard to shake that kind of discrimination but [the minister's comments] are feeding right into that.”

Others in the field of disability take similar offence. “I can’t imagine any scenario … that anybody would consider having a disability lucrative,” explains Tom Merriam, president and CEO of Abilities Foundation, an Easter Seals affiliated charity in Nova Scotia assisting people with physical disabilities. “It’s a very unfortunate choice of words. Not only anybody with a disability but anybody whose role is to serve people with disabilities would find that terminology quite inappropriate.”

The minister’s comments only fuel what disabled soldiers have long suspected: that soldiers’ sacrifices are less important than sacrificing those dollars necessary to pay for the human cost of war. There is little doubt that the minister was likely repeating words fed to him by senior bureaucrats who have been the obstacles to righting this fundamental injustice since an all parties unanimously voted to stop the deductions back in 2003.

What is remarkable are the minister’s subsequent comments. The issue of a single unique and distinct insurance plan, SISIP, and its isolated policy of deducting pain and suffering payments was tangled with perceived inequities to be found in every income replacement program at all levels of government throughout Canada. “Therefore, that clawback position [for SISIP] exists and it would have to be adjusted—actually, the cost across government departments would be in the billions of dollars to readjust it,” the minister explained, “It would take a complete overhaul of the entire system to allow that change to occur. It would be too expensive.”

Perhaps not as obvious as the slap in the face that disabilities are “lucrative,” this comment is far more damaging to disabled persons at a more profound level. This is about hope to improve the system. The rigorous standards all disability programs place on disabled individuals often worsen the condition of those applying. “It’s awfully overwhelming,” says Mike Raymond, who is being forced out of the CF due to his disabilities. Raymond has served in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Afghanistan. “These are tough programs to get in the first place and then the clawback issue kicks in.”

Would it be “too expensive” and would it “take a complete overhaul of the entire system” to stop the discriminatory deductions? This is the first time anyone has ever publicly claimed such a heavy price. What started out as a $5 million annual bill to stop the deductions in 2003 escalated into a one-time cost of up to $295 million and has now ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar nightmare.

Such disinformation is a calculated risk on the government’s part which could easily backfire if Canadians are given the facts.

The first two numbers were correct. It was originally going to cost $5-million annually. The government delayed fixing the problem so long that more disabled soldiers entered the system (Afghanistan?) raising the cost to $10-million annually. Since about $95-million is retroactivity, the remaining $200-million pays for all injured soldiers on the plan until they reach age 65, or about another 20 years ($10-million per year multiplied by 20 years, equals $200-million).

One government employee who wishes to remain anonymous indicated that since the government writes the rules for insurance, the entire $200-million can be promised on an annual basis, thereby not requiring the money up front.

The previous DND ombudsman, Yves Cote, commissioned an independent report to double check whether the deductions were ‘unfair.’ Bernard Dussault wrote, “Considering that fairness is priceless, do apply without reservation the … recommendation [to stop the deductions]. An argument could be made that the cost of the … recommendation may appear very large when compared to its original estimate, but it is actually a relatively minimal one-time expenditure that would resolve a critical fairness issue affecting one of the most important group of Canadians, i.e. those who, through their job, risk their lives. This is a priceless risk that is mostly paid for only to those actually affected by the military risk as opposed to all those exposed to it.”

Dussault should know. He was the chief actuary of Canada from 1992 to 1998 and is responsible for signing off on the Government Actuarial Reports for CPP, Old Age Security, the CF and Public Service Life Insurance and Pension Plans not to mention the Pension Plan for MPs.

What senior bureaucrats in this matter likely fail to understand is the fundamental difference between income replacement and damages compensating members for pain and suffering. SISIP is an income replacement plan. Veterans Affairs payments are paid to compensate for pain and suffering. Fair practice does not allow one category to be deducted from the other category. SISIP is reportedly the only long-term disability plan to cross that line.

All Members of Parliament and senior bureaucrats who are standing in the way of fixing this problem need merely turn to their own long-term disability plan paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Chapter 4.8.15 of the Insurance Administration manual states, “Long-term disability benefits will not be offset by: (a) disability payments to a veteran under the Pension Act.”

There is no need to overhaul all government programs. Like the MPs’ disability plan, Workers Compensation in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, and New Brunswick are also not allowed to deduct Veterans Affairs Pension Act payments. To imply otherwise is a bad faith insult to the very specific population of 4,000 soldiers affected by the unfair deduction.

And yet the deductions continue in spite of more than five reports and letters from two different DND Ombudsmen, calls from the Royal Canadian Legion and a majority vote in the House of Commons in the fall of 2006 to stop the deductions. Interestingly, Minister Thompson, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were all associate members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs in 2003 when it unanimously urged then Minister of National Defence to stop the deductions.

To do otherwise sends a most tragic message of lost hope to our disabled soldiers and disabled Canadians in general. “We are concerned about the general public awareness [of] the contribution persons with disabilities make to our communities,” continues Mr. Merriam. “It is really important that you do what you can to do those people justice in the way they are described so as to not demean their situation. It is bad enough dealing with the disability without dealing with the fallout from the disability.”

Shame on those bureaucrats who misinform our elected officials. Shame on those Parliamentarians who swallow whatever our senior bureaucrats toss in the pond. Our disabled soldiers deserve better than discrimination. If not, one day the Canadian Forces recruiting centres may be empty. Canada will then have no one willing to pay the price to protect us because Canada was not willing to pay the price to take care of our daughters and sons when they returned from war. Please, stop the unfair deductions from soldiers’ long-term disability now.

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an Intelligence Officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/04/stop-the-insanity-lets-end-discrimination-against-disabled-canadian-soldiers/

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Cheating; our injured soldiers

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:04

by Sean Bruyea-ESPRIT DE CORPS-May 2008-p. 12


Whether or not we agree with the Afghan mission, Canadians are united in standing behind the returning injured soldiers and their families. While the CF has retained many injured soldiers and even provided retraining into other trades, once the uniform comes off, many disabled soldiers have to fight another war, this time with Canadian bureaucrats.

Since October 2000, changes to veterans’ legislation allowed all serving wounded soldiers to collect their flail salary plus pain and suffering payments from Veterans Affairs. If the soldier is too wounded as to be unemployable, he/she is forced out of the military and put on SISIP, the insurance plan paid into by all CF members, which pays a reduced salary of 75 per cent of the soldier’s previous income. To add insult to injury, Veterans Affairs’ pain and suffering payments are deducted from the new, lower income.

This injustice attracted the attention of Andre Marin, former military ombudsman. Marin submitted a report to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs (SCONDVA) in 2003 calling for an end to the deductions. SCONDVA unanimously passed a motion imploring the minister of National Defence to stop the deductions. Ironically, the current minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, as well as the current prime minister, president of the Treasury Board and minister of Veterans Affairs were all associate members of that committee when the motion was passed.

Five successive follow-up reports and letters from both Marin and his successor, Yves Cote, have called on the government to cease these “fundamentally” and “profoundly unfair” deductions. The House of Commons went so far as to pass the Veterans First Motion in the fall of 2006, which called for an end to the unfair deductions. Minister O’Connor subsequently promised to resolve the issue.

And yet nothing has been done to right this wrong. The reason is simple: bureaucrats standing in the way have little idea what it means to serve in the military let alone suffer a life-changing disability. Ironically, these same senior bureaucrats receive free disability plans–paid for by Canadian taxpayers–and their plan does not deduct pain and suffering payments.

The bureaucrats have instead constructed a Maginot Line of obstinacy and insensitivity. As a result, a class action lawsuit has been filed to stop the unfair deductions. According to an affidavit from Andre Bouchard, the president of SISIP who in fact served in the military for almost 30 years, if SISIP were to stop deducting pain and suffering payments, the result would be “exorbitant premiums which would impose significant hardship on the members of the Canadian Forces.”

But how “exorbitant” would the higher premiums actually be? Currently, a corporal in the military pays approximately $9.40 per month for the long-term disability policy. Bouchard predicts that premiums would increase by 40 per cent, or just $3.76 per month–the price of a latte.

Minister MacKay claimed the government cannot comment on the issue as it is before the courts. This did not stop Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson from telling the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in March that righting this wrong would “take a complete overhaul of the entire system” and the cost “across government departments would be in the billions of dollars to stop the deductions.”

Such fearmongering is music to the bureaucrats’ ears and a horror film for any governing party. However, those who informed Minister Thompson on this matter are clearly wrong.

What senior bureaucrats likely fail to understand is the fundamental difference between income replacement and damages compensating members for pain and suffering. SISIP is an income replacement plan. Veterans Affairs payments are paid to compensate for pain and suffering. Fair practice does not allow one category to be deducted from the other category. SISIP is reportedly the only long-term disability plan to cross that line.

Even the MP’s long-term disability plan does not allow the deduction of Veterans Affairs pain and suffering payments. Why the double standard?

During his term Cote commissioned an independent report to verify whether the deductions were unfair. The report concluded that “considering that fairness is priceless, do apply without reservation” the recommendation to stop the deductions. According to the author, Bernard Dussault, the cost of $10 million annually or approximately $290 million over the lifetime of the 4,200 injured soldiers affected is a “relatively minimal one-time expenditure that would resolve a critical fairness issue.” Dussault should know; he was the chief actuary of Canada from 1992 to 1998.

Our disabled soldiers deserve better than discrimination. If not, one day Canadian Forces recruiting centres may be empty. Canada will then have no one willing to pay the price to protect us because Canada was not willing to pay the price to take care of our daughters and sons when they returned from war.

Sean Bruyea, a retired captain and disabled soldier who served 14 years in the CF, is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/05/cheating-our-injured-soldiers/

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Canada must provide support for soldiers

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:06

By Sean Bruyea-THE EDMONTON JOURNAL-November 15, 2008-pg. A.19

Most Canadians look upon military heroism with a combination of fascination and horror. As such, most of us understandably shy away from the question as to why Canadian men and women are willing to sacrifice their lives.

It is a truism and a cliche that soldiers (sailors and airmen/women included) have fought and sacrificed for “King and Country.” Such reflex explanations of sacrifice paint a dim view of the intellectual capacities of our brave men and women who have fought in Canada’s name.

There is another short answer to this profound question of the willingness to sacrifice: Men and women in uniform have been willing to die for something bigger and better than themselves, end of answer.

Yes, King (or monarch) and country are all bigger than each individual soldier. They are greater extensions of the family, the tribe; that which gives us protection, meaning and ultimately, a sense of immortality through honoured memory. These reasons are bigger, but are they better than the individual soldier?

Canadians make the conscious choice to enter the military, knowing full well that society may require the ultimate sacrifice. At the same time, our soldiers are intelligent people who understand the complexities of weaponry, command structures, communications, tactics and technology, all while adapting to a changing battlefield.

It is not blindly that a soldier enters the military. Nor can the soldier be burdened with weighing each military demand with “to be or not to be.” The soldier must know that the reason for sacrifice is as immutable and certain as human and divine reason can devise. Otherwise, to enter an existential debate every time an order is given would surely lead to a collapse of morale and the psychological stability of the individual.

Welcome the role of indoctrination. Basic training and military life are filled with references to duty, honour and sacrifice for Canada and Canadians. The indoctrination begins even before we join. We often hear the message of how Canada is a good, fair, just and democratic country. When we turn on the news, we thank our particular divinity that we don’t live in one of those Third World countries stricken by strife and turmoil.

Perhaps the most powerful indoctrination message is that which is implied in the pillar of military ethos: following the orders of government. Intrinsic to this unquestioning loyalty is the truism of democracies that the military is the tool of government. By implication, the military is somehow lesser than government.

Obeying government is an essential ingredient of what has come to be known as the “social contract.” In this contract, soldiers unquestionably accept death. This is what is known as “unlimited liability.” Soldiers accept unlimited liability as long as the political and bureaucratic masters promise to uphold their end of the bargain. For the soldier, this social contract has at its foundation a profound sense of faith and trust in the government to care for the lives of each and every soldier and the families who survive them.

Canada’s most famous Remembrance Day poem, In Flanders Fields articulates this contract:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep…

It is to Canadians and the Canadian government that the fallen have thrown the torch.

But what happens when the Canadian government, through budget constraints or poorly planned military action places the welfare of the soldier lower on the priority list? If soldiers are willing to give all they have in carrying out the government’s orders, should the government not reciprocate and give the soldiers all they need to carry out those orders?

Throughout the year, not just on Remembrance Day, another question must be asked: When the soldiers return wounded and broken, should the government not do all they can to care for the soldiers/veterans and their families? The government can’t have it both ways, sending soldiers to sacrifice while having a very limited liability in caring for these vulnerable Canadians.

Such a breach of contract is, at its heart, a profound betrayal of all that the soldier has sacrificed. War, for soldiers, must be the ultimate arbiter of justice. As such, it is fundamentally unjust that bureaucratic obstacles be erected which prevent caring for the wounded and the survivors to the best of Canada’s abilities.

When a soldier breaks the contract and refuses to fight, the soldier can be charged with the most shameful of military crimes — refusing to obey a direct order, or even desertion. When the government breaks its contract and refuses to provide the best care and assistance in an expeditious and just manner, the elected officials and bureaucrats suffer little or no consequence.

Yes, soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives for Canada and Canadians. Are Canadians willing to sacrifice in order to care for the wounded, the fallen and their survivors? If not, can we afford to send our soldiers into battle without first anticipating all the costs of war, even those costs we are obligated to pay long after the war has ended?

Sean Bruyea is a freelance journalist and advocate for the rights of disabled veterans and their families. Sean served 14 years in the Canadian Air Force as an Intelligence Officer. He is disabled as a result of his service in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

Credit: Sean Bruyea; Freelance

Copyright Southam Publications Inc. Nov 15, 2008

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/11/canada-must-provide-support-for-soldiers/

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Parliament and our veterans: now’s the time for healing

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:15

It’s time to hold public House National Defence Committee hearings into veterans issues.

By SEAN BRUYEA-The Hill Times-Published November 24, 2008

OTTAWA—With another Remembrance Day behind us, now is the time for Parliament to pay more than lip service to truly honour those who have sacrificed so much so that Parliament can begin another session.

This year, the world commemorated 90 years since the end of “the war to end all wars.” It also marks 10 years since the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs (SCONDVA) wrapped up unprecedented hearings and released a groundbreaking report on the state of our military, and, to a much lesser degree, our veterans.

This relative omission of veterans’ issues from the SCONDVA hearings is unfortunate as Canada’s veterans and their families urgently require dedicated public hearings. Our approximately 175,000 World War II Veterans have an average age of 86. About 2,500 are dying each month. Meanwhile, each year approximately 3,000 injured younger soldiers become clients of Veterans Affairs.

The SCONDVA hearings allowed soldiers of all ranks and their families to speak honestly and publicly about how the Canadian government treated them. “Horror stories” of “flooded basements” and “mould infestations” in military housing while soldiers went to food banks due to insufficient pay shocked Canadians nationwide. The government was forced to act. Unprecedented programs were implemented to improve not only equipment but the “quality of life” of the military.

SCONDVA hearings became a healing circle of sorts for our entire nation resulting in our soldiers and families no longer having to “suck it up” while prevented from speaking publicly.

How many of our veterans, young and old, are living in such conditions? The truth is, we don’t know and we never will unless Parliament holds public hearings.

The SCONDVA hearings helped strip away multiple layers of secrecy in how DND operated. Unfortunately, much secrecy remains in the questionable methods in how Veterans Affairs creates, monitors and accepts input to the programs for which the federal department is responsible.

Nothing demonstrates that more than the process of writing and implementing the latest suite of programs christened by Veterans Affairs as the “New Veterans Charter.” The “NVC” replaced a lifelong monthly disability award with a one time lump-sum payment for soldiers injured or killed after April 1, 2006.

In spite of considerable public controversy surrounding the new programs, the “NVC” was passed without a second of debate in the House of Commons and no committee has ever reviewed the programs.

There were no public discussions about the actual legislation designing these benefits. Details were given to one or two individuals from each of only six out of 60 or more veterans’ organizations. These individuals were sworn to confidentiality from divulging any of these details to their membership. Veterans Affairs claims that briefing six to 12 individuals in secret represented the “most extensive…consultations” in the Department’s history.

Canada has suffered more than 800 casualties in Afghanistan. Most are returning home to programs which the bureaucracy refuses to publicly evaluate.

Veterans Affairs has stated that these new benefits are a “living charter” which would be actively reviewed every few months. It has been more than three years since the NVC was passed in the House of Commons without public debate and not a single change has been made.

An advisory group, (aptly named SNAG) was pushed upon Veterans Affairs as a result of an eleventh hour Senate hearing in 2005. In spite of SNAG’s three years of highly commendable work and reportedly over 150 recommendations, Veterans Affairs has not acted upon a single recommendation. The department has thus far refused to make public the minutes of meetings let alone SNAG’s reports. (Another advisory group was established this year but its members are also muzzled by confidentiality).

This year marks 25 years since the implementation of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. Canada’s Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, insists that “Departments should not be waiting until there is a formal request before disclosing information” and that “as servants to the public, they should be making information available as a matter of course.”

However, Veterans Affairs is the only federal department with its headquarters located outside of Ottawa (Charlottetown, P.E.I.). Perhaps this is why Canada’s first military ombudsman André Marin chastised the “self-serving,” and “hardened and entrenched bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs.”

A year ago, the first veterans’ ombudsman was appointed. The new ombudsman has yet to publish any investigation. That the ombudsman is not legislated and Veterans Affairs exercises administrative control over the office could severely compromise the office’s ability to be both independent and effective.

The ombudsman also has an advisory committee. All members are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. This “gag order” reportedly binds the members to secrecy during and for five years after they leave the committee.

Our soldiers have died protecting and creating democracy. As secrecy is the enemy of democracy, one must ask if this is the kind of democracy for which Canada’s brave men and women have sacrificed?

Canada has entered into a “social contract” with our soldiers and veterans. Our brave men and women accept “unlimited liability” including dying. Has Canada been fulfilling its side of the contract? Our soldiers have certainly upheld their end of the bargain.

Soldiers deeply love and respect their country. They have to believe Canada loves and respects them or why else were (and are) they willing to die? Soldiers would be very reluctant to speak against the government for which they were willing to sacrifice unless that government was noble enough to make a very public invitation for a healing between Canada, our veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs claims its “clients” are mostly satisfied. Yet every year thousands apply for treatment and services in a convoluted system that creates more problems than it resolves and leaves many veterans in worse condition than before.

Public hearings will honour our government’s commitment to our veterans while honouring our veterans’ commitment to Canada. The first Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, thankfully created by this government, is in a perfect position to hold these public hearings.

Our veterans, young and old, and their families have a story to tell and we all have some healing to do. It is obvious that wars have not ended and more than 115,000 have died on battlefields for our right to free speech and open democracy. Let’s allow our veterans and their families to exercise their hard-fought rights in SCONDVA-style public hearings before it is too late.

Sean Bruyea is a freelance journalist and advocate for the rights of disabled veterans and their families. He served 14 years in the Canadian Air Force as an intelligence officer. He is disabled as a result of his service in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/11/parliament-and-our-veterans-nows-the-time-for-healing/

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MPs find too much openness and accountability on the Hill

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:16

Tories, Liberals now trying to muzzle watchdog created to counteract secrecy

By Sean Bruyea-THE EDMONTON JOURNAL-July 26, 2009

While Canadians die in an effort to bring transparent and accountable government to Afghanistan, Canada’s government is waging a war to suppress transparency and accountability in Ottawa.

The target of our government’s rage: the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page. Far too many in government are calling to restrict his power, limit his budget or even have Page removed when the exact opposite should be happening.

The Parliamentary Budget Office was created by the current federal regime to counteract the secrecy in Ottawa which has for too long been a stain upon Canada’s good, but sometimes unwarranted, reputation as an open and accountable democracy.

The Parliamentary Budget Office’s goal is to provide “authoritative, non-partisan financial and economic analysis to support Parliament…in ensuring budget transparency.” Key to “budget transparency” is that all of the office’s analyses will be “openly reported” and “freely accessible to all.”

Except many in Parliament feel that what Kevin Page writes belongs first to Parliament; then, Parliament will decide what to tell Canadians.

It has become a truism that politicians and bureaucrats never impose austerity upon themselves. Canada’s politicians and bureaucracy are bound by such ugly political realities while they all congratulate themselves for how they have managed the financial crisis in Canada.

This is where our parliamentary budget officer brings transparency to self-congratulatory egos.

Page believes that Canada will be reaching into the pockets of our children by piling on more than $159 billion of debt between now and 2014.

Page’s report contradicts the Finance Department…and the private sector believes Page’s reports are more accurate.

Conservatives and Liberals alike have been calling to muzzle Page and his office. Parties of both sides have been attacking his efforts to inform all Canadians how government spends our money.

Unbelievably, opposition MP Liberal Carolyn Bennett said that Page has behaved as if the reports were his property. What a curious accusation since most level-headed Canadians would likely come to the opposite conclusion.

Is it not the politicians and bureaucrats who have been acting like our money is theirs to spend as they wish? Is it not government which all too frequently has been avoiding accountability and keeping truth from the public they ostensibly serve?

Yes politics and government bureaucracy are far too dirty for most Canadians. We don’t know who or what to believe. Canadians are losing interest in democracy precisely because of this. All the more reason for Canada to protect the likes of the Parliamentary Budget Office, which makes government spending more transparent for Canadians and parliamentarians, should they be willing to listen.

Recently, 138 leading Canadian economists signed a petition to ensure that Page’s office is given the resources and powers to do his job of ensuring transparent and accountable spending in our government. The economists, for once, are correct. Page should be given greater resources and made an officer of Parliament with similar powers as the auditor general. And all officers of Parliament should deliver their reports to the Canadian public and parliamentarians as soon as the reports are completed.

Transparency and openness are one of the few areas which must be viewed in black and white. Either Canada has an open and transparent government or we don’t. Once meddling, intimidation or special interests interfere to obscure or hide facts, the slippery slope becomes all too steep. Without transparency and openness, government cannot be accountable.

Politicians and bureaucrats need to stop making Ottawa an end in itself. Government does not belong to politicians or to the bureaucracy. It belongs to and must serve all Canadians.

The Parliamentary Budget Office is a model for Canadian and democratic values of openness and good governance, providing a window for all Canadians as to how our government spends our money. If Canadians are as truthful and honest as we like to believe, why are we allowing political and bureaucratic interests to chip and chop away at a necessary institution like the Parliamentary Budget Officer?

Canada has lost more than 100,000 lives protecting such fundamental freedoms in horrific wars. More than 130 brave young men and women have lost their lives and possibly thousands of others are physically and psychologically scarred for life in an attempt to bring similar governing principles to Afghanistan.

Should politicians and bureaucrats succeed in silencing brave public servants like Page who are truly serving the public, one must ask why have so many Canadians died or been lost to injuries when our own country tries to obscure transparency, and make a government devoid of accountability?

Make permanent Page’s Parliamentary Budget Office by making him an officer of Parliament.

No politician or bureaucrat should be allowed to selfishly hobble the truth because they wish to hide how our government spends our money in our country.

Sean Bruyea is freelance writer and a disabled soldier who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces

Credit: Sean Bruyea; Freelance

Copyright CanWest Digital Media Jul 26, 2009

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Government wages war with Parliamentary Budget Officer Page

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 07:18

While Canadians die in an effort to bring transparent and accountable government to Afghanistan, Canada’s government is waging a war to suppress transparency and accountability in Ottawa.

By Sean Bruyea-The Hill Times-Published August 3, 2009

While Canadians die in an effort to bring transparent and accountable government to Afghanistan, Canada’s government is waging a war to suppress transparency and accountability in Ottawa.

The target of our government’s rage: the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page. Far too many in government are calling to restrict his power, limit his budget or even have Page removed when the exact opposite should be happening.

The Parliamentary Budget Office was created by the current federal regime to counteract the secrecy in Ottawa which has for too long been a stain upon Canada’s good, but sometimes unwarranted, reputation as an open and accountable democracy.

The Parliamentary Budget Office’s goal is to provide “authoritative, non-partisan financial and economic analysis to support Parliament … in ensuring budget transparency.” Key to “budget transparency” is that all of the office’s analyses will be “openly reported” and “freely accessible to all.”

Except many in Parliament feel that what Kevin Page writes belongs first to Parliament; then, Parliament will decide what to tell Canadians.

It has become a truism that politicians and bureaucrats never impose austerity upon themselves. Canada’s politicians and bureaucracy are bound by such ugly political realities while they all congratulate themselves for how they have managed the financial crisis in Canada.

This is where our Parliamentary budget officer brings transparency to self-congratulatory egos.

Page believes that Canada will be reaching into the pockets of our children by piling on more than $159-billion of debt between now and 2014.

Page’s report contradicts the Finance Department … and the private sector believes Page’s reports are more accurate.

Conservatives and Liberals alike have been calling to muzzle Page and his office. Parties of both sides have been attacking his efforts to inform all Canadians how government spends our money.

Unbelievably, Liberal MP Liberal Carolyn Bennett said that Page has behaved as if the reports were his property. What a curious accusation since most level-headed Canadians would likely come to the opposite conclusion.

Is it not the politicians and bureaucrats who have been acting like our money is theirs to spend as they wish? Is it not government which all too frequently has been avoiding accountability and keeping truth from the public they ostensibly serve?

Yes politics and government bureaucracy are far too dirty for most Canadians. We don’t know who or what to believe. Canadians are losing interest in democracy precisely because of this. All the more reason for Canada to protect the likes of the Parliamentary Budget Office, which makes government spending more transparent for Canadians and parliamentarians, should they be willing to listen.

Recently, 138 leading Canadian economists signed a petition to ensure that Page’s office is given the resources and powers to do his job of ensuring transparent and accountable spending in our government. The economists, for once, are correct. Page should be given greater resources and made an officer of Parliament with similar powers as the auditor general. And all officers of Parliament should deliver their reports to the Canadian public and Parliamentarians as soon as the reports are completed.

Transparency and openness are one of the few areas which must be viewed in black and white. Either Canada has an open and transparent government or we don’t. Once meddling, intimidation or special interests interfere to obscure or hide facts, the slippery slope becomes all too steep. Without transparency and openness, government cannot be accountable.

Politicians and bureaucrats need to stop making Ottawa an end in itself. Government does not belong to politicians or to the bureaucracy. It belongs to and must serve all Canadians.

The Parliamentary Budget Office is a model for Canadian and democratic values of openness and good governance, providing a window for all Canadians as to how our government spends our money. If Canadians are as truthful and honest as we like to believe, why are we allowing political and bureaucratic interests to chip and chop away at a necessary institution like the Parliamentary Budget Officer?

Canada has lost more than 100,000 lives protecting such fundamental freedoms in horrific wars. More than 130 brave young men and women have lost their lives and possibly thousands of others are physically and psychologically scarred for life in an attempt to bring similar governing principles to Afghanistan.

Should politicians and bureaucrats succeed in silencing brave public servants like Page who are truly serving the public, one must ask why have so many Canadians died or been lost to injuries when our own country tries to obscure transparency, and make a government devoid of accountability?

Make permanent Page’s Parliamentary Budget Office by making him an officer of Parliament.

No politician or bureaucrat should be allowed to selfishly hobble the truth because they wish to hide how our government spends our money in our country.

Sean Bruyea is freelance writer and a disabled soldier who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2009/08/government-wages-war-with-parliamentary-budget-officer-page/

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