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Gen. Rick Hillier (ret.): Donít forget the veterans of today

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Canada needs to recognize the citizenship of its fallen soldiers

Post by Guest on Tue 07 Jun 2016, 05:35

General Rick Hillier recently wrote an op-ed saying that Canadians shouldn't forget the veterans of today. He praised Canadians for "honouring our fallen soldiers with great respect and fervour," then went on to say: "Where we in honouring the soldiers who came home alive but forever changed."

He's right, but there's more to this story.

Today is D-Day, where we not only recognize and pay tribute to the soldiers who landed on Allied beaches on that fateful day in 1944, but it's a moment to reflect on all our soldiers who sacrificed their lives to make Canada and the world a better and safer place. We are their beneficiaries. And now, typical on every D-Day, high-ranking politicians will be out there giving wonderful speeches with accolades and reflecting on the meaning of Canada and being Canadian.

Just over a year ago I gathered signatures for a petition asking the Harper government whether are not these same fallen soldiers were ever Canadian citizens. Their answer: "No." They'd just disenfranchised 111,000 men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in both World Wars I and II- while serving in Canadian uniforms.

How appalling, especially knowing what the soldiers were told before going into battle. In writing, our government said they were fighting as Canadian citizens. So now, more than seven decades later, to posthumously deny our soldiers a Canadian identity is not only a rewrite of history, but also blatantly disrespectful to those soldiers and their families. Honour of the Crown has turned to dishonour.

A fair question is why is the government doing this? None of it makes sense. It boils down to their ignorance of just when Canadian citizenship began. Was it 1947 or 1867? The Harper government said '47 and the Trudeau government is keeping the status quo by remaining silent. Their answer matters. Not only are people currently being denied citizenship based on the government's incorrect interpretation of the question, but next year there's a party- and a big one at that. We'll be celebrating our 150th birthday, or is it our 70th? It totally depends on how Trudeau answers the question. Since you can't have a country without citizens, if citizenship --which include our soldiers-- didn't exist before 1947, then Canada wasn't a real country and our fallen soldiers weren't Canadian.

Hard to imagine that a country so espousing values of inclusiveness and compassion could be so callous.

General George Washington once said: "the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."

General Hellier is right about the soldiers of today. Not only must we treat them with respect and honor, but it's imperative to support them. With great interest they too have a stake in the government's response as to whether or pre-47 belonged to Canada. To disenfranchise our heroes from the past sets a precedent for our heroes of today. Discarding anyone from the Canadian family who sacrificed their lives for others is atrocious. It also speaks volumes about the values of our country, and especially the values of our political leaders.

It would be fair for our soldiers of today to ask if, maybe 70 years from now, would the government of the day make the same claim saying they too were never really 'Canadian'?

On this D-Day, we need to hear more than just those words of praise from our Prime Minister, we need him to say, "our fallen soldiers were ours, they were indeed Canadian citizens- then, now, and forever."


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Inaugural tribute dinner to help soldiers, veterans

Post by Guest on Tue 31 May 2016, 18:23

In May, retired Gen. Rick Hillier, former chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces, wrote an op-ed for the National Post, timed for V Day in Europe. He was contrasting the reverence Canadians have for the veterans of the world wars, and the way Canadians treat veterans of Afghanistan. "Canadians honour our fallen soldiers with great respect and fervour. Where we fail, however, is in honouring the soldiers who came home alive but forever changed," he wrote.

The man has a point. Many of us dutifully wear our poppies in November. Some of us even attend a Remembrance Day service. But how do we support our current servicemen and women and their families in a tangible way?

That was, in part, the inspiration for True Patriot Love, a national fundraising organization that supports military members, veterans, and their families. Since it was founded in 2009, the organization has committed $15.1 million to military programs and organizations across Canada which, in turn, deliver support programming in four main areas: mental health and well-being, family health and support, physical health and rehabilitation, and research and innovation.

Hillier will be in Winnipeg on Wednesday night to emcee the inaugural True Patriot Love Winnipeg Tribute Dinner (the bulk of the organization's fundraising has come from the annual True Patriot Love Toronto Tribute Dinner). Hillier tells me that around 900 Winnipeggers are expected for dinner on Wednesday night, and the response has been incredible.

Because that's the thing: it's not that Canadians don't want to support families who are dealing with the myriad challenges associated with life in the military. It's that many of them didn't know how. "In the United States, there's something like 40,000 charitable or non-profit foundations dedicated to supporting soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen and their families. In Britain, there's something like 10,000. In Canada, there's just a handful," Hillier says. "Already Canadians were responding to the accounts of valour and sacrifice and service of men and women around the world, and there was a little bit of frustration: people wanted to directly assist and they couldn't do that. True Patriot Love provides a vehicle to do that."

"It's not fervent nationalism or anything negative," he adds. "It's just Canadians believe in certain things, and one of the things the vast majority believe in is that people in uniform, who serve our nation and do so much and ask so little, deserve our support."

Mental health is one of True Patriot Love's top fundraising priorities. Wednesday night's dinner comes a week after the alarming findings from a University of Manitoba study were posted to the Canadian Medical Association Journal website: members of the Canadian Armed Forces are more likely to contemplate suicide than civilians. The Globe and Mail reported in January that one in 10 Canadian vets who served in Afghanistan were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The 2014 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey found that one in three Canadian Armed Forces members were afraid that asking for mental health assistance would negatively impact their careers.

"Mental health is one of those issues people keep trying to put in a dark corner," Hillier says. He acknowledges that the stigma remains stubbornly attached, but the culture is moving in the right direction. The fact we even name and talk about PTSD these days is a step forward. He thinks back on his own career and the stresses put on soldiers. "It was very much, 'Hey, if you couldn't carry them, you weren't an appropriate soldier and therefore you should get out.'"

He recalls a time when divorce was a comment on your efficacy as a soldier. "For example, if you couldn't run your family ó if your family broke up, back in the day, this was your responsibility. If you couldn't lead your family, then you certainly couldn't lead troops and your career as a leader was effectively finished. And yet, we had no support for our families."

Family support is another main focus of True Patriot Love's fundraising efforts. It's a broad term, "family support", that covers everything from family counselling on separation anxiety and education about PTSD to finding a family doctor. Veteran transition is also a fundraising priority, with money going to programs that help vets with everything from job training to re-integration into civilian life.

For Hillier's part, he believes that Canada needs to take a comprehensive look at how it treats its vets. "We should do it from a greedy perspective. The generations of tomorrow and the day after will serve in the Armed Forces, which we will need them to do, based on how we treat the veterans of today."


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Gen. Rick Hillier (ret.): Donít forget the veterans of today

Post by Guest on Sun 08 May 2016, 11:27

Gen. Rick Hillier (ret.)

This weekend marks the 71st anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. I have long been struck by the contrast between the honour that Canadians still, rightly, hold for the veterans of the world wars, and the treatment of the brave men and women who fought for 12 years, longer than both world wars combined, in Afghanistan. We wear our poppies each November and we remember the sacrifices made by the generations of our fathers and grandfathers. But I fear that Canada has gone all but blind to the struggles of our nationís sons and daughters in the military today.

During the Afghan conflict, I served for more than three years as the Chief of the Defence Staff. In that time, I, along with their families, helped pay respect to some of the bravest men and women I have ever had the honour of serving beside, when the aircraft carrying their bodies returned them home for the final time. Awaiting them were flags draped on every overpass, each lined with thousands of emergency responders and everyday people, for hundreds of kilometres along the Highway of Heroes, marking the return of every single one of our fallen soldiers. With reverence, Canadians were desperate for a way to say thank you to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and security.

Canadians honour our fallen soldiers with great respect and fervour. Where we fail, however, is in honouring the soldiers who came home alive but forever changed. Scarred, physically and mentally, but alive. They are the forgotten. The overlooked. They suffer largely in silence, and so do their spouses and children.

So in 2009, a group of Canadians decided they had to take action. They had to channel this desire to help shared by so many Canadians and actually do something for the men and women who have so valiantly served our nation. True Patriot Love is a charitable organization devoted to providing an opportunity for Canadians to give to programs that support the wellbeing of our military families, and the mental health and physical rehabilitation of our injured soldiers. Their fundraising is channelled to programming that provides our military men and women support in all aspects of their lives: relocating families closer to critical care, purchasing vehicles for seriously injured veterans, therapies for mental health and wellness, assistance with children with special needs, and assistance in transitioning our veterans into civilian life. Since 2009, they have committed almost $15 million to support military charities, social programs, and research across Canada.

The U.S. has more than 40,000 charities that support military families. The U.K. has over 10,000. Canada has just a handful. The organizations that do exist work tirelessly every day to try to do more. They are imperfect, as we still have not reached every former service member. We still have more to do. There remain major gaps in what we are able to provide. But what we lack in capacity, we make up for in passion. That was underscored last week when Prince Harry came to Canada to officially announce that Toronto will host the 2017 Invictus Games, a bid that True Patriot Love played a central role in securing.

The Invictus Games will raise awareness and inspire injured veterans, beyond those who participate in the games, in their own personal journeys of recovery. True Patriot Loveís expeditions programming have also sought to inspire our injured veterans. Through the harsh climate of the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica, and the extreme altitudes of the Himalayas, our injured soldiers demonstrated their commitment to service, resilience and courage. By including prominent business leaders in the expeditions, these veterans also accessed their mentorship in establishing post-military careers, while simultaneously opening the eyes of corporate Canada to the transferable skills of our military personnel. The program is so inspiring, in fact, that some of this yearís Team Canada members for the Invictus Games in Orlando have participated in the expeditions and count that program among the reasons for their success.

These are tremendous accomplishments in a short period of time, but we have only just begun to scratch the surface. Future generations will decide to serve, or not, our country based in part on how we treat this present generation. True Patriot Love and the few organizations like it are inspiring the next generation by doing what is right for our present veterans and Canadian military families. But we have only just begun to help and we cannot stop working until we have reached every one of them. Canadians are deeply generous in our charitable giving; together we are finding a way to direct that generosity to the needs of our military families.

As we mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, remember the proud and resilient men and women who served our country. But remember also those who served our generation. Do not turn a blind eye to their scars from battle, especially those that cannot be seen. Do not assume that because they are not on active duty in a warzone, that they arenít still fighting for their lives and livelihoods. Remember, they need us, because sometimes, even heroes need heroes.

National Post

Gen. Rick Hillier (ret.) is a former Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces.


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