Remembering for the long term 

  • Photo submitted by Clare Ogilvie

It's a little grainy, and it's difficult to make out the details, but there is no mistaking the pride and anticipation in the young man's smile as he stands beside his warplane.

An unruly tuft of dark curly hair escapes from under his captain's hat — the handsome features of his twenty-something face already mature beyond his years.

By the time my dad was captured in this picture two of his brothers had been shot out of the sky — they were tail gunners during the Second World War. At 92 he is not shy in talking about his loss all those years ago, nor does he hide how as a young man it did all seem a bit of an adventure.

But the years have tempered his memories and made the loss outweigh any glory, though his deep pride in being part of the Royal Canadian Air Force is unmistakable as he talks of his time in the cockpit.

He is part wistful and part heartbroken, as he explains that his tail-gunner brothers, along with some of their colleagues, were drawn to those missions because they came with more money, which meant more to spend on nylons and candy for their girlfriends.

His stories are my war experience and in some ways the experience of my kids as well. But as his generation passes into history, and our remembrances focus on the conflicts of the current generations, there are new and compelling reasons to stand and honour Canadian veterans.

Today's conflicts come with their own type of experiences and those who serve are more honest, I feel, about the long-term costs of that service.

Acutely aware of this is former senator and renowned military vet Roméo Dallaire, who has been helping to shape the Liberals' thinking on how to help wounded soldiers, as the party takes over the leadership reins of Canada.

For the last several years Canadians have been disgusted to read of budget cuts to veterans and the services they require and shocked to learn about the extent military personnel suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A Globe and Mail investigation this week found after eight months of questions and Access to Information requests that at least 54 soldiers and vets killed themselves after serving in the Afghanistan mission.

The suicide count is one-third of the number of soldiers who died in the war. There were 158 Canadian military deaths in theatre during the 13-year NATO-led operation that was triggered by the 9/11 attacks.

According to the Globe, Dallaire is also coping with PTSD and attempted suicide four times before getting help. A former commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda in the 1990s he witnessed one of the worst genocides of modern times.

"The 158 number was a scandalously erroneous number," Dallaire, a former lieutenant-general and once chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, told the Globe. "There was absolutely nothing said about the horrible sacrifices and cost to the families of those who kill themselves after the mission, due to the injury of the mission."

The newly elected Liberals pledged several significant changes for veterans during their election campaign. They include restoring a system of lifetime pensions for injured veterans, offering the wounded a choice of either lump sum or pensions-for-life and investing $25 million to expand access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance, which is given to the most seriously wounded.

The Liberals also promised to invest $40 million to increase the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 per cent of a soldier's pre-release salary, and index it to the cost of living.

Families of veterans were encouraged to see a Liberal pledge to invest $80 million per year to create a new Veterans Education Benefit that provides full support for the cost of up to four years of college, university, or technical education for veterans after completion of service.

Another $100 million per year would go toward expanded support for the families of veterans, including education, counselling, and training for families who are providing care and support for veterans, the Liberals said during the election.

They are also promising to reopen nine regional veterans affairs offices closed by the Conservatives and to hire an additional 400 staff to process claims.

As we remember those close to us and far away on this Remembrance Day let us also keep in mind these Liberal promises and work as a nation to make them reality.

Let us recognize officially that the wounds we cannot see are every bit as terrible as the ones we can.


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