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Fantino failing veterans

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In an op-ed titled It's a myth veterans are mistreated, published in Wednesday's Halifax Chronicle Herald, Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino lashed out at veterans who are unhappy with the treatment they are receiving from the Harper government, and at unionized members within his own department.

"One myth is that veterans no longer receive monthly benefits and just receive a lump-sum payment," the minister wrote. "This is simply not true. Veterans are eligible for a range of services and benefits that enable them to get the financial help and support they deserve."

He cited a Statistics Canada report that he claimed "found veterans who are receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada are earning approximately $70,000 a year. This independent report also found that veterans who are medically released earn approximately $60,000 a year... This is in addition to a lump sum given where a veteran is critically injured."

In a shot aimed at public service union members, he added that "another myth is that unions put veterans ahead of their own interests."

Fantino's claims are contradicted by findings contained in a report by Veterans' Ombudsman Guy Parent, released on Tuesday. Parent concluded almost half of Canada's most severely disabled veterans are not receiving a government allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds.

"Many severely impaired veterans are either not receiving these benefits or may be receiving them at a grade level that is too low," wrote the Ombudsman. "This is unfair and needs to be corrected."

On Wednesday, The Canadian Press reported "Fantino told a House of Commons committee last spring that some permanently disabled soldiers receive more than $10,000 per month, but figures from his own department show that only four individuals in the entire country receive that much."

Brandon resident Glen Kirkland, a veteran of the Afghanistan war and leading advocate for his comrades, is unimpressed by Fantino's latest broadside.

In 2008, Kirkland was the victim of a Taliban ambush that killed three other soldiers. He suffered serious injuries, including the loss of 75 per cent of his hearing, a partial loss of vision and a brain injury that has left him permanently dependant on insulin.

"I was critically wounded, am on life-sustaining therapy (eight to 10 insulin injections a day) and since I have been released I have had zero coverage," he told me on Wednesday. "I am in the process of getting compensated but am currently paying over $3,000 per month for my medicine that was a direct result of serving Canada."

Kirkland says what he and those who served with him in Afghanistan want -- and what the Harper government refuses to provide -- is the same treatment veterans of earlier conflicts receive. "In 2006, the government amended the pension program which covered wounded military personnel. The changes were made months before Canada took on its largest combat mission since Korea. It was not done to look after the soldiers, but rather to save money on the backs of those who serve."

"What soldiers are fighting for now is not more financial gain but to have one standard for all," he says. "Whether it's the older (Second World War) veterans or the more recent veterans, they are coming home with the same injuries and deserve equal compensation."

Kirkland's position, resting on principles of fairness and common sense, is reasonable. The belligerent position taken by Fantino in response to veterans' concerns is not.

It raises the question: What justification is there for the minister of veterans affairs misrepresenting the plight of Canada's veterans and questioning the motives of his own departmental staff?

Since assuming the portfolio, Fantino has taken a combative, adversarial approach toward Canadian men and women who have experienced actual combat, with many having the scars to prove it. Soldiers such as Glen Kirkland.

Far from being their advocate, Fantino has repeatedly portrayed them as ingrates, malingerers and, in some cases, liars. Wednesday's salvo is the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example.

Enough is enough. If the Harper government has any desire to repair its fractured relationship with veterans before the coming election, it starts with a new veterans affairs minister. Fantino must go.

Twitter: @deverynross


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 A17

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About Deveryn Ross

Deveryn Ross joined the Free Press as a political columnist in 2011. His columns also appear in the Westman Journal and other community newspapers throughout Western Canada. He has also served as a columnist for the Brandon Sun, Brandon Today and several rural Manitoba newspapers.

Born and raised in Brandon, where he still resides, Deveryn has been active in politics at all levels for more than four decades. He has worked in various roles on dozens of election campaigns in several provinces and has provided strategic advice to elected officials and candidates from all major parties.

Deveryn holds a Juris Doctor degree from Dalhousie University and Bachelor of Arts from Brandon University, where he was awarded the medal in political science.


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