Monday, January 17, 2011

Afghanistan 2010 casualty list raises serious credibility issues for Government's treatment of Vets.

On January 12th  the Canadian News Service released the casualty statistics for Afghanistan for the year of 2010. During this period of time, 331 Canadians sustained non-battle injuries, the highest annual toll of the mission to date. 86 were wounded in action, blessedly, significantly down from the 124 WIAs of 2009. Two died by non-action conditions, testimony of the danger that always lurks in Afghanistan. 14, tragically, were KIA, the profoundly sad military acronym for killed in action. 

These numbers are disturbing, particularly when one considers the amount of casualties Canada has sustained since the Afghanistan mission began and the context of Minister Blackburn’s litany of as yet unfulfilled promises in response to Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran’s press conference on August 17th. 1244 Canadians have been injured under non-battle circumstances. These include traffic accidents, accidental weapons discharges, illness or repatriation for medical or compassionate reasons.

615 valiant Canadians have been Wounded in Action, injuries incurred from IEDS, mines, rockets and direct contact with the enemy. Those who have been wounded in friendly fire incidents during combat ops and those who have suffered severe psychological trauma as a consequence are also included in this equation.

18 Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan in what is noted as Deaths. These are the non-combat casualties.

136 have been killed in action by the end of the reporting period, December, 2010.

Lest we forget!

The dead. And, considering the acknowledged state of disconnect at the Veterans Affairs ministry, the living, incredibly patriotic Canadians who have paid the price or war in Afghanistan on Canada’s behalf with great sacrifice, blood and treasure. During the fall of 2010, Minister Blackburn informed Canadians that thousands of veterans are and have been living in substandard conditions. 2000 disabled veterans desperately require the $40,000 minimum annual salary, hundreds, perhaps thousands, will be accorded the $1000 Catastrophic Injury Award. He would speak of 3500 veterans, many who have been DENIED the ELB, with promises of re evaluation under new criteria. Yet regardless of the urgency, regardless of the need for immediate help these veterans NOW, the bill was not pushed forward prior to parliaments extended vacation from the House of Commons. Colonel Stogran righteously noted that none of these awards were retro-active, accordingly,  every month of delay saves the government hundreds of thousands of dollars while concurrently depriving seriously injured Canadian veterans and their families the quality of life they have earned in blood.

Lest we forget!

The numbers! Collectively, Afghanistan WIAs-NBIs accounted for 1859 casualties to the end of 2010. Surely not all are the 2000 privates/corporals the 40000 dollar minimum annual salary proposal was created to assist? And how could have 3500 veterans be eligible for the ELB program when less then nineteen hundred have been officially wounded? I understand the potential for post mission issues such as PTSD and diligently champion support, but there are varying degrees of OSI, PTSD and not all levels result in permanent disabilities or an incapability to maintain a job and a, with support, good wuality of life.

There are other aspects of Minister Blackburn's proposals deserving of scrutiny. The Earnings Loss Benefit, as often boasted by the government, replaces up to 75% of the disabled soldiers wages. BUT… The Manulife SISIP LTD policy already  makes up to 75% of the soldiers wages, or will until Minister Blackburn’s proposed ELB legislation, should it pass, take effect . At this point of time, Manulife simply deducts the amount of the ELB, the PIA and/or the $40,000 wage minimum from the LTD payments they pay to the disabled soldier. This is tragic on several levels, foremost being the veteran is not really accorded any new source of income through this policy. 75 percent is 75 percent, because the burden of responsibility for the 75% thresh hold has simply been removed from the insurance company, to which the soldiers contributed all his career, and placed it squarely onto the taxpayer still results in the 75% payment. Fiscally conscious Canadians might question just why our soldiers are ordered to contribute into Manulife’s LTD insurance policy when the prospect of receiving compensation after a serious injury overseas has been negated by Minister Blackburn’s legislation.

Why is the taxpayer financially sponsoring, at great expense, a program that the members of the forces contributed thousands of dollars throughout their career to provide?

There was a time when conservatives, particularly during tough economic times, would have rallied to protect the taxpayers’ dollar from such waste instead of saving a non-governmental insurance company millions upon millions of dollars. Then again, there was a time when conservatives stood up for their wounded warriors, not abandoned them to substandard conditions created through the enactment of the New Veterans Charter and Canada’s life-time obligation to those who have suffered the horrid consequences of war in Canada’s name.  

Michael L Blais CD
Founder, Canadian Veterans Advocacy.  

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