By Michael Nickerson
Who knew it was so simple? There you are, a veteran living on the street, or perhaps a veteran about to commit suicide. Maybe it hasn’t gotten that far. Maybe you’re just couch surfing, or borrowing from family while you wait for your benefits to finally come in. Or you’re still transitioning out of the service and wondering how it will all play out. Well, silly you. No need to worry. No need to fuss. And certainly no need to complain. Just put up your hand (assuming you still have one) and ask for help. For help my dear veteran, you shall receive.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Take new (deep breath needed here) Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Seamus O’Regan’s word for it. In a recent interview with the CBC, the freshly minted minister with the 10-word, 62-character job title was like any new kid on the job: effusive, optimistic, with lots to learn but ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work. And he had a message for the military veterans for whom he is now responsible, one that he repeated twice for emphasis: “If you need help, put up your hand and we will get you help.”
Well that sure simplifies things, doesn’t it? No multiple applications, reviews, legal battles, embarrassing interviews or long trips to the nearest Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) office somewhere in the next time zone. Wave a hand like you’re in grade school, and teacher O’Regan will give you a hall pass to the Promised Land.
Inspiring stuff that. And there is no shortage of people wanting to be inspired. Initial reaction to O’Regan’s promotion ranged from faith that a boy with some salt in his veins would understand the plight of veterans (who more often than not come from the east coast), to the simple fact that he’s buds with the prime minister. And let’s face it, he always seemed trustworthy on morning television, so how can things go anywhere but up?
As a quick refresher, Team Justin™ got itself elected, in part, on the promise that things would be different for Canada’s military veterans. The Harper Government™ used and abused you, but we will make things right, or so the narrative went.
First and foremost was a promise to restore lifetime pensions for wounded veterans instead of lump-sum payments instituted under the New Veterans Charter. That promise was made in 2015.
Fast forward two years and you would be hard-pressed to see which way is up, down, or just about anywhere worth planning on. Much has been made of the re-opening of nine VAC offices in the last year, though a year behind schedule. But the number of outstanding cases has risen and caseloads for overstretched front-line staff have not decreased.
A “strategy” to deal with veteran homelessness might be presented this fall (never mind actually doing something about it).
And the big promise, namely a return to lifetime pensions for injured veterans, is at best something that might be dealt with by the end of this year (though it’s not clear whether that’s the calendar year versus the fiscal year, the latter ending in March 2018).
Worrisome still is the fact that the new minister with the long job title but little experience has no idea what is happening with the single most important issue of his ministry. Asked if he knew whether the lump-sum policy would be replaced and what it would look like, he said he didn’t know but he’d be the one presenting the details by year’s end, or so he says he was told.
Now, if I’m a veteran, I’m getting a little concerned about this put-up-my-hands-and-get-help thing. New on the job or not, the new minister in charge has no idea where things stand. He will wait to be told from on high what to say and do; all indications are he will be a mouthpiece, a seasoned emcee of some future presentation to be scheduled later.
Veterans are suffering. Veterans are dying. Veterans have been betrayed. So let’s have a show of hands … how many think there will be any change?