A Nation’s Test of Character: Do We Truly Value our Veterans?
One of the best props a politician can use is the Armed Forces. Remember President G. W. Bush in October 2003 standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the huge sign behind him proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” to celebrate victory on his War on Terror? This “leadership” event happened to be off the coast of San Diego with the aircraft carrier anchored safely. Oh, how Bush looked initially macho, just having changed out of a flight suit into his Presidential navy blue suit. But the truth hit home quickly as the US media jumped all over the contrived photo op.
Or in my country, Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (booted out of office in October 2015) couldn’t resist using Canada’s military as the backdrop to boost his popularity. And then there was Harper’s predecessor Jean Chretien who didn’t know the front of an army helmet from the back. Yeah, it was pretty funny.
What’s not funny is how Canada’s and America’s military veterans, not to forget those in other ally countries, are treated by their political masters once they have either completed serving their countries or been forced to exit due to physical or psychological injuries. (Photo: Claude Lord, homeless Montreal veteran who lives in a shipping container.)
Plenty has been written in the media about injured vets being ignored by their governments. Most reprehensively is the lack of attention and treatment for PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affects people from all walks of life and across all ages. PTSD is pernicious, an insidious disease that can destroy people’s lives and those around them.
But as if PTSD and recovering from physical injuries (such as amputations and traumatic head wounds) aren’t enough for those who have served their countries, the final kick in the teeth is too many veterans being homeless. Yes, you heard me correctly. Canada – and the Land of the Free – have thousands of vets living on the streets.
A March 2015 report by the federal government’s Employment and Social Development Department found that at least 2,250 veterans are homeless in Canada. This represents 2.7% of Canada’s total homeless people that use temporary lodging. The data come from a 2014 database that tracks 60 homeless shelters across Canada. Given the defined nature of the study, it’s reasonable to assume that there are more homeless former Canadian soldiers than publicly disclosed.
In the general population, the average age of those incurring homelessness is 37, but for homeless veterans it’s 52 years of age. Of particular concern is that female ex-soldiers have a very high rate of homelessness, with 16% experiencing multiple occasions; in contrast, 6% of females outside of the military experience homelessness. With male and female veterans one sees alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health problems as characteristic reasons contributing to their plight.
In the United States, with its massive military machine of about 1.35 million enlisted across the four services (Canada’s only some 68,000 plus 26,000 reservists), the number of homeless veterans is about 47,700. That amounts to 3.5% of US Armed Forces as being homeless; in comparison, Canada has a veteran homeless rate of 3.3% (excluding reservists, or 2.4% including them).
It’s a very sad scene that two G7 countries, one with the claim of being the greatest nation on Earth and the other proclaiming to be peaceful and open to immigrants, would be so disrespectful and callous in their treatments of those who have subjected themselves at times to horrific conditions in the gore of war, all in the call of “serving” their countries and keeping their fellow citizens safe.
What’s wrong with us as citizens? Why do we let our governments get away with this shit?
Are we selfish, immoral beings who espouse our superficial respect for members of the Armed Forces, but only as long as we ensure we remain safe in the confines of our homes and communities, sipping on a skinny latte, multi-tasking on our smart phones and complaining to our coffee companion about how hard we have it? “Oh my boss is such an ass-hole.”
You get my drift.
We should all be ashamed – as Canadians and Americans – that we’ve reached this point.
How do we collectively turn it around?
Of course, politicians go into defensive hyper-drive when confronted with the statistical reality of their countries’ finest. New Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau has promised action, as has his chief of defence staff. Ditto for the United States. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard this same refrain before.
Promised action leads to inaction, deflected by other priorities. Attention spans of our elected officials are indeed limited. It’s up to us, as citizens who cast votes, to demand that our elected representatives stay true to their promises and not waiver when faced with competing priorities. Respecting the men and women who serve and who have served our respective countries is a calling of the highest order. That’s the leadership challenge.
Claude Lord of Montreal deserves that promise to be kept.
Death became a desired option. I hoped I would hit a mine or run into an ambush and just end it all. I think some part of me wanted to join the legions of the dead, whom I had failed.
– Lieutenant General (ret’d) Romeo Dallaire (Force Commander, Rwanda, 1993-94; retired Canadian Senator; and PTSD victim)
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