AT FIRST GLANCE the federal government’s proposed changes to the Department of National Defence’s soldier suicide prevention program is an offense against common human decency, and it doesn’t much inspire confidence that this news arrives from the Minister of National Defence, who has made headlines in recent months for indulging himself needlessly on the public dollar. The principle that Austerity Is Good For Everyone Else is a familiar hypocrisy, and on this foundation we now apprehend Parliamentarians such as Peter MacKay and Bev Oda.
Indulgence necessarily brings us to the question, Why are these under-performing lugs still warming their over-priced Centre Block seats? Why is a mediocrity and liability like MacKay able to preside over the affairs of veterans, praised by politicians when it’s a matter of expedience but otherwise under-valued, in this supposed time of cost-consciousness? Was Conservative MP Rob Anders representing the sentiments of his caucus when he fell asleep in a Halifax meeting with veterans? Perhaps Ottawa is no longer alive to the pulse of the nation anywhere. One thing is certain. To promote the interests of soldiers has been, in recent years, to know the indifference of the federal government. Speaking of Halifax: consider the five-year battle of Nova Scotian Dennis Manuge, which this week ended with a Federal Court of Canada ruling against the government’s claw-backs of SISIP long term disability benefits for disabled veterans. According to a May 2 press release of the Veterans Ombudsman, “all witnesses who appeared before us, with the exception of witnesses from the Department of National Defence, felt the reductions were indeed unfair.”
This business of nickel-and-diming those who have served in the armed forces is neither new nor restricted to Canada, but it rankles nonetheless. Mr. MacKay claims that “Canada has become a world leader in fighting the stigmatization and raising awareness of PTSD and other operational stress injuries,” but in the meanwhile his department has forced veterans to take legal action and has brought substantial grief to Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent, on issues ranging from denied claims for the Agent Orange ex gratia payment to decisions made by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Now, despite the Department of National Defence’s acknowledged priority of post-deployment PTSD treatment and suicide prevention, the politicians appear to be offering little more than vague platitudes and assurances of commitment.
It’s not only bad politics to deny services to disabled and distressed veterans, it’s bad policy. As bad policy, the government’s ill-considered parsimony undermines the relationship of trust and reciprocity between those who serve and those who are served. As bad politics, this instance of mealy-mouthing and short-changing makes the Harper Government look distant from, and unresponsive to, Canadians of every variety. But these are matters for Canadians themselves to weigh — and, Mr. Harper, you can be certain that they will.