My Town Crier article for September….
The debt we owe our Veterans cannot go unpaid
This summer I had the honour of attending the presentation ceremony for the Minister of Veteran’s Affairs Commendations. St. Paul’s resident Joseph Sweeney was one of the 20 recipients from Ontario.
“Mr. Sweeney is a Veteran of the Korean War. Recognizing the struggles that Veterans face after leaving the military, Mr. Sweeney dedicates much of his time to assisting homeless persons in Toronto. In November 2009, Mr. Sweeney organized the first ever Remembrance Day ceremony for homeless or near homeless Veterans at the Scott Mission in Toronto and it was from this ceremony that “Operation: Leave the Streets Behind” was born. By working with personnel from VAC and the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL), Ontario Command, Mr. Sweeney helped to create and launch a pilot project in Toronto that partnered with the Good Shepherd Ministry with the goal of ensuring that every Veteran who is homeless or near homeless finds the help they need to leave the streets behind. This program has enabled VAC to embed Outreach Workers at the Shelter who are then able to coordinate the type of assistance the Veteran requires. Since 2009, “Operation: Leave the Streets Behind” has expanded into Montreal and Vancouver. The RCL has named a Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund in honour of Mr. Sweeney. The Joe Sweeney Fund has provided many Veterans with essential items such as shampoo, shaving cream, shavers, hats, mitts, and socks, in addition to providing them assistance with their first/last month’s rent, furniture, food vouchers, and more.”
What was upsetting, however, was that almost every recipient was being recognized for their efforts getting veterans the supports and services they need and were entitled to receive. On my way home, I couldn’t help thinking how outrageous it is that the Minister was giving awards to people who daily have to fight with his department. His department is the problem.
We owe a great debt to all our military personnel and veterans who have served Canada with great distinction and self-sacrifice. But the Conservatives are shutting down part of the government’s program to monitor mental health of our military personnel, and to work on suicide prevention. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder supports and services are inadequate. Last year we lost 20 soldiers to suicide; more than we lost annually in combat for most of the 10 years in Afghanistan. And more and more veterans are becoming homeless or near-homeless.
The budget to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, excluding money paid out as veterans’ benefits, is approximately $350 million per year and the Conservative government’s decision to slash $36 million from that amount equates to a 10% cut to their operating budget. Make no mistake, veterans will be affected. They cannot cut an expected 800 employees out of the department and believe for a minute that veterans will receive the same level of service. For instance, according to veterans’ advocate Mike Blais, each case manager already manages 900 to 1200 files, but apparently 100 front-line case workers, who help veterans get access to programs and services, are being cut across the country. This is unconscionable!
Our Constituency Office has been struggling to deal with the increasing numbers of complaints from veterans and their families are having in dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs. We have decided to hold a Roundtable/Townhall on Sunday, September 30th at 2.30 pm on Veterans Affairs and PTSD, co-hosted at Montage Support Services, 504 Oakwood Avenue.
We are honoured that, at this event, Past Veterans Ombudsman Col. Pat Stogran, (Ret.), as well as Peter Tinsley, Former chair of Canada’s Military Police Complaints Commission, Senior Prosecutor of Canadian Forces in Somalia, International Prosecutor for the UN’s interim administration in Kosovo will join our Veterans Affairs Critic Sean Casey, M.P. for Charlottetown for an in-depth discussion of the problems and the solutions.
We hope that you will come and congratulate Joseph Sweeney and work towards a day when ‘Supporting our Troops’ includes a comprehensive approach to getting our armed forces and veterans the care and support they need, without them having to beg for it.