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NEWS: This is supporting our troops?

From the beginning of the military intervention in Afghanistan we have heard the ‘We Support Our Troops’ message in various ways, including on those ribbon-shaped bumper stickers.

Implicit in this message was that those of us who oppose the war do not ‘support’ the individuals overseas, or could even be endangering them with our dissent.

But it would appear that wounded veterans need more than empty government rhetoric to live on, and more than a bumper sticker on a stranger’s car (or municipal vehicle) to pay their bills.

Postmedia reports that, “Canada’s veterans’ ombudsman (Pat Stogran)… said he will spend the remaining three months in his job casting a spotlight on the ‘long-standing and deeply rooted’ practice in the federal government to treat veterans unfairly.”

“Stogran made headlines a few weeks ago when he complained publicly that bureaucrats, including those at Privy Council Office and Treasury Board, were blocking initiatives that could help Afghan war veterans. He said their motive appeared to be saving money and complained that the senior officials blocking the initiatives were making, on average, more in one year than a soldier who had their legs blown off in Afghanistan would receive in his or her lifetime.”

CBC adds, “Never one to mince words, Stogran has harshly criticized the federal bureaucracy’s treatment of injured soldiers and policies, such as the replacement of pensions with lump-sum payments and disability stipends.”

Postmedia specifies that, “Soldiers who have lost legs in the Afghan war have received one-time payments of about $250,000. Stogran and some veterans point to the provision of lump-sum payments to wounded soldiers, brought in under the New Veterans Charter, as a way the federal government had limited its long-term financial liability to veterans.”

“Under the new charter, disabled veterans who follow a rehabilitation program will receive a lump payment and a monthly cheque representing 75 per cent of their ‘pre-release’ salary until they find a job in civilian life. The lump-sum can be up to $276,080 based on the extent of the disability. If they are too injured to work, they receive 75 per cent of their salary until age 65, as well as access to programs and funds for specific needs.”

“Under the previous system, injured soldiers were guaranteed monthly pension payments for life, and those pensions increased if a condition worsened.”

The Toronto Star reports, “Paul Franklin, who lost both legs in a January 2006 suicide bombing, was actually one of the lucky ones. Back in Canada, he was offered a choice between the outgoing system for disability payments – $4,000 a month for the remainder of his life – or compensation under the new system, a $250,0000 lump sum payment. ‘I did the math real quick and $4,000 a month works out to $2 million if I live 40 more years,’ he said. ‘It was a no-brainer.'”

Right-wing writer Peter Worthington has written in the National Post that, “Canada’s decision to award a maximum lump-sum $250,000 to badly wounded vets sounds generous, but it’s really a cop-out if it negates long-term care and responsibility.”

And a CTV report even quotes Stogran saying, “I was told by a senior Treasury Board analyst, who shall remain nameless, that it is in the government’s best interest to have soldiers killed overseas rather than wounded because the liability is shorter term.”

The Hill Times reported in February 2010 that, “More than 6,000 Canadian Forces members and discharged veterans who are receiving physical or psychiatric disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada have either served in Afghanistan or have a disability that has been related to their service in Afghanistan, the department says.”

And while Veterans Affairs will not say how many soldiers have had amputations due to wounds and injuries in Afghanistan, 160 are now receiving amputee category benefits. Between 2002 and 2009, 1,442 soldiers have been wounded in action or suffered non-combat injuries. Before the war started, 389 soldiers were receiving disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, by September 2009 that number had climbed to 8,196 veterans.

And it’s important to highlight that according to a United Nations report, 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,566 were wounded in 2009 alone by either the Taliban or NATO forces.

Metro News reported on August 5 that the US Army pays $1,500-$2,500 to compensate for the death of a child or an adult, and that Germany will pay $5,000 to each family affected by a recent deadly air strike.

It’s not clear how many Afghan civilians Canadian soldiers may have killed or injured, or what ‘compensation’ is paid to these families. The Canadian Press reported in October 2009 that, “It was just over a year ago, in July 2008, that a four-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother were accidentally gunned down when the vehicle they were riding in failed to pull over for a passing Canadian military convoy in Panjwaii. Fearing a possible suicide attack, soldiers had opened fire in that incident with a 25-millimetre cannon when the vehicle came within 10 metres of them despite repeated hand gestures and audio warnings to stop. The children’s father requested and received compensation from the Afghan government.”

The Council of Canadians opposes the war in Afghanistan and calls for the withdrawal of Canadian troops. Our action alert with this demand is at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2173.