Revised Sunday November 7, 2010
A Show Of Force
500 Chilliwack veterans march for better benefits
Craig Hill/Voice photos
Veterans sing national anthem during rally at Chilliwack Conservative MP Chuck Strahl's office on Saturday
hey fought for Canada in the past and yet, here they are on home turf with another fight on their hands. This time its a battle for what veterans feel they deserve. On Saturday ex-soldiers marched on MP's offices from coast-to-coast in a bid to get Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to hear what they're saying is unfair policy to the approximately 165,000 across the country stymied by a lack of support and overburdened by an unfair claw-back from the federal government.
What they want is the Conservative government to make at least 6 changes to the New Veteran's Charter which they say leaves them and new veterans out in the cold.
In Chilliwack, about 500 veterans and supporters from every branch of the military were lead by a colour guard as they marched two-by-two from Chilliwack Mall to MP Chuck Strahl's office on Vedder Rd.
Strahl, who recently took on the role of Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was nowhere to be seen.
The Voice had a chance to speak with retired Royal Canadian Air Force captain, Claude Latulippe, who's military career spanned 30-years in the regular forces and another 10-years as a reservist. He worked with the PCLI and the RCR because his background was more on the logistical side of the "house" and was attached to wherever they needed support.
Latulippe explained that the reason they were there was not to cause trouble or blame anyone in particular. They were there to talk about issues facing the old vets as well as the new vets.
3rd CAV Ubique members march Saturday in support of Vets and troops.
"Its not against Veterans Affairs Canada, it's not against anyone. Its just to raise awareness that we, the veterans have issues with the government not paying attention to problems that the veterans are actually experiencing."
Veterans affairs have clumped ex-soldiers into groups consisting of old vets, new vets and RCMP vets and they have a rule book associated with how they solve a problem associated with each particular group, regardless of the jobs they performed while in the line of duty. But this is one of the problems that vets want dealt permanently and not just with band-aid solutions.
"The reservists who serve with the regular force is doing the same job, but he's treated differently, so what we're trying to do here is to tell VAC that there is no difference whether you're a civilian, or a uniformed individual associated with DND (Department of National Defence), or the RCMP. If you're doing a job in an operation, then any benefits associated with any potential injury, death or anything then it should be all grouped together," said Latulippe.
Another thing vets want clarification on is the SISIP, which is a private insurance that every soldier is obligated to pay into in the event that they need disability benefits.
When a soldier becomes injured, if he submits a claim as per entitlement with his insurance policy then it is deducted from his pension.
"It's asinine," said Latulippe. "It just plain does not make sense and we want this addressed and resolved."
He says that the Widow Tax Benefits is another hurdle to get over, whereby if a soldier dies in the line of duty and comes back in a casket, then the widower is entitled to a certain amount of money, which is now taxable under the new Charter.
"On a social aspect of it, it's not right because he's given up his life for this country and yet the country gives and takes it away."
For major injuries, there is a meat chart with a set amount of money awarded for lost digits and limbs.
Colour Guard with the City of Chilliwack flag stands at attention.
For example, if the individual comes home after losing both legs then their insured entitlement is maximum of $276,000.
"It's quite a bit of money actually to be given a lump some, but after he's paid off his mortgage, or maybe bought a vehicle to kind of accommodate his injuries, then he doesn't have anything left, now he's got to deal with the trauma of his injuries, he's got to deal with family issues, the social side and everything that comes into play so that $276,000 really is long gone. Although immediately, it might help them out a little bit but in the long run he's toast," said Latulippe.
The pension claw-back is the one that hits all vets the hardest and most don't find out about it until they turn 65. In the past, CPP (Canada Pension Plan) was stacked on top of the CF superannuation act and Latulippe says that the military leadership was not asked to participate in that decision to label some in the military as public servants.
Latulippe says that reservists do the same job as regular army and that most guys didn't know about the claw-back until they retired. Then they found their pensions reduced as a result.
"Well excuse me, we're not a public servant." he insisted. "A public servant is not called to go to Afghanistan to be shot at and people who were liable to come back dead. They have a 9 to 5 job, but that was done by bureaucrats."
He says a lack of will power by the Conservative government resulted in that item being "shot down."
"We've been fighting this for 5-years now, heavily, to a point where we culminated last year into a parliamentary committee to decide on this."
Latulippe said Strahl was invited to attend and members were in his office to notify him of the rally.
"It would have been really good to have him here to address the veterans and some of the issues that we have specifically with Veterans Affairs Canada."
RCMP are also involved and he gives the example of Bosnia where members were throughout old Yugoslavia training locals how to police themselves, and in doing so were exposed to even more than the military themselves were facing.
For most Vets rallying against the system is like disobeying a direct command.
"Our intent here, as a whole, is to stand up and be counted as veterans and we've never done that before," he said. "This is very unusual for an ex-military person, who's been groomed all his life and doing as he's told, task-oriented, objective and you don't question the orders that are coming down."
Eileen Booth was also there in support of the vets and said she was proud to be there. Her 86-year-old husband served in the British military as well as her brother and brother in-law.
Eileen Booth at rally says she always supports vets.
"They fought strong, long and hard for their country and I'm here because I believe we don't do enough to support our veterans or for our current troops and that they need all the support that they can get," said Booth. "They put their lives on the line for us, they don't hesitate so why should we hesitate to support them?"
Pat Strogan, recently fired as Veterans Ombudsman, said it best: "Without substantive and enduring cultural changes to the system that mistreats our veterans, any promises of improvement are as shallow of Brian Dycks final breath".
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