(Mar 4, 2007) -- 'We are spending lots of money for war and military equipment but what happens when our soldiers come home?'
Some Canadians that I count as friends are supportive of the federal Parliament’s decision made last year, under the leadership of the Harper government, to redeploy Canadian women and men serving in Afghanistan as combatants instead of peacekeepers. Their arguments are interesting but ultimately not persuasive to me.
I’m opposed to Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. I still fail to see any cogent reason for our troops being in Afghanistan.
It remains a U.S. led occupation – the Americans have more troops in the country than all other NATO contingents combined.
We are propping up a government largely comprised of warlords and war criminals. This government is hated by the people as much as the former Taliban. Human Rights Watch reports that the plight of women may be actually worse under the new government than under the Taliban.
The proud and independent Afghani people oppose the occupation of their land by foreign troops. The insurgency is gaining ground by uniting people around the goal of forcing the foreign soldiers out.
The simple fact is that things are not improving in Afghanistan – they are getting worse. It is doubtful that the presence of foreign troops can ever bring the peace and stability the people so desperately desire.
Everyone stands behind troops
If there is one point my friends and I agree upon, however, it is this. The troops who serve in Canadian uniforms deserve every resource we can muster to ensure their safety in battle and their health and wellbeing, as well as their families’, upon their return home from war.
The current debacle in the U.S. over the treatment of injured soldiers upon returning home makes one weep. It is now clear to all, that the U.S. sent troops into battle ill-equipped and under-manned, and has failed those maimed, both physically and emotionally, upon their return home!
Upon hearing this, my thoughts naturally turn to our troops in Afghanistan. An ill-defined mission, ill-equipped troops, uneven support from the international community – that, we know. My question is this: Is our government, on our behalf, doing everything possible to provide to the women and men who have served this government, the support they need upon their return from duty?
This is not a partisan question for our federal parties to boot around. This is a moral question. How can Canadians send Canadian women and men to war, to risk death and injury, while not ensuring that upon their return they and their families receive all the necessary support?
Supporting when they come home
I’m frustrated when I talk to some people who are keen to send our troops to war, yet refuse to bother about those soldiers and their families who have served and may require a lifetime of support. Photos on the front pages of our newspapers of our brave women and men in battle do not convey the misery and suffering that exist long after the last shot has been fired.
Yes, there has been a flurry of spending on military hardware – to a total of almost $17 billion. Most of it is the really expensive stuff built by companies that Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor formerly lobbied for.
But when it comes to real attention to the quality of life of our soldiers, very little has changed.
In the wake of the eight soldiers killed recently in Afghanistan, General Hillier called for the creation of a fund to receive donations to help the families of soldiers serving overseas. Yes, billions for equipment but let's hold bake sales and call for charity for the families of the troops.
Indeed, we see a pattern here of money quickly and easily found for military hardware and for extending the mission in Afghanistan but support for the soldiers and their families only coming when the government is embarrassed into acting.
Mental health crisis among children
Ontario's ombudsman has reported on a children's mental health crisis taking place on the province's military bases. The provincial government has promised a $2 million emergency contingency plan to battle the problem. The Harper government committed $100,000. Later, after justified public outcry, Health Minister Clement talked about finding more funding.
After the problem of combat stress disorder was brought to the public's attention, considerable pressure was placed on the Harper government to act. The last budget did contain provisions for establishing five new operational stress injury clinics across Canada for veterans and their families. But it took a public outcry for the federal government to take the necessary steps.
Veterans' organizations have highlighted the need for an agency to assist them in accessing programs and services as well as to provide some advocacy. This demand has been receiving increasing public support. The last budget finally saw some movement with the announced $20 million annually to create a Veterans Affairs ombudsman.
While this is a positive development, they have not gone the full distance and given the office some political clout.
We know of the resistance from military brass that the Canadian Forces ombudsman has received. Without a legal mandate, the Veterans Affairs watchdog agency will find it difficult to be an effective advocate. And why two agencies – one for those serving and one for retired personnel – when one would probably be more effective?
I’ve written to the Prime Minister on this issue. I am asking you, regardless of your views on the war, to do the same. Our troops and their families deserve our support.