Originally published on May 9, 2014 as a column in the AM News under the title ‘Is yet another day to honour veterans and remember the fallen enough?’
In a couple of days, some of us will observe two minutes of silence during the ceremonies for the National Day of Honour.
According to the PM’s office, May 9th is a day dedicated to ‘commemorating the strength and sacrifices made by the members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, and to recognizing and supporting the friends and family of the fallen.’
It sounds better than it actually is, you’ll hear most veterans say. Reminders are good, but parades and official breakfast aside, a day is a day is a day.
You watch the parade, extend your condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in Afghanistan, shake the hands of those who made it back and the next day we’re all back to our daily life, feeling good about the honouring deed. It should not end there.
Over the last few months, nine members of the Canadian Armed Forces committed suicide. Their families and friends pointed to the lack of support most veterans face once they return from the war.
Whether you agree with the war idea in general and the Afghanistan war in particular, one thing is clear as daylight: soldiers do not go to vacation in war zones, nor do they go there on a personal mission. They represent Canada. Therefore, it is only expected that Canada would support them when they return.
Yet many find themselves falling through the cracks of a bureaucratic system that cannot accommodate the less elegant needs of a damaged-by-war soldier.
Hence the question: Would a day of honouring the veterans do?
Some soldiers argue that we already have Remembrance Day. Why not honour the Afghanistan veterans then, together with the rest of the veterans and put the funds spent on a day like May 9th aside for the needs far greater than a commemorating day?
While help is not completely missing, many of the veterans face severe uphill battles by themselves. People do not commit or attempt to commit suicide just because. Many of the modern day veterans suffer from visible and/or invisible wounds, many of which surface as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) months or years after they return from deployment.
They fight demons only they can see and they often end up breaking apart even from their loved ones, lost between a system that was supposed to help them get help and overwhelming desperation that pushes them to seek ultimate relief.
Every person is affected differently in a given situation. Some of the veterans return to their previous lives after deployment, some continue to serve as reservists and some are either discharged or choose to retire or take a leave of absence.
Regardless of their status, veterans need to know they are not alone once they are back. A census of some sort that keeps track of veterans long after they return from the war and thorough, periodic tests that would allow them to get the help they need when they need it is the least they should be offered after putting their lives on the line.
To some it may be a formality, nothing more than a yearly checkup, but to many it would be a lifeline and confirmation that they are not forgotten. Lest we forget sounds much better when backed up by facts.
Many of the Veterans Affairs offices that closed recently due to financial cuts added insult to injury once more, pointing to a reality many of us are not comfortable with. We are not taking care of our vulnerable ones.
When veterans get the short end of the stick, how are we to convince them and their families, and ourselves as a society that we act with respect and compassion towards our fellow citizens?
That a country and its government support a war is one thing. To support the returning veterans and their families is another. No Canadian veteran should ever feel like their life is worth nothing just because the war has ended.
If we are to commemorate the fallen and honour our veterans, let’s do it right on the days leading up to it and after as well.