Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: veterans

Weekly column: Why wearing the poppy is not a political statement

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor news on Monday, November 9, 2020.

It is Sunday afternoon as I write this, and we’re three days away from Remembrance Day on November 11. A long-overdue and overlooked commemoration has also been recently rectified by our government. November 8 has now been marked as Indigenous Remembrance Day. Their contribution was significant and the stories are emerging one after another.

A few days ago you may have heard about the poppy-centered short-lived but powerful storm that surfaced in the news and social media.

Whole Foods forbade their employees to wear the Remembrance Day poppy, but following the above-mentioned ‘storm’, the decision wilted, no pun intended. It was heartening to see how Canadians across the country, our premier included, responded to the initial ban.

Yes, we care about the poppy.

Weekly column: Gratefulness comes from knowing the price of peace and freedom

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on Tuesday November 12, 2019.

Just before

It was loud. And it was crowded, way more people than last year. For once, I got there early enough to stand in line, get tickets and go inside with time to spare. Once in, I looked around and everything felt familiar.

I am not a hockey person by any means, though by now I know how a game runs and what this or that means. I did not grow up with it, and when the time came for my boys to choose the sports they liked to try, hockey did not make the cut. No matter.

Weekly Column: Let’s Always Remember

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 5, 2018. 

My grandfather was a WWII veteran. He died when I was nine, and so did the stories that he might have been inclined to share. I have old photos of him in uniform, and I know a few of the jolly stories – including how he courted my grandmother – family folklore that made us kids giggle. But I do not know the anguish, the pain, the horror he experienced as a WWII soldier.

Hence the silence that was draped all over my thoughts when, as a kid, I was passing by the cemetery. There were many rows of graves of WWI and WWII soldiers; the tombstones that said ‘unknown soldier’ were far more numerous than the ones with a name. Back then, as a child, I shuddered thinking what it must be like to lose my mom or dad that way.

The Need To Speak Up (Or Why Yet Another Day Is Still Not Enough)

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.

Our Freedom Is a Gift From Veterans

ReminderOur neighbourhood has many charming little houses, which were built for the returning veterans back in 1945. A thoughtful project meant to say ‘thank you’ in more than words.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I am reminded of two things: That there are some very brave and selfless people out there, and that the Remembrance Day ceremonies do not bring much solace to those who were injured while serving and are left at the mercy of a system that creates additional stress.

A few days ago, a soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan came forth with his story of grief.

Cpl. Shane Jones has been working with seven or eight caseworkers and has been visiting multiple doctors since his injury happened during his 2005 tour. He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder like many other veterans — and, like many others, feels betrayed by the government.

It is sad and disheartening to hear, yet he is one of many veterans who are not getting appropriate care and consideration for their service.

There are also debates around the financial compensations for injured veterans.

A group of ex-soldiers is suing the government over the new compensation system, arguing that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A lifetime disability pension has been replaced by a lump-sum payment, a decision that has angered many.

Previous governments have taken pride in providing for veterans, recognizing the sacrifice of the wounded as a great service to the Crown. Our present government argues that promises made in the past should not be binding.

While debate flourishes, injured veterans are left, more or less, to their own devices. Some injuries are more visible than others, but all war-inflicted injuries are debilitating and take their toll on soldiers and their families.

Once a year, some of the veterans are called upon to share their story and make some of their stories known to the public. Many details are left out because they are too gruesome to share or too painful to recall.

After the wreaths are laid and the poppies are forgotten, stories are set aside for another year and the wounded veterans are back to fighting their private war.

On top of it, they have to worry about a Veterans Affairs minister who expands the definition of a veteran to the point of making it look ridiculous.

Minister Julian Fantino’s words, “… I spent 40 years in law enforcement, I too have served. I’ve been in the trenches and heard the guns go off. I guess I can also put myself and other colleagues, firefighters and other police officers, who put themselves in harm’s way every day, in the same category …” has earned him a resignation request from angered Canadian veterans.

I don’t discount the courage and dedication of firefighters and police forces; they should be honoured for their own sacrifice in serving the people of this country, too.

Some could argue that the Canadian military service is volunteer and so is deployment. But, no one goes to fight a war in their own name. Every soldier deployed by Canada is a soldier of Canada, and his or her sacrifice should be properly acknowledged.

By acknowledging them, we to teach our children that putting one’s life on the line in the name of your country is something that is honoured — not only by citizens, but also by a government that stands true to the core values of a nation honouring its fallen heroes and veterans.

A definition by an unknown author on the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association website reads: “Simply put, a veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to ‘The Government of Canada,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including’ his life. That is honour. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country who do not understand it.”

Lest we forget, the freedom and peace we enjoy are a gift from today’s and yesterday’s veterans, to each of us, every day.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday November 9, 2013

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