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(Medical problems of reservists).

Veterans' issues and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) have been hot topics of discussion these past weeks. First, the latest from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). The Minister of Veterans Affairs, Ron Duhamel, announced to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs (SCONDVA) on 29 March that the term "veteran" is to be greatly expanded. In essence anyone, regular or reserve, who has met the occupational classification requirements for their trade and is subsequently released from the CF with an honourable discharge is now a veteran. However, in his address to SCONDVA he emphasised that "access to VAC benefits and services is based on need or defined eligibility, not because someone had been recognised or is called a `veteran'".

There now appears to be two types of veterans: the "war service veteran" and the "new veteran." It is unclear at this time whether or not the "new veterans" will be entitled to the full range of programs such as the War Veterans Allowance and the Veterans Independence Program.

Further to this, Duhamel assured the committee "that any member or former member of Canada's military with a service related disability will receive all the pension and health care benefits to which they are entitled, regardless of their theatre of service." However this statement does gloss over some disturbing facts.

The mandarins at VAC are sticking with the NATO medical studies concerning depleted uranium that "to date have shown no links between either natural or depleted uranium exposure and cancer." According to reports, VAC has received only 50 requests for testing from released members of the CF, while DND has received an undisclosed (in the Minister's speech) number of additional requests. Yet soldiers continue to fall ill. Indeed, as previously reported in Maclean's magazine, a small group of Canadian scientists at Memorial University in St. John's, Nfld., have discovered that of 20 ill Canadian, British and American veterans 12 had traces of isotopic uranium in their bodies. Esprit de Corps strongly recommends that anyone who has served in the Gulf after 1991, in Bosnia and Croatia post-1993, or in Serbia and Kosovo after 1999, to contact VAC or DND medical authorities for testing. More information is available on testing through the VAC web site at http:// www.vac-acc.gc.ca/.

Although PTSD claims made to VAC have so far resulted in an 87 per cent favourable entitlement claim rate, favourable psychiatric related claim rates drop to 63 per cent, but in the case Gulf War veterans the favourable pension awards drop further to 55 per cent. The difficulties with PTSD or Combat Related Stress (CRS) are becoming more evident as time passes. Most notable is the situation with Corporal Christian McEachern of the PPCLI in Edmonton, but there have been other reports of soldiers attempting suicide, and some succeeding. DND is loath, however, to confirm any statistics in this regard.

What does emerge is that the hierarchy of the Defence Department does not want to admit the depth and breadth of personal medical problems being experienced by serving and former CF members. One can only surmise that DND, as part of the government, is simply trying to limit its financial liability. This does a great injustice to the soldiers, sailors, and air personnel who voluntarily served Canada and the interests of peace and stability around the world. The "unspoken agreement" is not being fulfilled.

The trust each CF member has in the institution should they be injured or incapacitated while on operations or at home is not, it would seem, justified. When 45 per cent of retired CF members who place a claim with VAC for compensation and medical care for the plethora of illnesses associated with Gulf War service are not settled favourably, sick soldiers must use their meagre pension to pay for their own care. When more than one third of psychiatric cases are not resolved, sick men and women are cut loose and released into society without the proper support.

CF members and former members who are ill do not need to be patronised by calling every one a veteran regardless of service. What they need is a government that is prepared to stand by their troops and unambiguously accept its responsibilities and the consequences associated with the deployment of troops to some of the nastiest places on earth.

As always, comments are welcome.
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Author:Michitsch, Howard
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:May 1, 2001
Words:725
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