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Note to veterans: hire some muscle.

IF CANADIAN VETERANS HAVE learned anything in the past month, it's that their government is a deadbeat. Sure, the government talks a good talk, but when it comes to collecting, it's tighter than a two-bit gambler who's run out of credit. That was until the moment Colonel (ret'd) Pat Stogran stepped into some unwanted (for him) but necessary (for veterans) media spotlight.

But step into the spotlight the good colonel did and, like a character out of The Sopranos wielding his verbal bat, he busted some metaphorical kneecaps and got the money flowing. Grudgingly, mind you, and not quite in the amounts most Canadians--both veterans and civilians alike--would like to see. But it was a start of sorts: a lifetime monthly amount of $1,000 for veterans unable to work, an education fund for widowed spouses and daily payments for family members who must forgo employment to support injured veterans. This, plus the original lump sum which the government is considering (in all its touching benevolence) portioning out over time, if requested, and the 75 per cent salary for those injured veterans unable to find a job. Good start, that. Let's call it a little interest payment on the debt. See you next payday.

And that debt is large indeed, as successive governments have shirked their responsibilities by embracing the New Veterans Charter: replacing lifetime pensions with a lump sum payout worth less than a third of what some of our NATO partners offer their vets, and making monthly payments based on rank instead of injury, which ultimately has the net effect of cutting our government's obligations because, quite frankly, the lower ranks tend to suffer the majority of injuries.

Of course, that's just what's owed in dollars. Then there is the political debt. Putting aside their service and sacrifice, veterans have provided years of political capital. "Modern-era" veterans, as Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn has taken to calling them now that he's discovered they exist, have been used to win votes, pacify disgruntled allies, and make defence contractors happy from sea to shining sea, at least south of the border. To put not too fine a point on it, our soldiers have been used for more than just fodder for cannons.

Makes it all the more special that the four horsemen, sorry 'leaders,' of Ottawa's political parties came together in 2005, fresh from the Victory in Europe celebrations, and agreed unanimously (for the first and last rime that historians can tell) to cut costs through veterans' benefits. Three of them are still leaders, and they're all still using soldiers, as they always have.

Which begs the question: Can veterans really trust their government to, in effect, pay what's owed without some outside muscle? It's a tall bill, one that didn't see much attention until Col. Stogran cracked some heads in a most unpalatable way; namely, by airing the government's laundry in public.

Well, let's consider the evidence. Before the good colonel's foray in front of the microphone, Jean-Pierre Blackburn was spending most of his time justifying the need to downsize Veterans Affairs. Now Mr. Blackburn talks of the need to "keep up with the arrival of modern-era veterans." Then there was the sudden public realization by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the now richly informed Mr. Blackburn that maybe the New Veterans Charter that their boss gleefully agreed to as opposition leader and passed as prime minister needs a little 'topping up.'

Sadly, even the outgoing Veterans Affairs ombudsman's yeoman media work would likely have gone to naught if it weren't for the bombshell that Veterans Affairs employees (and the ministers they report to) have been playing fast and loose with veterans' medical files. Captain (ret'd) Sean Bruyea, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and a longtime advocate for veterans who spotted and spoke up about the many flaws of the New-Veterans Charter, had his medical records passed around like candy canes at Christmas, ready in case he raised any more hell about Ottawa's new cost-cutting legislation. 'He's mentally unsound, old chap, don't pay attention to him.' He is anything but. Prescient would be a better description.

Thankfully, Sean Bruyea and Pat Stogran stuck with it, and both veterans and Canadian citizens owe them a debt of gratitude. Their government owes them and all veterans much more than that. Just don't count on them to pay up because, as you can see, that takes some outside muscle. Thanks to Stephen Harper, there are a couple of outspoken veterans looking for work who might just be interested.

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto.

His website is www.NickersonOnline.com
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Nickerson, Michael
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Words:775
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