Published On Sat Sep 18 2010
Bruce Campion-Smith and Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA—The federal government will boost the help it provides the most seriously wounded and junior rank soldiers injured in Afghanistan, the Star has learned.
The move comes after the Conservatives, who boast about their support for the military, faced sharp criticism they were short-changing Canada’s newest generation of veterans returning from Afghanistan with grievous injuries.
The government hopes to rebut that criticism starting Sunday, when Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Defence Minister Peter MacKay hold a news conference to announce measures to bolster financial support for some of the wounded soldiers.
“It’s for the most seriously injured and those who are most susceptible to the economic challenges they may face,” a government source said Friday.
Those measures are expected to include a bigger allowance to financially assist privates as they recover from their wounds. Because their injuries can limit future promotions, privates risk getting stuck at that rank and pay scale, earning a maximum of about $46,000.
“There have been a lot of privates hurt in Afghanistan,” one source said.
The announcement is also expected to address complaints that the revamped benefits package for injured soldiers—unveiled in the 2006 Veterans Charter—leaves the mostly seriously hurt worse off financially than under the previous system.
In a related move, the military is also tinkering with its programs meant to assist disabled soldiers with the challenges and costs of adapting to life
Current policy provides funds for disabled soldiers who must convert their existing homes to make them wheelchair accessible, as well as for those who purchase new homes and need to install wider doorways, hallways and larger bathrooms that will accommodate wheelchairs.
Sources say the military has recently approved plans to expand that program and also fund those soldiers who decide to build accessible homes from the ground up. Prior to this decision, those soldiers had to pay for the custom-built home construction themselves, forcing some of them into debt.
Just last month, veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, a retired infantry officer, went on the attack against government officials and bureaucrats he said were letting down those who have sacrificed their lives and limbs for the country.
One of the issues that most irks those wounded in the Afghan war is the government’s decision in 2006 to stop awarding monthly lifetime disability payments and to instead offer a lump sum payment of up to $276,079 for injuries.
That issue will be addressed at a later date. Instead, Sunday’s event is meant to address what the government sees as the most pressing shortfalls in the current system of benefits.
The announcement—the first of several, according to sources—is a signal that the government is trying to adapt policies and payments to the new reality
of troops wounded in Afghanistan.
“The government is going to work to provide for the newer generation of veterans that are coming forward,” the source said.
“What we’d like to do is continue working with veterans, listening to veterans and acting upon their needs,” the source said.
According to the most recent figures, 529 soldiers have been injured in action from 2002 to the end of 2009 and another 913 had suffered non-combat injuries.
The announcement comes the same day as thousands of military and civilian runners will be swarming through downtown Ottawa in the annual Canada Army Run. Among them will be soldiers who have lost limbs in Afghanistan. The run benefits two initiatives—Soldier On and the Military Families Fund – that support injured soldiers and the families of Canadian troops.