All for one and one for all!
Ottawa - August 23, 2011
When I left the Forces in 2002, I was looking to join a Veterans organization so that I could continue experiencing the camaraderie that is so strong in the military culture and to have the feeling that I belonged to an organization that cared. Other than joining my occupation’s association, I never joined any other organization, but I accomplished my aim by maintaining a tie with my military comrades and the system, first by working with the National Defence Ombudsman and now as the Veterans Ombudsman. But I do remember that at that time, there were very few organizations other than the traditional ones.
Today, there are many choices, and many voices. Is this a bad thing? It should not be, because the concerns of Veterans have to be heard. However what is said and how it is presented is important. I also believe that an important role for these diverse Veterans groups is to provide opportunities for their members to carry on with friendships and camaraderie that originated in a specific area of war or operation, and to commemorate mission-related events and battle honours .
Many organizations have taken on a public voice that, when factual and informed, is a valuable source of information for our Veterans. It is easy to make statements about how badly Veterans are treated but I believe that such statements are much more effective when they are supported with facts and recommendations to fix the problems. That takes objectivity, research and analysis.
When organizations or individuals who should support and assist attempt to demean each other or vie for the honour of bashing the existing government, each individual Veteran loses, as does the Veteran community at large.
To denigrate the value of certain programs in public because they do not meet one’s own personal needs based on exceptional circumstances is a cultural shift for members who once accepted service with unlimited liability and without questions. In addition, the proliferation of personal information related to circumstances of specific cases makes a mockery of our Privacy Act, when the same message contains complaints about invasion of their privacy by staff of Veterans Affairs Canada accessing information in order to identify individual need.
A while ago, the Canadian Navy, Army, and Air Force integrated into one service as the Canadian Forces. Although there were challenges at first, the newly assimilated culture seems to be functioning very well. Yes there was some inter-service and inter-unit rivalry but it became more constructive as a result of the integration, and when conducting operations, we fought for each other, side by side, with a common aim. The effectiveness of the Canadian Forces has always hinged on our unwavering belief that we will support and protect each other and those we are assigned to care for no matter what is thrown at us. I believe that the Veterans community would also benefit from some form of integration , an ‘amalgamation` of minds’ that is, where all Veterans organizations would speak as one on some critical issues that have been researched and documented, with recommendations to Veterans Affairs Canada to rectify problems. In fact, the knowledge, experience and energy in the Veterans population, should and can be very powerful instruments to effect change if well focussed.
The role of an Ombudsman is to be a neutral and impartial agent. While I cannot personally endorse any particular representative or advocacy group, as the only government-mandated voice for Veterans, I can play an important role in bringing Veterans’ concerns to the attention of the Minister and other decision makers through regular informal discussions and by, for example, preparing a yearly compendium of issues of concerns identified by all organizations and Veterans who embrace the vision that “All Canadian Veterans will be treated fairly and in accordance with the Veterans Bill of Rights”. My dual role as Veterans Ombudsman and special advisor to the Minister also gives me the opportunity to provide a Veterans’ perspective on issues that are brought to his attention by the Department, to apprise him of issues that he might not otherwise hear about, and to make recommendations to correct unfair situations.
In addition, my Office can intervene at any time with the Department if someone identifies a case with compelling circumstances; this is why we review carefully all e-mails received and all comments posted on our Facebook page.
I know how much time many of you have invested and the incredible value-added that you have brought to the discussion that has raised the awareness of Veterans issues. Despite our collective differences on some issues, I commend the passion and energy that you have shown in trying to care for our Veterans and their families.
All this to say that just as we were in the service, we are all in this together; we are not distinguished by where and when we served but united by the fact that we served without questions. Our goal should be the same: to ensure that those who serve have access to the services and opportunities they need, in recognition of their service and of the individual sacrifices they and their families have made.
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