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Remembrance should be year-round

It has been 11 days since the 11th hour of the 11th of November. While the poppies are no longer visible, the veterans should remain a priority in this country. Remembrance Day should hold significant meaning to our society and yet when the war ends and the uniform is hung up, these soldiers fall between the cracks of Canada’s political foundation.

The college needs to do more for our returning servicemen and servicewomen.

The best way that colleges and universities can get involved is by providing free tuition, or other similar financial compensation, to veterans returning from overseas. It shouldn’t be a choice but an obligation for every post-secondary school to do this.

After putting their lives on the line, the least that the college can do is help these men and women pick up where they left off.

Education is the most valuable commodity in society – the driving force that propels one up the ladder of success.
To someone who lived with the hope that the hug they shared with their mother before departing overseas would not be the last; the gripping fear that everywhere you turn someone is trying to take a shot at you; the prayer to return from a world of horror to a sanctuary of familiarity and comfort, an education is the least we can do to compensate them for their service.

At this point in time, the college doesn’t have a policy in place to offer free tuition to war veterans. The closest the college comes to that is Project Hero, an honorable program that provides scholarships to the offspring of fallen soldiers. As generous a program as it may be, it seems as though it is yet another circumstance where veterans’ affairs are being swept under the rug. Project Hero helps the wrong generation. It doesn’t help the veteran who has just left the Canadian Forces after multiple tours overseas.

It seems as though when we think of war veterans we think of our grandfathers who served in the Second World War, but it’s important to remember those who have served more recently in Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions all around the world.

Our current government isn’t treating our veterans well enough and Remembrance Day is a missed opportunity to examine how we treat them. We can help by discussing our policies and procedures surrounding veterans who have recently returned home, and that should be going on year-round.

Stephen Harper’s government has recently come under fire for rejecting two-thirds of applicants to a federal burial fund for impoverished veterans.

That’s right. Soldiers who put their own lives on the line to live day and night, month-to-month, year-to-year, in the bowels of humanity come home and then can’t afford a proper burial when they die.

These men and women are returning home from unimaginable death and destruction, trying desperately to integrate back into society and Canada’s government can’t even pick up the pieces for those who have trouble doing so.

For example, retired Master Cpl. Kevin Clark, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was billed $427.97 for taking an extra two days of sick leave. When asked to issue an apology to Clark, and dismiss the bill, the Department of National Defence declined.

Declined.

Equally infuriating is the dichotomy between how the government treats workplace injuries and how it treats wounded veterans. Veterans’ compensation is capped just under $300,000 but other workplace injuries have no such cap.
That’s right, someone who burns their hand in the McDonald’s deep fryer can receive more money than a veteran who burnt their entire face from exploding artillery shells in the line of duty. How is that fair?

We wax nostalgic about the ‘greatest generation’ – those who grew up during the Great Depression and then went on to fight in the Second World War, but we forget that it was the G.I. Bill that provided much of the opportunity that expanded America’s middle class. The Americans provided millions of returning soldiers with cash payments to cover tuition so that they could receive an education. If the government won’t step up with a program like that, then post-secondary institutions should seek private donations to endow scholarships for our veterans.

In September the Harper government announced over $11 million in new funding for mental health programs, but with personnel still in Afghanistan, and 20 other operations listed officially on the Canadian Forces website, this money will quickly be spread thin.

In contrast, the Conservative government has spent or announced over $28 million to commemorate the anniversary of the War of 1812.

Testimony was heard Thursday in front of the standing committee on Veterans Affairs, that veterans who are approved to receive disability benefits for mental health disorders now rank more than 14,500 troops. Only 2,000 troops were approved in 2002 when the data was first collected. With numbers climbing at such a high rate, how can cuts to these services be justified?

While the government is content to propagandize former wars, the Globe and Mail reported Nov. 11, that a 2011 survey on the bases in Petawawa and Cold Lake showed that only about 50 per cent of respondents were “satisfied with the help they had received, both for themselves and their families.”

Clearly, we can do better.

Until we do so, we are biting the hand that fed us.

Respect for the sacrifice of veterans is best provided for year-round, by policy, and the proper fulfillment of the contract that we as a nation, enter ethically with the men and women who serve our country, that we will serve them as they have served us.

Post-secondary institutions can play a role in this by providing scholarships to provide for free or discounted tuition for some of our returning veterans.

Lest we forget, it is they who sacrificed for us.

By: Jesse Kelly and Caitie McRae
Algonquin Times

The Algonquin Times is a newspaper produced by journalism students for the Algonquin College community.

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