15 July 2010

Why do we need a veterans affairs department at all?

Apparently the federal government is considering downsizing the Department of Veterans Affairs as more veterans die off and their numbers shrink. One wonders why we need such a department at all.

The usual justification is well presented by Brian Lee Cowley of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy, who says, "If there is one group to whom the country owes an undeniable debt of gratitude that should be manifested in solicitous attention to their needs, it would be those who risked their lives on behalf of the country." Interesting point, but the "one group" that risk their lives on behalf of the country includes more than soldiers, sailors and airmen. Many others risk their lives in the service of Canada. For example, dozens of construction workers die on the job every year, and they are literally building the future of our country. Are their lives worth less? If they are disabled on the job, as many are, do they deserve less care?

If we are a compassionate society, we should take good care of all those in need. If someone is handicapped, it shouldn't matter whether they were injured in war or when hit by a bus, the degree of support they receive should be generous and it should be equal. If an old person needs assistance, that assistance should be the same whether the recipient served in war or simply spent her entire adult life as a housewife.

Favouring war veterans over other Canadians is yet another salute to militarism, to the macho culture of warrior-worship. In an age when military toys include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, it's time to get beyond the warrior ethos and treat all citizens equally.


  1. Bill, I part company with you on this one. Don't blur the distinction between soldier and military and don't overlook the vastly greater committment we expect from servicemen than we could ever call upon from the civilian sector. They give more, including a lot of our civil liberties and, for some, their lives and their future welfare. A construction worker doesn't risk his life for the country but for a paycheque. A coporal clearing landmines in Bosnia, separated from spouse and family and all the good things we take for granted at home, earns less than a janitor pushing a broom through the halls of Parliament even as the corporal has to wonder if his wife is keeping the kids fed through the food bank.

    this really isn't a salute to militarism nor to the macho culture of warrior-worship.

    I know a bit about this. My Dad was a horribly wounded combat veteran from WWII. He lived with the consequences of his service for the rest of his life. So did his wife and his kids. About the only good thing he got out of it was a lot of living assistance in his final years and that was greatly appreciated, by him and by his children. He earned it.

  2. As always, Mound, I appreciate your comments. My father also suffered for years from his experience in WWII.

    I do feel, however, you are rather too dismissive of construction workers. I have known a number of people in the trades who thoroughly enjoy their work and are deeply proud of their skills and what they contribute to our society. On the other hand, I suspect there may be more than a few military personnel who are in it for the paycheque.

  3. There's no question it's a mixed bag in any vocation, Bill. Are there any things people don't engage in for a range of motives?

    I'm not insensitive to dangerous jobs in the civilian sector. Where I live two major occupations are logging and fishing, both of them can be lethal, far more so than policing for example.

    As for militarism, that's an enternal scourge, part of the human condition and it's driven by so many forces from true patriotism to rank jingoism, today's military/industrial,warfighting complex, but particularly the host of geo-political rivalries; economic, political, security and hegemonic.

    I do tend to agree with Gwynne Dyer, the Brit Ministry of Defence and the latest Pentagon Quadrenniel Defense Review that the generations following us, Bill, may very well experience a century of war as we've never (in our pampered hiatus on earth) never known. Climate change could be a real game changer in this regard as nations and even hemispheric regions fall into conflict, not for the traditional reasons we've known for thousands of years, but out of a quest for simple survival.

    As Dyer has pointed out, every society under severe stress does one thing before it collapses - it seeks the survival of its own people by attacking its neighbours. When it comes to a world wracked by global warming, Dyer contends that every nation's worst enemy will be that standing immediately between it and the equator. In Canada's case that would be ...oh damn!

  4. "If we are a compassionate society …"

    Sadly, we're less so year after year.