Can O’Regan avoid putting his foot in veterans’ mouths?

Hill Times file photo

This piece was first published in the Hill Times on September 18, 2017.

If the first public comments of newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan are anything to go by, veterans and the governing Liberals should be worried. The Trudeau government will have to understand veterans far better. They also should be eager to do more than they promised if they wish to reverse seven decades of ghettoizing veterans and their families into arbitrary castes and classes.

O’Regan, in his first advertised action, visited the Veterans Affairs (VAC) bureaucracy in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the only federal department with its head office located outside Ottawa: “I decided to make it a top priority that I get out here and meet people as quickly as I can.”

For those who have battled VAC over the years, and sometimes decades, it is the senior bureaucracy in Charlottetown that has been the principal source of an often dismissive and antagonistic relationship with veterans and their families. It is not unlike Ottawa’s paternalistic and hostile treatment of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. That the minister thought his “top” (and first) priority was the senior bureaucracy and not veterans, sounds a foreboding trumpet call.… Read the rest

Less pretty words, more substantial action needed for military families

General Jonathan Vance

Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

This piece was first published in the Hill Times on May 31, 2017.

They have been called our “best kept secret.” Will the current government’s defence policy review and decades of tight-fisted budgets continue to relegate the centres that serve our nation’s military and veteran families to social and fiscal obscurity?

It has been more than 30 years since the current 32 Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) began to take shape. The initiative was born in opposition to the failure of Canada’s military bureaucracy to acknowledge the importance of military families, long labelled dependants.

Spouses who showed bravery that even the military had to begrudgingly admire, fought in the courts and political arena to have a say in how the military affects the lives of military families.
Arguably, spouses still have little voice on military matters affecting the lives of their families. MFRCs were not created, and arguably still do not operate, to address their needs. Although mandated to be “managed independently of the chain of command,” reality still hinders MFRCs’ arm’s length aspirations. As Dr. Deborah Harrison, Canada’s leading expert on the impact of military life and culture on families, points out in her 2016 book, Growing up in Armyville, MFRCs are still an “arm of the CAF [Canadian Armed Forces] and, as such, their overriding goal is the operational readiness and retention of CAF members.”

True, each MFRC operates as a charity, governed by a board that must include at least 51 per cent civilian spouses of military members.… Read the rest

Why Canada needs to pry open the doors of the legion’s headquarters

Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Sean Bruyea

The national leadership of the Royal Canadian Legion faces a crisis in confidence with its membership along with Canada’s veterans. All Canadians should be concerned with this, given the legion’s responsibility for the poppy symbol and the millions donated as a result.

The legion once actively and assertively advocated for the rights of veterans and their families. The community work performed by many local branches is highly commendable. Provincial Commands, without consideration of personal reward or enrichment, have frequently launched innovations to assist veterans such as homeless-shelter programs.

In contrast, paid senior leadership at national headquarters, known as Dominion Command and located in a suburb of Ottawa, is at risk of being perceived as out of touch with not just veterans but legion membership. Much of the blame for plummeting membership can be placed directly on the leadership’s shoulders.

Why should veterans care about how the legion manages its affairs? After all, of the legion’s about 254,000 paid members on June 1, 62,000 are listed as “ordinary” members. This category includes those who served in Canada’s military but also retired and serving members of the RCMP, civilian police forces, armed forces of all 28 NATO nations, as well as the Canadian Coast Guard.… Read the rest