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Duing wars one expects casualties to occur and Canada like our allies has experienced many in each conflict. Each time a fatal casualty occurs, Canadians reflect on the loss and the grief that those left behind endure. Public expressions of sympathy, from the government flow to loved ones and we witness the ceremonial homecoming in the media. What we don’t experience is the number of “wounded” casualties that may have occurred in or near the fatal event and what has become of them. One wonders how many there are and whether our wounded troops are being given the very best of care.
To answer the first part, some time ago, DND advised that the number of “injured and wounded” was approximately 1100; including many classed as maimed (loss of limbs, loss of eyes, and loss of hearing). During testimony to parliament, LGen Leslie, Commander of the Army, estimated that the number of operational stress casualties was more than four times the number of physically injured (4000+). Are these being well cared for? What happens to the wounded volunteer citizen soldier (the reservist)?
Recently the government announced the creation of joint treatment centres at the major military bases across Canada and in Ottawa. I say “well done” but such is late to need. The Canadian Forces went to war in Afghanistan in 2002, and with the experience in the Balkans why the late creation of these centres? Are they fully staffed? The CF fought in Bosnia in the early 90’s and sustained both physical and mental injuries—how is the care for these casualties going? Recall that in the mid nineties, the CF reduced its health care system so much that it was almost rendered ineffective. Further during the same period, the successive governments of Canada had so tampered with Canada‘s health care system that it was in jeopardy. Criticisms by the many were reacted to with claims that one does not create and recruit doctors, and needed specialists overnight.
I am advised non-military doctors and psychiatrists that are engaged by DND are “contracted”; that is these provide services to clinics when asked and in accordance with their contracts. Are there enough? Is the care timely and effective? It would seem that the processes to obtain wheel chairs and prosthetics for injured CF members are being corrected. What of the need for physiotherapy and occupational therapy specialists, psychiatric care specialists etc.? Success in treating those who suffered “operational shock” in the two World Wars and the Korean War eluded our health care system. Similarly, there was little success in treating the “peacekeepers” and those who fought in Balkans operations and the Gulf War. Will treating the mentally injured be a success for those who fought in Afghanistan? This is a question that deserves an answer. After all, we sent Canadians to fight for our values, and we owe them the best of care. To illustrate but one example of my concern for health care, I am advised the one psychiatrist who oversees the operational stress injury clinics and treatment of patients at a major military base has been absent for the past four months and that many clinics have been cancelled during his absence. Is this a symptomatic sign of caring for the troops across Canada? Given the complex application process for veterans to seek health care and the seemingly lengthy response times that have been the subject of public criticisms in the media, I would ask our elected representatives, are resources to “heal” the injured adequate and available in a timely manner? I invite readers to ask their elected representatives similar searching questions.
Chair, Defence Committee, Dominion Command
The Royal Canadian Legion