Author Topic: A Veteran, Regardless of Age!  (Read 1666 times)

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A Veteran, Regardless of Age!
« on: March 24, 2012, 08:54:40 PM »
A Veteran, Regardless of Age

 First Posted: Jan 11 2012 00:36 AM

Canada should treat all ex-soldiers equally, irrespective of age and the persistent image of the Second World War vet.

Having gained numerous professional qualifications including infantry, logistics, and intelligence, as well as an advanced degree from the Royal Military College, by the time I retired from the Canadian Forces in 2004, I had completed over 20 years of full- or part-time service. Certainly, by even the most discerning historical precedent, I had earned the right to be called a veteran.

But many seem baffled by the application of the venerable ?v? word, and all that it implies, to a 40-something or, God forbid, someone younger. Noticing my car?s special veteran licence plates, people ask me, ?Is this your Dad?s car?? And when I tell them it?s mine, the usual response is: ?You look too young to be a veteran.?

Each year on Remembrance Day, an 80- or 90-year old ex-soldier will be venerated as a ?real? war veteran, even if that person only served for a year or two, working as a cook, clerk, or hospital orderly here in Canada during the Second World War, and barely learned to shoot a rifle. And somewhere in the background, there will be a 30- or 40-year-old battle-scarred former combat soldier who partook in deadly fire fights during the wars in Bosnia or Afghanistan, and lost his leg to an improvised explosive device. Despite these experiences, commitments to country, and battle wounds to prove it, this person will not be seen as a bona-fide veteran, and will instead be referred to as an ex-soldier, former peacekeeper, or wounded warrior.

So what makes someone a ?real? veteran? Some serving members of the Canadian Forces receive benefits from Veterans Affairs, and can therefore be included in veteran statistics. Generally, though, the Department of National Defence (DND) and Veterans Affairs Canada define a veteran as someone who fulfills ?the DND?s military occupational classification requirements? and has ?been released from the Forces with an honourable discharge.? That includes me, in my 40s, just as it includes people in my father and grandfather?s generation, and even the late-teen or 20-something ?kid? who has just returned from Afghanistan.

Not wanting to admit to age discrimination, some say they are reluctant to apply the term ?veteran? to younger ex-soldiers because people in my age group did not fight in a ?real? war like the Second World War.

Does a war fought on a larger geopolitical scale make the service of individual Canadians more valuable? And what corresponding value does this attitude assign to subsequent generations of Canadian servicemen who witnessed wars in Cyprus (1974), former Yugoslavia (1991-95), and Afghanistan? How can a soldier who took a bullet for Canada in 2006 during the Battle of Panjwaii in Afghanistan be considered more valuable then, let?s say, one who took a bullet for Canada during the Normandy landings of 1944?

What these people seem to be arguing is that younger veterans did not fight in wars as ?deadly? as the Second World War. But, statistically, just how much deadlier was the Second World War to the Canadian military? According to the research of Sean Bruyea, a noted veteran advocate, the casualty rate for the approximately 700,000 soldiers who are serving, or have served, in the Canadian Forces since the Korean War is 7.5 per cent, not far behind the casualty rate from the Second World War of just more than 10 per cent. Keep in mind that a large portion of Canada?s Second World War service personnel never actually saw battle.

And, brace yourself for this, the casualty rate for our current Canadian Forces is actually about 0.6 per cent higher than the casualty rate for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, and 5.4 per cent higher than the casualty rate for members of the Navy during the same conflict.

I have been reassured that people?s perception of me as a ?real veteran? will change as my cohort ages and becomes less fresh of face. Unfortunately, by then it may be too late for my cohort to see the benefits ? the highest possible support for health care and financial needs ? that Canadians and their government claim they owe to all our veterans.

Perceiving younger veterans as a kind of ?veteran-lite? has no doubt made it easier for successive governments to finagle their way out of this commitment and increasingly divest themselves of their responsibility to provide us with the same benefits that older veterans ? particularly those who served in the Second World War ? received.

Unlike previous generations, today?s veterans will not have the security and reliability of veteran disability pensions for service-related injuries. Those generous programs aimed at easing the transition from military to civilian life (such as subsidized university education and property grants) that were enjoyed by Second World War veterans are only a fantasy to today?s younger veterans. Furthermore, post-Korean War veterans are not entitled, even as many of us enter our senior years, to the very generous suite of health, family support, and respite services offered in Canada?s veteran hospitals.

It seems that in the eyes of the Canadian politicians and public, my long military service and willingness to fight and die for Canada simply does not matter as much as that of our older generation. But, despite the public?s perception, war is always ?real,? and the commitment to fight for one?s country in any period is deserving of respect.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

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