Not any more

Veterans react to looming ombud departure

In Canada on August 18, 2010 at 08:49

Some former soldiers are speaking out about their treatment after the federal government’s decision not to renew the appointment of the country’s ombudsman for veterans.

Dennis Manuge served in Bosnia, but was medically discharged over a worsening back injury. Manuge was given 75 per cent of his salary, but a $400 a month disability benefit was cancelled.

Now, he’s so angry he refuses to wear his medals. Manuge and 6,500 other soldiers in the same predicament have launched a class action suit.

“When we need it most — when the uniform comes off and we’re injured — we’re kind of hung out to dry and left on our own,” he said.

Michael Barnewell served in Afghanistan, and lost his right leg below the knee after he stepped on a landmine.

“It’s changed my life in almost every way,” Barnewell said.

Under Canada’s Veterans Charter, Barnwell received a lump sum payment. If he had been wounded before the charter came into effect in 2006, he would have received a pension for life. The difference is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“If I live for another 50 years, my lump sum payment obviously doesn’t get any better, and it ends up being about one-tenth of what I would have gotten in monthly payments,” he said.

That was just one of the many problems with Canada’s veterans system that ombudsman Pat Stogran lashed out against on Tuesday. He accused the government of being deceptive and obstructionist, both with veterans and with him as he sought to improve the system.

At a press conference, Stogran vowed to spend his remaining three months in his job highlighting the treatment of veterans. He wouldn’t comment on the government’s decision not to reappoint him to a second term, saying it was the government’s prerogative.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said the government is punishing Stogran for speaking out by not extending his term.

“His actions on behalf of veterans have embarrassed the government because it brought attention to the inadequacies in the system,” Harris said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday that there are no appointments for life.

“If the ombudsman has concerns or suggestions, the government remains open and is always open to hearing those suggestions and incorporating them into our future programs, but we are hoping that he can continue to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” the prime minister told reporters in French.


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