Opinion

KENT

Canada, we should be ashamed for turning our back on veterans

Simon Kent

By Simon Kent, Special to the Toronto Sun

(Toronto Sun files)

(Toronto Sun files)

This should not be how a grateful nation says thank you.

Buried deep within the detail of the City of Toronto’s 2013 interim report on homelessness is a single startling fact.

Around 16% of those living rough on the streets of Canada’s biggest city said they had served in the Canadian military.

That’s right. Almost one in five self-identify as military veterans yet they make their home on the sidewalk or under a bridge.

This is something that should shock all Canadians.

Nobody is forced to serve in our all-volunteer navy, army and air force. People choose to don our military uniform and prepare to defend Canada from her enemies at home and abroad at considerable personal sacrifice.

Be it in the skies over Libya or the mountains of Afghanistan, in recent years more and more military personnel have gone into harm’s way for Canada and freedom.

Then there are those who also stand and serve without leaving the country but are essential none the less.

The findings of the Toronto survey roughly align with a study released two weeks ago by Western University in London, Ont.

It found that Canadian Forces veterans, who at one time served and protected their country, are now facing one of the toughest battles of their lives – homelessness.

A national study by assistant nursing professor Susan Ray and nursing professor Cheryl Forchuk, the first of its kind on Canada’s homeless veterans, identified this new trend of homeless ex-military personnel.

Prior research on the subject, which has primarily originated in the United States, presents the scenario of homeless veterans having seen overseas deployment, witnessing trauma, having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and not being able to adjust when they get home.

Research with Canadian homeless veterans shows a whole different number of causes – the primary one being alcohol abuse – but it is a growing problem all the same.

“For a lot of them it was from drinking, which started in the military, escalated over time and 10 years later you would see the alcoholism, and through that they would lose their job, their relationships, their housing,” Prof. Ray says.

Perhaps the single biggest challenge for vets is making the successful transition from military to civilian life and that remains a large factor in the veterans’ homelessness.

A spokesman for Julian Fantino, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, told the Toronto Sun that in 2012 Ottawa launched a national pilot project reaching out to former servicemen and women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“Canadian veterans are entitled to thousands of dollars worth of benefits and services that are not available to the general public, which makes even one case of a homeless veteran deeply unfortunate and unnecessary,” he said.

The spokesman urged anyone who is aware of a vet living on the streets to contact 1-866-522-2122 (English) or 1-866-522-2022 (French) so that emergency funding and a certified case manager can be assigned.

Which shows that the federal minister is aware of the problem, however waiting for those in need to ask for help may not be the best way forward.

Too many of the homeless live on the margins of society and remain unaware of how close help can be.

Plenty speak about the difficulty in adjusting to an unstructured civilian life and the lack of supports at all levels they received BEFORE moving from military to civilian life.

No matter the reason or the causes, the fact that increasing numbers of our former military personnel face a life of homeless desperation should shame us all.

Poll

Does Canada treat its veterans well?


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