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Veterans Affairs announces plans to better honour modern veterans, but it has one P.E.I. vet concerned

The Daniel J. Macdonald building in Charlottetown, headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada.
The Daniel J. Macdonald building in Charlottetown, headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada. - Stu Neatby

Marle Gaudet knows the effect recognition can have on Canada’s veterans.

While she is open to telling her story of PTSD now, she would not have been so forthcoming five or six years ago, she said.

“I wouldn’t have the strength or the courage or felt that it mattered, but when Veterans (Affairs Canada) acknowledged me in 2009 — and that was a two-and-a-half-year fight — it helped me and it started me on my healing process.”

Veteran Marle Gaudet worries Veterans Affairs plans to recognize more veterans could open old wounds or worsen mental health without proper supports in place. - Contributed
Veteran Marle Gaudet worries Veterans Affairs plans to recognize more veterans could open old wounds or worsen mental health without proper supports in place. - Contributed

 

An announcement from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) on Monday has Gaudet hopeful more members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including those like herself who served on Canadian soil, will have their service acknowledged.

“They’ve taken their first step, for sure. They’ve actually acknowledged it’s not just when you go (overseas), there’s many forms.”

But she worries some veterans struggling with mental health could be negatively affected by having such public reminders of their service.

“I don’t think (VAC) should move forward until they know they can put the supports in place. They need that support there first.”

Open discussions

In an online presentation, Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay introduced plans to broaden the approach to recognizing veterans in commemorative activities.

Beginning next month and going through 2021, VAC will engage with the public — including veterans, currently serving members, the commemoration advisory group and other stakeholders — to help develop a 10-year strategic plan.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay - SaltWire file
Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay - SaltWire file

 

The goal of the project is to better represent modern veterans, while still honouring those who served in earlier conflicts like the First and Second World Wars and Korea and maintaining commitments to maintaining military memorials and cemeteries around the world, said MacAulay.

“The fact is, we have to recognize the people who put their lives on the line for us and that is what we’re doing.”

Owen Parkhouse, another P.E.I. veteran, says those discussions are crucial to VAC portraying veterans the way they would like to see themselves.

“If they talk to the right people, they’ll do it right," he said.

Commemoration

Given the early stages of the project, the government isn’t saying how it would like to see ceremonies like Remembrance Day change, but Parkhouse says it doesn’t require a huge overhaul. 

“Veterans don’t ask for very much and I think for the most part it’s just recognition that they did what their country asked them to do and this is the recognition that they deserve.”

In shifting the focus of these ceremonies, it will also help educate the public about what veterans look like, he said.

“A lot of Canadians think that a veteran is someone that’s grey-haired and was in the Second World War, forgetting that those lads, when they came back in 1945 and 1946, were young lads without grey hair.”

Mental health

Parkhouse thinks the recognition of recent veterans is long overdue and could do a lot to help veterans struggling with whether their service made an impact, he said. 

“It hurts when you’re not mentioned at commemorations or your mission isn’t mentioned at commemorations.”

Though Gaudet is worried about advancing too quickly and skeptical of VAC's ability to follow through, she says she's trying to view the announcement in a positive light.

“This is not the first time I’ve heard them say, ‘hey, we’re stepping up.’ I’ve watched it through the years. Each time it gets a little bit better and gives us a little bit more hope.”

Michael Robar is The Guardian's national affairs reporter.

Twitter.com/MichaelRobar

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