Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29
, of the Copyright Act.Wounded will have easier time getting transfers
By MURRAY BREWSTER The Canadian Press
Wed. Dec 26 Article link
OTTAWA — Soldiers who’ve lost limbs or suffered other grievous wounds in Afghanistan will soon find it easier to transfer to training — or other specialties within the Canadian Forces, says the country’s top military commander.
In the first eight months of this year more than 100 Canadian soldiers were injured badly enough on the battlefields of Kandahar to be evacuated home to what many consider to be an uncertain fate.
The Defence Department will not release a precise accounting of the total number of wounded.
One of the first questions Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier says he hears from wounded, most of whom he’s met, is: "Sir, do I have a future in the Canadian Forces?"
The latest episode took place a couple of weeks back and involved a young platoon commander from CFB Valcartier, Que., whose left leg was shredded below the knee as he struggled in vain to reach a comrade in a bombed-out vehicle last fall.
"You’re damn right" you have a future, was Hillier’s answer to the young lieutenant, a Royal Military College graduate, whom he declined to identify.
The same kind of encounters are happening more and more frequently, forcing both the army and the Defence Department to grapple with human resource and health issues it hasn’t faced since the Korean War.
Asked in a year-end interview whether a new policy, meant to keep injured soldiers in uniform, will make it easier for them to transfer to less strenuous occupations, Hillier answered: "Absolutely."
Soldiers will be required to make the decisions individually, based upon what’s best for their career, but red-tape impediments are expected to be removed.
"We have 115 other specialists," Hillier said. "If the wear and tear of being an infantry officer with a (prosthetic limb) is too much, that’ll be his decision to make, then we have all of these other specialities that we’d want you to have a look at."
The quality of treatment given to those wounded in the Afghan war received increasing public attention during the last year as troops, many of whom have no other skills than soldiering, have been forced to confront what can sometimes be an indifferent bureaucracy.
The policy was drafted last summer in the waning days of Gordon O’Connor’s tenure as defence minister, but has yet to be implemented, despite the growing number of Hillier’s emotional interviews with young soldiers.
Hillier defended the delay by saying many of the injured are still recovering and face a long road of rehabilitation before they’re eligible to return to duty.
"We don’t need to rush. We need to get it right."
Under the current system, a soldier who becomes disabled has three years to recover and meet the fitness standard for overseas operations — known as the universality of service rule. If they cannot meet the requirement, they have no choice but to face a medical discharge.
The system was introduced by Hillier as a way to improve fitness in what had become in the late 1990s an increasingly flabby Forces. He has resisted efforts to tinker with the base requirements of the universality rule, despite internal pressure to bend the rules for wounded.
There have been remarkable advancements in prosthetic limbs, which allow amputees the opportunity to remain physically fit, said Hillier.
The message he’s been giving troops is: as long as they pass the fitness test, the injured soldier will be able to retrain for other occupations.
A problem just as vexing, which has yet to be addressed by either the Defence Department or Veterans Affairs Canada, involves the wait time for benefits faced by medically discharged soldiers.
Since members of the Forces are not allowed to apply for health benefits, such as counselling, until after they are released, there is normally a "gap of several months," warned a briefing note to O’Connor, which was released earlier this year.
An official with Veterans Affairs acknowledged in July there is a problem, but no formal steps have been taken to close the gap.