As featured in the Huffington Post, Canadian Press Correspondent Murray Brewster discusses remarks from distinguished former military, Senator Romeo Dallaire, regarding the vast divide between the government’s political messaging promoting the interests of Canada’s veterans and the legal stand being taken by lawyers in the prominent class-action lawsuit brought forward by veterans of the Afghan war. According to an article entitled, “Romeo Dallaire: Tory Complaints Over Veterans Costs ‘Pissing Me Off’”, the issue of inadequate support services for Canadian veterans is discussed, as the recent statement filed with the BC Superior Court argues that there is “no social contract” between Canada and its soldiers, despite their work in service of their country.
As a social worker with a limited understanding of politics, I usually shy away from stories like these, but I am impressed by Senator Romeo Dallaire’s recommendation “that National Defence and Veterans Affairs should be folded into one department, each with its own budget, in order to provide uninterrupted care to the wounded” especially as I question what constitutes “a social contract” between a country and its veterans. This social justice issue can be analyzed by both the social pathology view and the social disorganization perspective, as the current system of inadequate support services is reflective of the social pathology view as it is not taking enough accountability for the overwhelming transition back to civilian life after serving in the armed forces. While these individuals are going to serve their country, their subsequent struggle to return to life out of the armed forces seems to be blamed entirely on them when they are maladjusted to civilian society; in stark contrast to this, a more responsive system of support services might benefit from taking the social disorganization perspective into consideration, as significant changes in people’s living and work arrangements often result in personal disorganization, like mental health issues, substance abuse, family problems, etc.
With this abhorrent lack of resources, these individuals continue to be oppressed by lack of opportunity and blatant unaccountability from the country for which they risked their lives. One substantial form of this is at the level of oppression of violence, as these individuals are consequentially in constant fear of potential violence, solely on the basis of their group identity as veterans, as a direct result of their service in the armed forces. The time spent serving for their country is inextricably linked to their subsequent fears that they will be subjected to violence even in the context of civilian life, when they return to the larger society, as life in the armed forces is often laden with violence on a regular basis, for which, they need to be on alert to respond with necessary force. Just from their collective history, these individuals have been subjected to a negative culture of violence from their group experiences as veterans. Ironically, while they were trained in physical violence for work, they are later admonished for using these tactics when they return to civilian life.
This situation represents civilian life as an uneven playing field for returning veterans as they are ill-equipped to cope with the transition, given the drastic lack of support services provided by the country, for which they served. While healthcare is provided for them, it is not appropriately catered to their needs upon return to civilian life, as these individuals are not receiving sufficient counselling support, especially when a large number of veterans deal with mental health concerns, substance abuse, family problems, etc.
The cause of this social justice issue can be easily attributed to the inherent alienation and oppression of life within the armed forces, inadequate support for veteran transition back to civilian life, and the stigma associated with male vulnerability and help-seeking. Since individuals in the army are commonly alienated from the general society that they serve, they can be considered to be oppressed as second class citizens relegated to work towards the interests of the dominant group. In this way, their efforts are exerted to the detriment of themselves and the benefit of others, which further perpetuates their inferior status in the vicious cycle of oppression. Beyond this, when veterans return to the larger society, they are not even provided with adequate support services to help them cope with the transition to civilian life. Adding to this predicament is the stigma often associated with any display of male vulnerability and help-seeking, especially from those considered courageous heroes, after sacrificing their lives for others.
This social justice issue could be addressed in any number of ways, but given the identified causes that contribute to these consequences; three recommendations are most applicable. These include: an improved system of support services for veterans; increased distribution of information regarding the challenges with the transition back to civilian life when recruiting for the armed forces; and a revolutionary transformation of the discourse around male vulnerability, help-seeking and self-care, as language is integral to societal views, especially within a critical theory framework.
Given the paucity of assistance provided to this vulnerable population of veterans, there is a distinct need for services to be expanded and improved so as to cater to their unique needs as developed through their service to their country and fellow people. Furthermore, since this problem is affecting veterans as a group, as a direct result of their service in the armed forces, greater effort should be made on the part of the government so as to allow potential new recruits as informed a decision as possible, given the challenges associated with the transition back into civilian life after this kind of work. While these two outlined recommendations could give hope for veterans, an abundance of services for well informed veterans would serve little purpose in the current discourse around male vulnerability. Instead, there needs to be a widespread renaissance of the language around help-seeking, such that individuals will not only feel comfortable accessing services, but understand the inherent need to do so in the interest of appropriate self-care. These three recommendations in combination with each other will allow for a necessary change in the social fabric of Canada so that veterans will get both the support and respect deserving of them for serving their country.