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In early 2010, Colonel Pat Stogran repeatedly criticised the federal government’s treatment of veterans. He deplored the obstructive bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs and of key government agencies which had prevented him from serving the interests of former soldiers. In the summer of 2010, Stogran was informed that he would not be appointed for a second term. The Conservative government claimed that the replacement of Stogran by Guy Parent was not politically motivated.
When the Conservative Party was in opposition prior to 2006, it promised a series of measures aimed at protecting Canada’s veterans. In the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives specifically promised to introduce a Veterans Bill of Rights that would require Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to give servicemen and women the benefit of the doubt when they make a claim for benefits or apply for assistance. The Veterans Bill of Rights also allowed for the establishment of an Office of the Veterans Ombudsman.
The Veterans Bill of Rights was passed on April 3rd, 2007, and the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman was created. Since the passage of this Bill of Rights, the condition of Canada’s veterans has received substantially less attention from politicians in both the Harper government and the opposition.
Colonel Stogran immediately began to actively campaign for better treatment of veterans and better recognition of their rights by the Canadian government. He repeatedly expressed dismay at the failure of the Canadian government to live up to its obligations to veterans, criticizing “the system” as inadequate to defend veterans' rights.
In particular, Stogran raised the issue of the handling of veteran benefits, deploring the “penny-pitching insurance company mentality” of VAC. He also expressed his preoccupation about the fact that the New Veterans Charter seemed designed to save the government money by reducing veterans’ disability payments and by replacing their pensions with lump-sum payments and disability stipends.
Stogran wrote several reports to the government expressing his preoccupation that senior federal bureaucrats, including officials at the Privy Council Office and Treasury Board, were increasingly unwilling to help soldiers, especially soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The reports did not get a response.
Eventually, Stogran tired of the government’s lack of cooperation. “We started putting pressure on,” said Stogran. “They basically told me to pound salt. It became clear they weren’t going to co-operate. It was a waiting game for me to leave.”
Following Stogran’s public criticisms in the spring of 2010, the Harper government informed Stogran privately that it would not renew his three year mandate as Veterans Ombudsman. (A couple of days later, the news was leaked.) Upon hearing the news, Stogran decided to call a news conference on August 17, 2010. He wanted to put pressure on the government by speaking up in front of the media and thus to raise awareness about the state of veterans’ affairs in Canada.
A half dozen soldiers who had been injured in the Afghan war, and were still serving in the army, wanted to join Stogran and speak out publicly. However, a military officer called them to warn that General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defense Staff, did not support their decision. Fear of repercussions prevented the soldiers from speaking up.
Nevertheless, Stogran was joined at his conference by half a dozen veterans, including Brian Dyck, who suffers from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and who was refused benefits.
Stogran told the media about an “obstructive and deceptive” bureaucracy that prevented him from doing his work. “It is beyond my comprehension how the system could knowingly deny so many of our veterans the services and benefits that the people and the government of Canada recognized a long, long time ago as being their obligation to provide,” Stogran said.
Stogran’s public advocacy for veterans at the press conference, and the press coverage of the issues that his advocacy brought forth, resulted in a number of changes. For instance, the government overturned a previous VAC decision that had prevented veterans with ALS from receiving disability benefits and home-care support. Plans were made to amend the New Veterans Charter. The government also said it would spend $2 billion over two decades to care for wounded veterans. Moreover, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay decided to spend another $52 million for new initiatives to support injured military personnel.
Despite these changes, Stogran remains skeptical about the government’s intention to deal with persisting systemic problems. “It’s political smoke and mirrors for them to say $2 billion is coming over the next 20 years and that the cheque is in the mail,” commented Stogran.
In November 2010, Stogran was replaced as Ombudsman by Guy Parent, a former Chief Warrant Officer of the Canadian Forces. Parent has been far less critical of the government. Minister Blackburn maintained that Strogran was not fired. “We think, after three years, a new person will give new suggestion,” Blackburn commented.
Strogran’s supporters believe that the colonel was ousted for criticizing the federal bureaucracy and the Harper government.
- October 2007: Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson appoints Colonel Pat Stogran as Canada’s first Veterans Ombudsman.
- 2007-2010: Stogran is critical of the government’s treatment of veterans.
- August 2010: The Conservative government tells Stogran it will not appoint him to a second term.
- August 17, 2010: Stogran and other veterans express discontent over government treatment of veterans, especially the replacement existing pensions with lump-sum payments and disability stipends.
- November 10, 2010: Pat Stogran is replaced by Guy Parent, who expresses less or no dissent about government action or inaction on veterans’ issues.
Role or Position
Colonel Pat Stogran was Commanding Officer of troops in Afghanistan and Canada’s first Veterans Ombudsman, serving from November 2007 to November 2010.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: Colonel Stogran took his responsibility to look out for veterans seriously and did an excellent job. His non-renewal shows intolerance to criticism, even when well-founded and appropriately expressed.
- Equality: The non-renewal of Pat Stogran, leading to an absence of strong voice for Canada’s veterans, impacts on their real and potential well-being. Long-term consequences for veterans of inadequate support include a lack of deserved disability benefits and services, a delay in response to applications and complaints, as well as a growing mistrust between veterans, the government and its officials. Veterans are not less deserving of respect and care than other Canadians who serve their country and do dangerous work. If anything, they should be honoured.
- Free Speech: The intimidation of soldiers to prevent their participation in a press conference, after they put their lives on the line for Canada, in order to prevent their advocacy of just treatment for themselves and their fellow vets, is wrong. Their voices should be heard. The absolute least we can do as Canadians is listen.
Photo: CommandInfluence.com (Pat Stogran)