Lest we forget needs to be more than symbolic

Letisha Reimer was just 13 attending a suburban high school in Abbotsford, B.C. when she was randomly stabbed to death by 21-year old Gabriel Klein.
Klein had no criminal record, but an unnamed source who professionally crossed paths with Klein when he was a student in Red Deer said he was a young lad headed for trouble and needing intervention.
Klein didn’t have a criminal record but he was living in the triad of pending disaster—untreated/unsupported mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness.
The late Premier Ralph Klein’s solution to all social ills was to decimate social services, leave mental illness and addictions on the street and “give the homeless a free bus trip to B.C.”
So how do you think that’s working with the Letisha Reimer family today?
Which brings me to the real topic of today’s column and that is our collective failure to care for our active and retired soldiers and reservists.
You watch hockey or CFL football and we make out that we are so proud of our Armed Forces. We don our poppies and faithfully hold Remembrance Day services across the country on November 11, but what we see are the winners—those that came through relatively unscathed from battle, or have spent more time in their uniform than battle fatigues.
Since 2014 the Globe and Mail has been tracking suicides from among those who served in Afghanistan and their count today is at least 70.
Ironically the federal government doesn’t keep complete records on reservists who made up more than one-quarter of those serving in Afghanistan nor carefully track those who have left the service.
We send these young men and women into battle for our country yet the horrors they see and participate in cause many to return in a state of mental distress.
Many soldiers who want to continue in the Armed Forces don’t seek mental health support for fear it will be seen as a weakness and end their careers. Those who leave the service after tours of duty or are reservists are often forgotten.
In the previous government’s enthusiasm to balance the books before the last election, money was recaptured from the Department of Defense, including eliminating many supports and long-term benefits for mentally and physically injured reservists and retired soldiers.
Ontario’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in addiction and mental health.
Between health care costs, law enforcement, corrections, social services costs and lost productivity, CAMH estimates the economic burden of not dealing with mental illness in Canada is $51 billion per year.
The cost to the individual suffering from this affliction, their families, and the families of random victims is unquantifiable.
Our men and women in the Armed Forces should be respected and highly regarded, but never forgotten after their service is completed.
In addition to wearing a poppy, donating to the Legion, attending a Remembrance Day Service, please take time to read Retired Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire’s recently released book, “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”.
Guaranteed it will change how many of us approach Remembrance Day and how we react when governments attempt to balance the budget on the backs of our Veterans and those in active service.

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