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Canada’s Vets Stand Strong, United Against Cuts

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Canada’s indigenous persons have two opportunities to officially commemorate their heroes each year: First on November 8, Aboriginal Veterans Day, and then again on November 11, which is Remembrance Day and falls on the same day as its U.S. counterpart, Veterans Day. Aboriginal Veterans Day prompts varying degrees of celebration around the country, with Remembrance Day generally bringing a bigger turnout, according to Richard Blackwolf, president of the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association.

But this year both commemorative days will be preceded, perhaps eclipsed, by a Veterans National Day of Protest on November 5 that will cross racial lines.

The federal government plans to slash the budget of Veterans Affairs Canada by more than $226 million over the next two years, the Canadian Press and other media have reported. The ministry’s annual budget is $3.5 billion, and the cuts are predicated on the idea that with World War II veterans passing on, there will be fewer vets to fund in coming years, Blackwolf said.

Veterans Canada insists there will be no reduction in benefits, according to CTV, but the network pointed out that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seeking to cut all spending by up to 10 percent in coming years.

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Time was when aboriginals who returned from war and went back to their reserves did not receive the same benefits as people who lived off-reserve, Blackwolf said, because of rules related to the Indian Act. Many of those problems have since been solved, to varying degrees of satisfaction. Now, new ones are cropping up to take their place.

Aboriginal and Canadian vets are uniting against a new government policy that would change the way disabled soldiers are compensated for disabling injuries such as limb loss. New policies, Blackwolf said, would institute a cash-and-carry system, a onetime payment to get troops reintegrated back home.

But it’s a far cry from the “perpetual care” afforded to vets of the World Wars and the Korean War, Blackwolf said. Vets whose limbs have been blown off by IEDs, for instance, need more than what the new policy would provide. Blackwolf cited a Calgary man who has been offered a flat $250,000 for the loss of both legs in Afghanistan. Simply redoing his house to make it accessible will eat up that money, let alone pay for care.