An Afghan Veteran and his Struggle for Health Benefits

Few stories have generated as much feedback as my recent series on Corporal Glen Kirkland, the 29 year old Afghan war veteran and his very public struggle for health benefits.

Arrival at Ramp Ceremony, 2007. (CP Photo)

Kirkland barely surived an ambush by Taliban snipers back in 2007.  Three of his colleagues died in the attack.  To this day, he suffers from PTSD along with a long list of other injuries:

“I’ve lost a part of sight in my right eye, I’ve lost 75% of my hearing, and I’m still picking out metal in my face when I shave in the morning” he told me in an interview.

Kirkland is upset that injured veterans who serve less than 10 years won’t qualify for a military pension. He fears he won’t be able to pay his extensive medical bills or psychological therapy when he is discharged.

So last week, Kirkland accepted an invitation to appear before the House Defence Committee studying the impact of injured veterans.

Yet hours before his appearance, he said his commanding officers called him, and threatened him if he spoke out against the military.

“In a very threatning way,” he described their tone.  “In the past, I’ve been threatened with a dishonourable discahrge, and i felt the same threatning presence from them”.

Glen Kirkland given parliamentary immunity for speaking out against the military (CTV News)

The committee took his claims very seriously.  And in another rare step, committee members gave him parliamentary immunity for his testimony against the military.

Kirkland then gave one of the most compelling speeches I’ve ever witnessed.  It clearly shook members who listened intently.  (you can watch his full testimony here).

The day after we aired his story, Defence Minister Peter MacKay made an unprescidented pledge in the House of Commons:

“[Cpl. Kirkland] will receive every and all benefits to which he is entitled. I will go further to his and his family. that he will suffer no ramifications from his testimony … in addition to that he will continue to serve as long as he decides to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces as long as he wishes”, said Mackay.

What happened next was just as extraordinary.

The following day, Kirkland flew home to his base at CFB Shilo, just outside of Brandon, Manitoba.

In his mailbox was his discharge notice from the military.  He said he was “shocked … speechless” it happened. He said calls to his direct commanders were not returned, and he was getting no answers from the military.  For someone dealing with PTSD, he said the added anxiety wasn’t helpful.

When we aired that story, I’m told defence officials were floored.  An official told me privately there was a “colossal breakdown in the chain of command”.  MacKay and his staff went in full damage control and eventually reversed the decision.

MacKay called the vice-chief of defence staff and ordered him to tear up the discharge notice.

MacKay then ordered the Chief of Military Personnel, Gerry Blais, to call Kirkland personally and smooth things over.

The military reversal lets Kirkland serve until 2015.  He will have reached his 10 year mark and will be eligible for a pension. (Here’s an explainer on Canadian military pensions & benefits)

So Kirkland’s issue may have been resolved.  But he adds he won’t stop his latest battle to get all sick and injured veterans a full pension …. regardless how long they’ve served.

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