Our National Day of Remembrance is approaching and as November 11 draws near, my discontent with the action taken by Royal Canadian Legion’s Ontario Provincial Command, to stop funding service dogs for wounded veterans, is increasing exponentially with each passing day.
Recently, the Legion’s Ontario Provincial Command put a moratorium on the use of Poppy Trust Funds to support specially-trained service dogs for injured Canadian veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, which is the national governing authority of all its Canadian Provincial Commands, gave Ontario its approval to use a portion of Poppy Trust Funds to assist service dog funding for veterans. They applied a few funding conditions to ensure that their Provincial Commands were practicing their ‘due diligence’ when funding service dogs. Dominion Command’s guiding principles, in my view, are appropriately veteran-centered, and show leadership and a level of good will and judgment. Dominion Command should have noted, however, that service dogs have been active in Canada for decades and that Canada may have the best service dog providers, trainers and certifiers in the world available to them for consultation.
So why is Ontario Provincial Command not implementing the funding? The rationale for their decision is predicated on the absence of a Canadian national service dog standard, which is expected to take two years and maybe longer. This is a very long time for wounded veterans to wait for Legion help for a service dog.
Although I agree we need a national standard, I don’t think it is fair to our injured veterans that the Legion not provide them conditional and interim service dog support funds.
The Legion has also stated it received information claiming there are “serious concerns and allegations regarding the integrity of practices of some of the service dog providers,” and consequently, Ontario Command began an investigation into these service dog providers. At this point wounded veterans, who have been medically prescribed a trained and certified service dog, may be subjected to an additional agonizing waiting period as the Legion continues its investigation. Can veterans, some of who are suicidal, wait two years or longer for help?
You may be familiar with the Legion’s easily identified, well-known, and often-expressed dictums, “Lest We Forget” and “We Shall Remember Them.” The Legion’s solemn promise and the nobility of its work are remembrance and service to Canadian veterans, both past and present. As a result of fighting or facing a desperate and difficult to identify enemy, or witnessing atrocities and indignities of human depravity, several veterans suffer with complex, and in many cases, compounded injuries, such as PTSD.
Our veterans struggle moment-to-moment with the invisible psychiatric wounds of unconventional and terrifying wars. They bore witness to horrific suffering and unspeakable abuses that are beyond the ordinary citizens’ ability to comprehend.
Many veterans have reported feeling alone, dismissed and isolated. Some are suicidal and some claim to be homicidal. Some feel a continuous sense of shame and worthlessness. These veterans are some of the most vulnerable and suffering members of our Canadian Forces. They deserve to be remembered and to be given the respect and care of the Legion, not to be put aside and expected to wait for two years, without help, as the Legion and government conduct their work.
Ontario Command can choose to be part of the solution, or to be part of the problem. They have chosen to stop the funding of service dogs for veterans and to offer no interim veteran support. All they had to do was implement section 402s of their Poppy Policy Manual, using the restrictions established by the Dominion Executive Committee. I don’t think it is asking too much of the Legion to provide interim respite to those who have served this country and who are now turning to the Legion for their help. The brave individuals who wear the cloth of this great nation deserve our deepest respect and gratitude, and those who came before them, who sacrificed themselves on the altar of freedom for us all, would expect no less.
The Legion doesn’t offer its members any opportunity for an appeal of their decision. There is no deputation process and no ombudsman available for dispute resolution. Consequently I turn to you, dear readers. You are the magistrates of the Court of Public Opinion. What say you – shall we remember them? Call Ontario Provincial Command and let them know at 905-841-7999.
I want to mention that service-based organizations are supported by a devout membership. These members are often referred to as the ‘front line’ or ‘the boots on the ground.’ These are people who are unconditionally committed to the organizational cause, and who do the work, including the fundraising.
Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Scarborough is a perfect example of a hard-working and focused legion branch and a leader on the issue of service dogs for veterans. They agree that the Legion should provide interim service dog funding support to our wounded veterans, within the parameters established by Dominion Command. Consider making a donation to help fund their third service dog for a Canadian veteran. Your donation can be sent in care of Bob Murdoch, Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion, 1577 Kingston Rd., Scarborough, ON, M1N 1S3. Or consider sending your Poppy Campaign donation direct to a service dog provider of your choice. My favourite is Courageous Companions (courageouscompanions.ca).
Bob Murdoch is an executive member at Scarboro Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion