Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29
, of the Copyright Act.Wounded soldiers to be given opportunity to stay in uniform: defence sources
Canadian Press, 4 Oct 07Article link
OTTAWA - Soldiers badly wounded in Afghanistan and who want to stay in uniform would be given the chance to do so under a new policy drafted by the Defence Department.
The plan, drawn up in the waning days of Gordon O'Connor's tenure as defence minister, would allow the military to avoid the controversy of dismissing injured soldiers who want to continue serving and - in some cases - have no other vocation.
Sources within the Defence Department told The Canadian Press that the policy has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo since O'Connor was replaced in August by the new minister, Peter MacKay.
The chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, said recently that he has some of "his brightest minds working on it," but offered few details on the proposal or a timeline.
Sources who've seen a draft of the policy say it would allow soldiers who do not meet the military's universality of service rule to apply to stay as long as they meet some criteria.
Under the current system, a soldier who becomes disabled has three years to be rehabilitated and meet the fitness standard for overseas operations. If they cannot meet the requirement, they have no choice but to face a medical discharge.
The rule, introduced by Hillier, has been a source of concern as the number of wounded from the desert battlefields of Afghanistan grows.
Hillier has steadfastly refused to make changes to the current fitness requirement, but conceded that military has been trying to find a way to take care of its wounded with some dignity.
The authority to release an injured soldier, sailor or air crew member rests solely with the defence chief and Hillier has argued that the current system is flexible enough to let him decide the future of individuals.
But defence sources say clear criteria are needed to ensure fairness and to avoid potential legal challenges.
Lt.-Col. Stephane Grenier, a spokesman for the chief of military personnel, says the new policy will not supersede, amend or even soften the universality rule.
Its intent will be to recognize that wounded soldiers still have something to contribute to military life.
"The military is being challenged to balance the deployability factor with the gainfully employed factor," he said in an interview.
Grenier would not discuss what kind of criteria would be attached to the policy.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague, an advocate for wounded soldiers, said he wants to see the conditions and worries they will be too narrow and restrictive.
"We're talking about wounded human beings who fought for this country," he said.
"A soldier's commitment is open-ended and the criteria on whether they remain in the Forces should be too."
Grenier denied there's been any footdragging in addressing the issue, but said he understood the urgency some people must feel.
"This is not something that started yesterday," he said. "The process has been well underway. It happens to be a top priority for the chief of military personnel. It's not limbo. It might be in limbo, according to people who don't think it's moving fast enough."
Grenier couldn't say when the new policy will be given to MacKay for approval and also would not discuss what criteria applicants will have to meet when the new program is finally established.
Since the latest deployment to Kandahar in February 2006, 71 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed and as many as 325 troops have been injured. Most of the wounded have been able to return to their units.
Only a few dozen will likely be considered permanently disabled because they've lost a limb or suffered other traumatic wounds. The designation has yet to be made in individual cases because they have yet to complete their three-year rehabilitation period.