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Older vets feel sidelined by Afghan-focused VA


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04/11/2010 10:50:30 PM

CBC News
Some older military veterans say they're being forgotten and left to struggle with government bureaucracy on their own while much of the current focus is on soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

Former petty officer first class Brian Galletly has been struggling with Veterans Affairs since he retired from the navy in 1982.

He was a leading seaman in 1969, serving on the HMCS Kootenay. The Kootenay was off the coast of England on Oct. 23 that year conducting routine full-speed drills with HMCS Saguenay. At 8:20 a.m., an explosion came from the engine room, which was subsequently engulfed in flames.


Crew members rescued anyone they could reach, but nine seamen were killed, and 53 were injured.

Galletly remembers trying to move one of his friends who was killed in the blast to another part of the ship after the ball of flames swept by.

"I can remember him falling outta my arms so many times, and the skin coming off on my arms," he said. "Well, for 30 years, I rubbed that skin off at night. I'd wake up rubbing my arms, and the skin was still there, and I could feel it."

Quibbling over medication reimbursements

Hundreds of vets have their own personal horrors they are trying to come to terms with. The common thread through the majority of their stories is that the veterans telling them, especially the older ones, feel they have been forgotten or that Veterans Affairs doesn't care about their cases.

They describe months-long battles with Veterans Affairs over such trivial matters as reimbursement for routine medications.

"Oh, I'm fighting Veterans Affairs Canada now every day," said Galletly. "This morning, [I was] on the phone for almost an hour. And that was over [the doctors] ... changed one of my drugs, and they won't pay for the one that they changed it to."

Many of the older veterans are dealing with serious issues, including the aftereffects of trauma. In 2002, a full 33 years after the Kootenay explosion, Galletly was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also has an array of medical issues, including hearing problems, heart problems, and he has been diagnosed with asbestosis in his lungs.

"I can name seven people who have died from cancer related to asbestos," he said. "There's two more who have the cancer now ... They're not expected to live more than six to nine months.

"What are they doin' about it? For me, they did absolutely nothin'."

Older vets ignored: ombudsman

Retired Col. Pat Stogran, the veterans ombudsman, agreed Afghanistan vets deserve to be recognized and get as much help as possible but said older veterans are being pushed aside.

"Because the department and veterans appeal board are under such scrutiny now vis-a-vis the war in Afghanistan, there are ... many more veterans falling off the radar and being ignored by the system," he said.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Jean-Pierre Blackburn told CBC he was unaware of the frustrations being experienced by the survivors of the Kootenay and other older veterans. He said he didn't want them to feel like they were being treated as second class.

"Just call our office," he said. "I invite you to call our office, and I will look [after] ... it."

Galletly said he will make that call, but that after years of dealing with Veterans Affairs bureaucracy, he is not optimistic it will change his situation.

Veterans across the country fed up with the federal department that is supposed to look after them are preparing for a national day of protest on Nov. 6. The demonstrations, set to take place across the country, will come just days ahead of Remembrance Day