I want to thank the Toronto Star for doing such good articles on Wounded soldiers.
Take the time to read and be an advocate for the wounded injured and ill soldiers that do our best to keep Canada and the world a safer place.
Both suffered devastating wounds that forced them out of Afghanistan. But the two double amputees haven’t lost their fighting spirits.
OTTAWA – One is soft-spoken and reasoned, the other is impatient and brash.
These days, Paul Franklin and Maj. Mark Campbell have their crosshairs aimed at bureaucrats and politicians in their bid to ease the struggles so many wounded Canadian soldiers have faced when they arrive home.
Franklin, hit by a suicide bomber in January 2006, is one of the lucky ones, compared to his injured comrades. He lost his legs four months before the so-called New Veterans Charter came into effect. As such, he receives a monthly pension worth $4,200 meant to compensate him for his injuries, but no lump sum.
Campbell, who stepped on a bomb in June 2008, didn’t realize until he returned home how unlucky he was.
“They said that we’ve got a New Veteran’s Charter and me and all my buddies went, ‘The new one must be better than the old one, right?’ ” he recalled.
“It wasn’t until I got my legs blown off that I went, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve been screwed. We’ve been screwed hard.’ ”
Campbell, who is based in Edmonton, received a $276,000 lump sum payment for his injuries and some financial help for his family to care for their home. But when he realized they would need a new home that was wheelchair accessible, the holes in the government’s policies for injured soldiers became apparent.
The military would pay to renovate his house – to install wider doorways, ramps, lifts and to build bigger bedrooms and bathrooms – but not to help him build a new one, which he was forced to do.
“It cost me a million dollars. It cost me my entire lump sum settlement, an inheritance and then the sale of my old house, which was deemed unsuitable for renovation,” he said.
Campbell, who with 30 years of service is the most senior disabled soldier in the Canadian Forces, had realized what Franklin had come to understand after two years of watching soldiers struggling under the new system for wounded vets.
“We weren’t ready,” said Franklin, also from Edmonton.
Not ready for the scale of the injuries. Nor ready for the seriousness of the wounds that soldiers were surviving, thanks to improved medical care.
“Everybody started to come back wounded and shot up and beat up. That’s when we realized that it’s not just going to be myself and a couple of others wounded. We’re going to have some pretty big numbers,” Franklin said.
And some, like Franklin himself who would lose two legs as a result of a suicide bomb attack, were defying the odds.
“We never expected people to have such horrific injuries and live. . . . The shock was the violence that a body could sustain and still come back,” he said.
Even as they struggled with their own recoveries, the two soldiers have served as mentors, confidantes and sometimes outspoken advocates for the hundreds of others also wounded in Afghanistan.
It’s a task that has seen them working bureaucratic back channels and the public limelight to cajole, push and even shame officials at veterans affairs and the department of defence into improving the treatment of the wounded.
Franklin, who left the armed forces in 2009, uses soft-spoken reason to argue that the government should do more for the small pool of soldiers who were seriously wounded and now face a lifetime of disabilities.
“We’re not dealing with large numbers,” Franklin says, adding that of the 1,500 wounded and injured only about 100 are deemed to be fully disabled.
But they have had to fight for everything they have received.
Campbell’s electric wheelchair is just one example. He wanted one particularly for Edmonton’s snowy winters. But his case manager told him not to bother submitting his request because it had been denied to other soldiers in the past.
“Being a major, as opposed to a private, I said, ‘That’s bullshit. You will apply for a power wheelchair and we’ll see where it goes,’” Campbell recalled.
He was forced to justify his need for the piece of equipment and then insist again before it was finally approved. And then he told every other wounded soldier he could find that if they needed a precedent in their fight for an electric wheelchair, he was their man.
In the beginning, there were only 15 or 20 others in this network of injured soldiers. Now the list of names on the emails Campbell sends out is a half-a-page long.
“We’re that generation forcing the evolution,” Campbell said.
There are many other fights that lie in the future, but Campbell won’t likely be taking them up in uniform. Now he’s looking to get out of the military.
“I no longer enjoy putting on the uniform,” he said. “It reminds me of my situation.”
That situation leaves him feeling bitter and betrayed, by the Canadian Forces, by the Veterans Affairs department and, he says, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, of which he is a member.
“I’ve accused the prime minister of failing in his job, and I’m a card-carrying Conservative. I’m mailing my card back with a terse note saying, ‘I’ve had enough of you f--ckers.”
Franklin, who was a medic with 1 Field Ambulance, has already left the military, his dreams of teaching battlefield medicine to fellow soldiers dashed.
He says he was told he had to be “fully fit” to be at the school at CFB Borden. Since that was out of the question, he was told his other option was to quit the forces and come back as a civilian security guard if he wanted to teach.
Franklin left the army at the rank of master corporal after 11 years in uniform, certain that his injury would remain a hindrance to his military career.
“I’d never be promoted or posted. You get stuck in a rut and you have to make a decision if you’re going to stay in the forces and do the same job for 20 years,” he said.
Today, he keeps busy with speaking engagements, travels with his son and keeps a website. He holds no grudges for the way his life turned one fateful day in Kandahar.
“I’m not a bitter guy. The idea of Afghanistan was someplace that I wanted to go. I could have died,” he said.
Canada's Afghan casualtiesCanada's Afghan casualties
|Year||Non-battle injuries||Wounded in action||Deaths (non-KIA)||Killed in action|
|* April onwards|
|Source: Department of National Defence|