No federal support for care of decorated veteran
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 6:41PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 6:42PM EST
Neil Russell served Canada as a senior pilot in the armed forces for more than 30 years, but eligibility rules mean he’s struggling to find a long-term care spot.
The colonel served from 1952 to 1985, flying missions in eastern Europe at the peak of the Cold War. He was a senior Canadian commander, but now he’s about to be out in the cold.
The wheelchair-bound veteran can’t be cared for at home, but eligibility rules put in place by Veterans Affairs Canada 30 years ago mean he doesn’t qualify for a bed in the federal Residential Care Program for veterans.
That’s because veterans of the Cold War don’t qualify, so Russell is expected to be released from hospital any day now.
But after a recent surgery Russell says “I can’t stand or walk and moreover I’ve severed the tendons in both shoulders so my shoulders are painful and I have limited use of my arms…I’m really in a tough place.”
He relies on his motorized wheelchair and a mechanical lift to get him in and out of bed.
“I don’t have any place to go right now, I would love to get into the veterans’ wing at Parkwood Hospital here and my doctors have written supporting that, saying that is the ideal place for me.”
Parkwood has 37 empty beds, but can’t admit him because Veterans Affairs Canada only pays for the long-term care of veterans of the First World War, Second World War and Korean War.
That leaves him with no place to go, as other long-term care facilities have year-long waiting lists.
London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen says “The federal government has made it clear that they will not support nor pay for these beds and that these modern day veterans do not have a right of access.”
Russell has wrttien Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney asking him to grant him access to a bed at Parkwood until there’s room in a civilian facility, but was turned down.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the minister said “It’s unfortunate that every time we present measures in the House to improve Veteran’s benefits, NDP members vote against each and every one of these.”
Russell says he’s all for the government saving money, but doesn’t think it should happen on the backs of veterans.
Mathyssen says “I would like to see the federal government say ‘We made a mistake, change the mandate,' and say that it is the nation, it is the federal government that will take responsibility for the care and support of all veterans.”
Had Russell been directly injured in combat, he would be granted access to the Residential Care Program. But while many think his back problems originated in his days piloting fighter jets, he still doesn’t qualify.