A Silver Cross mother whose son was killed in Afghanistan says she has been treated as a "secondary-class person" — and was even billed by the government for cost over-runs for the fallen soldier's funeral.
In Ottawa for the National Day of Honour events organized to pay tribute to Canada's fallen soldiers and civilians from the 12-year Afghan mission, Wendy Miller told CBC News Network's Power & Politics her grief has been exacerbated by a lack of support services — and disrespect.
- Canada's mission in Afghanistan: Was it worth it?
- MPs pause for Afghan mission commemoration
- Afghan mission Day of Honour planning catches legion off guard
"My son didn't die for them to turn around and treat his mother like a secondary-class person. Sorry, it's not fair," she told host Evan Solomon. "We're not asking for cash or money. I just want the respect. You've got him. His name's up there. Fine. You don't disrespect his mother. He loved me so much."
Pte. Andrew Miller of Sudbury, Ont. was killed at age 21 by an improvised explosive device outside Kandahar on June 21, 2010. His family was subsequently sent a bill for $2,300 after the costs of his funeral went "over-budget."
"I screamed," she said.
The family was even served notice the government would garnishee taxes if no payment was made.
Her husband, Ray Ealdama, who served in Afghanistan for the RCMP in 2007-2008, said there were nights of "absolute mayhem" trying to get answers, but the only official explanation was that there were "procedures" in place.
Friends in Andrew's Petawawa-based unit eventually "passed around the hat" and took care of the bill.
A media relations officer for National Defence said in an email to CBC News that funeral and burial costs for Canadian Forces members are reimbursed to a maximum set by the Treasury Board.
"If the family of the deceased chooses to expend more than the entitlement outlined in the Treasury Board policy, they must pay those expenses out of pocket to the company, organization or individual providing the goods or service. Families may also be aided in seeking further support from the Military Family Fund," the media relations duty officer said in the email.
Johanna Quinney, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, offered condolences to Pte. Miller's family before noting the government changed the policy for funeral costs in 2007 to allow for annual adjustment for inflation.
"This is entirely appropriate and it is the least we can do for our fallen soldiers."
Days of anguish
But Miller said the funeral costs were only the beginning. Because her son was single when he was killed, she was ineligible for counselling and support.
While she wears a "military mom face" through remembrance ceremonies, every day has been filled with anguish, she said.
"It's hysteria in my mind. You don't get over it, ever," she said.
The National Day of Honour has come under heavy criticism for being hastily and poorly organized and for having corporate participation. Miller has been disappointed by the process, but is determined to participate to share the common experience of grief with others who have lost their sons and daughters.
"I hated our country for a long time. But then I thought, I don't hate my country, I hate the people that are running these things and they're not seeing the Wendy Miller the mom — who had this sweet boy, with his big face and smile, because your media shot's supposed to be serious," she said.
"And we gave him willingly and all of a sudden it's like, you know what? 'Thank you ma'am, thank you, goodbye.'"
Mothers of the fallen network on Facebook
Ealdama said the family's situation is far from unique — and that mothers have set up a social network over Facebook because they were told not to speak with each other.
"It's almost as if it's an underground society that, you don't hear any of these stories in the news but these horror stories are there," he said.
Miller was named Silver Cross Mother in 2012, an award chosen annually by the Royal Canadian Legion.
The Silver Cross Mother represents all mothers who have lost a child in military service to their country and lays a wreath on Remembrance Day on their behalf.