New ombudsman vows to 'go to the wall' for veterans
Canada's first ever ombudsman for veterans is vowing to "go to the wall" for those who have served in the military as he prepares to begin the job of addressing their concerns.
Remembrance Day Sundaywill mark the first day of Pat Stogran's new job. Stogran, a retired colonel appointed to the position last month, previouslyserved as commander of the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan in 2002.
"I view my role strictly as the veterans' champion,"Stogran told CBC News. "I take on veterans' causes and go to the wall."
According to the Veterans Affairs Canada, there are more than 800,000 veterans in Canada.
Stogran said heexpects to receive as many as 5,000 complaints a year, ranging from veterans' requests for increases to disability pay to getting easier access to their pensions.
"From what I understand, there's all sorts of problems and different perceptions," he said.
But some veterans who have been battling thecurrent systemsaid they believethe new ombudsman willface a tough road ahead in making changes.
"Any recommendations that come from Mr. Stogran … will be much more difficult to implement because there's not a command culture to implement those changes," said Sean Bruyea, a veterans' advocate who served in the military during the first Gulf War.
"I think he might have to repeat those recommendations once, twice or three times."
'A lot of red tape'
Perry Gray, who served in the Canadian Forces in Yugoslavia and Cyprus, said his retirement after a 26-year military career has not been easy.
Gray has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and said he sometimes struggles to get his case heard at the Veterans Affairs.
"Whatever problems I had originally, they have been compounded significantly in dealing with the department because of the machinations and the bureaucracy and basically a lot of red tape," he told CBC News.
Despite his concerns, Bruyea and Graysaid they are hopeful Stogranwill make adifference in defending veterans' rights and allowing them to retire with dignity.
The Conservativegovernmentpromised to create the position to address a chorus of complaints over the years from soldiers' groups and individuals, who often perceive Veterans Affairs as indifferent and overly bureaucratic.
The federal budget set out $20 million annually to create and maintain the ombudsman's office and address concerns raised by former soldiers. Last spring, the Conservatives said the new office's first major task would be helping soldiers who leave the military following their mission in Afghanistan.
The office, created in consultation with veterans' groups, will operate at arm's length from the government and report annually to the minister of veterans affairs and to Parliament.
With files from the Canadian Press