Ex-soldiers angered by 'unconscionable' treatment of Afghan war adviser

Some of Canada's former top military commanders and soldiers - among them a Liberal MP - are rallying behind an ex-Department of Defence adviser who was denied PTSD benefits after serving seven tours in Afghanistan. They are calling on the federal government to take action.
Mohammad Amin with the Canadian mission in Afghanistan in 2006. (CBC News/Contributed)

Former top military commanders and wounded veterans say it's "unconscionable" that an ex-cultural adviser who served alongside special forces in Afghanistan has been reduced to pleading with the Department of National Defence for treatment to cover his post-traumatic stress.

Mohammad Amin served as a civilian contractor for seven deployments at the height of Canada's war in Kandahar, between 2006 and 2011, but was denied benefits because his application was made outside of a three-month window following the end of his last tour.

The defence department, which became aware of his case over two years ago, recommended he seek help through the Ontario Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), a provincial agency which deals with on-the-job industrial and construction accidents.

"I think it's unconscionable what they've done," said retired major Mark Campbell, who lost both legs to a Taliban booby trap in Kandahar in 2008.

"I'm shocked nobody is stepping up to give this guy some form of help. To me, it's shocking to see this guy is running around, knocking on doors and running into brick walls. It's [expletive] unconscionable."

Retired Major Mark Campbell talks to reporters during a war veterans rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

CBC News first told Amin's story on Monday. (Amin conducted a number of high-risk missions that are classified and, because of security concerns, CBC News has agreed to to identify him only as Mohammad Amin and to not publish his full name.)

New Democrat veterans critic MP Rachel Blaney raised the issue in the House of Commons Monday, saying civilians who shared the same risks as soldiers are not being treated equally.

"That is wrong," Blaney said during question period. "Surely the government can support this gentleman in his desperate time of need, and all of the other civilians who put their lives on the line for Canada."

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he appreciates the work of both military members and civilians during the war, adding he has directed his officials to "look into this case and find a solution."

It's not clear what that might mean, though — and Amin's lawyer, retired colonel Michel Drapeau, said Tuesday that neither he nor his client had heard from the defence department following the CBC News story.

Retired lieutenant-general and soon-to-be former Liberal MP Andrew Leslie said Amin, an Afghan immigrant, was a Canadian citizen when he answered the call to become a language and cultural adviser — and the country owes him a duty of care.

"The philosophy of 'leave no soldier or team member behind' applies," said Leslie, who served as NATO commander in Afghanistan and was in charge of the army when Amin first deployed.

"Mohammad is and was a valuable member of the team, who helped as part of an integrated force. He's suffering. We have to do more for him. And shunting him between a variety of departments for years is not the solution."

Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, the Liberal MP for Orléans. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Earlier in the week, the Department of National Defence said it was working with Health Canada and the WSIB to address the plight of people like Amin — but Leslie suggested the responsibility rests with the department that hired him as a contractor.

"He deployed under DND leadership and I would expect DND to take the lead in sorting this out," he said.

Amin was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) for service over five years, notably for dangerous intelligence-gathering missions among the Afghan population — missions that could not be conducted by non-Afghans.

The medal was mailed to him after the war, an act that both Leslie and Campbell described as callous.

"They should have not treated the guy the way they have," said Campbell. "He should have been feted, not turned away. He should have been celebrated for his service."

Retired major-general Dave Fraser, who was the NATO commander in southern Afghanistan in 2006 and remembers Amin, said there is an important, wider debate to be had because the case raises questions about how prepared and how serious the federal government is when it agrees to an overseas mission.

Maj.-Gen Dave Fraser (now retired) in 2006, when he was commander of the Canadian Task Force and NATO's southern Afghanistan command. (Murray Brewster/The Canadian Press)

"This a non-partisan debate," said Fraser. "There is a social covenant that the government has and the country has with the women and men who are put in harm's way — period."

Despite all the political attention paid to the plight of former soldiers and the host of benefits now being offered to them, Fraser said, there has not been a real debate in Canada about what it means to be a veteran and who should be considered a veteran.

It would be a sobering discussion, he said, when you consider how much of the country's foreign policy is executed today by soldiers and civilians working together.

Leaders, he said, would have to ask themselves the question: "If this country is not prepared to support the women and men who go into harm's way, why are we engaging in any of it to begin with?"


Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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