Gasping, Mike clawed at the air and tore off the sleeping bag that was suffocating him.
It was 1997, April, and still cold in the early mornings. Cold enough Mike came to his senses quicker than usual and realized where he was.
Where he was, was NOT on the front lines in Kosovo.
Anywhere but there was good.
The pine branches shielded his sleeping pit from most casual observers and there was rarely anyone up here on the hill anyway. His stump itched. And, by damn, his head ached again, too.
Some hair of the dog would cure that, but in the cold light of morning, the bottle from the night before lay there, pitifully empty. You’d think that a leg would’ve been good enough exchange for a measly drink now and then, but it had been several years before the PTSD symptoms actually started to show up and Janey turned on him. Not that he could blame her. He’d started missing work and drinking just a little too hard, too often, and it spiraled downward from there.
Apparently the Forces considered there was a limit on the time a fella had between his release and becoming homeless. Like he should have failed sooner. At least he’d have had a pension that way.
He horked and spat and heard as it landed against some old newspaper. A waving, smiling face caught his eye and the headlines told him that the election had been called. He dug deep into his grungy pocket and pulled out his medal and hung it on a branch where it winked back mockingly at him.
No longer employable because no longer deployable; hero of no fixed address and so no ballot for him.
Mike blinked against the day and saw that the medal had fallen.
All for the right to vote.
The hopeful candidate waving at Mike in 1997 was incumbent Liberal Jean Chrétien. Legislation was passed in 2000 which provided anyone in a shelter with the right to vote. But Mike would still have been denied.
Ten years later, the right of homeless people to vote continued to be discussed in parliament.
Canada doesn’t know how many of its veterans become homeless; no statistics on its 80,000 ‘heroes’ are kept.
Estimates place the homeless population in Canada at upwards of 250,000. In the United States, 26% of the male homeless population are veterans. As for media coverage, trolling through decades of archives yielded little to nothing.
Around 2010, the tide started to turn, with some information articles on “how the homeless can vote” appearing on websites appealing to a local audience. Since the homeless hardly have easy access to the internet, one wonders whom the article is hailing; neither does it make the connection between homelessness and veterans.
At the time of this writing (2013), current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is providing a catalyst for veterans’ rights to be aired and addressed. From Halifax to Vancouver, the press is stirring, although news is conspicuously absent from main stream sources. However, the shadow of Remembrance Day loomed larger this year and even Rick Mercer is on the rant about veterans’ rights.
“Operation Help The Homeless OFFICIAL” is a new campaign by Anonymous launched on Facebook and YouTube November 09, 2013. But again, no link is made to past military service and homelessness.
The case of Brian Bradley highlights a systematic attack on veterans by the Canadian government. Yet where does one read about it? On the back pages of democracychange.org – an insider’s website for the ‘pinko-at-heart’.
The vets themselves are getting angry and retaliating. This Remembrance Day, there are plans to turn their back on the local Conservative MP when it is his turn to lay a wreath
Lest we keep forgetting.
The photograph “April Sky” by Laurel L. Russwurm is released under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License