Why Andrew Scheer’s Promises To Veterans Are Important

For Canadian mefloquine veterans, it’s at long last some recognition.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was in Prince Edward Island on Sunday, making a promise to clear the benefits backlog for veterans. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Prses (sic))

The Conservatives would also beef up transition services for discharged and retiring Forces members, provide more service dogs, kick-start more commemoration projects and launch an independent inquiry to investigate the cases of members who were given mefloquine. 
Several Forces members have launched a lawsuit against the government because of traumatic side effects from the anti-malaria drug.
They allege they are still suffering from psychosis, paranoia and insomnia.
That investigation would cost $20 million over two years, according to the PBO. Service dog costs are pegged at $4.5 million over three years. 

Scheer promises to clear veterans benefits backlog if elected

Today’s announcement by Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was quite significant. To the casual observer it was just another in a series of cynical campaign promises that get trotted out during election season. Funding is pledged for this program and that initiative in ridings across the country.

The most significant part of this particular promise was the pledge to have an independent inquiry called to look into investigate cases of CF members who were given mefloquine. I will take Mr. Scheer at his word on this promise, but I will also applaud him for going where no party leader has heretofore gone. He has acknowledged the fact that mefloquine is a serious issue in the veterans community that warrants investigating.

For the very first time, and due to the tireless efforts of advocates like Marj Matchee and Val Reyes-santiesteban, mefloquine has become an election issue. Marj had the opportunity to meet with Scheer, who is her MP, over the summer at a bar-b-que in his home riding. With her usual determination, she made her way to talk to him, and made an empassioned plea to him. She tells me he held her gaze, and listened intently to her as she made her case to him. He made a promise to her that he would not let our veterans down.

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Today, he followed through on his pledge to her, and I suspect that he will indeed honour his promise should he win the Prime Minister’s office. Regardless, it was incredible news for mefloquine advocacy in Canada. The hard work of Marj Matchee and the many other dedicated advocates inspired by her is starting to bear fruit.

Many of us gathered in Ottawa last Thursday, to hold the Third Annual Veteran’s Mefloquine Rally on Parliament Hill. There, on the lawn in front of the iconic bell tower, I had the great honour and pleasure of opening the rally by introducing Marj, and also had the chance to finally meet with some of the many veterans and advocates whom I have talked to over the past several months.

Val Reyes-santiesteban has also been fighting this battle for a very long time. Her son, Scott Smith, was a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment and was deployed to Rwanda in 1994 as part of a multinational humanitarian effort. On Christmas Day, 1994, she received a call from Scott. Shortly after he hung up, Scott Smith took his own life.

Since then she has dedicated herself to this advocacy, so that no more mothers ever have to endure what she has had to. No mother should ever have to bury her child.

For the many veterans and advocates who have worked so hard for over two decades to reach this point, this will be a momentous occasion. But, the battle is still far from over for them. There is still the matter of having the government own up to what it did, and to have it provide funding for research to find a treatment or cure for mefloquine toxicity, or quinism.

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It also needs to do the right thing and ban mefloquine, as well as beginning a widespread awareness campaign which would provide information to the public about the dangers posed by mefloquine.

But for right now, this moment belongs to all those who have toiled and struggled for over two decades. It belongs to the thousands of Canadian veterans who were effected directly by mefloquine, and their loved ones and caregivers, but, most especially,it belongs to Marj and Val. It’s a small victory, but at long last, it’s a victory.

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