Broken in the Wars

A plain statement of the pros and cons of the controversy regarding war pensions

R. V. GERY March 1 1930

Broken in the Wars

A plain statement of the pros and cons of the controversy regarding war pensions

R. V. GERY March 1 1930

Broken in the Wars

A plain statement of the pros and cons of the controversy regarding war pensions


“The time has come when the regulations of the Pensions Board must be redrafted from beginning to end, and when the attitude of the boards charged with the administration of pensions must be one of sympathetic justice and not altogether one of saving. We must see to it that treatment of returned soldiers does not become a political issue; but unless something is done, it will be hard to control the flow of indignation now welling up in the hearts of those who believe that national promises should be kept, and justice should be done. Our aim must be to see to it that no man who went to the service of his country must be permitted by that country to suffer want because of war disability. . . . Men are now suffering from disabilities which pension authorities refuse to admit arose from war services.”—General Sir Arthur Currie, Grand President of the Canadian Legion, at Regina, November, 1929.

ONCE a year—in the week or so immediately following Armistice Day—the Great Canadian Public wakes up. It rubs its eyes. It looks about it. It considers the present condition of its war heroes and goes through a minor and temporary convulsion of conscience about them and their lot. Then it decides comfortably that they are getting looked after, points to half a dozen of its acquaintance that are drawing a war pension, grunts contentedly, and returns to slumber. The war is dead—old stuff.

Unfortunately, perhaps, the “war hero” isn’t dead, too. He is here still, as usual uncomplaining, as usual minimizing the epic years, as usual inarticulate, unable except by proxy to make out a case for himself, filled full of the notion that “what the soldier says isn’t evidence,” anyway.

Just what is the present situation of our inarticulate friend and erstwhile preserver? What is the Dominion doing with him? Is it true to say that he is getting a raw deal? That he is being discriminated against by soulless employers and mismanaged by the government? That—in the words of Sir Arthur Currie quoted above—the pensions regulations must be redrafted from beginning to end, and a new and more satisfactory and equitable policy be adopted?

It has been said, and said with truth, that there are two opinions about war pensions in Canada, both nearly correct and both utterly wrong. One school has it that Canada has done and is doing more for its disabled man than any other nation on earth. The other, that injustice and unfair treatment are rife in the administration of war pensions—to put it bluntly, that the man “broken in the wars” is getting a raw deal. Which is right—or are both right? The only way of getting at something like the truth is to set out what has been and is being done, compare it with what other countries have achieved : that is the case for the defense of present conditions. Then, to set out in equal detail the injustices, the inequalities, the things that could be so much better done, the conditions which prompt men of the civil and military eminence of Sir Arthur Currie to pronouncements such as the one quoted above; in other words to set out fairly the case for the prosecution. Fortunately, it is pretty generally agreed that the whole question of the war-disabled man is on a plane above that of mere party politics, so that its discussion should be possible without any tactical drawings-back, sidesteppings or evasions. The accusation is made that the present system of pensions administration is parsimonious and unjust. The government is being asked to reorganize it. Without any prejudice to either side, MacLean’s Magazine puts forward the results of an unbiassed enquiry into the reasons for and against reform.

The Figures

'T'O SIZE up the problem before entering into its pros and cons, let us first look at a few figures.

From 1918 to 1928, both years inclusive, the Canadian government had on its war pensions rolls an average of just over 45,000 disabled men a year. Last year, the figure was over 56,000. All these were men actively disabled from war service, whether through wounds or resultant sickness. Behind these 45,000 stand their dependents, wives, children—in too many cases widows and orphans—of which any war pensions scheme must also take cognizance. There were, in fact, 181,722 war pensions paid last year—which means that from Halifax to Victoria one person out of every fifty of the Dominions population was receiving financial “compensation” in respect of the war which ended eleven years ago.

These 181,722 pensions cost the Dominion slightly more than $51,000,000. The biggest debit item but one —debt interest—on the government’s balance sheet, and just about one-seventh of what Ottawa extracts from the groaning taxpayer. Fifteen dollars in every hundred of Dominion taxation spent on war pensions and their administration!

Is this the answer to the question: “What aboutthe disabled ex-service man?”

No. It isn’t the answer, at least, not the only answer, since figures are notoriously difficult things to deal with. Let us go a little further and see what our man “broken in the wars” is getting for that fifty-odd million.

Well, he gets a pension, and his wife and children and dependents get allowances to correspond. For the sake of argument let us dramatize things a little : and, since we may have to do a little comparative study later, take two typical and concrete cases.

A Debt Acknowledged

ÜILL and Tom left adjoining quarter-sections in Saskatchewan in 1915, served in France until the Somme, where —let us say, somewhere around Regina Trench of bloody memory—the same 5.9 crump put a simultaneous termination to their military careers; Bill, poor fellow, the married man, “getting it in the neck,” and Tom, more lucky, “copping a Blighty.”

Months of hospital and ten minutes with a medical board resulted in Bill being adjudged a hundred per cent disabled, and in the army’s good time he returned to his quarter-section, his wife, and his children—let us say, three of them. What did the government, and the Dominion for which he had suffered these things, do for him?

It paid him, and is paying him, seventy-five dollars a month in respect of his total disablement. For his wife, it pays twenty-five dollars a month, and for the three children thirty-seven. Total, $137 a month, or just over $1,600 a year. Keep that figure in mind for a while.

Tom, the untrammelled bachelor, after the usual delays, “temporary base,” “permanent base,” and other maddening orderly-room rigidities from Etaples to Rhyl, at last arrived home, and was pronounced fifty per cent deteriorated. He went back to his quarter next to Bill, and draws down once a month thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents, which you can work out by glancing at what the hundred-per-cent Bill got for himself. And thirtyseven dollars and fifty cents a month is no inconsiderable adjunct to the finances of the average quarter. It goes quite a way toward meeting that ever-present store-bill.

So here they are. Bill, no very great shakes as a “man around the place,” never likely to be the same fellow he was when he and Tom rode into Yorkton to enlist, but with $137 a month to keep a family of five—the equivalent, by the way, of a more than ordinary crop of wheat in most years; and Tom, with his game leg that gives him plenty to think about on winter nights, but otherwise a man still, drawing what amounts to rather more than his old “dollar-ten” pay for the rest of his life. For, among other things, most of these higher-percentage pensions have long since been made permanent.

Add to this, free hospital and medical treatment; free limbs and fittings, in the case of amputations—there were 44,123 of such appliances issued during the fiscal year ending in March, 1928; free transport to and from hospital, whether as an in-patient or an out-patient—in the same fiscal year there were 11,030 in-patient, and 102,580 out-patient treatments; compensation for time lost in attending boards for examination; the benefits in participation in such resettlement schemes as the Soldier Settlement Board, the “sheltered trades” operated by the Government under the name of “Vetcraft,” where the maimed man can become an earning unit without having to face the stress of competition; immediate assistance in cash and kind where urgently necessary. Add further the provision of a “helpless allowance” to cover the cost of attendance and special care for those who are entirely disabled.

Is there anything more a government could reasonably be expected to do for either of our relics of Regina Trench? Is there anything more being done by other countries?

There must be twenty of them, all faced with the same problem—the “broken man” and what to do with him.

Great Britain, France, the United States, Italy, the Central Powers—every one of them has this puzzle to solve. Let us see how some of them have tackled it, and by comparison try to get a better perspective of what Canada has achieved.

Pensions in Great Britain

(CONSIDER, first, the country with which Canada is most closely allied in sympathy, in understanding, and in racial affinities—Great Britain with its million annual war pensions, its four and a half billion dollars pensions bill to date, its terrible unemployment problem.

For comparison, put Bill and Tom over there. Instead of Saskatchewan farmers, make the two of them Lancashire weavers, say. Bill, with the wife and three children, draws forty shillings a week for himself, forty a month for his wife, and eighty a month for the children—in all 280 shillings a month, which is nearly seventy dollars. Seventy dollars as opposed to $137 here. And Tom, the fifty-per-cent disabled bachelor, gets twenty dollars a month instead of thirty-seven. What is the meaning of it? Cost of living? Hardly. It is a kittle business establishing an absolutely accurate comparison between the figures for the two countries, but one thing is entirely certain. It does not cost twice as much to live in Canada as it does in Great Britain.

Take the United States next. Are they with their great riches doing anything so wonderfully better than ourselves in dealing with this problem? I don’t see it, for one. True, they approached the whole thing from a different angle, that of war risks insurance; and they have introduced one or two refinements, notably, a system under which it is possible for a badly mauled man to claim two hundred per cent disability—one hundred, let us say, for lost vision, and another hundred for other mutilations, although it must be added that this “double disability” is a very rare case. But in essentials their rates are lower than ours. Bill with his wife and three children, if he had started from Montana instead of Saskatchewan, would now, as a hundred per cent man, be drawing substantially less—about three hundred dollars less—than that $1,600 we spoke of.

And so it is with all the “pensions” countries. France, Italy, and those states which have always been on a “conscription” basis notoriously don’t give the disabled man anything like the attention the Anglo-Saxon does, and the Central Powers have been too well acquainted with bankruptcy since 1918 to bestow anything more than a passing thought on the fragments of him that were left at the Armistice. Great Britain, we saw, pays just about half what Canada does. Even the Eldorado to the south of us pays less than we do, that is as far as actual pensions rates are concerned.

Another Side of the Problem

TET US glance for a moment at the other aspects of the problem, for there is more to this “war pensions” business than mere monetary compensation, as everyone who has ever tackled the matter seriously knows, and none better than the doctors. There is the psychological aspect. War psychosis— whether it takes the form of that most trying of all indefinite ailments, shell shock, or whether it is merely a matter of what the French call cafard, and ourselves “fed-upness”— is a very real problem, and was a deal worse in the peak years of pensions activities round 1920 than it is now. Something had to be done at all costs to get the disabled man as far as possible out of the hospital, invalid atmosphere, back on to his feet again as an earning unit, even if his earnings were small, and he had to be helped along a good deal. Otherwise, in too many cases, the route to tragedy is steep and certain.

And just here came one of the greatest difficulties encountered by any pensions authority, whether in Canada, Great Britain, or the United States. How are you going to create a niche in industry—already overcrowded and seething with unrest and the fiercest competition the world has known—for a' man who is definitely below par as an earner? Can it be done? It certainly seems to one observer that Canada’s attempt at solving this problem—although the problem really remains and must remain insoluble—compares very favorably for sheer common sense with those made in other countries confronted with the same proposition.

The Dominion government seems to have recognized early in the day that there were certain tremendous difficulties inherent in this business of getting the disabled man back to industry. If he could go back to his old job, well and good; but usually he couldn’t—wasn’t in any condition to do so. Very well, train him for something else. But what? The Old Country, then in the throes of post-war reconstruction, and faced with Trade Unions desperately anxious about the privileges for which they had fought during forty years of toothand-nail strife, chose to take the bull the horns and try to get the disabled man admitted on preferential terms into skilled trades. The result was, as might have been expected, an immense amount sympathy from the Unions, and a good deal of earnest co-operation; but overhead all the time hung the spectre “dilution,” and vocational training except in semi-skilled trades was hardly a wild success.

The Dominion, on the other hand, came to the very wise conclusion that these skilled and highly organized trades were not for the disabled man. They, therefore, trained him only in such semi-skilled organizations as would be likely to provide a full wage for the trainee after six eight months training, during which time he went on pay and allowances. While is too much to say that even in Canada vocational training as a means of resettling the disabled man in industry has been a complete triumph—here as elsewhere there have been far too many economic obstacles in the way—yet in those peak years, 1920 and 1921, 40,000 men graduated through government schools, and of those 40,000 seventy per cent have been traced into the new trades [ of their choice. Which is, with respect, great deal more than the Training Department of the British Ministry of Labor can say.

Again, there is the man who, though badly disabled, is yet capable of earning something. Both countries have attempted to deal with him by providing “sheltered occupations,” government supervised and free from competition. In Great Britain the Red Cross ran workshops, and in Canada the “Vetcraft” shops in seven cities throughout the Dominion are still turning out products such as basket-work and the Armistice Day poppies and wreaths.

Are Present Conditions Perfect?

"DUT what is all this?” I hear asked.

“Judged by these comparisons, the Dominion is a model to the world in its manner of treating its disabled. Everything is apparently well with him, and he has nothing whatever to complain about.”

Which is just the line the amateur of the problem takes—the man who has not studied the question and looked at both sides.

And here we come to a vital consideration: that of sympathy. Are war pensions a matter of sympathy? Can they be administered entirely, or even mainly, from the heart?

Fifty-one million dollars is a tidy sum annually; but if natural sympathy governed expenditure on our war heroes, then, presumably, every man who gave of his time, his courage, or his blood for the protection of his country should be put beyond financial anxiety for the rest of his life. And the fifty-one million dollars we are now spending would be nearer five hundred million. Which is not only absurd in the Euclidean manner, but also absurd as a matter of economics.

The effort is, and must be, to put the servant of the state, disabled in its service, hack as near as possible where he was when he enlisted. And the real question Canadians have to ask themselves is not whether Bill and Tom are getting preferential treatment—whether the war pension is after all something in the nature of a “tip” for services rendered—but whether they are getting fair treatment. If they are undergoing any definite hardship because the state is neglecting to assist them in resuming their place in society, or if, through lack of elasticity in the administration of the pensions scheme, difficulties are thrown in the way of their obtaining everything that they are entitled to under the scheme, then clearly “the time has come for a rewriting of the pensions regulations.”

Is it so? Is it possible for the Dominion of Canada working through Ottawa, and the old Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment, and the Board of Pensions Commissioners, and the Federal Appeal Board, and the rest of them, to say with hand on heart that everything possible is being done for Canadian men “broken in the wars?”

As a matter of fact, all is not well with the disabled man, in Canada or anywhere else; and in this Dominion, excellent and generous as the present scheme may be comparatively, there is plenty to complain about; plenty to justify the Canadian Legion in approaching the government and respectfully but firmly demanding reforms.

What is “Attributable?”

' I 'HE first, and probably the greatest difficulty in the way of an absolutely square deal for the disabled man is one inherent in the system, or in any system of pensions at present being administered. It is contained in the magic word “attributable.” Pensions are paid in respect of disabilities “attributable” to war service; and who is to say definitely that such and such an injury was or was not either caused or aggravated by such service? The State accepted each man as a hundred-per-cent fit when he enlisted. Can it now go behind that finding and claim that there were then in him the seeds of disease, and that the development of that disease was in no way due to war strain, exposure, hardship?

A man comes before a pensions board with a disability which has arisen since the war. He claims that it is in the words of the Act “due to or incurred on or aggravated by” war service. The board says “Prove it.” It is the contention of many that the onus of proof should be in the other direction—that it should be up to the board to demonstrate that the disability was not a product of war service.

In the same treatment from which an extract is quoted at the head of this article, General Currie said: “I contend that almost every man who experienced the hardships of war is paying some penalty today.” Even now, twelve years after the Armistice, there is a new type of disabled man appearing—the “burntout” man, the case in which the stress of earning a livelihood has so worked upon a constitution shocked and enfeebled by war service that at long last the man collapses, and there is neither pension nor treatment for him, since he is not suffering from an “attributable” ailment. What is to be done about him?

Disability under the present scheme is graded in steps of five per cent; that is to say, the lowest grade of disability is five per cent, and it is necessary for a man to be so certified before he can obtain hospital treatment. One of the suggestions made is that every man who served overseas, irrespective of whether he was wounded or attributably sick or not, should automatically be graded five per cent disabled, in order to be in line for free hospital treatment and medical care. Another suggestion is to make hospital service free for all ex-servicemen, disabled or not, as is done in the United States today.

Another point. In the complexities of any war pensions scheme it happens—it is almost bound to happen—that individual men, whether from ignorance of the regulations, their own modesty in making claims, or through faulty presentation of their case to the authorities, have not received the benefits that were coming to them under the Act. They may not have known that appeal against the Pensions Commissioners lay to the Federal Appeal Board. They may have remained sulkily content with a disability rate that was underestimated. From one cause or another they may have failed to obtain suitable hospital treatment.

Then there is, once more, the question of representation of the disabled claimant before the Commissioners themselves. Provision is made for assistance for them in preparing their case; but it is contended that this is not enough. General Currie is voicing a very common feeling among disabled men when he says that the attitude of the boards must be one of “sympathetic justice rather than saving.” Here is one possibility of reform upon which there will be little controversy; although one might add that the lot of the Commissioners, attempting to administer, with sympathy as their guide, a scale and an Act which must for obvious reasons be more or less rigid, is not altogether a happy one.

The Employment Problem

more angle of the problem, and we may be able to draw some conclusions. What about the frequently reiterated accusation that employers in the Dominion don’t want disabled men; that war service with resultant disability of any kind is a bar to finding a job nowadays?

Employment today is one of the world’s major problems, and the disabled man is only one small corner of it. Great Britain has had more experience of its terrors than any other nation. What did she do about the disabled man and employment?

Of course, here is a case where direct legislation is impossible. You can’t go to the manufacturer and say: “Here, you must employ disabled ex-servicemen in your shops!” As a matter of fact, in England at any rate, you would have the Union about your ears in ten minutes if you did. But outside that altogether, legislation of such a description would be beyond the competence of any government.

Nor can you directly subsidize the employer, that is, make it worth his while financially to employ a disabled man. In the first place, the employer would not be in the least likely to want labor on such terms; and secondly, an atmosphere of jealousy would be created about the disabled man which would neutralize any good he might get out of the employment.

All that can be done—and in Great Britain it has been tried for years, with very varying and none too spectacular a success—is to educate public opinion into better views. The fighting man, and particularly the disabled fighting man, deserves a great deal more from his fellowcitizens than mere lip service and Armistice Day hero worship. Whether he will get it or not is purely a matter for the conscience of the Canadian people. No government—except by example, in preferring ex-servicemen for governmental positions can do more than treat him as a part of the main unemployment problem. It is up to the people at large.

The Reforms

AND now to summarize. Canada is not

^ comfortable about the position of her disabled men. The government is being asked for extensive revision of the system, and it is understood that the Canadian Legion considers the following points as urgently requiring attention:

1. The transfer of onus of proof from the applicant to the Board, as mentioned above.

2. That appeals to the Federal Appeal Board lie on the amount of disability assessed by the Pensions Boards as well as on the attributability of the disease. In other words, that a twenty-five per cent man be able to appeal the amount of his pension.

3. That pensions be payable to widows married subsequent to their husband’s active service, in every case. At present such pensions are not paid, even where no “expectancy of death” existed at the time of the marriage, and where no disability of the man was known.

4. General Currie’s point about the attitude of Pensions Boards—“broader and more sympathetic” toward disabled men.

5. The problem of the “burnt-out” men already mentioned—present war pensioners or not.

6. “Generally speaking, the Legion believes that in so far as it is possible every ex-serviceman ought to be re-established, as best can be, to a position approximating that to which he would have attained but for his war service.”

This, in brief outline, is the Canadian Legion’s position, as courteously set out for MacLean’s Magazine by the Dominion President, Lieutenant-Colonel L. R. La Fleche, D.S.O., A.D.C.

Unquestionably, there is much to be said for the reasonableness of the views thus expressed. So far as rates of pensions and allowances are concerned, the Dorn-, inion stands second to none of any of the “pensions” countries of the world. There can be no doubt about that. But however excellent a man-made system may be in broad outline, when it comes down to application in detail, the chances of error and even of injustice are considerable. Our present pensions system has been in operation for more than a decade. It has been given a fair trial. If it has weaknesses there has been ample time for those weaknesses to become apparent.

Those who are in the best position to observe the results, declare that weaknesses are apparent. They even go further and define them.

In the light of all the facts, surely there can be but one conclusion. Parliament should give the case a “sympathetic” hearing, and having done that, make its decision with the knowledge that the people of Canada have no desire to shirk the obligation they owe to those who served their country in her hour of need.