All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government. – Stephen Harper
Frank A. Pelaschuk
On March 12, I received an email from Joan Carbage Larocque asking for help. While I do not know her, I knew of her. I had made a brief mention of her and her husband in my October 9, 2013 posting, Stephen Harper: Wolf Among Sheep.
She very, very briefly outlined some of her difficulties. I have no experience with the military but I did make some suggestions. Unfortunately, they were not all that helpful; she had already covered that ground.
Joan Larocque has been a grieving widow of a military man since 2005. Since that time, she has been looking for answers in hopes of finding closure and the solace of peace. She needs closure. Thus far, it has been denied her.
It is clear that her grief will never end but it is also equally clear that she feels that she deserves better, deserves some answers and a public apology for what she, her family and her husband’s memory have endured. I agree.
Because I want to help her in any small way possible, I suggested that she write an open letter, which I would post on my blog. Though the letter is addressed to me, and the few readers I do have, its most obvious target is Stephen Harper, the Department of National Defence, and Robert Nicholson, the Minister of Defence. It is they who can give her the solace she needs. They simply have to do the right, the decent thing. I hope they read her letter.
Our military men and women and their families have been badly treated by Stephen Harper and his crew. Perhaps their knowing a little about Cpl. Jacques Larocque and his loving wife might finally persuade them to help her and her family find that solace of peace she so desperately seeks and deserves. A little nudging from the public might help but, with this crew, one never knows. They don’t appear to listen to our veterans.
There are many other families out there who are suffering, who need our help and support, who deserve better from Harper and his crew than they have been receiving. Harper has spent millions in promoting Canadian military achievements yet has clawed back on services for the military. He plans to spend even more millions in celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation. It’s an absolute disgrace and nothing more than about promoting the Conservative brand through propaganda and mythmaking. The money could be put to better use, with modernizing military equipment, with better services for our military personnel and for our veterans and their families. Too many have survived wars only to lose the one within themselves. This government has failed them; too many military families are forced into bankruptcy. This government appears determined to deny there is a “social contract” with those who serve and have served us very well; it’s time Canadians returned the favour, let us honour the “moral contract” to treat our men and women better than we have. We can all help. Write to your MP. Better still, write to Stephen Harper. Or simply forward this post to him, to your MPs, and to your friends.
A Note: This is Joan Larocque’s letter. I helped somewhat with suggestions regarding spelling, punctuation and with clarification of matters that appeared unclear to me. That said, Mrs. Larocque had final say in all matters relating to her heartfelt words and it appears in whole without editorial interference.
A WIDOWS LETTER
JOAN CARBAGE LAROCQUE
You don’t know me, but I am a soldier’s wife. I would like to tell you and your readers a little about my husband and what he meant to me.
Cpl Jacques Larocque Born March 24th 1965 – died August 27th, 2005.
Jacques joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1982 in Montreal, Quebec at the age of just 17. I met him in 1986 and we married the following year; together we raised four wonderful Children. It was very apparent to me from the moment I met him that Canada and his career in the Canadian Armed Forces were a high priority in his life and that he was very passionate about serving.
He was a avid sportsman and hunter, participating in many sports teams for the CF (Canadian Forces) community. We were posted often having lived in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, Trenton, Ontario, Gander, Newfoundland, Yellowknife, NT, and again Trenton Ontario all of which we enjoyed.
Jacques did a number of TD’s (Temporary Duty) on exercises and four deployments (volunteered) to the Middle East in Canada’s effort on Terrorism. When away, we missed him terrible but fully supported him. Jacques was the glue that kept my family together. My sons respected him as a father; our youngest boy was sure he had the “best dad” in the world and didn’t hesitate to tell everyone. He was very Nurturing to Our daughters and as well as being extremely protective. Daddy’s girls!!!
Personality wise, he was a quiet, soft spoken man that was passionate, dedicated and honourable; he was the perfect example of a decent human being. He volunteered at the schools the kids went to and assisted where he could. He helped strangers and neighbours/friends alike, with whatever and however he could. As a partner, husband and father he was made for all three roles and filled them with every bit of his soul juggling the roles he had in life with ease. Always calm, always cool, a true peacekeeper. He was well respected amongst his peers as well and a true sportsman but with a competitive nature.
Jacques really had not been ill much of his life, we led a fairly healthy lifestyle.
Just turning 40 and on his forth tour of duty in the middle east in two and a half years, Jacques had returned home complaining about not feeling well, he had seen the MO (Medical Officer) three times and was diagnosed with acid reflux, each time but was not feeling any better. Though he was grey in colour when he came home, he told me there was nothing to worry about; the Military Doctors were treating the acid reflux with medication
When he died in front of my family, and me, I was in shock, he had acid reflux; you don’t die from acid reflux. As a family we questioned the CF, we wanted answers. As a CF member you are only able to receive CF medical care, you do not get provincial health care. Therefore the CF health care services would have been the ones to answer our questions as to what happened to Jacques: How could a healthy man (according to the Department of National Defence), who had been fit enough for four tours of duty in a foreign country collapse and die just three weeks after returning home from what appeared to be the only medical issues he had: acid reflux?
The autopsy report stated Jacques had two previous heart attacks and obviously devastating heart disease, blockages, chronic congestive heart failure, and angina I started thinking back In early 2000 he had been refused mortgage insurance, (just after he was first diagnosed by DND with Acid reflux) however DND assured us that the civilian medical facility that declined Jacques had no idea what they were talking about. Jacques, according to DND, was a fit and healthy man encouraging him to just ignore the civilian source: “there was nothing wrong with” Jacques. In Jacques’s medical file it was stated during the BOI (Board of Inquiry) that the outside civilian medical source refused to insure him because he was at a high risk for mortality because of his blood tests. Therefore in the last two months of his life, he was not only helping fight the war on Terror he was also fighting a war he could not win; to survive an undiagnosed heart attack at the same time; he didn’t have the tools.
When he passed, I was inconsolable, I was confused and heartbroken…I was lost and devastated…I was questioning everything.
The answers lay with his medical file and the DND. I begged the DND to let me see his medical file, to answer my questions. They chose to do a Board of Inquiry instead. At first they asked for patience and would speak with me once the BOI was complete, six months they said, then I would receive a copy of the file and a debrief. More then two years later, I was still waiting, I sent many emails; time and again I was told to wait.
I needed to know and to understand what happened, Jacques was my husband, my partner, my soul mate, he was in many ways my reason for living; I cried each and every day.
The pain I felt was overwhelming and paralyzing. I didn’t know what happened to him, all I knew is that he went over to the middle east healthy, he saw the DND Medical doctor three times because he was not feeling well; he came back a very ill man, and he collapsed and he died.
I tried and tried to explain to the DND that I really needed to understand what happened to him. He was my rock for over 20 years, he held me together.
After years of waiting, DND sent me a partial copy of the BOI and left out things like the executive summary and that is when the communication stopped. The one thing the BOI report made clear was that this death was NOT service related. They never spoke to me about what I had or had not received. They did not respond to my emails or letters.
Do you know how painful it is to have questions, need desperately to have the answers? I wanted to understand so that in my heart and soul I could try to start mending and gain peace in my life. Instead, I was met by cold silence. I didn’t even get acknowledgements of my own efforts. I felt totally abandoned by the Military!
Disregarded like trash.
In 2008, I started to write to Minister MacKay, maybe if the department refused to respond to me the elected minister would. I was told the file was closed and he was not about to open it. COLD, CALLOUS AND UNCOMPASSIONATE. I was in pain, a pain I feel to this very day! Other days, I felt angry; Jacques was a servant of Canada, he deserved better. He was promised proper health care; he did not get that. I reached out to others for help in my plight: I had not been given closure; I needed closure.
I reached out to the DND Ombudsman’s office in 2010. They started an investigation. They had questions. I spoke to them many times but again, no answers were forthcoming. One month led to the next, I would ask for an update. Still no answers. It was apparent to me that DND preferred I “move on”
Jacques was my life for over twenty years. We planned to grow old together. How can I as his life partner have his life end and not know why. I knew how; he had heart disease for many years; acid reflux presents similar symptoms as heart disease, but acid reflux will not kill you; undiagnosed heart disease will. But it takes just a blood test or a stress test to rule out the demon of heart disease, a test Jacques never got. That is right, no blood was ever taken; he was never tested for what killed him therefore in reality. HOW SAD IS THAT? Jacques had a treatable disease, but …
On the day the witness side of the BOI was complete in November, 2005, a rep from VAC called me to offer me a pension they felt I may be entitled to, I had no idea even what VAC was at that time. Within three weeks of application it was approved. I am in receipt of a “disability pension” from VAC. In 2012, I was presented by DND at CFB Trenton aka 8 Wing with the Sacrifice medial and the Memorial Cross. DND was still stating that Jacques death was not service related when I was presented with these medals.
Through the access to information and privacy act (Dec 19, 2007) I was able to get a document (January 23, 2006) that stated under medical opinion “if this client had received different management there may have been a more favourable outcome. An assessment was provided at 100% in Jacques’s favour. The signature on this document was ED Callaghan Adjudicator.
In early 2013, I was so exhausted and frustrated with the CF and the MND office, that I contacted CTV news, I am not a fan of being in the public with my story, I tried to keep it quiet, but I felt I had no choice and told my story.
DND and VAC (Veterans Affairs of Canada), sister departments, looked at the same file, arriving at different conclusions. I wanted a consensus and I wanted answers to my questions. YOU CANT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!!!
The day CTV spoke to the MND office, I was to receive the call I had been waiting 7.5 years for. Peter MacKay, the MND at the time, had made a new determination Jacques death was service related. Finally. Finally. Now I would get answers to my questions and Jacques could rest in peace.
I emailed the Minister, thanking him and presenting him with my unanswered questions. Once again, the waiting started. I waited and waited. Silence from his office, I emailed again. I waited. Nothing. Six months later, a cabinet shuffle, can you believe that? So I did what one would do. I emailed the new Minister of National defence. I received a response August 21, 2013 “In the case of your husband, the Board of Inquiry concluded that his death was not attributable to service. This determination has not changed, even after higher-level review.”
My husband’s death was no longer service related, you got to be joking. I thought I had already got the insult to injury, but no, no, this was incredible. How could these two elected officials treat a grieving widow and a family this way? Mr. Nicholson just came from the justice department, surely he could see the injustice in this case! I wrote him again. Silence. I sent the document of (August 21st, 2013) on to CTV News, and low and behold as they were airing the story Mr. Nicholson’s office calls me and stated that I misinterpreted his letter and that Jacques death is service related. I had misinterpreted?? Deep, deep breath. Off goes another email with the same questions related to Jacques’s death to see if I will finally get the answers after eight long, long years. That was October 2013, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement that my letters and emails have been received. Then the CF calls me for the long overdue debrief. On December 05, 2013 the debriefing took place here, in Guelph.
The delegated civilian and military members that met with me spoke ONLY of the first BOI which stated the death was not service related and would not take questions….and would not respond to the change of determination by MND (Minister of National Defence) Nicholson or his predecessor, Mr MacKay….surely the minister of Justice and the MND would understand a person’s need for closure, to have the questions with the loss of a loved one so dear to them that it exceeds words. If Mr Nicholson does not want to answer my questions in writing I have asked (Dec 05, 2013) for a meeting with him, one-on-one, him and I. Again that letter has gone unanswered, not acknowledged. Silence.
The DND Ombudsmans office tells me that it’s with the Minister, and they can do no more then that. The file remains open.
Of the 40 short years Jacques lived, 23 years of those precious years were in service to Canada. Don’t you think the MND can offer me a few short moments of one hour of one day so I can understand and come to terms with what happened almost nine years ago?
Lest we forget!
Joan, beloved widow of Jacques.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.