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House approves motion for Veterans Commission

Chairman of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), David Granger addressing members of the Ex-GDF Association in the run-up to 2011 General Election at the Guyana Legion Headquarters.

Despite government’s rejection, Guyana’s combined opposition on Thursday approved a motion calling on the National Assembly to establish a Veterans Commission to look after the welfare of ex-members of the Disciplined Services

House Speaker Raphael Trotman said he and Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs  have to meet to decide how to give effect to the Motion which was sponsored by Opposition Leader, Retired Brigadier David Granger.

Granger expressed disappointment at government’s refusal to support the Motion that envisages the passage of a Veterans Act and the crafting of a policy to address health, housing and other benefits for former members of the Guyana Police Force, Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Prison Service, Guyana Peoples Militia and the now defunct Guyana National Service.

“It is with deep regret that I saw him turn his back on the thousands and thousands of veterans who can only depend on this House  to improve the conditions…  They cannot go to the law, they cannot go to the NIS (National Insurance Scheme). They have to look to a caring government, a caring administration,” said Granger in wrapping up the debate.

The Opposition Leader had been optimistic of government’s support given the tone of discussion with then Prime Minister Janet Jagan, then President Bharrat Jagdeo, then Minister of Culture Youth and Sport Gail Teixeira and Head of the Presidential Secretariat dating back to 13 years.

He was reacting to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who said government had already taken steps to improve the salaries and benefits of members of the Disciplined Forces so that they would be reflected in their superannuation benefits.  He said government over the years has also taken steps to improve health care for all and provide remedial education up to the level of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) to prepare personnel for life after military and paramilitary services. Other education opportunities, he said, were available through the Government Technical Institute, Guyana School of Agriculture and the Cyril Potter College of Education among others.

“We in the government see little to be gained and we see a certain level of danger that the inevitable focus of attention, time and resources to this commission would detract from necessary focus on growing our economy, growing profits and money lawfully,” said Hinds.

Other steps, he said, included the construction of Veterans Care Home in the Joint Services Scheme in 2011. The Prime Minister recommended that the several veterans organisations such as the Guyana Veterans Foundation, Ex-GDF Association and the Guyana Legion come together to provide for the welfare of ex-members of the Disciplined Services.

The Opposition Leader, recommended Hinds, should take up existing formal and informal opportunities to address his concerns.

Granger wants the Veterans Commission to look into the welfare of ex members of the disciplined services and institutionalize a system for their long-term benefit.  He explained that the Veterans Act would outline the benefits that they would be entitled to.

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Winston Felix added that the job experience acquired in the police and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) are irrelevant to the job market, forcing ex-service personnel to accept a small pension as well as menial jobs with poor pay.

Felix, a former Police Commissioner, noted that personnel injured in the line of duty might be able to withdraw from the services on medical grounds if the medical board grants approval.  Personnel might be entitled to pensions and gratuities if they are employed for 10 years or more or just a pension if they are on the job for two or more years but not more than one decade. “Veterans are not to be discarded,” he said.