The theme of Remembrance deeply infused the work of The Royal Canadian Legion in 2018, as it commemorated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. Individual activities at the national and regional levels culminated in Remembrance Day ceremonies with special touches to reflect this milestone.
Thanks to a combination of strategies, the membership base grew by more than 25,000. A new Veterans Welcome Program launched in mid-November introduced a complimentary one-year membership to serving or retired military or RCMP veterans—and close to 400 people joined in the final weeks of 2018 alone.
The newly established Going Forward Committee helped facilitate initiatives ranging from a full operational review of Legion House and its programs to a comprehensive strategic plan and the development of a new Code of Ethics for Elected Officers and Staff.
This was a dominion convention year for the Legion. New ideas and initiatives came to the floor in Winnipeg in August, including the national strategic plan that serves as a model for all commands. Implementation will continue into 2019 and beyond.
Objectives include membership growth, a governance review, infrastructure improvements, communications and marketing plans, fostering a welcoming culture, and increasing member recognition as well as strengthening the organization’s value proposition.
With the change in national leadership came new goals and priorities, which align with the strategic plan and will see renewed energy put into initiatives to make the Legion an increasingly attractive organization for veterans and their families. Modernization and innovation will be key in upcoming years.
Serving veterans and their families
The Legion’s direct work with veterans results in heartwarming feedback, in particular via the Veterans Services department. “With you in my corner, I always feel like I have a real fighting chance,” wrote one veteran, who reflected the overall tone of comments received by Legion service officers.
When Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) amended its policy on partial entitlement for disability claims, the Veterans Services department was quickly inundated with thousands of inquiries and applications a busy outcome but a positive result since more veterans are now receiving increased financial benefits, which in some cases have changed their lives. In 2018, service officers across the country experienced an increased workload due to the changes and to the continued backlog of claims within VAC.
The Legion’s National Headquarters handled numerous requests for benevolent funding in 2018, and its Poppy Trust Fund helped almost 80 veterans and spouses needing emergency assistance. Just over $75,000 helped with short-term relief, for things like shelter, food, fuel, prescription medicine and hearing aids.
Making a Difference On The Ground
Legion volunteers working with VAC’s Outreach and Visitation Initiative made more than 4,000 visits to veterans in long term care facilities last year. A renewed contract means volunteers can visit 5,000 veterans in VAC-subsidized long-term care facilities in 2019 and 2020.
An important part of the Legion’s work is reaching out to Canadian Armed Forces members on active duty. More than 5,400 care packages were sent to deployed soldiers as part of the CAF’s yearly Operation Santa Claus and Operation Canada Day initiatives.
Research and advocacy
National Headquarters continued to advocate on behalf of veterans on a multitude of issues. Notably, requesting an improved rollout of the new pension plan option for veterans; more research into the use of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine; and with the legalization of marijuana, a renewed call for research into cannabinoid-based therapy for veterans.
During the course of the year, letters from the Legion to the minister of Veterans Affairs delved into several topics, including what to do with unspent funds at VAC, reaction to the Veterans Ombudsman’s report, and a push for promised standards for service dogs.
Through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Research, the Legion once again provided a $30,000 master’s degree scholarship for research specializing in military and veterans health research. The scholarship went to University of British Columbia student Massimo Cau, who is working on a project designed to help increase the survival rate of soldiers who suffer gunshot wounds on the battlefield.
The Legion’s National Headquarters supports veterans and widows in 16 Caribbean countries with funding from commands, branches and other donations through the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL). In 2018, almost $300,000 went to veterans and widows in the Caribbean to provide at least one hot meal a day for the year. The Legion also provided poppies and remembrance items for their local commemorative events.
Being the North American contact for allied veterans and widows living in North America, the Legion distributed more than $302,000 for immediate and long term assistance. This work was on behalf of several international trust funds and associations.