HALIFAX – A senior member of the Norwegian foreign affairs parliamentary committee says Ottawa’s refusal to admit a 94-year-old to a veteran’s hospital in Halifax is disrespectful to the sailors who fought for the allies in the Second World War.
Christian Tybring-Gjedde, the defence spokesman for the Progress Party, says he plans to bring the case of Petter Blindheim forward to government ministers in the coalition government formed by the ruling Conservatives and his political party.
Tybring-Gjedde says the media and political attention devoted to the Blindheim case has been light so far in Norway, but he expects that may change if the decorated veteran of Norway’s navy and merchant marine doesn’t receive a spot at the hospital.
“This is a case where you shouldn’t hide behind formalities. … It should be solved immediately. The man is 94 years old. He doesn’t have many years to live. This has to be resolved now,” said the veteran parliamentarian from Oslo.
“You should treat him with respect.”
Blindheim was initially rejected for placement at the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial hospital because the Department of Veterans Affairs said he’d signed up with the Norwegian navy after his homeland was occupied, and was classified as being in the “resistance service” rather than an Allied veteran.
Ottawa recanted that position, but then rejected Blindheim — who has fallen several times and has a broken arm — because it said he could be cared for at a provincial facility where Ottawa will still pay his daily costs.
“We evaluate all veterans who require benefits on a case-by-case basis,” wrote Sarah McMaster.
“While we always work to deliver the support a veteran and their family needs, it is not always possible to do so in a specific facility of a veteran’s choosing.”
She said Veterans Affairs supports the long term care of any veteran who needs it in one of 1500 facilities across Canada, adding “we … will always ensure they are receiving the level of care they need based on evaluation by health care professionals.”
The department has also said there are legislated rules, including the requirement that allied veterans demonstrate they require specialized care not available in other facilities, which the minister cannot ignore.
McMaster said the beds at the specialized hospital have given priority access of to Second World War and Korean War veterans of Canada’s Armed Forces and this began when they were transferred to provincial jurisdictions.
“It became imperative to secure priority access to long term care for these veterans in the transferred hospitals,” she wrote.
The family has responded that there is a median 285-day waiting list for provincial homes in Halifax, and that Blindheim would prefer to be with other veterans at the Halifax hospital — which receives a higher daily subsidy that the average received for care at a provincial nursing home.
The province’s premier has called rejection of Blindheim “bureaucratic BS,” because the Camp Hill hospital has empty beds while there is a waiting list for the provincial spots.
Tybring-Gjedde says the number of Canadian and allied vets in their mid 90s is rapidly diminishing and he has difficulty understanding why the Canadian government has created different hurdles for veterans from his nation.
“What’s the big issue here? How many cases will you have before they all die? … He fought the same war as the Canadians. We were all protecting each other: Canadians, Norwegians and British,” he said.
Blindheim was decorated by the Norwegian government for removing a primer from a depth charge to avoid it exploding as the convoy ship he was on was sinking.
Irene Mathyssen, the federal NDP critic for veterans affairs, said in an interview that the Liberals campaigned with promises of creating a more flexible system, and are now abandoning veterans.
“This government promised more; these veterans deserve more … It doesn’t make any sense at all. Petter Blindheim (was) refused a bed when there are beds there,” she said.