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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2710

"To Care for them who have borne the Battle and for their Widows and Orphans"

Lalin Fernando1By Major General Lalin Fernando

1. Introduction

The contract between the soldier and the state is unique. It is ‘You must do your duty even at the cost of your life. If you should die in doing so the state will look after your wife and children’. Despite this in 1983, when 13 soldiers were killed in Jaffna, the defence ministry and the army did not know how, when and where to bury them.

What followed is history. The conflict has left about 25,000 troops dead, double that wounded of whom about 10,000 are disabled. Caring for those who sacrificed themselves to safeguard our future became a dominant need and was well met by successive governments without exception. There is also a need to look after more than 100,000 veterans of the three services too, but the priority will and must be to “care for them who have borne the battle and for their widows, orphans and parents”.

2. Caring for the wounded and the widows orphans and parents

The government has put into place a host of benefits for the war wounded and the survivors of the dead, guided over the years by the three services and their welfare organizations. It is the best we can do with our resources.

3. KIA/MIA

When a soldier dies in battle he or she is given a posthumous promotion and full pay and Widows and Orphans entitlements are paid to the NOK until the time he or she would have reached 55 years of age. Thereafter the W&OP only continues to be paid. The same applies to those who are declared missing in action who if they remain so for over a year are declared KIA.

4. WIA

When soldiers are wounded in battle and categorized as unfit for operational duties, they are retained in service, given sedentary duties, trained in other skills and entitled to full pay and allowances until they reach the age of 55 when they are retired with a disability pension. However if due to disabilities a service person decides as a fighting soldier that “the service needs fit people” and leaves the service, he or she is compensated with a lump sum payment of up to a maximum of Rs 100,000 according to the percentage of his disability judged by a medical board of the respective service in addition to the above and continues to receive full pay until age 55. There after he receives his disability pension. The war disabled should be economically viable and psychologically rehabilitated.

5. Forces Welfare Directorates

These have done sterling work in getting the above pensions approved. They basically look after the serving soldier but also help retired ones on a case-by-case basis mainly about pensions and medical facilities. They help to get land, housing, concessionary rates for goods, foodstuff, transport and other things and provide distress loans for the needy, but for the serving soldiers only.

6. Ranviru Seva Authority (RVSA)

The Ranaviru Seva Authority was established in 2000 with the intention primarily of helping soldiers in combat areas so that they did not need to look backwards to see how their families were doing while going forward to deal decisively with the LTTE. RVSA has shouldered the burden of caring for the most affected very well. The effect of their work can be seen best by the very high levels of recruitment at the height of the conflict even as the human cost remains a serious concern. It is important that the politicians and citizenry, even while building monuments to service personnel, do not ever forget the tremendous sacrifices made by them for the country. They must remember the unique contract between the soldier and the state, especially now that the defeat of a fascist megalomaniac and his thugs who held the country in their thrall for decades is nigh .It is an opportune moment for a review of the prevailing schemes, facilities and services especially for those who made the sacrifices and improve on them where necessary.

7. Welfare Schemes

To this end many schemes were launched beginning with building houses for the next of kin of KIA and for the WIA. One thousand houses were built in about one year and the aim is to build 50,000 more for all servicemen. Family-friends schemes, skills development and education of their children was also taken in hand, There was a database built island wide of all widows of KIA and families of WIA and disabled soldiers. A needs assessment was done and problems and issues were prioritized and action taken. Problems were many including children’s schooling, land, housing, legal, police issues, provision of electricity and water, receipt of salaries and compensation. Legal luminaries have appeared free for soldiers and police in varying legal issues. Scholarships were granted for deserving children. District committees were organized to get at those affected at grassroots level. District Secretariats have also been brought in. A prosthetic plant was set up. Amenities of transit camps for soldiers going to or returning from combat areas were increased and improved. Consultants, of whom there is a dearth, were sent to counsel those affected psychologically including NOK and families.

8. Commemoration

27th June was declared Rana Viru Commemoration day although the Nation has not been properly briefed how to honour it unlike the anachronistic WW commemoration day in November .A beautiful memorial park was built at Mylapitiya and another imposing memorial was built on the Parliamentary grounds.

9. Organizational change

The RVSA together with the Services Welfare Directorates, guided by the MOD, provided benefits to those who made the sacrifice. They are probably as good as those of countries with greater experience of conflict and financially far more powerful. Yet soldiers know as well as others that even as the sacrifices have been immense, civilian especially political memories remain short. There is more to be done now as the conflict ends. A more veteran specific organization should come into force inclusive of the RVSA.

10. Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

It is proposed that we urge the government to appoint a Minister for Veteran’s Affairs at Cabinet level. The Ranaviru Authority will be under this ministry, thereby relieving the MOD to concentrate wholly on defence. The new ministry will assume responsibility for the administration of veterans’ affairs and the enactment of legislation that will assure welfare for the veterans and their families and survivors, the payment of disability compensation pensions and the provision of housing loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, survivor, medical and burial benefits amongst other things. Of great urgency is the enforcement of laws regarding the availability of access and other facilities in public buildings for the disabled. Arrangements for the issue of free or half price tickets and reservation of good seats for war disabled in public transport should also be made.

11. Forces Pensions Bureau

Additionally it is recommended that there should be a Bureau for Veterans’ pensions under the Minister instead of the Pensions Dept. The latter has failed to recognize the unique and basic differences of the contract of the serviceman with that of the state’s civil sector, creating heartburn. It has remained steadfastly impervious if not also unmoved by the sacrifices made by servicemen in eradicating the menace that hung over our country for 30 years. It attempts to calculate military pensions using an 8.30 to 4.30 civil service template. The need to recognize the difference is now vital as there has never been a greater human sacrifice at any moment in our history. The military’s social needs must be looked at sympathetically. Budget requirements should be worked out accordingly. (Pakistan spent Pak Rs 2323 million in 1992 on benefits (welfare expenses) for ex servicemen using the funds of its famed Fanji Foundation)

12. Secretary.

The Ministry Secretary should be a Major General from the Infantry. The Infantry bore 95% of the war casualties. He should also have two secretaries, preferably officers from the other two services, covering administration including health and veterans’ benefits. They will be responsible to ensure that the Government policy for the care of the veterans is implemented effectively. Provincial Ministries for Veterans Affairs should be appointed to follow through instructions from the Centre while allocating resources for schemes of their own especially to help the WIA and the next of kin of the KIA.

13. Directors at Tri Service HQs

At present there are directors of welfare at each service HQ but they are wholly tied up with the welfare of over 200,000 serving personnel. Therefore separate Directorates dedicated to the administration of Veterans’ welfare at each of the HQs of the three services headed by a Brigadier or equivalent to implement policies laid down by the Minister should be set up. These Directors too should be from the combat arms.

14. Regimental HQs

a. Regimental Veterans’ Affairs Officer

Regimental HQs should report to the Director. A major rank officer, possibly retired, should be the Regimental Veterans Affairs’ officer. He or she will liaise with their own regimental ex-serviceperson’s association and coordinate the requirements of the Veterans from a dedicated office at RHQ to ensure the policy for caring for Veterans is implemented effectively at Regimental level. This will mean facilitating enlistments of those leaving and keeping soldiers aware of the benefits of joining veterans’ associations. WIA should be given free membership. The veterans’ affairs officer should also liaise with the Provincial councils concerned to obtain additional benefits for members.

b. District Welfare Officers (DWOs) and Managers

They will function under the Regimental Veterans Affairs Officers and will be the point of contact with the veterans wherever they live. They will visit the veterans regularly and report back to the regiments on the status, (medical, financial, mental etc) of the Veterans and make sure that all their requirements if not met are made known to the Regiment for action. There should be at least one DWO for each district. They should also liaise with the local authorities to obtain benefits and concessions for the Veterans.

15. Regimental and Area Commanders

Area Commanders and Colonels of Regiments should work closely with the Provincial Governor, Provincial Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Chief Minister respectively. The latter will initiate the provision of additional facilities for the veterans like monthly stipends for decorated war heroes in their province, granting of lands and providing housing for the WIA and next of kin of KIA including children and organizing second careers using feedback from the Regimental Veterans’ Affairs Officers and the DWOs.

16. Resettlement

Many service persons do not have any land of their own outside their parent’s property, which they have to share amongst several siblings. It is proposed that in addition to giving houses to serving soldiers as at present, war wounded veterans and survivors also be included in the scheme. Provincial Councils will have a prominent part to play here as they control government land in their provinces.

17. Medical Facilities

a. General.

Few if any WIA service persons or for that matter civilian victim of bomb attacks who makes it to surgery within six hours of being wounded, dies. The military casualty evacuation system has played a vital part in this process. Our doctors and nurses are exceptionally experienced, efficient and effective and second to none. They have performed superlatively having been in the high-intensity mode for over 30 years inclusive of the 2004 tsunami. The General, Provincial and Teaching Hospitals are today fully equipped and prepared. Each can take 30 war wounded at any time. The rehabilitation of the war disabled however is affected by a dearth of good quality equipment for the limbless starting from crutches, lack of adequate physiotherapy treatment and also psychological counselling facilities to counter Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSS).

b. Protocol

There should be a protocol for seriously injured hospital leavers who should be given the highest priority in receiving all available facilities. Service medical facilities should be made available, taking the following factors into consideration so that those who deserve it most are given the maximum:

(1) Those who can afford it (eg, officers) should contribute to veterans’ health schemes while for WIA veterans it should be free.

(2) Payment for service-related disabilities (not due to war injuries) should take into consideration the income and assets of person and the cost of living.

(3) Comprehensive care and medication, whatever the cost, should be given free for those who have lost limbs.

(4) Non service-related ailments and over 30-day prescriptions and medication should be charged.

(5) Dental and Nursing care should be more restricted, giving the WIA priority.

c. Medical Services

(1) Rehab centres. There should be several military rehabilitation centres to cope with the number of limbless. The services they offer should be surveyed periodically. Time spent by individuals should be monitored according to the status of the WIA in order to offer occupation to as many people as possible. Only special cases should be granted six-month long stays. The welfare of the limbless has to be better coordinated and improved.

(2). OPD clinics should be opened in as many towns as possible so that they are easily accessed by the majority. Similarly mobile clinics should visit remote areas on a proper schedule.

(3). Wards and beds in government hospitals should be kept reserved, especially for injury rehabilitation and mental health care. However members of the Volunteer Force (VF) with non-service disabilities (ie not war related or WIA) would not qualify for the above.

(4) Inpatient facilities. There should be sufficient inpatient bed levels for retired WIA needing tertiary medication in Veterans’ Hospitals. These should be established at first in the capital cities of the provinces having the most veterans.

(5) Nursing hospitals. There should be nursing hospitals for the war disabled pensioners as above.

(6) Volunteer help. Help by voluntary agencies should be encouraged especially to provide equipment for the limbless like light weight crutches, socket gel liners for artificial limbs, wheeled commodes and wheelchairs and counselling rather than items for surgery which are adequate now.

(7). Invalid children. The scheme should also cover invalid children of war veterans.

18. Education.

The department of Veterans’ Affairs should run education institutions in all provincial capitals for the children of the Veterans, giving priority to NOK of KIA and WIA. Stipends should also be given for deserving WIA and NOK of KIA to attend schools and universities.

19. Homes, Land and loans

The government is building homes to be purchased by serving soldiers. Houses or apartments should be given free to the NOK of the war dead and the war disabled and in places of their choice. The latter will need special disability fittings in their homes. Lands are being given in the East similarly and should be extended to the WIA and NOK of KIA. Generous concessions should be given to widows of KIA and war disabled when granting loans.

20 Compensation for WIA

Generous armed forces compensations schemes should be given to the war wounded disabled who opt to leave the service.

21. Pensions

a. Military pensions. The Forces Pensions must show a distinct difference between war wounded/affected and regular military pensions. It should be considered whether there is any merit for a one rank, one pension scheme irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, especially for WIA and NOK of KIA

b. War pensions schemes

War Pensions Committees should be set up in all districts to adjudicate and administer the grants of disabled ex servicemen and organize care for widows and neglected children according to their prevailing situation and not on a one time basis. Provincial councils should make budgetary provision for servicemen and police in their provinces accordingly.

(1). War widows’ pensions should be higher than service widows (normal death).

(2). Compensation for war wounded and war disabled people should be generous. (UK gives a maximum of Rs 9 million equivalent plus pension).

22. Burials

Burials are generally under control.

23. Vocational rehabilitation and employment

Vocational training schemes of 6 months should be re- introduced for all leavers.

Priority to and reservations for veterans seeking government jobs should be given, with relaxation of education and age qualifications and years in military/police service taken into consideration at placement.

Security agencies should have 50% servicemen/ police in their ranks. Hospitals and government departments, corporations and banks should be made to insist on 50 % of all private security personnel being veterans.

Technical training centres should be set up to teach skills to veterans and their children.

24. Life Insurance

There should be a life insurance scheme for all servicemen extending into the period of retirement up to the age of 65, by which time hopefully the obligations of parents to their children would have ended.

25. War widows and NOK

War orphans should be given priority for entry into schools.

Vocational training centres with various skills learning including computers, secretarial, tailoring, embroidery and knitting should be established for the above.

Unmarried daughters of KIA and WIA (disabled) should be included in above.

Sons under the age of 18 of KIA and WIA (disabled) should be offered leadership training projects.

Divorced and subsequently unmarried wives should receive W & OP consequent to the death of the serviceman and not the second wife .

- Asian Tribune -

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