Friday, February 9, 2001 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

'Today I am ashamed' 

Gulf War vet's widow stuns politicians with tales of neglect 

Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press 
Sue Riordon, the widow of Capt. Terry Riordon, a Canadian Forces officer who served in the Gulf War, testifies at the Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax on Thursday.
By Clare Mellor / Staff Reporter

 Members of a legislature committee were floored Thursday on hearing from a Yarmouth woman about the treatment Persian Gulf War veterans and their families receive from the federal government. 

Sue Riordon, widow of Gulf war veteran Terry Riordon, told the committee meeting in Halifax that many sick veterans in Nova Scotia are living on welfare and being denied proper psychological support and home care. 

Most Gulf War veterans receiving a federal pension for illness get a maximum $91 a month, she said. 

"At times I have been disappointed (in government) . . . but today I am ashamed," said Mary Ann McGrath, Conservative MLA for Halifax Bedford Basin and a member of the all-party committee on veterans affairs. 

Terry Riordon suffered for nine years from a debilitating sickness after he served in the Gulf. When he died in April 1999, he was unable to walk or feed or bathe himself. 

Ms. Riordon, Atlantic director of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, began fighting Ottawa for adequate financial and medical support for her husband years ago. 

Now that he's dead, the 45-year-old mother of two continues the fight on behalf of all sick veterans and their families. 

She pleaded with the committee Thursday to take a stand and demand the federal government take better care of its veterans. 

The province shoulders the main costs of veterans' care through welfare and the health system, Ms. Riordon said. 

She said the province spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical care for her husband after military physicians failed to help him and wrongly diagnosed him with epilepsy. 

"Why can this province not stand up and say enough is enough? 

"Will Nova Scotia be the first to take care of the veterans?" 

The committee decided Thursday to write the Veterans Affairs Department and demand an explanation. It will also ask veterans affairs and Defence Department officials to appear before it within several weeks to reply to Ms. Riordon's charges. The committee doesn't have power to force anyone to appear. 

About 200 Canadian Gulf War veterans receive federal pensions for illness, but Ms. Riordon said she knows of about 200 in Nova Scotia alone who should receive support. 

Cape Breton West MLA Russell MacKinnon, whose family was embroiled in a battle with the military a few years ago, said he has empathy for Ms. Riordon. 

"The military seems to push all this under the carpet. . . . Clearly we have a major issue here," said the Liberal MLA. 

His nephew, Cpl. Neil MacKinnon, died in a training exercise several years ago in CFB Suffield, Alta. The military claimed he was killed by falling on his own grenade, but his family's two-year search for answers revealed he was accidentally shot in the back of the head first. 

Ms. Riordon told the committee that the Veterans Affairs Department must begin to employ veterans to help other vets. She said supports are needed to help spouses and children of Gulf War veterans who have to live with illness daily. 

She recounted for the committee how she recently spent several hours at a hospital offering support to the wife of one of the veterans. The man had tried to kill himself with an overdose. 

"I was the one they called. There is no one else to call."