Veteran celebrates first meal in 265 hours with bacon and egg breakfast last night
© Guardian photo
Fabien Melanson is staging a hunger strike in front of Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters in Charlottetown.
Cpl. Fabien Melanson (ret’d) ended his hunger strike at 6 p.m. Tuesday after receiving the formal apology he was seeking from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Melanson was at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital later Tuesday and unavailable for comment following his meeting with VAC.
A media release on his decision was not issued until approximately 2 a.m. this morning.
The veteran of the Royal 22nd Regiment had last eaten on June 4. He had been protesting outside VAC headquarters in Charlottetown since June 6.
An accounting error in 2004 sent Melanson’s pension into the wrong bank account. It took VAC five months to correct the error, by which time Melanson’s house and finances were ruined and his mental health at risk.
While VAC had acknowledged the error at the time, it had refused to admit any responsibility for the consequences.
Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Melanson and his personal advocate Capt. Sandy Brace (ret’d) were finally invited inside to meet with a VAC official.
At that meeting, Keith Hillier, assistant deputy minister for service delivery, expressed profound regret for Melanson’s plight.
Hillier gave assurances that he would act immediately to draft a letter outlining the fact that Veterans’ Affairs was responsible for the lack of funds, not Melanson.
While Hillier offered no guarantees, he said he hoped that such a document would assist Melanson in rebuilding his credit rating. The corporal had to declare bankruptcy as a result of the error.
Hillier stated the forthcoming letter could be used with creditors and financial institutions to explain that the bad debts were not Melanson’s fault, but that of Veterans’ Affairs.
Hillier also expressed concern over Melanson’s level of support and provided Brace with contact information for a case manager in the veteran’s home region of Cap-Pelé, N.B. Hillier suggested Melanson’s case should be reviewed.
Melanson has also been seeking funds to restore his home to livable condition. When his pension went missing, the 160 year-old farm house he inherited from his grandparents had been undergoing renovation. Without an income, work halted and the dwelling quickly fell into disrepair. It remains derelict.
Hillier advised Melanson and Brace that, while he was sorry for situation, Veterans’ Affairs has no mechanism in place for rectifying the problems they created. Hillier concluded with a promise to deliver the letter by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney assured Parliament that the government was acting to address the plight of homeless veterans. “One veteran in the street is one veteran too many”, he said.
After the meeting with Hillier, Brace drove Melanson to the QEH where he was given a full medical check. Melanson received three units of IV fluids and a clean bill of health.
Melanson extended his thanks to ER staff and says he received excellent care in their hands.
Melanson said he set out to accomplish three goals with his hunger strike: an apology, a house to live in, and to raise awareness of the problems veterans endure.
While he still does not have a home, Melanson considers his results to be satisfactory. The apology and acknowledgement he received from Hillier has granted him peace of mind and he looks forward to receiving the promised letter.
Melanson feels that media interest of his hunger strike and the public support he received show that Canadians are concerned for their veterans.
At 6:10 p.m. Tuesday after more than 11 days, Melanson ended his 265-hour hunger strike with a bacon and egg breakfast.
He plans to return home to Cap Pele today after holding a press conference.