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Angry veterans bring the fight home

Tom Hoppe earned the Medal of Bravery and the affectionate nickname "Dances With Bullets" for his heroic August 1994 sprint into sniper fire to rescue three children pinned down in the civil war fury of Visoko, Bosnia.

That medal, along with others the former army sergeant earned, including the Meritorious Service Cross, will sit on a shelf this Remembrance Day in a quiet but symbolic protest against the Harper government.

The fact one of Canada's most decorated soldiers, and a respected voice in the peacekeeping community, chose to remove his medals, a decision some troops consider sacrilege, speaks volumes about the level of frustration and disillusionment among ex-soldiers and their families.

"It's a very, very hard choice for me to do this ... but I don't know what else to do," Hoppe said Thursday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"As long as people understand there's no disrespect to veterans whatsoever. It's just a choice I've made because I can't sit on the sidelines and do nothing anymore. And I've tried everything I can. I've tried to work with Veterans Affairs and the government, but every time we go to Veterans Affairs with ideas and stuff it's a confrontational approach."

The protest is also a way to show support for ex-soldiers who have launched a court challenge against the government's marquee legislation, the New Veterans Charter, approved by all parties, enacted by the Conservatives in 2006 and defended by the government ever since.

Hoppe also said the government has failed to completely atone for a privacy scandal.

It has settled out of court with advocate Sean Bruyea, but others have yet to receive an apology, including Hoppe, whose privacy records show his medical information was sought by officials after he expressed concern about the veterans charter in 2006.

Another veteran, former warrant officer Harold Leduc, chose two weeks ago not to wear his medals in protest over his own privacy breaches.

The growing discontent, at times, mystifies and exasperates Conservatives who've introduced a series of changes and improvements meant to take the sting out of veterans complaints.

Both Hoppe and outspoken critic Mike Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy say the amendments don't address the central issue.

The Canadian Press


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