A lively 2022 at The Royal Canadian Legion
By Nujma Bond, National Headquarters
Serving our Veterans: Veterans Services staff help Veterans receive the supports they need.
A literal army of volunteers helped serve Veterans, their families, and communities across Canada in 2022. Volunteer dedication enabled the Legion to pull through ongoing pandemic challenges that would otherwise have been insurmountable.
The Legion’s strong membership base is its foundation; its 250,000 members once again allowed the organization to do and achieve some amazing things.
Last year, Legion membership also grew year over year for the first time in over three decades. The organization welcomed over 35,000 new and reinstated members - it’s the kind of growth that hasn’t been seen in many years.
Underpinning the varied accomplishments at a national level were member engagement, public relations, new project innovation, and advocacy efforts. This collective work helped produce public and media interest, membership growth, and ultimately it helped facilitate actions across the country to support Veterans.
The dedication of many colleagues was central to introducing initiatives that helped modernize and strengthen the Legion nationally – from biodegradable Poppies to new membership tools.
In 2022, the Legion welcomed many positive stories about how individuals or family members were helped by its work, such heartwarming stories were a testament to the dedication of thousands.
SERVING VETERANS & THEIR FAMILIES
The Legion exists primarily to help serve Veterans and their families. This is accomplished through a range of actions at the national and local levels.
Making a difference
Legion Service Officers at all Branches across the country, and at the provincial and national levels are always ready to assist thousands of Veterans each year.
Veterans do not need to be Legion members to receive assistance, and once again last year it was provided at no cost to them. Canadians made this possible because of their yearly generosity during the National Poppy Campaign. Over the course of 2022, Dominion Command Service Officers helped with disability applications, appeals, and provided individual grants for essential items like food, fuel, clothing, medication, and emergency shelter.
The Legion’s Veterans Services department heard excellent feedback last year from Veterans who were happy to finally receive disability benefits after years of rejection – primarily after being alerted to changes in polices at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). Service Officers shared new benefit information with Veterans who may not have been aware, helping them receive what they were entitled to. These included things like additional pain and suffering compensation, and additional claims related to PTSD medications.
Veterans Services became involved in some new initiatives last year such as The Burns Way project to help ensure Indigenous Veterans receive the mental health care they deserve, and the department participated in the planning of the 2023 Women Veterans Forum.
Programs supported by the Legion such as BSO Legion OSI’s Operation VetBuild continued to hold an increasing number of group meetings for Veterans in the wake of the pandemic. These activities were another important means of helping support Veteran mental health and well-being in 2022.
Program support: Strengthening resilience with Operation VetBuild (Photo credit: Darren Calabrese / The Globe and Mail)
Research and advocacy
Because of the ongoing disability claims backlog at Veterans Affairs, the Legion received additional calls and complaints from Veterans over the past year. While the Legion cannot hasten the process, it can advocate for immediate change – which is one of the things it did again in 2022, with a letter requesting action by the federal government, and through participation in media discussions on the topic.
The Legion also appreciated when change did happen, for example after the announcement by the federal government that it would provide funds to help VAC keep staff that had been hired to combat the backlog. In another instance, the Legion commended VAC after the announcement of a new program from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) which outlined how Veterans who needed mental health support would get it immediately with no need to wait in the current benefit claims application backlog.
The Royal Canadian Legion’s yearly Masters Scholarship was awarded through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) in 2022. The $30,000 grant was awarded to a master’s degree student at the University of Manitoba whose research is designed to better understand treatment outcomes in Veterans with PTSD who use medicinal cannabis. The Legion has been advocating for research in this realm for years.
Other organizations that ultimately help Veterans cope with a range of challenges through programming or research are regularly supported by the Legion. Last year a $75,000 donation made to the Concussion Legacy Foundation went towards research into concussions and brain health.
The Legion works regularly to push for change and does so mostly behind the scenes through its connections to government and other related decision makers. In other cases, public stances are taken through letters to the Prime Minister or when directly questioned by media. It was a busy year for advocacy, with topics ranging from the creation of a Platinum Jubilee medal to honour citizens who have made a difference and pushing to end the construction plan for condos on Juno Beach in France.
The organization also shone a spotlight on the financial strain of housing on CAF personnel posted in various high-cost regions. The Legion continued to monitor the outcome of the Arbour report on military sexual misconduct and lent its voice in support of actions that need to be taken to ensure lasting change in that domain.
In 2022, the Legion provided support to 60 Veterans and widows in Caribbean countries to provide them with at least two meals a day. A grant provided to Curphey Home in Jamaica also helped operators with repairs and similar needs. The home is a place that provides care and protection for Veterans. Last year financial assistance was also provided to help with computer and IT equipment needs in local support offices in Saint Vincent, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, Belize and St. Lucia.
As part of its operations, the Legion distributed assistance to 68 Allied Veterans and widows on behalf of several benevolent funds and international entities, like the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League. The Legion is the North American contact for Allied veterans and widows on this continent.
National Headquarters operations
The Legion’s outward sheen of success in 2022 reflects the organization’s background operations.
Continued modernization of the membership experience started to yield positive results. New optional tools - such as a digital membership card that can be downloaded to mobile phones - were introduced. The Legion offered members several ways to renew, including at their branch, online, and by phone. And members received access to an even greater number of benefits through the MemberPerks program and the Legion Benefit Partners. Together they offered substantive savings at thousands of businesses across the country – including the benefits realized in 2022, over one million dollars have been saved since the program was launched in 2020.
A key component of National Headquarters work is regular and robust communications with members across the country. Last year, over 1 million communications pieces – including direct mail and email – were sent to members, branches, and the public. Alongside these efforts, successful promotional campaigns helped boost membership and ultimately supported the work of the organization to serve Veterans and their families.
Legion outreach using social and traditional media also helped contribute to its Poppy Store revenues. Thousands of people browsed through the products available at Poppystore.ca, and others made purchases through their local Branch – to the tune of 35,000 parcels in 2022. The Legion’s Supply department executed its timely and great customer service by phone, e-mail, online or in person. Some of the new products launched last year were a new LED light, commemorative pins - including one to mark and honour the passing of Queen Elizabeth II - and a freshly designed tote bag. Customers who purchased Legion products helped facilitate the organization’s goals.
It was a busy year for media engagement, and national marketing and communications efforts created ongoing interest in the Legion’s programs and services. Mainly positive and informative stories were aired and published widely, bolstering awareness of the Legion’s mission and the National Poppy Campaign. Media contacted the Legion throughout the year to invite its opinion on topical matters.
The Legion’s renewed focus on equality, diversity and inclusivity resulted in several overt efforts to educate its membership and the public last year. A comprehensive article during National Indigenous History Month explained how Indigenous traditions matter to the Legion and its history in this regard. Its Op Harmony committee continued to examine new policies and programs that will help the organization grow relations with a host of traditionally marginalized groups.
Last year the Legion dealt with a record 1,600+ Poppy trademark violations, primarily related to individuals or businesses using the Poppy image or selling Poppy branded Remembrance products without permission. The Legion continued to crack down on this sort of illegal behaviour – first, through education. A proactive national news story helped highlight the issue last year and large online retailers such as Amazon and eBay pledged to help eliminate such violations.
PROMOTING REMEMBRANCE & NATIONAL POPPY CAMPAIGN
For the first time in its history, the iconic Poppy became biodegradable, as did the organization’s wreaths. The red lapel Poppies are now made of paper and cotton velvet, and the wreaths are composed of several biodegradable materials including real moss and bamboo. This project was several years in the making, as it took time to find just the right mix to replicate both form and function. While alternatives to the Poppy’s metal pin and the wreath’s ribbon are still being investigated, the launch of these new items was a huge step forward in the organization’s move to become more environmentally friendly.
Biodegradable: Launch of new Poppies and wreaths
Another hit was the “Poppy Stories” initiative that debuted in 2022. Supporters could scan their lapel Poppies with their smartphones and up popped a story of a Canadian Veteran – a short summary of who they were and where they served. It was a unique new way to engage people in the act of Remembrance and allow them to connect more closely with those who have served this country. Over 35,000 people visited the Poppy Stories website to check out this unique new educational tool, and the majority of those who did were from a younger demographic, a group the Legion is also hoping to welcome in greater numbers well into the future.
Poppy stories: Remembering Canada’s Veterans
The 2022 National Poppy Campaign began in spirit when Governor General Mary Simon accepted the “First Poppy” at Rideau Hall in mid-October. The campaign officially got underway on October 28 with traditional Poppy boxes available at close to 30,000 locations across the country, along with 1,000 Pay Tribute “tap to give” boxes which provided touchless donation in combinations of $2, $5, or $10. Online donations were also made possible through Legion.ca.
First Poppy: Canada’s Governor General receives First Poppy from Dominion President Bruce Julian
Last year the Legion saw even more excellent corporate partners provide support efforts during the National Poppy Campaign, for example those that offered point-of-sale donations in their locations facilitated donations and encouraged the act of Remembrance. Another new partnership with a quality manufacturer resulted in a classy limited-edition Remembrance tumbler.
The Legion’s parallel focus on remembrance was bolstered by the wide-ranging support of many community and creative partners in 2022. For example, through a partnership created via the independent Legion National Foundation (LNF), an initiative called “Letters Home” was launched. It shared the content of original letters written by Veterans, with the people who now live in their former homes. It was a creative way to help spark Remembrance.
The Digital Poppy, also presented by the LNF, meant donors could dedicate a Poppy to a special Veteran online. Over 6,000 people participated in 2022, raising close to $200,000 for LNF programs to support our Veterans and promote remembrance.
The 7th edition of the Legion’s Virtual Poppy Drop saw 117,000 virtual poppies falling from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, and from the nearby Senate of Canada building. Along with an outdoor tribute video display near Parliament, the Legion helped Canadians pay tribute to all Veterans who have served Canada. Again, last year, well-known landmarks across the country such as Niagara Falls in ON, the Samuel de Champlain Bridge in QC and the Calgary Tower in AB were illuminated at varying times during the Remembrance period in a collective show of reverence for our Veterans.
The National Remembrance Day Ceremony was held in full splendour in 2022. It included a grand Veterans’ Parade and a CF-18 fly-past.
While the Legion’s national ceremony remembers all fallen Veterans from all missions, significant milestones are respectfully highlighted. Ceremonial touches in 2022 acknowledged the 80th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. They included a flypast of vintage aircraft – a Hawker Hurricane and a Supermarine Spitfire - and reenactors joined the audience dressed in period uniforms. At the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a unique Red Ensign flag understood to have been carried by a Canadian soldier at Dieppe, lay in honour of the sacrifices made, and garnered much public and media attention throughout the Remembrance period.
Red Ensign Flag: Commemorating Dieppe Raid Veterans
The late Queen Elizabeth II’s own military service was also poignantly remembered visually, with a specially crafted wreath in her honour.
Canada’s National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother, Candy Greff of Alberta, placed a wreath at the ceremony on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child in military service to Canada.
National Ceremony: Honouring Canada’s Veterans
Each year close to 30,000 spectators participate in person, with millions more watching online or on television. Once again major media outlets broadcast live from the memorial site in Ottawa, allowing many to participate in this meaningful day.
Remembrance is a key pillar of the Legion and continued throughout the year. Last year, the Legion made a significant donation to the Canadian War Museum. The $100,000 commitment will support the development of an online project that will detail memories and post-war experiences of Veterans and their families.
SUPPORTING OUR YOUTH THROUGH SPORT
The Legion’s annual National Youth Track and Field Championships returned, and the amazing games took place at a top-notch track facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Hundreds of young athletes from around the country competed in track and field events under a scorching sun.
Legion Nationals: Supporting Youth
With 2023 underway, the Legion has already celebrated a significant milestone to date: the online processing of its one millionth membership year since it first became possible to sign up virtually in 2017. This year, the organization plans more robust communication with members, and will require updated contact information. Efforts are underway to secure such details to ensure all members have regular access to Legion news, events, and special offers. A helpful email tool is also in development to help branches share news and keep members informed about activities.
The Legion will continue to support Veterans and families and advocate for changes and programs that will make life better for them. This includes issues such as improvements to Long Term Care, the elimination of the “marriage over 60” clause, and additional research into mefloquine and medicinal cannabis.
The Veterans Services department itself will look forward to supporting Veterans in Long Term Care in various ways, and a Service Officer professional development training session is on the agenda.
New educational tools are in progress, some alongside the Legion National Foundation, including a youth-focussed website and video contest; and the popular next edition of the gaming platform, Remembrance Island III, is under construction. The Legion’s Pilgrimage of Remembrance will be back this summer. The organization also looks forward to creating new partnerships and expanding others, with new initiatives set to be unveiled this year.
The Legion will monitor the handling of critical social issues such as military sexual trauma and Veteran homelessness, it will push once again for a national homeless Veterans strategy and respond to other timely topics that may emerge. Efforts will continue to generate media and public awareness about the Legion, its branches, and the collective work underway.
Planning has already begun for the 2023 Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships and the Dominion Member Sports Championships - which reveal the best Legion member players in cribbage, darts, and 8-ball.
Details will soon emerge related to the 2024 Dominion Convention in Saint John, New Brunswick. Stay tuned also for exciting new items that will enhance the Legion’s Poppy store line of products.
As it marches into 2023, the Legion remains thankful for its many members, partners and supporters who together give the organization its strength and facilitate all it does to support Veteran well-being.
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