Fighting the Battle for Canada’s Veterans
The War Amps
Celebrating a Century of Service
One hundred years ago, war amputee veterans returning from the First World War started a unique Association with a simple goal – to share concerns and assist each other in adapting to their new lives as amputees. They never dreamed that the group they started from scratch would come to be known affectionately to Canadians as simply “The War Amps,” and that it would still be changing the lives of veterans and amputees a century later.
Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Lambert, The War Amps first President, was himself an amputee after losing a leg on the First World War battlefields. He helped lay the groundwork for this new national association, which would bind together First World War amputees returning home to an uncertain future, and advocate for both them and other seriously disabled veterans. He instilled the belief that, with courage and determination, amputees can succeed in life, and fostered the “amputees helping amputees” philosophy that remains the hallmark of the Association today.
Welcoming Second World War Amputees
As a new wave of war amputees returned from the Second World War, they were welcomed to the Association by the First World War amputees. Remembering the struggles that they themselves had faced in returning to their pre-war jobs, the “old amps” established the Key Tag Service to provide this new generation of war amputees with meaningful employment and to offer a service to the public that would in turn raise funds for the Association. The idea required the participation and goodwill of citizens who found lost keys to put them in a mailbox for return, and it was a resounding success from the start. By attaching a War Amps tag to a set of keys or other valuables, Canadians can feel assured these important items will be returned to them if found. Since 1946, when the service began, The War Amps has returned more than 1.5 million sets of lost keys to their owners. Today, this service is more important than ever, with the high replacement cost of keys and remote devices.
In the early days, the key tags were made by hand and looked like miniature licence plates. Now they are stamped plastic tags with an identification code. Key tags are mailed to Canadians once a year but are available for order at any time.
Extending Support to All Amputees
Over time, with their immediate needs met, the First and Second World War amputees realized that their knowledge and experience could help others.
A turning point came when the decision was made to develop programs to assist all Canadian amputees, including civilian adult and child amputees. They viewed these programs as their chance to give back, and to continue serving their country, albeit in a different capacity.
Under the leadership of Cliff Chadderton, a Second World War amputee, the renowned Child Amputee (CHAMP) Program was created to ensure children would have artificial limbs and to share the “amps’” positive motto: “It’s what’s left that counts.” CHAMP remains unique in the world, providing comprehensive support for child amputees and their families.
Fighting the Battle for Veterans
Throughout its long history, The War Amps has fought to protect the rights of amputee veterans, and to address the difficulties they face. For instance, many arm amputees use their teeth in performing everyday tasks, and this inevitably leads to considerable wear breakage. After The War Amps presented this information to a Parliamentary Committee in 1941, the Department of Veterans Affairs granted dental service to arm amputees “as a matter of right.”
The Association continues to assist modern-day as well as traditional war amputee veterans. The Association is represented on four ministerial advisory groups to Veterans Affairs Canada, and for many years has called for legislative reform of the new Veterans Charter to address its readily apparent gaps and weaknesses.
It also helps war amputees who are making the transition to civilian life by acting as a vital navigator through the complex and bureaucratic systems of the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. It provides them with information on the benefits to which they may be entitled and, if requested, applies for these benefits or increases on their behalf. It also works in a consultative role with these two departments, sharing its one hundred years of expertise and experience in the field of amputation to help them to better address the prosthetic needs of war amputees.
Still Much to Do
The War Amps has grown dramatically over the years, and continues to carry on the legacy of First and Second World War amputees through its mission to improve the lives of all amputees, including children.
“Our work now encompasses a diversity of issues, from financial assistance for artificial limbs, to providing a voice for amputees’ rights, to our role as the centre of excellence in living with amputation and much more,” says Brian Forbes, Chairman of the Executive Committee of The War Amps.
This includes a Crusade for Reform, which is being led by the Association’s Advocacy Program to improve the standards of financial support for artificial limbs offered by provincial governments and the insurance industry. “We are certain many Canadians would be shocked to know that those who suffer the loss of a limb are not adequately covered by their provincial and insurance health plans, and that some provinces provide no funding for artificial limbs at all,” Forbes says.
“As we move into our second century, just as The War Amps has fought the battle for veterans since 1918, we still have a modern-day battle to fight to ensure that the needs of all amputees are met.”
For more information, including The War Amps complete history, visit waramps.ca.
Commemorative envelopes celebrating The War Amps 100th anniversary are available through canadapost.ca/shop.