Honouring the work individuals carry out for the benefit of veterans and their families, the 2015 Veterans Ombudsman Commendation was awarded on Nov. 3 to Lt. Gen the Honourable Romeo Dallaire and Capt. Raimo Kokkonen.
“Lt.-Gen. the Honourable Roméo Dallaire (ret’d) and Capt. Ray Kokkonen (ret’d) exemplify the criteria of the Commendation. It is an honour for me to present them their awards today before their nominators, my Advisory Council and members of my team at the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman,” said the Veterans Ombudsman, Guy Parent.
Capt. Kokkonen was awarded the commendation for his work as a founding member of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans’ Association. As president for the last six years, Kokkonen has worked to advocate for veterans and the support they need and focuses on uniting the veteran community to improve conditions for all.
“I feel both honoured and proud to be in such select company. It is also very meaningful to me to be receiving the Commendation beside Romeo Dallaire who is among the Canadians that I most respect. As well, I must admit to feeling quite humble and perhaps not fully deserving of the award when I look at the highly significant contributions other recipients have made on behalf of veterans and the veterans community,” said Kokkonen.
Kokkonen’s work allows him to work closely with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and senior Veterans Affairs Canada officials. He has made several appearances as a witness to the House of Commons Standing Committee for Veterans Affairs.
Kokkonen is a retired CAF member. He joined the Canadian Army in 1959 as a Gunner in the Royal Canadian Artillery. He served for 35 years in the Regular Force and three years as a reservist.
Being a veteran himself gives Kokkonen the necessary perspective to carry out his work.
“As a Veteran, I am fully aware of the unwritten but very real ‘unlimited liability clause’ every military person has to accept when they join the Canadian Armed Forces, which means that you have to carry out your duty regardless of any possible consequences, including your death. It also means that the requirements of the duty of military members surpass all other occupations including those of the police and other first responders. In view of that special status of Veterans and the many and varied sacrifices Veterans have made for Canada and Canadians, the people of Canada through their Government, have an obligation to ensure that the families of the fallen are looked after and that the wounded Veterans, including those with operational stress injuries, and their families, are provided with the capability to live out their lives with dignity.
“Although much progress has been made, those responsibilities need yet to be more adequately fulfilled. I do recognize that there are complexities and difficulties in implementing and applying the concept of the obligation to our Veterans, but that cannot be allowed to stop or significantly slow down the progress of improvements. In summary, as I feel so strongly about this issue, I consider it is my unquestionable personal duty to do everything I can for the families of our fallen and for our wounded sailors, soldiers and airwomen and men and their families,” said Kokkonen.
Lt. Gen. Dallaire, also a recipient of the Commendation, is a dedicated advocate for veterans’ issues. A humanitarian, former senator and Army Lt. Gen., he works to raise awareness about Operational Stress Injuries, mental illness and the importance of seeking help. He also advocates for changes and improvements to the New Veterans Charter.
Dallaire is currently in east Africa.
The Veterans Ombudsman Commendation is awarded annually to individuals and organizations that go above and beyond for advocacy on behalf of veterans and their families.