An ex-soldier’s war cry

Christinah Motlhabane
Veterans accuse BDF of neglect

Having given the best years of their lives to serve the country, a growing number of retired Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldiers are now suffering from chronic illnesses.

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To compound their tough existence, the ex-military personnel feel abandoned by their former employer.

Turning up at The Voice’s Francistown office this week, retired Warrant Officer, Vayi Christopher, explained some of the problems faced by the BDF veterans include diminishing hearing caused by years of combat and training using heavy artillery.

The Tutume native joined the BDF in 1978, less than a year after its formation.

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He retired in 2005 after 26 years of uninterrupted service.

Christopher, 62, and a number of his former colleagues are appealing to the BDF Commander, Placid Segokgo to heed their plea.

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“When I joined the BDF as a Private, a medical fitness test was conducted and I was declared fit to be a soldier. However, upon my retirement, there was no such. In fact, the BDF seemed eager to get rid of me and my colleagues,” Christopher said.

“My eyesight is failing me. This started when I was still in service, and I remember the last time I went to the BDF Clinic the doctor recommended that I should get sunglasses,” he said.

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Christopher said just recently he went to see an eye specialist who recommended eye lenses.

“I started with the ground forces and have had shootouts with the Rhodesian and Namibian armies, but most of the shooting was done on training drills and that is where I believe my ears were affected,” he said, adding that his eyesight was affected after he joined the Military Police and the fire brigade.

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Christopher further revealed that some of his retired colleagues are in wheelchairs while others have long died while awaiting the BDF top hierarchy to attend to their concerns.

“Some of my colleagues have long applied for disability, but it looks like the BDF is having a good laugh at the predicament,” Christopher ruefully said.

Another retired soldier, Corporal Patrick Nfila told The Voice of his colleague who walks with the aid of crutches and has not received any assistance from the BDF.

“It’s difficult for him to access health facilities because he can barely walk. It is sad for veterans to be living like this. Should the country face any civil strife, veterans will be the first ones to be called, but how will we respond to the call when we are all crippled?” demanded Nfila rhetorically.

Retired Warrant Officer, Ogomoditse Selebogo shared similar sentiments.

The Mmadinare native said their biggest concern is that no medicals were conducted upon their retirement.

“We were discarded like an overused old rug. BDF cares about one’s health at the point of entry; once you reach retirement age you’re discarded like a useless piece of paper!” cried Selebogo.

In unison, the three gentlemen believe it is paramount for BDF to conduct medicals on retiring soldiers and make a commitment to address their health-related challenges.

The plight of veterans is a global phenomenon. In the USA, they have the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) which provides health care to a great number of veterans. This, however, is still not enough as a considerable number of veterans don’t receive any treatment following diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, or depression.

A questionnaire was sent to the BDF Public Relations Office, who were yet to respond at the time of going to press.

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