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Compensation bid rejected as former sailor blames navy’s boozy culture for gout

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Compensation bid rejected as former sailor blames navy’s boozy culture for gout

Post by Guest on Sat 02 Sep 2017, 15:37

Compensation bid rejected as former sailor blames navy’s boozy culture for gout

Published August 30, 2017

A photograph on HMCS Sackville, the last of Canada’s 123 corvettes, shows sailors receiving their daily rum ration.

A 77-year-old former sailor who tried to blame his gouty arthritis on the navy’s boozy culture and rich food has failed in his bid for compensation.

The Veterans Review and Appeal Board ruled recently in Halifax that the man’s claim, initially turned down by Veterans Affairs in March 2016, did not merit a disability award.

“The applicant acknowledged that his gouty arthritis was not caused by his military service, but argued that both his military diet and the culture of alcohol consumption aggravated the condition,” said the decision.

The former sailor, who isn’t named in the decision, spent 24 years in the navy from 1957 to 1981.

He served aboard HMCS Athabaskan, which had a bar.

“Liquor was so cheap that you could not buy a single, but had to buy a double,” according to a summary of the man’s testimony.

“He embraced the culture and loved it. He related how he would save his weekly bus money and walk to work so he could go for beers at the end of the week.”

The man testified that drinking and driving was a more generally accepted practice at the time. “He related a story where he had been driving under the influence of alcohol and was stopped by the police, who simply told him to park his car. He was so intoxicated that although he thought he parked on the side of street, the next day he realized he left it in the middle of the street.”

Early in his navy career, the sailor was issued a daily ration of 2.5 ounces of overproof rum.

“Some days he could get five ounces from others. He also noted that beer was cheap,” said the summary of his testimony.

“The navy encouraged the consumption of alcohol — it was part of the culture and if you didn’t join in you would be an outsider.”

The man said when he joined the navy it didn’t pay much, but the navy cooks provided some hearty fare.

“He remembers his first meal — deep fried scallops and fries. He had never ate that food before. He grew up on boiler dinners,” said the summary of his testimony.

“He had access to a lot of food — steak, pork chops, ham, and gravy. He noted that when you were on ship you ate well — stews, fried food, baked, etc. Although there was a lot of food, there were limited options to eat more healthy. He would also volunteer to help out in the kitchen at night so he would have access to food after hours.”

The sailor’s first bout of gout came while he was serving aboard the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure.

“I experienced pain in my ankle and foot several times while at sea but didn’t report it because I assumed it was caused by the ship’s motion and medical services were not as available at that time as today,” he said in an excerpt of a letter contained in the decision.

“At one time while on HMCS Bonaventure my ankle and foot became very painful and swollen. The medic at the time diagnosed the problem as injury even though I hadn’t injured myself and had woken with the pain and swelling. At a later date while awaiting release from the military my foot became painful and I reported to CFB Halifax hospital where the duty medic diagnosed the problem as a puncture wound of my toe.”

Before he got out of the navy, a doctor at Stadacona hospital changed the diagnosis to gout, said the man’s letter.

“When I have a flare-up of gout I cannot walk or put any pressure on my foot. I’ve had flare-ups where my knee and ankle were swollen to the point I had to pack the affected area in ice to relieve the pain.”

The sailor weighed 140 pounds when he joined the navy. That increased to 170 pounds when he was in uniform. But the man said he lost weight easily while he was at sea because his working environment was so hot.

His military records list the man as mildly obese in 1981.

They also note he was told that same year his uric acid level was high. Gout is a painful form of arthritis linked to high levels of uric acid in the blood.

While in uniform, the sailor was given a weight-reducing diet and told to avoid excess alcohol and fried food.

The review panel accepted that the sailor’s menu options, which included a lot of fried food, would have been limited aboard warships. “But the panel also notes that the applicant’s eating habits, such as portion control, were matters within his control.”

On the booze front, the panel said the sailor’s decision to consume alcohol was a matter of personal choice. “The panel is not satisfied, nor has it been presented with evidence, that the social pressure to consume alcohol during the applicant’s service was any more prevalent in the context of military service compared to other occupations or social environments of the day. The panel is unable to conclude the applicant’s military career was the cause or influence of his drinking history.”

The former sailor didn’t present medical evidence linking his gout to his military service, said the decision. “Unfortunately, the evidence falls short in this circumstance.”

In December 2014, the commander of the Canadian navy ordered that no alcohol be consumed aboard warships, unless the vessel is tied up or an exception has been made for a special occasion. That came after the coastal defence vessel HMCS Whitehorse was ordered home to Esquimalt, B.C. from a U.S. exercise with some of its sailors accused of sexual misconduct, shoplifting and drunkenness.


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