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Courage under fire: How new law seeks to save Kenya’s military veterans

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Ex-Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) officer Isaiah Ochanda when he appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 on a hospital stretcher over non-fulfillment of court orders by the Ministry of Defense.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

Two months ago, a former Kenya Air Force soldier Isaiah Ochanda narrated to the Senate’s National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations Committee how he has suffered following an incapacitating injury sustained while in service.

Ochanda, who was brought to the Senate’s Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) committee room on a hospital bed, narrated how he sustained a spinal injury and a fracture to the waist in 1987 that left him bedridden and unable to provide for his family.

Lt Col David Wando, who lost a leg and an eye in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in Somalia, has continued serving, albeit in other capacities at the Defence Headquarters.

In October 2011, KDF soldiers stationed at the Hoosingo Forward Operating Base battled between 500 and 800 Al Shabaab fighters for over six hours during which two Lieutenants lost their lives.

Lt Edward Juma Okoto and Lt Kevin Anamunyi Webi died during the attack as they led the soldiers in repulsing the enemy.

Lt Okoto, who had just wedded his lovely wife Doreen Magak, was deployed to Somalia only a month after their union. Lt Webi who was the best Officer Cadet in Leadership and Command and winner of the Sword of Honour in the 2009 Military graduation, was a friendly individual liked by all.

Several soldiers have died while others have been injured in numerous firefights against Al Shabaab here and in Somalia under the African Mission in Somalia now referred to as the African Transition Mission in Somalia.

Many others have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) since the launch of Operation Linda Nchi, further exposing soldiers to medical, psychological and financial challenges.

Veterans Act

However, military veterans or soldiers injured while on duty and families of those who die while in active service will not have to go through such trouble, thanks to the Military Veterans Act 2022 which now stipulates how and what will be done for those who have sacrificed and served the country diligently.

When the statistics started to bulge, it fell upon KDF to compensate families of the dead, treat and rehabilitate the injured as well as cater for the children and families of the deceased soldiers beyond the then statutory provisions pertaining to compensation and welfare.

That responsibility squarely fell on the establishment of the Military Veterans Affairs organisation.

According to The Military Veterans Act, 2022, a regulatory and institutional framework for the management of military veterans’ affairs: for the provision of benefits to military veterans and military veterans’ dependents was established by an Act of parliament.

Any Kenyan citizen who served the King’s African Rifles before 1963, in the Kenya Defence Forces after 1963, has completed service in the Kenya Defence Forces and has not been dishonourably discharged from military service will be regarded as a military veteran.

Despite the Subsection, “a person who was discharged or retired from the Armed Forces or Kenya Defence Forces on medical grounds shall whether or not that person receives a pension be regarded as a military veteran”, reads the Act in part.

Veterans benefit from counselling and treatment for post-traumatic stress, physical rehabilitation for any condition arising out of military service, honouring and memorialising fallen military veterans and education, training and skills development among other services.

Military veterans’ dependants also benefit from, assistance in education placement for children and advice on employment placement and business opportunities.

Smooth transition to civlian

In appreciating the sacrifices made by veterans during their service and role in protection of the country’s national boundaries, the Act seeks to recognise and honour veterans by ensuring smooth and seamless transition from military service to civilian life.

In late April, representative officers from 15 Kenya Rifles (15KR) in their veterans’ welfare responsibility paid a visit to Brigadier (Rtd) Joel Munandi at his residence in Makueni County.

Led by Ambassador Major General (Rtd) Thomas Chepkuto, the officers relayed a message of appreciation to their second Commanding Officer who served between 1990 and 1992. “You’re remembered as a great leader at the unit.

Your resourcefulness and unswerving devotion to duty gave 15KR a firm foundation upon which it stands high to date,” Maj Gen (Rtd) Chepkuto noted. Maj Gen Peter Muteti applauded Brigadier Munandi’s service and emphasised the importance of soldiers’ unity beyond active service.

“You are indeed a symbol of good military leadership, the reason why 15KR seeks your interaction even after retirement. This is an important initiative as it provides an opportunity for Officers to learn from each other and exchange ideas on good leadership and also to get insights about how to transit to civilian life following exit from the service,” he said.

Brig (Rtd) Munandi joined the military in 1967 and rose through the ranks to be appointed as the second Commanding Officer of 15 KR in 1990.

He retired as the Commandant Defence Headquarters Camp Administrative Unit in 1998.

By the Act, Veteran Affairs seeks to restore the capability of military veterans with disabilities to the greatest extent possible and improve their quality of life and that of their dependents.

Benefits access

The Act facilitates effective access to benefits and services for the veterans too.

All the funds related to the veterans are managed through transparency, accountability and integrity and used responsibly.

The Director of Military Veterans appointed by the Defence Council, is the administrator assisted by a ten-member Advisory Committee on Military veterans gazetted on April 1 last year.

Defence CS Aden Duale noted that military men and women put their lives on the line for the defence of their motherland, yet some of the gallant sons and daughters of the Republic have been disappearing into oblivion in the past due to lack of structures that would comprehensively cater for all their welfare needs.

“Over the years, the Ministry of Defence and the National Government have endeavored to address the plight of KDF personnel especially those retired from active service in terms of economic empowerment and medical care.

"However, their social status and ability to foot their medical bills remain a challenge in today’s environment that presents volatilities, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguities that are likely to influence and undermine the respect of the fast-growing population of retired heroes and heroines of this great nation,” said Duale.

Lt Col Wando, an environmental security officer in KDF, is certainly among the first beneficiaries of the Veterans Act.

Lt. David Wando one of the soldier who was injured in Operation Linda Inch in Somalia during the interview with the Daily Nation at the Langata Baracks after the return of the KDF soldiers on September 8, 2012. 

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

By extension, Ochanda, alongside the families of the lost officers, service members and injured KDF service personnel will now, by law, be amongst the beneficiaries of the Act.

As part of the emoluments of the Act, the Defence Council is required to establish the Dependants Education Fund that will provide scholarships for the education of children of deceased veterans.

The Act established a regulatory and institutional framework for the management of veterans’ affairs, provision of benefits to military veterans and their dependents and establishment of the Dependants Education Fund.