The House resumed from February 7 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand today to conclude my remarks on Bill . To be clear on the issue, the Liberal Party recognizes the great value of the legislation.
At every opportunity in the veterans affairs committee reference has been made to Bill . It is in good part due to the fact that we want to ensure we do everything possible to see the bill in committee. I get the sense there is a willingness in the chamber to see this bill move forward. Members of the committee, including me, are anxious to see the bill come before us. I suspect it is only a question of time before it does.
Bill would address income loss, base salaries and lump sum payments. These are all important issues to our veterans and we owe it to them to do our work as quickly and as diligently as we can.
Some members in debate have nudged others to move forward on the legislation. One of the things I would share with the House is the fact that the Liberal Party does not require any nudging on the bill. We see its value. We have an immense amount of respect for our veterans and we ultimately want to see it pass.
I have had opportunities in the past, as I am sure my colleagues have, to deal with veterans. A number of years ago veterans actually sat right behind us in the Manitoba legislature. I thought it was appropriate. I remember sitting in the chamber, being able to reach back and touch one of the veterans, thinking we were able to have that debate because of our veterans.
We recognize the valuable contributions that our veterans have made to who we are today as a free nation. We need to do whatever we can to extend adequate compensation to them for the sacrifices they have made.
Being on veterans affairs committee, I recognize it is important for us to go even further than what the legislation proposes to do. Compensation is critical, and I cannot emphasize how important it is that we get that compensation to our veterans. However, there are other things which the government should seriously look at doing.
I did not know, and I suspect a good number of members of Parliament would not be aware of this either, that we have in excess of 750,000 veterans in Canada, which is an amazing number. They participate in our society in so many ways. We have to think beyond even what we will pass today.
Bill would allow for income loss and other forms of compensation so our veterans would be more properly and adequately taken care of, and that is great. However, much like other issues, we need to do more in preventing some of the illnesses and injuries that occur.
We had a psychiatrist, who is a colonel in Australia, on video conference the other day. I was really impressed with what Australia has put into place to assist future veterans so their dependency on compensation, on disability, will not be as high, especially in the area of mental illness.
I will highlight a couple of those points.
Australia is prepared to put in the necessary resources to ensure there are minimal compensation packages after someone leaves the service. That is a direction in which we should move. We should be putting more emphasis on that in our Parliament.
To give members a sense of what Australia does, it looks at the complications and the mind games that take place in today's forces. It has a psychological training component incorporated within its boot camp system for everyone who enters the forces.
Recognizing that not everyone, even from within the boot camp, might be engaged in a situation like Afghanistan or other countries of that nature, where there are all sorts of turmoil, Australia also has developed what it calls a pre-deployment course. Once someone has been deployed to Afghanistan, for example, another training session takes place and there is a psychological component to that training. That, again, is the way to go.
Taking it even a step further, Australia has after-disengagement training. After they have served in a country like Afghanistan and they come back, there is a post-course provided that will assist them in dealing with the issues they had to face while they were in a foreign country.
Equally important, Australia also has a transition course component. When people leave the forces and they go back into civilian life, they are afforded the opportunity to have that course which will, in essence, assist them in better adapting into civilian life.
This is the type of progressive thinking that is necessary in order to meet the needs of future Canadians who make the decision to serve our country. Ultimately, I would encourage the government to seriously look at this.
I posed a question about cost. There should be no doubt. There will be an additional upfront cost in ensuring that we have the right complement of psychiatry and other potential professions within the regular forces so we have those courses and give legitimacy to them.
However, by investing at that end, we are assisting individuals going forward so when they decide to sign on the dotted line, enter our forces and maybe serve in a country like Afghanistan or in another country, come back and ultimately end up back in the civilian life, they will be better able to adjust.
I believe if it is handled appropriately or if there is a plan for investment upfront, then we will prevent many illnesses from occurring in the first place or we will be able to minimize the psychological impact of someone being in a war-torn country where there is civilian unrest and all kinds of horrors that our military personnel often confront.
Ultimately we would have a better equipped force, and this is why it is to relevant to the bill we are passing today. By doing this, future compensation requirements will not be as high. That should be the goal. Minimizing the amount of money that we would ultimately have to pay would not be the primary reason. That would be the secondary reason.
The primary reason will be the impact that it has our soldiers, once they get back into the force and once they are in full retirement. That is the real value and the primary reason why we need to move in that direction.
The secondary reason would be one of finances. I ultimately argue that there would be additional costs upfront, but at the end of the day we would save money in compensation, in terms of the potential income loss that goes up significantly because of the passage of the bill, and justifiably so, and in terms of issues such as the base salaries or the lump sum payments. That is stating the obvious.
There are so many other expenses that governments, and not only the federal government but also provincial governments, have to incur as a direct result of individuals who have been in the forces and once retired become veterans. After all, it is the individual provinces that ultimately deliver our health care services. A part of those health care services is mental health, among other things. Ottawa itself invests billions of dollars annually in public health.
When we are talking about compensation, the type of compensation we are talking about within this bill is fairly specific, but there are many other forms of compensation as well. It is not as easy to say that we have a bill, Bill , and by passing it, all the issues veterans face in terms of overall compensation will be resolved.
I trust and hope that no one here would try to imply that this would be the case. This bill, from my perspective and I believe from the perspective of the Liberal Party, is but a first step in recognizing the value of our veterans and the importance of the House of Commons to adequately and properly compensate those men and women who have sacrificed a portion of their life in order to ensure we have what we have today.
We can do more. I encourage the government, the , the , the and others, cabinet and all members, opposition included, to do more to support our vets. It is not just this bill. This bill is a very good first step and we look forward to seeing it in committee, but that is what it is, a first step.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member from .
I rise today to debate Bill . I would first like to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle but, as you will see, there is room for improvement.
I hope that this bill will make people aware of the new concept of veterans. Veterans now include those known as modern-day veterans, those returning from the Afghanistan mission who are between 20 and 40 years old. Men and women who embarked on a mission to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban are returning with physical injuries and are often severely affected psychologically by what they have seen.
Since the beginning of this mission in 2002, 154 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. Statistics provided by the Department of National Defence indicate that a total of 1,580 Canadian soldiers had been injured or killed in Afghanistan as of 2008. In 2009, 505 soldiers were injured, on top of the 1,075 injured as of 2008.
Furthermore, as a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw with my own eyes veterans or their family members who told us about their daily nightmares, what is called post-traumatic stress disorder. These people often have to take very strong medication and undergo rigorous medical follow-up to live and reintegrate into our society.
I wanted to take a few minutes to show you that I am informed about and aware of this type of situation. It should also be noted that the Department of National Defence refuses to disclose the nature and seriousness of injuries. We will have to wait until the end of the current year to obtain the statistics for 2010. The current mission will be over, but other members of the military who have training functions will continue to face the dangers arising from their presence in that country. I am giving the example of the Afghanistan mission as a reminder that the mission of our Canadian military has changed greatly over the past decade.
I would like to point out that we have always been particularly concerned about the well-being of our veterans. As parliamentarians, we may seriously disagree on political decisions or military missions that the public finds controversial. But what is most important is that our veterans should not pay the political price of this debate. They sacrificed much of their safety, their well-being and their health. It goes without saying that injured and disabled veterans deserve nothing but our full gratitude and recognition, and we must give them the support that they need.
Upon reading Bill , we can see that it contains measures that we hope will help veterans. It proposes some important changes: at least $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, those too injured to return to the workforce; a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit; an additional monthly payment of $1,000 for life to help our most seriously wounded veterans who are no longer able to work; and improved access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance, which will include 3,500 more veterans.
A minimum salary of $40,000 is not a lot of money. To receive $58,000 and the additional $1,000 for life, the individual has to be confined to bed and unable to move. He has to be completely incapacitated. Even that is not much money in exchange for one's health.
The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that the Conservative government did not include measures to pay the monthly pensions. The trumpeted the fact that his department was going to invest $2 billion to help veterans. That is an impressive figure, but we believe that it is poorly managed and poorly allocated.
I said before that all of the stakeholders are unanimous: they believe that the government should abandon the idea of lump sum payments and bring back the lifetime monthly pension for those who are entitled to it.
If we are not able to convince the Conservative government here in the House, we would like to hear what veterans have to say about what this government is doing when we study Bill in committee. After all, they are the ones affected by this legislation.
I would like to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is aware of and sensitive to veterans affairs. Many veterans have had to make significant sacrifices in the defence of liberty and justice. Many veterans experience after-effects and have to live with the physical and emotional injuries they sustained during their years of service. The Bloc Québécois has the utmost respect for military personnel who risk their lives carrying out highly dangerous missions.
This profound respect implies that, since their lives are in danger, we have the responsibility not to expose them to further risk. Once their mission is complete, we have the collective responsibility to offer them all the support they need when they return home.
In its parliamentary work, our party has always been concerned about the support given to veterans and those who proudly wore a uniform. For example, we have always demanded that the government allocate all the resources possible to help soldiers and veterans and meet their health care needs, particularly in the case of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The government will allocate a $1,000 taxable supplement to veterans with permanent disabilities who can no longer return to the labour market. It is expected that 500 veterans will benefit from this measure in the first five years after this bill comes into effect.
We believe that, given the nature of the situation, this $1,000 supplement should be exempt from tax. We are offering this money to veterans who fought and sacrificed their well-being at their government's request. This monthly supplement will be paid to veterans who are unable to hold gainful employment because of their injuries. Not only will they have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives, but they will also never be able to have a normal financial life because of those injuries. Why penalize them further by making the supplement taxable?
When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, the veterans ombudsman invited parliamentarians to reject a system that would give veterans a choice, as Bill does. He felt that this option would not do any good because most veterans would choose a lump sum payment. With that in mind, the ombudsman urged parliamentarians to take a tough love approach with veterans.
On top of that, we were also disappointed with the amount in question. The Bloc Québécois would have liked the government to increase the maximum level of compensation. At present, the maximum payout for a disability award is $276,000. However, if we went back to a lifetime monthly pension, veterans could receive between 15% and 35% more than they are receiving now. Thus, the $2 billion the government wants to inject simply amounts to payments that it has not made and that it owes our veterans. That money is there for precisely that purpose. The new duties, the new amount and the new money set out in this bill will serve only to pay small amounts and line the government's pockets.
On behalf of our veterans, I cannot help but wonder why the government did not respond to the concerns of veterans regarding the lump sum payment. A study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 31% of veterans were happy with what they received, while the minister promised new improvements to the lump sum payment.
Instead, the government merely divided up the payment differently, for example, as a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years the recipient chooses, or as a single lump sum payment.
In that regard, the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at a maximum of $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. Australian service members receive about $325,000, and British service members receive almost $1 million. The government is trying to save money on the backs of our veterans, as I said earlier. Everywhere else in the world, veterans receive much higher sums and that money is managed much better than in Canada. Here the government is always trying to save a few pennies to put money elsewhere. The government spent $1.2 billion on the G8 and G20 summits, and nothing was achieved in those three days. It could have used that money to help our veterans.
Mr. Speaker, as the daughter of a World War II veteran, I have a personal interest in speaking today to Bill . This bill also amends the new veterans charter introduced in November by the Conservative . I was very active on this issue given that I am an MP from Quebec City and the Valcartier military base is in that region.
I will briefly outline the measures proposed in Bill . The lump sum payment remains the same, as my colleague was saying earlier, but injured soldiers could now spread out the payment or opt for a single payment. They will have the choice between a single payment, a monthly payment or a combination of the two. Nonetheless, the maximum amount of the lump sum is not being increased, and that does not really meet the expectations of the veterans who appeared before the committee. Income for veterans who can no longer work has been set at $40,000 before taxes, and monthly benefits can range between $536 and $1,609. As my colleague was saying earlier, $40,000 is not very much, and no consideration is given to the salary the individual was earning before being injured or, in many cases, maimed.
Although the minister decided not to increase the amount of the lump sum payment given to veterans who are seriously injured during combat, the Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill should be studied in more depth in committee. We have asked that the families of witnesses and veterans themselves testify to provide us with their insight on all of the new measures tabled by the .
Many stakeholders, in particular the Royal Canadian Legion, do not believe that this bill goes far enough. Given the magnitude of the mission in Afghanistan—it is a very high-risk situation in which an increasingly large number of people are being injured—the federal government could have increased its investment. We hope that veterans will be able to come and share their opinions on this bill and testify about their situation.
With regard to the desire of many stakeholders that compensation for injured soldiers be given in the form of a lifetime monthly pension, on October 5, I tabled in the House of Commons a petition signed by 6,000 people asking the federal government to bring back the lump sum payment. That is why I said that I was very interested in this issue and that I had worked on this file. That being said, the impact of the new measures will have to be determined.
I also decided to take some concrete action after meeting with Francine Matteau, a constituent of mine from Quebec City. Her son injured both of his legs in 2007 when he was serving in Afghanistan. He had to have nine surgeries. He has constant pain in his ankles, and one leg is shorter than the other. His ankles are practically immobile. He has lost control, mobility and strength in both of his legs. He has difficulties holding a full-time job and no longer meets the army's requirements. I know that he dreamed of a career outside the military when he returned from Afghanistan.
If he had been wounded before the adoption of the new charter, he would have received $5,400 per month, instead of a lump sum payment of $100,000. Yes, $100,000 is a lot of money, but when you spread that out, for someone who is 20, 21 or 22, who is returning seriously wounded and can no longer work, that is definitely not enough. The family must pick up the slack, and he becomes dependent.
I have other similar examples.
Elphège Renaud, the president of the Association des anciens combattants du Royal 22e Régiment de Valcartier, met 19 soldiers who were severely disabled. Most of them were penniless despite having received compensation.
The former veterans ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, has also spoken out about this situation. He has called for the reinstatement of the monthly pension to prevent injured soldiers and their families from falling below the poverty line.
Moving to a lump sum payment means that Canada refuses to recognize as full veterans the soldiers who return from Afghanistan with injuries. This was reported in La Presse on September 13, 2010. Again according to Mr. Stogran, the adoption of the new veterans charter created two classes of veterans: those who served in the second world war and in the Korean War, and all the rest. What is also left unsaid is that those who were injured in World War II had to prove that their injuries were actually related to the battles that had taken place.
According to Mr. Stogran, the government is clearly failing to fulfill its obligations towards an entire generation of veterans, and the enhanced new veterans charter makes only one thing possible: to save money at the expense of this new generation.
On August 30, an independent study ordered by the veterans ombudsman and submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs was made public. It compares the one-time lump sum payment to the guaranteed lifetime pension. It concludes that soldiers injured in combat, veterans and the families of severely disabled members are the losers with the implementation of the enhanced new veterans charter.
As was said earlier, to be entitled to fair compensation you must be severely disabled, and the compensation is not enough given that a severely disabled person requires more individualized health services. For that reason we are asking if it would be possible, in committee, to amend the bill so that it better meets the expectations of those injured in combat.
The always replies that changes were made to the charter on September 19 in order to improve assistance for veterans. This afternoon, I am telling him that it is not enough. The minister should be much more sensitive to what these young veterans really go through when they return home. They often have fairly serious psychological issues. The minister himself admitted, at a press conference, that the new measures he was announcing would not result in a return to a monthly pension rather than a lump sum payment.
This bill no longer imposes a lump sum payment, which is a step in the right direction. As for the single payment option for a lump sum payment, as I said earlier, that is an in-between solution that will not ensure greater stability or the well-being of our younger veterans in the long term, compared to what a lifetime monthly pension could do.
We can draw a parallel with another issue: water contamination in Shannon. A little earlier, an NDP member raised the whole issue of agent orange and the need for a much more in-depth study. Some soldiers were contaminated by chemicals and, in some cases, even developed cancer. I would like to remind the House about the whole issue of water contamination in Shannon. For years, people drank contaminated water from the groundwater that had been contaminated by National Defence. Many veterans, soldiers and civilians lived in this area neighbouring Valcartier. They were contaminated and had a higher than average rate of cancer. A class action lawsuit has been launched against the Department of National Defence and SNC-Lavalin. The residents needed a great deal of money in order to be heard, since neither government—the Liberals, at the time, and now the Conservatives—acted responsibly.
Acting responsibly would have meant, for example, doing what was done in the United States. They tried tracking down all of the soldiers who worked at Camp Lejeune and drank the water. The same thing happened there. The army had contaminated the groundwater and the people, including young cadets, had drunk the contaminated water.
Thus, we would have liked the federal government to do more to show that it cares. They always talk about how proud they are of our soldiers who go and defend democracy overseas on behalf of the Canadian nation. However, it is shameful and appalling to see how the government takes care of these soldiers when they come back.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the movement of this bill to committee. The Liberals have supported this all along and feel very strongly about it.
Veterans have told us over and over that they want to see this legislation move forward, not because it is a perfect bill by any means, but because it is at least a step in the right direction. I do want to know why it took so long. Why did some tragic incidents need to occur, such as the ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, who was vilified when he started to show the flaws in the new veterans charter?
It is a pity that had to happen and that we had to wait so long before we saw some of the changes in the new veterans charter. It has been four years and over those four years many veterans have had a lot of problems accessing some of the benefits that they expected to have. It is a pity that it had to take so long but it is better late than never.
This bill is a move in the right direction. We heard the minister himself say that this is a second step, which leads every one of us to hope and believe that there will be a third and fourth step that will incrementally look at the whole issue of veterans and their needs after they have served their country with such valour and such selflessness. After we encourage them and applaud them as they go out to fight for us, they should know that when they come back they will be in safe hands and that no matter what disability or harm they faced when they were at war, they will be taken care of by their nation for as long as they are in need.
There are some problems within this bill that I hope we can look at in committee. Members heard everyone say that.
I have a lot of veterans in my riding. I have many recent veterans in my riding who were in Afghanistan. I want to talk about them because I have been meeting with them. I go to all of their events. I have heard some things that I want to put on the table that I hope we can fix.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I heard about three things that we need to look at during committee stage. One of them is the lump sum payment and the fact that the lump sum payment is capped, as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois said, at $275,000. In order to get that amount, a veteran would need to be severely disabled.
One could say that a physical disability is going to last for x length of time and that person may need assistance with such things as wheelchair accessibility, renovations to his or home, et cetera. However, the disabilities that defy prediction and prognosis are neurological disabilities. Agent orange was referred to earlier in the House. There are many chemical weapons. Neurological damage can occur in a physical disability. We do not know how these neurological damages will play out.
With a lot of young veterans coming out of Afghanistan, how do we limit them to this amount of money. If they live to be 70 years old, what will their needs be? Will their situation get progressively worse or progressively better? It is not a predictable thing. We should not talk too much about limitations. Whatever our veterans need for as long as they need it, whether it be for a lifetime, six years, six months, or whatever, we should not set limitations on how we deal with injured veterans. That is totally unfair to them.
I wanted to speak to the issue of the lump sum payment as a physician and about the unpredictability of what could happen with a disability, especially a neurological one.
That moves me on to another type of disability which is not a new one. It is just one that nobody ever talks about. I remember meeting with a World War II veteran who said that when he was in the army he was told to soldier on because that is what a soldier did. A soldier never complained. He told me that when they come back they were changed men and women. Their spouses did not know who they were. They know now that they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He told me that they were changed and that many times they were not able to deal with their families in the same way. Post-traumatic stress disorder creates isolation, anger and depression, which affects the whole family.
Now that we know about post-traumatic stress disorder and we understand the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder, I think it is a pity that the bill does not actually refer to it as an entity on its own. For instance, there are no programs at the moment to deal with the rehabilitation and the psychiatry that is needed to help persons with post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is one at UBC, but it is paid for by UBC funds and by the poppy fund. The government has not put any money into dealing with the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder when it is something for which there should be a lot of programs and a lot of centres, and the government should put money into dealing with these issues.
I saw a film of the UBC program. I was moved to tears and the veterans in the room were moved to tears. Many of the old veterans from World War II were saying, “Oh, my God, if I had only had access to this at one point in my life”. The men and women who were speaking at this post-traumatic stress disorder clinic were saying, “I feel like a wimp, but my buddy was blown up and the blood was all over me and his brains. I feel if I complain or if it affected me psychologically, that I'm a wimp, that I'm not this macho man”.
We are breaking through that to get them to talk about things. We need solid programs for vets to be attended to. I am hoping that will come up at the committee stage and that we will look at this really important issue.
The third thing that I want to talk about that I think needs to be looked at in committee are the current programs and the current service delivery. I have heard from veterans that, in fact, this is very spotty across the country. Some areas have great programs, great ways of accessing them, and others do not. We need to look at how to make this a seamless kind of delivery of services no matter where people live across the country.
For instance, I have heard from veterans that they wait six to eight or nine months just to get the papers processed while they are in pain, while they have a need for all kinds of early interventions. We all know that, with disabilities, the earlier we intervene, the better the chance of recovery. The longer we wait, the more difficult it is to recover from these disabilities, whether they are physical or mental.
We have heard that people have been waiting for a long time, that when they get there, they sometimes face hostility. They feel like they are begging. They feel that they are often accused of lying or they are often accused of overstressing the problem that they have. They have to provide the burden proof that there is something wrong with them. Many of them have said that their physicians have written notes saying that this is what this person has and this is what this person needs, and then they would be told things, such as, “Oh, well, your physician is just lying to help you out”.
We are traumatizing the people who went out to fight for us. They come back and they have to face this re-victimization. That is really tough for them.
In fact, I have spoken to many World War II veterans who are in their eighties who cannot deal with it. It is something that just makes them so anxious and upset that they have just left themselves disabled; they have not sought the help that they need.
I just want to take a minute to speak about an individual veteran. This veteran talks very much about her service history. She was in Afghanistan. She talked about the fact that in British Columbia, where she lives, there is no rehabilitation centre, there is no one-stop shopping. She has to go and meet case worker A and then she has to go, for a different thing, to case worker B. She wanders all across the province. Then, when she has a problem, she has to go into the provincial health care system and stay in line with others to get physiotherapy, to get a wheelchair, to get various many other things in order to get the help that she needs. There is no veteran service centre, no rehabilitation centre.
We used to have this in Vancouver. It is no longer there. When she needs things, sometimes she has to call back east to get stuff. And if the weather is bad or if the phones are not working, she may not be able to get somebody back east. The time differences often make it difficult for her.
She is suggesting that we look at the delivery of service, make it seamless, make it national, ensure that there are three centres, one in the east, one in the centre of Canada, and one in the west, so that veterans do not have to spend a lot of time and energy trying to get the help they need.
I think we are going to support this bill, obviously. It is a step in the right direction. However, I hope we look at these three issues when we get to committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my 10 minutes to this very important debate today on Bill . It is a very long title for an important bill.
Before I continue, I want to take moment and pay special tribute to the thousands of current and former military service people, their families, and most especially to all those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we all enjoy today.
In the words of my colleague from , the life experiences of our veterans:
--affect me and all Canadians deeply, and remind us that we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. Instead of trying to repay our obligation, we let them down on so many issues. For example, too many injured veterans go without the care they need. Too many veterans do not receive the support they have earned. Too many veterans have nowhere safe to sleep at night.
This must change and we have the power to change it. Bill is a step in the right direction.
As the vice-chair of the veterans committee and as an elected member, whenever I am called upon to speak or to vote on these matters, I remember the spirit that inspired these brave men and women to serve our country, and I try to conduct myself in accordance with their example.
As someone who grew up on Canada's east coast, I have seen firsthand that spirit, how it lived in the people of our communities and what it felt like each time a ship put out to sea with a crew of our finest young men and women.
I have also witnessed firsthand the challenges that are too often faced by that same crew upon their return home from the horrors of combat. The need for effective rehabilitation, services, and compensation are at the heart of why we are here today and, as we deliberate, I would certainly hope that all members of this House would remember that basic guiding ideal.
Let us right these past wrongs. Let us make Bill serve the people who need it the most.
We have all heard stories of elderly veterans who can no longer make ends meet. They are forced to give up their possessions, their independence and, ironically enough, they are forced to relinquish their personal freedom, all because they cannot access the appropriate services and supports they might need to truly return home.
We have all heard the terrible stories of young men and women battling marital breakdown, financial ruin, and even criminal implications prompted by battle-induced PTSD. What we do not often admit is that these things are actually avoidable.
National media headlines like “Veterans wanted dead, not alive, ombudsman charges” and “Canada's treatment of war veterans 'a national embarrassment'” tell a story of tragic failure on the part of the government.
Just this past July, the Toronto Star ran the story of John Sheardown. According to the article, Mr. Sheardown is an 85-year-old former bomber pilot. He is suffering from Alzheimer's and recovering from a broken hip.
Despite his distinguished service to Canada, Mr. Sheardon was left to languish in hospital, facing a wait of up to 18 months for a bed in a veterans long-term home in Ottawa. Now I ask, how is that okay? How is this appropriate treatment for a Canadian hero?
Our veterans deserve our help. They heroically stood for Canada and for Canadians, and now we need to stand with them, no exceptions.
What has brought us to this point? How is it that even after the implementation of the new veterans charter in 2006, we still have veterans falling through the cracks?
The tabled Bill on November 17. The legislation consolidated several smaller announcements the minister made the previous fall, and it would make further minor changes to the new veterans charter, as called for by several veterans organizations including the Royal Canadian Legion.
Bill also proposes to introduce changes to the administration of the lump sum disability award, something we have heard a lot about at the committee level. Specifically, Bill C-55 would amend parts 1 to 3 of the new veterans charter, as well part IV of the Pension Act.
Despite all of this, on behalf of the veterans and in concert with many of my colleagues on this side of the House, I must ask why the government waited four years to propose any change to the new veterans charter.
Conservatives have suggested that the veterans charter is a living document or, as they call it, a work in progress that would be continually adapted to meet the changing needs of veterans, but I see very little evidence of this. How can they say this with a straight face when so many of our veterans have been left out of the government's plan?
Some on the other side of the House might say that I am being unfair with my criticism and so, as an example, I would ask why Veterans Affairs Canada did not live up to its 2006 commitment to review lump sum awards versus disability pension within two years. It would have saved an enormous amount of anguish for an awful lot of people if that had already been done, as was required in the original charter. I do not think it is an unfair question. It is a fair one that deserves an answer.
The former veterans ombudsman explained to the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs that such examples of lack of timely action undermine the sincerity of the chorus of loyalty to our veterans. With this in mind, Liberals have no intention of holding up this bill. We will work in the best interests of veterans and Canadian Forces members and, most importantly, to ensure that this bill rightfully addresses their needs.
However, to do this effectively, we are going to have to move fast. Canada, unfortunately, is now facing the possibility of an election. Again, when will the government get serious about the passage of Bill and its extra support for veterans? It will not happen if there is another election.
There is no real doubt that change is needed. A study by the minister's own department found that 31% of veterans are unhappy with what they are currently receiving. Yet, rather than making the necessary changes immediately, the government opted for a lesser approach. It simply divided the payment up differently.
Rather than fix the underlying problem, the government is proposing to permit the recipient to collect a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years or as a single lump payment. This is nothing more than bean counting and does very little to actually address the challenges already being identified by Canada's veterans.
I must point out that the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the overall amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. In Australia, service members receive about $325,000 and service members from the U.K. receive almost $1 million.
On a personal note, I would agree with the legion when it suggests that Canadian veterans have every right to expect at least what their civilian counterparts might expect to receive. I would even go one step further. Perhaps Canadian veterans should expect even more given what they have done for us.
This is but one example of what is lacking with the government. Whether we are talking about the government's lack of action on the agent orange file, the atomic veterans' concerns or the matter of PTSD most recently raised by the committee, the government has consistently failed to take a proactive approach to supporting veterans.
As I have also raised, the government has turned a blind eye to the changing demographics associated with our veterans. Canada's first contingents of regular Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in January 2002. Since then, thousands of our young men and women have served in what has been some of the most horrific and trying battle conditions seen in years.
In addition to the actual loss of life, Canada's newest returning heroes are facing a host of medical and psychological challenges: PTSD, heightened rates of suicide, marital breakdown, homelessness and even, according to some studies, higher rates of diseases such as ALS.
This is the new reality faced by Canadian veterans and as the former critic for Veterans Affairs, as the vice-chair of the veterans committee today and as an MP who thinks our war heroes deserve better, I am here to say that I think the government is simply not doing enough. The government has been quick to deploy and keen to arm, but very slow and lethargic to prepare for the human consequences of its actions and policies.
Liberals will be supporting Bill . We look forward to it going to committee, an opportunity to try to improve a bill that does some things but clearly does not do enough.
Mr. Speaker, I am most grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate concerning the courageous men and women who serve and have served in the military.
When our country was in danger during World War I, World War II and Korea, or when our country called upon them to be peacekeepers in places far from home, like Somalia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Cypress, East Timor, Suez and now in Afghanistan, when they were sent to serve in NATO, or when our country asked them to help communities jeopardized by floods, earthquakes, ice storms, forest fires, our courageous men and women did not hesitate. They did what they were asked to do. They did their duty in World War I, World War II, Korea and a multitude of deployments since.
In the course of that duty our country made a covenant with them. Canada made promises that the men and women of the armed forces would not be forgotten. Our governments made and continue to make promises assuring these men and women that they would be remembered and honoured by a grateful nation. That is a wonderful sentiment.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that the people of Canada are grateful and that they truly remember and honour our servicemen and women in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. I see it every day from my constituents in .
Sadly however, what has become painfully obvious is that the government neither honours our veterans, peacekeepers and those currently serving, nor is it willing to unconditionally provide the services, pensions, programs and special care to which these veterans, the members of the armed forces and their families are entitled.
I am extremely disappointed that after four years the government was unable to incorporate more substantial changes to the veterans charter. The changes proposed in Bill are merely cosmetic and do not go far enough.
Bill states that the minister may provide career transition services; may provide rehabilitation services and vocational assistance to veterans' survivors; may on application pay a permanent allowance to a veteran. “May” is not good enough. The word must be “shall”.
Veterans have waited long enough. The Government of Canada has an obligation to ensure that after veterans have put their lives on the line they are treated with dignity, honour and respect.
Sadly, Bill is a lost opportunity. The act itself is full of equivocations. We have report after report that show the total inadequacies of an overly complex and ineffective Veterans Affairs program.
The government ignored the vast majority of recommendations regarding changes to the veterans charter, the lion's share of which came from the Gerontological Advisory Council as well as the former veterans ombudsman and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, all of whom produced significant studies on the veterans charter.
I would like to highlight some of the problems that this new legislation ignores.
I am sure members know about the pension clawbacks that retired members of the Canadian Forces face when they reach age 65. In 1966, when the CPP was introduced, it was integrated with the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the RCMP Superannuation Act. Members of the Canadian Forces were unaware that there would consequently be reductions to their pensions.
During their working years, CF members face health hazards, long periods of time away from family and frequent moves. The negative impact of these stresses are often felt most acutely in later life. Cancelling the clawback is the best way to acknowledge the commitment and service of veterans. The government has however not been receptive to this imperative.
When a veteran dies, his or her spouse is allowed only 50% of the pension of the deceased. Many of these spouses face real hardship and as a result, legions across the country have tried to make up for what the government takes away. Legion sponsored funds attempt to support widows and widowers and their families as well as possible. The legion has fundraisers with raffles and poppy sales, dinners and hall rentals, but the legion too is falling on hard times. Its members are aging. Its numbers are in decline and it is having difficulty making ends meet.
Legions have recommended that survivor pensions be two-thirds of the original pension. That would be a tremendous help to spouses, many of whom are elderly women.
Unfortunately, the government is not interested in such a change. Even worse, if a veteran marries after age 60, the widow or widower is entitled to nothing. The Canadian Forces Superannuation Act calls them gold diggers and refuses to recognize any entitlement, refusing to recognize the importance of the love and comfort they gave to their partners. It is a sign of disrespect.
Nowhere is such disrespect more evident than in the situation faced by many ex-forces members if injuries sustained during service do not fully manifest themselves until after retirement.
Just this fall I had an extended conversation with a master sergeant. While serving overseas, he sustained injuries from a significant fall in a training exercise. He was hospitalized with a spinal fracture, and after he recovered he returned to active duty. Now some 30 years later, he suffers from neck pain caused by the fracture. He survives on expensive medications not covered by his benefits. When he asked Veterans Affairs for help, he was denied. The reason given was that he had not been injured in combat. In other words, despite medical records showing injuries from a serious accident during his service career, his veracity and the value of his service were called into question and he was refused benefits.
Bill does not provide a remedy for this injustice. The corporate insurance mentality of those administering the program within Veterans Affairs hurts those who have served their country, and hurts their families too. That mentality has to go.
Did members know there is a homeless shelter for military veterans and a food bank in Calgary set up specifically for veterans?
Last April, the visited that food bank, had a media photo op and talked about how wonderful it was that the community was helping veterans. Well, it was, except that a research study conducted by London based researchers, Susan Ray and Cheryl Forchuk, shows that in southwestern Ontario alone there are dozens of homeless veterans. I wonder if it occurred to the that it is an outrage that the people we pledged to honour and remember are homeless and forced to survive by going to a food bank.
Even with Bill , veterans and retired CF personnel still face reduced pension, may have pension benefits denied and are not entitled to help for non-service-related injuries. The experience of homelessness and hunger among veterans is a common occurrence.
It certainly does not seem like a grateful government or a responsible Department of Veterans Affairs.
Finally, I want to talk about the situation at Parkwood Hospital in my riding. Parkwood was at one time the regional veterans hospital. I can remember visiting my uncles, both veterans of World War II, at Parkwood whenever they were hospitalized. Parkwood was also a long-term care facility for veterans whose injuries were so serious they would never live independently or with their families again.
Back in 1979, Parkwood and veterans hospitals across the country were turned over to the provinces and Veterans Affairs contracted for beds and care for the World War I, World War II and Korean War vets. The agreement entered into with the province contained no provisions for modern day veterans or the estimated 200,000 peacekeepers who have served on missions since Korea. Many of these retired or soon to be retired Canadian Forces members feel they have been overlooked by their country. While there are private care homes available to them, many feel they should receive the same level of care and have the same access to hospitals like Parkwood that previous generations had. Unfortunately, the beds at veterans hospitals will close as World War II and Korean War veterans pass away. Once these beds are gone, they will not re-open.
The Government of Canada should change the mandate of veterans hospitals and allow those coming back from Afghanistan and the aging post-Korean service personnel to have access to federally supported beds. I say this because the care of veterans is a federal responsibility, a part of the covenant that I talked about at the beginning of my remarks.
These veterans have earned their pensions, their benefits, their services and programs and they have earned the right to expect their government to fulfill all of the promises made. It is time for the government to go back to the drawing board. Bill does not fix the problems with the veterans charter. The bill needs extensive amendments.
Our veterans deserve much better than what they are receiving. Let us honour them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill .
From the outset, I want to point out that I support Bill , as the son of a World War II veteran who served at D-Day and went through the battle of the Falaise Gap and Caen. My father came home with shrapnel in his legs and that was there until the day he died. He lost hearing in one ear. I know what it is like to live with a veteran who had to seek services from Veterans Affairs. I know what it is like for someone who, through no fault of his own, did not come back the same person as when he left for the war. Yet my father would say every day that he would do it again.
At the end of World War II, no country treated their veterans better than Canada, bar none.
As the vice-chair of the national defence committee and the vice-chair of the Afghan committee, I have had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan on three occasions and meet with our soldiers in the field. I have had the opportunity to meet with veterans here. As a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Richmond Hill, Branch 375, I have talked to veterans. All they want and deserve are services that will respond effectively to their needs.
When a veteran, in his eighties, needs a new pair of eyeglasses and it takes months to get a response, that is unacceptable. When a veteran needs a new hearing aid and it takes months, that is unacceptable.
Whether these amendments are made or not, the charter still does not deal with the issue of customer service. We need to respond more effectively and efficiently to the needs of veterans. As more and more people come home from Afghanistan, we will have a larger number of veterans. The defence committee last year did a post traumatic stress disorder study. We found that there was a discrepancy in the country between east and west in terms of the services available for veterans.
I wrote the on October 25 about the $4,100 currently paid for burial. That is about 70% less than a normal burial in our country and one-third of what it would be if one was killed in action in Afghanistan. That is unacceptable. Some families do not have the money to cover full burial costs and the government only provides $4,100. I hope the minister will respond effectively on that issue.
There is no question that the bill before the House tries to address some of the issues. We know that the Royal Canadian Legion, for example, is supportive of these changes. Our party has no intention of holding up the bill. We want to ensure we move forward as fast as possible.
The charter was passed in 2005, and this is a living document. It is too bad that it has taken four years to come to this point. We need to act quickly to deal with some of the issues that are before the House and get this done.
One of the issues the government did not deal with effectively was on the lump-sum payment. That is surprising, given the minister's departmental study found that 31% of veterans were unhappy with the lump-sum payment. Although the minister said that he would improve the system, under this legislation, all the minister has really done is divide up the payment differently. Veterans have not been asking for that. That is not what that study showed.
Clearly dealing with the issue of partial payments over a number of years for recipients or a single lump-sum payment still does not address the issue that many veterans have articulated. That should have been addressed in the legislation. Again, the minister has had four years and nothing has really been done to address it.
In fact, if we look at Australia, the Australian veterans receive an average of $329,000, whereas the British receive up to $1 million. We need to address this kind of issue for our veterans.
Pieces of the legislation address the concerns of a number of people and a number of associations, such as the proposed legislation dealing with $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, an improvement, and for those too injured to return to the workforce, a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary was when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit. Again, that is an important change.
These changes are necessary but, again, it is the ability of veterans to access these changes. It is the ability of veterans to get the services they need in a prompt and efficient manner.
A larger disability award is needed in line with what is provided in Australia, which is also provided to disabled civilian veterans who also receive assistance. Again, these are things we could do. I mentioned burial costs, again things we could address.
In the House we always say how important veterans are, yet when it comes to action, we have waited four years for changes, which, again, particularly because of pressure from all opposition parties, now almost at the eleventh we get this.
The new veterans charter advisory group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs have indicated, insistently, the need for changes and for those changes to happen quickly. Again, it is disappointing that we have waited.
On the issue of homeless veterans, it is absolutely shocking in our country that we have veterans who are homeless, who are on the streets, who have come back to a lack of support. Again, it is a national disgrace that we have homeless veterans.
Only now are the media, members of Parliament and others actually looking at this, not only as a social issue but also as a moral issue. We have a responsibility to deal with those individuals. Again, I find it very sad that we have what I call homeless heroes on the street who have no ability to deal effectively with finding work, health benefits, et cetera. We have to deal with that.
It is encouraging that many national veterans' organizations are in support of this. It is encouraging to note we are moving forward with the legislation. Some people are talking about an election. I guess that will up to the government. It only governs by the will of Parliament and hopefully maintains the confidence of Parliament. If the government is really serious, hopefully we will be able to address these issues, both now and in the upcoming budget, which the has announced will be presented on March 22.
It is important that we not only respond in this way, but also that we provide more people in the field, in terms of caseworkers who deal with our veterans. We are going to see a significant increase in the numbers of veterans coming home, because of Afghanistan, and that is going to have an impact.
The number of psychiatrists and psychologists in the Canadian Forces is actually low. In fact, the services are much lower and much less effective in eastern Canada because many of those bases are further away from some of the major cities versus those in western Canada. We need to address that problem.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that is always discovered on a veteran's return home, or three months later or two years later; it can be up to five years later. Again, are we ready to respond to that?
From our studies at the defence committee, the answer is clearly no. We are not ready to respond to that. On that point, I plead to the government to put the resources in to ensure we can attract the professionals to help in that regard and to help the families of those individuals.
About 10 years we did a quality of life study at the defence committee. It really responded to many of the key issues on wages, housing conditions and benefits for people. It is time we started another review and respond in terms of updating the quality of life. We ask people to go overseas and put their lives on the line, while their families are here. Do the families have the right support while those people are away? Do those people have the right support when they come home?
The answer is we do not. We have fallen a long way since the end of the Second World War when we provided the best benefits to veterans coming home after that war.
I was part of a Parliament that addressed these issues and addressed them effectively for future generations. Although we talk a lot about our responsibility to veterans, I would hope that we really show it to them, not only financially but in the other ways that I have pointed out.
I trust we can move this legislation along very quickly. Although some people have reservations, the reality is not only do we have to act at least on those changes that have been made, but we have to keep pushing on the others as well. If we do not, it will be another four years before we see any action.
Our party has pledged to do that. We are party that brought in the charter. We are the party that said it was a living document. It is too bad that it sat on the shelf for four years. Ultimately we are all collectively responsible for ensuring our veterans have the best.