Good evening and welcome to the 52nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Tonight we will continue to study division 17 of part 3 of Bill .
The meeting will end at 7:30 p.m.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee members for agreeing to meet today on such short notice so that we could hear from additional witnesses.
Unfortunately, scheduling this meeting next week was not an option since the Standing Committee on Finance invited our committee to present its recommendations by 9:00 a.m. next Tuesday, June 2.
This evening we will have the pleasure of hearing Robert Thibeau, president of Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones; Richard Blackwolf, national president and chief executive officer, and Joseph Burke, national service officer, Ottawa, both with the National Alliance of the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association; and finally, Jenny Migneault in a personal capacity.
The representatives from each of the three groups will have up to 10 minutes to give their presentation. Afterwards, members will have the opportunity to ask questions.
Mr. Thibeau, you're first. Welcome.
Once again, it's a great pleasure for me to appear in front of this committee to speak to you on behalf of the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones and its partner organization the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples veterans, as well as the first nations veterans of Canada.
I've been asked by this committee to comment specifically on division 17 of part 3 of Bill , which amends the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act to:
(a) add a purpose statement to that Act;
(b) improve the transition process of the Canadian Forces members and veterans to civilian life...;
(c) establish the retirement income security benefit to provide eligible veterans and their survivors with a continued financial benefit after the age of 65 years;
(d) establish the critical injury benefit to provide eligible Canadian Forces members and veterans with lump-sum compensation for severe, sudden and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in a permanent disability; and
(e) establish the family caregiver relief benefit to provide eligible veterans who require a high level on ongoing care from an informal caregiver with an annual grant to recognize that caregiver's support.
The Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones believes that this portion of Bill as it deals with veterans requires us to examine it more closely as to the substance of what will be contained in that bill and what that actually encompasses. We feel that there needs to be a substantive commitment and positive action to prove to veterans, the veterans community and their families that this government and this nation does care for those they have sent into harm's way.
I will now briefly acknowledge the details of division 17 of part 3 and offer our words on these.
Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones and its partners are in full agreement that this looks like a step in the right direction for the Government of Canada and Veterans Affairs Canada. Transitioning of Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans and the services that have been mentioned in broad terms must include a sound and effective communication plan. There cannot be any misunderstanding as to what services are available and the benefits prescribed through Veterans Affairs. Therefore, effective communication is the key.
An issue previously brought forward to this committee by the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones was this very issue of effective communication to rural and remote communities of aboriginals, including first nations, Métis, and the Inuit. We must consider veterans living in remote areas and develop ways to remove barriers due to location and possibly a lack of technology and to improve outreach to those veterans.
The retirement income security benefit and its establishment cannot be commented on fully at this time as we require to see the content of the proposal. We can only hope that whatever will be proposed will be acceptable to meet the needs of those veterans and families requiring this assistance and that we will not struggle later on to obtain the services for veterans or survivors.
The establishment of the critical injury benefit is another positive step forward to respond to the needs of those who suffer severe and/or traumatic injuries related to their service. Again, we must ensure that the content of this will meet the needs of the affected veterans.
During a recent trip that I took with 28 veterans of the Italian campaign—heros of Canada—I heard horrific stories of battles fought, friends lost, and pain endured. I was humbled to be included with these individuals. The stories I heard were stories that had never been talked about. They were stories of tragic events, happy occasions, and remembrance of good old friends. It certainly gave me a better understanding and an appreciation of the need to ensure that veterans are properly looked after due to their personal contributions, their personal sacrifices, and their abilities to move forward.
I was informed by some of these outstanding veterans of suicides of friends, of alcohol abuse, and of family problems suffered by returning veterans.
I also heard of how some were able to tackle the demons and to become successful in whatever they decided to do. There are two comments that stand out in my mind that were shared by these veterans with me.
The first one is that we had a number of aboriginals who were in our units. They were all good soldiers and we lost more than a few of them. It is too bad they were not looked after when they returned home.
Two, if it was not for the Afghanistan veterans, we veterans would not have gotten the benefits that were denied to us long ago. We can certainly see the similarities between what earlier veterans had gone through in the past and what our current veterans are going through today. Today's veterans have also suffered deeply, both physically and mentally, from recent conflicts.
Today's veterans are forced to rely on the dedicated and steadfast efforts of caregivers who in some cases are spouses, who gave up careers, took a reduction in income, and faced financial hardships, and which for some, led to a strain on relationships and a breakdown in relationships. These caregivers ensure the best of care is given. They are the ones who assist the injured while leading to the ultimate survival of the heros. No one could ever take for granted these what I term front-line defenders of our injured.
Compensation to caregivers who sacrifice everything in order to provide much in the therapeutic recovery of our veterans should not be undermined, and they must be recognized for their selfless contributions. If there is a need to continue support beyond age 65, then this should never be questioned, as we are talking about individuals who have given a great deal of themselves for the freedoms enjoyed by other Canadians.
We must also remember that as a country, Canada has sent these soldiers, sailors, air men and women to places of turmoil, conflict, and outright horror. That being the case, we should never accept the shirking of the responsibility we have for looking after injured Canadian Forces members and veterans.
In closing, I echo the comments made by both the Veterans Ombudsman and the Royal Canadian Legion. The new Veterans Charter and the enhanced Veterans Charter are considered living documents. This means that as a living document it requires review and adjustment in order for it to meet the needs of its recipients. As I have stated before, the new Veterans Charter was introduced in the House and all parties accepted it, as did the Canadian Armed Forces and a vast majority of the veterans groups. The new Veterans Charter has a number of issues and problems, but it is the job of our politicians to look to and listen to organizations that are providing good advice and offering solutions to the problems associated with veterans.
ADA stands behind the Royal Canadian Legion and the ombudsman for their tireless efforts to move forward on behalf of all veterans. ADA has always taken the stance that we will support only those organizations or groups that are for positive movement forward on veterans issues.
A final thought from one of my partner organizations is that veterans should probably be the labour force at Veterans Affairs Canada and also appointees to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
On behalf of myself, my partner organizations, and all Canadian veterans, I offer sincere thanks for allowing me to attend this committee.
Good evening. I'm Richard Blackwolf, the national president of Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association. I'm honoured to have with me tonight, Mr. Joseph Burke, the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans national representative from Ottawa, who has an extensive medical background from his service in the military.
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee and give you our thoughts and opinions on the clauses contained in division 17, part 3 of Bill .
It is our understanding that Canada is one of the countries that do not maintain a large standing armed forces. The often quoted prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, in his speech to the Canadian corps on the eve of the attack on Vimy Ridge is a reflection of the covenant between the Government of Canada and the citizen volunteers of Canada who go to fight in Europe.
The new Veterans Charter is a covenant between the people of Canada and the Government of Canada to the current volunteers serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and to future citizens answering a call to arms when the country needs to fight aggression. Therefore, it is all of our duties to make the best possible charter for the care of our veterans.
Our submission today is the result of a clause-by-clause analysis of division 17, part 3 of Bill , with reference to the committee's previous three questions posed last year in May.
The purpose of the act is centred on the obligation to provide services, assistance, and compensation to Canadian Forces serving members and veterans, who have been injured or die for their service and have benefits extended to their spouse, common-law spouse, children, and orphans.
Mr. Burke will address the other portion of our presentation at this time.
We approve of the wording amendments for the earnings loss benefit in clause 208, and the addition (c). We also applaud the extension of the earnings loss benefit past the age of 65.
Our previous concern was that the earnings loss benefit be set at 100% of previous military net income. It is retained in the act at 75%, which represents a loss of 25% of income for the veteran. It is our opinion that this retention of 75% of previous military net income does not meet the test of fairness. We have concerns that the spousal benefit, with the retention of the 75% of previous military net income, will also not meet the test of fairness for survivors.
We applaud the powers given to the minister to waive application if it is deemed that a disability exists in proposed section 40.5.
I will turn now to critical injury benefit, disability award, a death benefit clothing allowance, and a detention benefit.
Regarding critical injury benefit, in proposed subsection 44.1(1), our interpretation of “or developed an acute disease” means physiological diseases. We request that the committee support an amendment to the proposed subsection to change the wording to read “or developed a physiological disease or psychological disorder”, thus using proper medical terminology.
We applaud the family caregiver relief provision in proposed subsection 65.1(1). However, we are appalled that there were no provisions in the bill for a caregivers monthly benefit. In our previous submission to this committee, we suggested a monthly benefit of a minimum of $1,600 net income after taxes, and CPP deduction compensation for all their caregiving activities in the daily care for their disabled veteran.
We are further extremely disappointed that there is no provision for a child support benefit. In our previous submission to the committee, we suggested a child support benefit based on the Ontario courts schedule as an example of the support needed per child.
I am here before you as a spouse and as a caregiver. Officially, I'm talking on my own behalf as much as I know that many veterans, many veterans organizations, as well as many politicians recognize my vital role in the healing process and recovery of my husband, a wounded warrior. I am sorry to tell you that I feel that we don't have the voice we should have right now. We can tell you a lot.
From coast to coast, in French, in English, in the native communities, I have no idea how many Jenny Migneaults there are in this country. Although I know that my situation is unique, let me tell you something: it's very similar to everyone I know, every single person I know. The biggest difference between me and many of my sisters in arms is the fact that I have a husband who allows me to talk openly and freely. Yes, he gives me the permission to break the wall of silence we live behind. I have permission to talk. My husband might be your hero. He is my hero in my life just for allowing me to be here today.
I testified before this committee for the first time in November 2007. I was 35 years old. We had three children living at home with us. I was struggling to keep a job. I was struggling to stay away from depression. I was struggling to cope with our twisted challenges—twisted challenges.
These are the last words I said back then:
I would like to say that living with someone who has post-traumatic stress syndrome has impacts and repercussions on all members of the family.
This is also what I said:
Without blowing my own trumpet, however, I believe I have succeeded in minimizing the damage. I am 35 years old, and sometimes I feel 70. I would really have appreciated the help provided by St. Anne's Centre for Claude, [my husband] for us all and for our children before this summer.
In my mind, I guess, I was stronger than 20 years of service. Well, I was wrong because I'm a failure. I have no more family; I have no more money; I have no dignity; and I have very little physical freedom now. I am a caregiver of a veteran with PTSD. No offence to anybody—no offence to my husband, no offence to all veterans of this country—but I'm sorry to tell you that I am serving my country as well, as we speak, from my fortress: my home.
My unique humanitarian mission is all about my husband's suffering. My sacrifices may not be worth a lot. They are not glorious; I admit it. I have no medals to share with you for the number of punches I received while he was sleeping. I have no medals to show the world the effort I have deployed to try to have something that would sound like a normal life to the rest of the world. I have no medals to show you our losses as a family.
Thank you so much for allowing me to testify before you tonight and to tell you how wrong I was and to share with you my view about the caregiver relief benefit. Don't expect me to talk about other measures. Although I am directly affected by the notion of financial security in our fortress, caregivers must pronounce themselves about measures that concern them directly. Am I the first one who will talk to you about the caregiver relief benefit tonight? I hope not.
It's actually strange that I get to do so almost exactly a year after my life changed drastically, on May 29, 2014, when I arrived last at a jogging race. It is when I started to talk about my reality, but most importantly, it is when I also realized how much I'm not alone.
Yet in May 2015, here I am to talk to you about the caregiver relief benefit. My fatigue as a caregiver is recognized. I consider this not only to be a political gain, but a social one, too. So, thank you for recognizing who I am.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am drowning in my own fatigue, but this measure is not a half-measure. It's a quarter of a measure. I understand I might offend some of you who believe this measure is a great answer to my excruciating reality. Well, do you know how this measure would apply in my house? I believe it would not. Nobody I know said to me, “I feel like I would receive it.”
First, my husband qualifies because of a percentage that differentiates him from most severe to severe, so it's not clear. Most of all, it's like you're asking me to tell my husband, “Honey, I need a break from you. I need a break from your PTSD. I need air from you. I need to have a little of my life without you.” This is what you are asking me to tell my husband. Do you really expect him to feel good about it? No. Do you know why? He's wounded with PTSD. If you want to know what I think, I think his paranoia will make him believe I'm going away to have a nice little drinking party and probably to sleep with three-quarters of the city. This is it; this is the reality. His anxiety will make him call numerous times. He's not with me today. Would you like to see? If I don't give answer him using the right tone of voice, I can assure you I will hear about it when I go home. This is my reality.
Usually every single time I get to meet you in your office, my husband is in a parking lot somewhere sleeping and waiting for me. The caregiver relief benefit does not apply in our situation the way it is presented. Also, he won't accept a stranger in our house. He won't even accept that his own children come and take care of him. He has his dignity too. You know what? I am the only one he trusts. As much as he would love to see them around, they are not me. My husband will end up suffering in silence while I'm gone and the children wouldn't know how to handle him.
This measure is probably supposed to give me a break, but by doing so, you are putting me in a situation of triggering my husband's anxiety and PTSD. When he's triggered or anxious, he becomes angry. In my reality, in my fortress, I live with a loving husband. When he suffers, he becomes Rambo. This is my suffering husband.
As for the money, everybody seems to forget that I have nothing and that includes financial autonomy. The pink hair and the nails that you see are only because my husband allows them, accepts them, and because he likes them. I think he thinks I look better to him. This is my life.
Do I need to tell you I most probably suffer from transfer PTSD? I'd love to tell you how I am now hypervigilant even going to the restaurant without my husband. You have no idea how much I can choose the place, be aware of the music, the sound, the time—
I probably suffer from paranoia too, as his own paranoia made me believe even that the Conservative Party made me a target last year. Yes, people made me believe that I was seen as a national threat and I was on some kind of list. Can't you realize that I'm not that important? Very briefly, do I need to tell you that if my husband would divorce me tomorrow morning, I would end up literally homeless? I have nothing. I have poor mental health right now. I'm 18 years old. What would I do?
As I said, my sacrifices may not be worth a lot to you, but to me my isolation makes me see suicide as a final answer, because my guilt won't allow me to leave my husband, and on the other hand I don't see how I could continue like this for many years. I am a total failure.
Recently a wife separated from her husband after 13 years of marriage. She tried to call his case manager who wouldn't call her back anymore. They are separated. He is the serving member; she is nothing anymore. There's no more help for her or for her son. What happens when we can't stay?
I'm sorry. There are solutions to address the caregiver—
No, I don't need this right now.
Let's say that I can dream about it.
It would be a centre, a physical centre, to which families could come, and couples. It would be accessible to everybody. We need respite. But you know, the social....
I'm going to switch to French, if you don't mind. It's easier for me.
Just getting out of the house is a challenge. We don't have any friends left. We don't see family. Nothing. We don't have any money to go out.
It would be wonderful to have a centre or a Wounded Warriors in a physical location, somewhere where injured soldiers could have access to all the activities and be amongst themselves. The spouses, on their end, also network. Workshops could be given from time to time; that would make a huge difference.
We can't simply rest, because when we go back home, we have to deal with the same problems. That's why education is so important. I'd like to see an actual place where, for instance, RCMP and air force members could come, on a rotating basis. That way, we could get people to work together and provide them with education.
That's a bit of a two-in-one solution that would help address a caregiver's fatigue while supporting veterans with PTSD. My husband has PTSD, and having a place like that would help both of us.
Thank you, everyone, for appearing tonight.
Ms. Migneault, you've given the most compelling testimony I think this committee has heard, at least in the year that I've been here. I don't think we do appreciate what caregivers are suffering.
I personally found it insulting that $7,238 per year would be given through the family caregiver relief benefit and that it would be considered enough to provide what they call respite, the break that you speak of.
I want you to answer two questions.
First, I understand that what you and others like you really needed, apart from a place to go which you spoke of earlier, was income replacement, because you've given up your career. Would you speak to us about that?
Second, if there is not going to be income replacement, can you talk to me about the adequacy of $7,238 per year, which is $139 per week? Does that provide enough money for the respite, if you were able to leave your home?
There are two questions there.
It's only with the years that you realize the impact of staying at home. First of all, there's the income loss, of course. We feel it in the fridge. We are three people living on my husband's pension. We had some water damage, and last night, actually, I almost slept in my car in order to be here today—I'll be honest with you—because we had $40 left until midnight. That's our reality.
Of course, if I were working it would make a difference. That income replacement is necessary. I have children of my own. My husband also ended up paying for them as much.... They were not his children. My daughter's in Japan right now. I cannot help her during her studies, with anything.
I'm sorry. I'm very tired.
Second of all, concerning that $7,000, you have to keep in mind that I don't have that money. If you expect me to hire someone or to buy a plane ticket...or, as someone suggested yesterday, if I wanted to bring my children from B.C. to Quebec, I must have the money. I don't.
So it does not apply. It's not helpful to me. It's not.
Is it enough? Well, it's not a replacement; it's a relief benefit. If it came with a sort of income, that would be different.
Mr. Chair, before I ask the question, I need to put something on the record.
The Liberal member, in his opening remarks before he asked a question, mentioned how appalled and how insulted he is by the caregiver benefit proposed in this legislation. I would like to remind him that the previous government, the Liberal government in 1995, made the deepest cuts to veterans, taking away benefits, and taking away benefits that took more than 15 years to restore. Many of the veterans, including those that fought in the Italian campaign, never lived long enough to get it back. I say to the member, you are sitting with those people in the House today that did that. I know you are not in the House, but don't say you are appalled by something that's proposed that's a real benefit. Maybe it's not enough, but you know, I'm appalled by the way you speak because it was your government that hurt veterans the most in the history of this country.
Now I would like to ask a question. Thank you to the witnesses for coming here to this committee. Thank you for your service, and for your work for veterans and for the country. I have one question. I understand from your remarks that what is proposed is a step in the right direction. It's not enough. What would you advise us as members of Parliament? Should we pass the legislation? Of course, this is a step. It's an incremental change, but would you advise us to vote for it and pass it as quickly as possible so the veterans can receive what is proposed and then look for improvements, or would you ask us to scrap it? This is for both of you.
My questions are for Ms. Migneault. I'd just like to know her take on my logic.
In a case like your husband's, which I've seen before, it's clear to me that anyone who comes to your home to replace you has to be a qualified professional; that person has to know how to deal with individuals living with problems like your husband's.
In terms of building trust, it seems obvious to me that the person should meet with you, both you and your husband, repeatedly, several times a week. It would start gradually, with 15-minute increments, increasing to 20 minutes, 30 minutes and so forth. It would take many hours of working together before you would be able to leave the house for a few hours, or perhaps even an entire day, to visit family.
When you divide $7,238 by the hourly wage of a private nurse, it doesn't take long before you run out of hours. Do you think that's a problem and that it can't be adapted in some situations?
I did a quick calculation, and if you need someone 24 hours a day, the amount is equivalent to 6 days of private nursing care a year.
I'm not sure whether every spouse in the country in my situation would agree, but this is my personal opinion.
You talked about the hourly wage of a nurse. Am I a nurse? Am I to become a support worker? I would have to be trained. You can give me money but without training... Money doesn't buy happiness. Yes, I need financial compensation. If I was making $90,000 before, does that mean that the government should pay me $90,000? I don't think so.
If we had a reasonable amount, that would be a great start. Right now, we have nothing. In fact, I would even say we have less than nothing. Sometimes, we have to leave or we get left behind; it happens a lot. Often, once veterans get their pensions and their money, the wounds don't seem as bad. Many decide to move on; they buy a motorcycle and just take off.
We have no security, we need a decent starting point. It's a matter of dignity. Dignity is what I am fighting for.
I did read the piece on what they're doing for the reserves, and again, I think it's a good process and a good step forward.
Over 38 years I've dealt with a lot of reservists, whether they were in the reserve unit or attached to a regular force unit, so I know their capabilities and some of the things they've gone through.
The hard and fast thing, when I listen to Jenny talking here, is I also think back to the returning reservists who leave their friends and comrades they've been overseas with and who have absolutely nothing to go to. There were a lot of problems with that. Hopefully, that is one of the points being looked at.
But I agree 100% with Jenny. The people who are most affected by PTSD are not just the veterans themselves but those people who are destined now to look after them, and they have to be included.
Yes, we're advocates for the family as we brought forward in our presentation before. A family benefit and a child benefit are missing in this particular enactment. We will pursue those. We have a veterans services page where we list all the resources we're aware of. If we'd been consulted about the inclusion here of respite, we would have said to please make it a family respite, because particularly in the cases where there are psychological problems, separation is not possible. To get the family away to a new setting for a bit of a vacation is probably a greater thing. But as you said, we weren't consulted on that. We would have asked....
Mind you, the committee, I believe, still has the power to change the wording there from “caregiver” respite to “family” respite. They could still have the $7,200, or whatever it is.
On the Canadian Forces, we listed it on our website, too. There are vacation places where people can go, and that would be excellent. We are great supporters of the family. We hate to see the families being broken up, because this is an unbearable thing when you have a severely disabled veteran. Now, those categories are different. The psychological ones require more of a different tack, and the tack would be a family respite, possibly, more than an individual one.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here this evening. I know some of you were there last evening. We've had some very good testimony from our witnesses. As I mentioned in my opening remarks yesterday, what we have in front of us as a committee, and what we will ultimately have in front of us in the House when the bill goes back to the House, are very concrete measures that are aimed at benefiting veterans. When they pass into law, veterans will benefit from these measures.
Your testimony is much appreciated. It is acknowledged that this is not the end of the work. In other words, this is not the end of the line. This is a beginning, in a sense, but the measures are very concrete in nature.
What I've heard most witnesses say is that they support the measures as they are presented. They might have suggested changes, but they support what is contained within the legislation moving forward so that veterans will actually benefit.
Perhaps I'll just ask Mr. Blackwolf. Would it be an accurate representation of your position that what is in front of us would be of benefit to veterans and should move forward?