Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am proud to be a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I actually asked to be on this committee because I care very much about the well-being of our Canadian Armed Forces, and I care because I am an air force brat, travelling the world with my parents and siblings for 17 years, my father having had a distinguished 37-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Both of my sisters and brother-in-law also served their country very well, again, in the Royal Canadian Air Force. My immediately family has over 100 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am the only one who did not have military service, so as a member of the veterans affairs committee, this is my way of giving back to armed forces and veterans to the very best of my ability. As a committee, we have recommended substantial improvements, many of which the government has adopted.
Canadians recently marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, as we call it. I know a number of our colleagues had the opportunity to be there and experience that. We all saw Canada's veterans being welcomed with open arms by grateful Dutch citizens. We saw friendships rekindled and happy reunions, along with very moving ceremonies.
We also know that things did not simply go back to normal for many of our brave Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen and women when they returned home after the war was over.
Certainly for Canadian Armed Forces members today, a homecoming may not be the easy return to the routine one might expect. Rather, for some, they return to a different world. A loving home, one hopes, but a jarring new reality shaped by severe and perhaps permanent injury or illness. Home may now be a place of stress, of uncertainty, of what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. That is as true for family members as it is for the full-time armed forces member, the reservist or the veteran.
This was painfully clear last week, as I attended the second annual Sam Sharpe breakfast, held in his honour to recognize the struggle of Canadian servicemen and women who suffer from operational stress injuries and to highlight individuals and organization dedicated to assisting Canadian Forces members, their families and veterans.
Many may not be aware, but Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Sharpe was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908 as the sitting member for Ontario North at the start of World War I. After suffering mental injuries on the front, he returned to Canada and took his own life on May 25, 1918, at a Montreal hospital.
During the breakfast, we heard two very emotional stories of how PTSD impacted the lives of two of our veterans and how, with the help of services provided through Veterans Affairs, they were managing their PTSD, although, and this message was very clear, they would never be the same.
The people in the Government of Canada have a duty to such brave men and women in need of immediate and perhaps lifelong assistance. They must know that we are here for them. They must never doubt the intensity or sincerity of our care, compassion and respect.
I know I speak for all members in this place when I say that while politics may differ or approaches, ultimately every member of Parliament, from the government and the opposition benches, supports our veterans and expects the highest level of assistance to those in need.
That said, I am concerned with the political undertones of the NDP motion. I am troubled that the New Democrats have proposed this language a month after our government tabled the largest improvement to veterans benefits and supports since forming government. While I agree with the spirit of the motion and the vast majority of what is said in it, I am disappointed with the New Democrats for their continued political manoeuvring, using the noble cause of supporting Canada's veterans.
Perhaps many know, last week our government tabled economic action plan 2015 act. In particular, there is a section that proposes a series of new benefits for veterans and families affected by injury and illness sustained during service to Canada.
This bill also presents a welcome statement of purpose for the new veterans charter, one that goes far beyond the motion being debated here today and that would be formally legislated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. It reads:
The purpose of this Act is to recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. This obligation includes providing services, assistance and compensation to members and veterans who have been injured or have died as a result of military service and extends to their spouses or common-law partners or survivors and orphans. This Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled.
I hope the member for will support this purpose clause contained in Bill when the time comes to vote for it in Parliament in the coming weeks.
I was proud to have played a part in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. So many of the recommendations have been adopted by the government, including adding a new retirement benefit so that veterans have stable, reliable monthly income after age 65.
I want to make something very clear in this debate. Our government has a tremendous obligation to provide assistance to members and veterans of our forces who have been injured as a result of military service. We have an obligation as well to the families of those injured while in service.
I would like to take a few moments to highlight the new retirement income security benefit, which is arguably the largest of the new benefits we have introduced as a government over the past few months. The new retirement income security benefit would directly address this issue for moderately to severely disabled veterans and survivors. Beginning at age 65, eligible veterans would continue to receive monthly benefits totalling at least 70% of Veterans Affairs Canada's financial benefits received before the age of 65. This benefit would be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account other sources of income beyond the age of 65.
The key word here is “security”. As per our government's veteran-centred approach, potential recipients in receipt of financial benefits administered by Veterans Affairs would be contacted before they reached the age of 65 to ensure a smooth transition to that security. For disabled Canadian Armed Forces veterans nearing 65, that would mean being better able to save for retirement and anticipate future earnings. Further, when that veteran passed on, his or her survivor would continue to receive approximately 50% of this lifelong monthly payment.
This was one of the key recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and I am so pleased that the government acted swiftly to include it. I look forward to the recommendations being put forward and passed by the government.
Lest we forget.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from for his speech and for his family's combined service of over 100 years. Serving alongside him on the veterans affairs committee is an honour, because I know the member is seized with veterans, as many in the House are.
I would like to point out members in Veteran Affairs who are veterans, starting with our minister, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; our parliamentary secretary, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; and our deputy minister, who is an RMC grad, a veteran, and the former CDS. I myself am a former infanteer. We have a fighter pilot, and of course, there are members, like the member for Sault Ste. Marie, with a long family tradition. I am delighted to be serving along their side.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the motion. I am pleased to also lend my support to it, though I do share some concerns about the political undertones of the motion from the opposite side.
Our government places the highest priority on the health and well-being of all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. There are many veterans in the House, and as I said, some with recent service, me included. We are seized with ensuring that our veterans get the care and services they so rightly deserve from a grateful Canada. From the day they enrol, through basic training and their progression through the ranks, through deployments at home and abroad, through to when their service ends and they are back into civilian life, we want to ensure that our men and women in uniform, as well as their families, have everything they need.
We ask a great deal of those Canadians who serve in Canada's Armed Forces, both regular and reserve forces, those members who are so highly dedicated and serve concurrently with civilian occupations. We often forget that reservists make up 25% of Canada's missions abroad.
As part of the rigours of military life, they face a number of unique challenges unfamiliar to most of us. Military service and the needs of the nation require them to deploy when needed to locations near and far, as they are presently, as part of domestic and overseas missions.
While visiting Canadian Armed Forces members stationed in Kuwait last week, our said:
Your courage, like the courage of generations of service personnel before you, is the currency in which our freedom, our lifestyles, have been bought and paid.
For that, the Canadian people offer you our deepest admiration and our eternal gratitude.
These are words we can never forget, in particular as we have just observed the 70th anniversary of VE Day in which Canada played a major role in the Second World War.
Present day Canadian Armed Forces personnel often move their residence frequently throughout their careers as part of their service both inside and outside the country. This process is generally disruptive to family life. It means new neighbours, friends, schools, sports teams, and so many normal family-related activities that many of us who are settled take for granted. Their families are constantly moved. As the member for pointed out, for 17 years his family moved around the world.
They often work irregular hours and complete difficult tasks. Their job to defend and protect Canada's interests is inherently stressful, and of course, they may face great physical danger as part of the job. Sometimes they are in life-threatening situations.
Our Canadian Armed Forces members never fail to respond when they are needed, and we hear from around the world over and over the high regard our service members are held in for their professionalism and their skills. Because we demand so much from them, we have a moral imperative to ensure that there is a strong system to care for them when they become physically or mentally ill or injured.
Allow me to take a few moments to outline some of our existing services in several areas. In my time of service, I personally relied on the military health care system for many of my own injuries. It is a great system.
There are also our compensation and support services, our comprehensive mental health services, and our ongoing support to military families. Because of the comprehensiveness of our health care system, the vast majority of our military personnel are very well and very healthy indeed. However, for those who require ongoing physical and mental health care, we are committed to continuously improving the system.
The old maxim, “prevention is better than a cure”, is still a guide for military health care. In fact, prevention is a top priority, particularly when it comes to operational stress injuries. We address operational stress injuries through regular screening but also through fitness and safety programs. In addition, personnel are medically evaluated when they enrol and when they are taken on strength in the military.
They are medically evaluated before and after deployments, and they are medically evaluated on a routine basis throughout their careers. This is something that I have personally experienced.
Our military health care system is both comprehensive and collaborative. It supports our men and women in uniform in a wide variety of ways and through many different mechanisms, and it is highly adaptive.
As serving members' needs evolve mission to mission, our medical expertise has evolved, and we have responded by renewing and modernizing our services. For example, following an increase in the number of severe musculoskeletal and other combat injuries during our engagement in Afghanistan and indeed throughout a service career in terms of training, we established a Canadian Armed Forces physical rehabilitation program, creating seven centres of rehabilitation excellence across the country by partnering military health service units with pre-eminent civilian institutions.
Until recently, this has not had the attention that it really deserved. Weight, quite frankly, is weight, and in the past we have had load-bearing systems that were inadequate, which over time provided a lot of damage to bodies, backs, knees, ankles and to all kinds of things, especially for those people in the infantry who had to carry their homes, houses and all of their kit on their back. Nowadays, although the kit and equipment is much better, it is recognized much more through a study in science. It is being addressed and is no longer just anecdotal stories about injuries that soldiers sustained while on the job. We have also enhanced our post-deployment screening to ensure that any physical or psychological problems are quickly identified for early intervention.
The Canadian Armed Forces health care system is truly world class, and is committed to constant modernization and adaptation to best practice. It is far superior to anything that was provided decades ago, because it has been informed by modern medicine and disability management.
In partnership with Veterans Affairs, our presently serving members, veterans and all of their families benefit from a comprehensive system of support. However, more can and must be done to ensure that process, that seam that currently exists between these two huge entities, the military and Veterans Affairs, is as close together as we can make it in order to stop transitioning personnel from falling through the cracks. This work is occurring in earnest, and regular and constant improvements are being realized within this process.
We have strengthened and expanded our member and family supports in other areas. For example, financial assistance, often critical in times of illness or injury, is offered to military personnel and their families through the service income security insurance plan, which is commonly known as SISIP. This delivers life and disability insurance, vocational assistance and financial counselling through 18 offices across Canada.
In 2011, we introduced a new suite of benefits designed specifically to help severely injured personnel, by providing for home and vehicle accessibility modifications and monetary support to their spouses and caregivers. We also make on-base employment opportunities available to Canadian Armed Forces spouses and dependants throughout Canada and Europe, helping to improve the financial situation of our military families.
Indeed, whenever we reflect on the health of our military personnel, we know family support is absolutely vital to their well-being. In recognition of the fundamental role played by military families, we have worked hard to renew the military family services program by increasing its funding and expanding its services, especially through our 32 military family resource centres, which provide youth programs and activities; parenting support; daily emergency and respite child care; counselling and referral services; deployment and separation support; and education, training and employment assistance.
I wish that the NDP members were focused like us on delivering results rather than the games they have been playing in Parliament and elsewhere that only serves to confuse and misinform. Veterans should know that every MP on all sides of this House supports them. The political rhetoric that has been applied should become obsolete, because it is inaccurate and unfortunately it does mislead.
In that bipartisan light, I am pleased we are supporting this motion, largely because it was virtually copied from the text of our support for veterans and their families act, but also because I believe no one in this place should use our veterans as political talking points, as the other side does. I believe we should be striving to improve, because it is the right thing to do for all of our veterans, past, present and future. I hope that ultimately this is the case for the politically charged NDP motion.
Mr. Speaker, my grandfather was from Finland. He fought in World War II, and I remember that he received a pension. I remember as a kid thinking that was strange. I did not understand how that worked because it was a pension that came from Finland and he did not even live there any more. Kaarina and Tauno, my grandparents, immigrated from Finland to Canada and yet the Finnish government still supported my grandfather. Then, when he passed away, that pension went on to my grandmother, my mummo.
As a kid I remember that was the first time I ever thought about that obligation that a country has to its servicemen and women. It was the first time I really thought about what it was. I knew my grandfather had fought in the war, I understood that, but I did not understand what it meant to sign up for something different, to sign up and say, “I am going to fight for this country and I am going to put my own life on the line”.
As members know, I am the member of Parliament for Halifax. I have not served in Canada's military, unlike a couple of our previous speakers and other members of this House. However, as the member of Parliament for Halifax, which is home to Canadian Forces Base Halifax, I have learned a lot about our military and our veterans over the years, both as a representative and also as somebody who lives in the city.
It is difficult not to know at least a bit about the Canadian Forces if one lives in Halifax. CFB Halifax is Canada's east coast navy base and is home port to Maritime Forces Atlantic. It is the largest Canadian Forces base in terms of number of posted personnel. Anywhere people go around the Halifax harbour they will see evidence of the Canadian Forces.
As the MP for Halifax, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the work that is happening at HMC Dockyard Halifax, one of the oldest defence establishments in Canada. I have attended events at Stadacona, which is in the north end of Halifax. I have visited the Halifax military family resource centre on many occasions.
Shortly after my election in 2008, I had the opportunity to go on the inaugural sail of HMCS Halifax by her new captain, Captain Joseé Kurtz, the first woman to command a Canadian warship. That was an incredibly special event as Captain Kurtz took women from the community on her inaugural sail with her.
Before I go on, I do want to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
In this time, living in Halifax, and representing Halifax, I have learned two key things about the men and women who serve. The first thing that I have learned is that our military men and women are us. They are not separate from us, walled off on a base that is isolated and different. CFB Halifax is part of our city, and the men and women serving there are part of the Halifax community. They are our soccer coaches. They are the neighbours who offer a hand shovelling the driveway, and we certainly had a lot of that this winter. They are our volunteer firefighters. They are our community board volunteers. They are part of our communities, and our communities are part of them.
The second thing that I have learned is that while they are members of our community, they are different. Every day they go into work and they make an extraordinary personal commitment, a commitment much more extraordinary than that which members and I make. When I worked at Dalhousie Legal Aid in Halifax, I went to work in the morning, I served my clients, and came home at the end of the day.
My colleague from quoted from the Equitas statement of claim. As members have heard, there is a court case going on right now. I would like to repeat this quote because I think it really sums up how our servicemen and women are different.
When members of the Canadian Forces put on the uniform of their country they make an extraordinary personal commitment to place the welfare of others ahead of their personal interests, to serve Canada before self and to put themselves at risk, as required, in the interests of the nation. A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to “the Government of Canada,” for an amount of “up to and including their life.”
That blank cheque made payable to our country is not something that most of us have to write every day when we go to work, so while our servicemen and women are coaching our kids at soccer or helping raise money for the United Way in our communities, they are also unlike most of us in our community. That difference, that blank cheque of up to and including their life, is what creates our obligation and the obligation of our country and of our government to honour that commitment with a stand-alone covenant.
A moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation exists between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured or disabled or have died as a result of military service. The government is obligated to fulfill this covenant.
Canadian Armed Forces veterans and their families deserve our deepest gratitude and they deserve to be taken care of. Too many veterans and their families still cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports, including the nine front-line Veterans Affairs offices that have been closed in this country.
I want to thank my colleague from for helping us lead the way on proposals to improve programs and services available for veterans and their families.
The NDP has a plan to end service pension clawbacks, reopen shuttered Veterans Affairs offices, and widen access to quality home care, long-term care, and mental health services.
I also want to thank my colleague from for bringing forward this important motion and my colleague from for seconding the motion. Thanks to their hard work, this issue gets the important debate it deserves.
Our country has a long history of standing up for the rights and freedoms that Canadians hold dear. The men and women who join the Canadian Forces know they may be called upon to risk their lives on behalf of Canada and to uphold peace, security, or human rights here at home and around the world. We honour the service of those who accept the condition of unlimited liability and we are grateful for their personal sacrifices, including the sacrifices made by their families.
Members may have heard the minister make reference earlier to what was a saying, although it is now quite an outdated saying. It was that if the military wanted us to have a family, it would issue us with one.
The first time I heard that saying was during a meeting with then Rear-Admiral Maddison at the Halifax dockyard. Of course, it is a totally outdated saying. It is not true today. Canadian Forces have put a lot of work into supporting military families and acknowledging the role that families play in supporting our military servicemen and women. I have had opportunities to see that kind of support first-hand in talking to military families and seeing the special work that the Halifax Military Family Resource Centre does to support families in the Halifax area. That is why the social covenant not only acknowledges our veterans but also acknowledges their families. It acknowledges that our nation and its government and citizens will support these men and women on their missions, honour their service, and look after them and their families if they are injured or die in the service of their country.
Recognizing this covenant between the Canadian people and our government with past and active members of the Canadian Forces is essential. This covenant honours their service and their personal sacrifices and includes the sacrifices made by their families.
To highlight that, I would like to read a quote from Dr. Stéphanie Bélanger from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research:
There is a social covenant and this is what started the research institute. It is being studied as well in military ethics studies. There is lots of evidence of that social covenant existing in every country where the government will task people with a clause of unlimited liability, and because of this clause there is an obligation to serve back.
That sums it up perfectly.
I am proud to stand today to speak to the motion. I will be proud to vote for it and I encourage my colleagues across the House to support this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this motion today, because Canadian veterans are our heroes, and they should be treated with the utmost respect and provided with all the support we can possible give.
Conservatives continuously remind us to support our troops—we hear it all the time—but fail to understand that support must continue once those Canadian Forces are no longer active and they become veterans. We owe them that much. We were, and are, a country engaged in modern-day conflicts in places like Somalia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Cyprus, East Timor, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.
Our troops have answered the call to assist communities jeopardized by floods, earthquakes, ice storms, forest fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes domestically and around the world. However, Veterans Affairs Canada has not adapted to the very real needs of the veterans of the modern day. This government has failed to support the obligations we owe veterans who served in the great wars, in Korea, and on peacekeeping missions.
In fact, because of the shortsightedness of the Conservative government, our relationship with our veterans has been damaged and diminished rather than enhanced. Older veterans were told to learn to use the Internet, for example, for continued service when local VAC offices faced service reductions and closures.
The Conservatives have cut—and this has been said a number of times—more than 900 jobs from Veterans Affairs since 2009. That is 23% of the workforce.
Compensation for funerals under the Last Post Fund has not kept up with the actual costs, leaving cash-strapped veterans and their families to pay the difference. Veterans requiring long-term care beds have been shuffled off to provincial jurisdictions because they have had the misfortune of outliving their life expectancy.
The ministry refuses to extend our obligation as a courtesy to them beyond the contracted dates. These are veterans with special needs who need special care as a result of their service to our country.
New Democrats have long advocated for the continuation of the veterans long term care program. The rates of homelessness and suicide among our veteran population are horrifying, but testimony to that fact and effects of post-traumatic stress are not being seriously addressed. Families are left without the supports they need to deal with younger veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, and injured veterans with obvious disabilities as a result of their service must suffer the delay and humiliation of proving to the department over and over again that they have been disabled, in order that they continue to receive support.
The current government's Bill C-58, as proposed, is a good start, but many veterans feel it just doesn't go far enough in enhancing programs and services for all veterans and their families under the new charter. New Democrats agree with these veterans and their families. That is part of why we have chosen to dedicate this opposition day to point out that financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured, disabled, or died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, must improve. We have a moral, social, and legal as well as fiduciary obligation to do that.
Dr. Pierre Morisset, a retired major general and the chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Veterans' Health, was a witness before the veterans affairs committee last year, and he said, “When a soldier leaves the forces and is officially known as a veteran, then he's treated in the civilian health sector”. Dr. Morisset went on to say that the civilian health care system is “not necessarily tuned to the reality of what kind of life the soldier may have had”.
Similarly, Dr. Ruth Stewart of Athabasca University argued that:
The Canadian Forces represent a distinct culture, containing distinct subcultures. They possess unique languages, norms, and customs, and are socially stratified to a degree completely foreign to most north American civilians.
Once a soldier leaves the military, he or she is left to the care of civilian doctors who will do their best, but they do not have the expertise to deal with the specific issues veterans face. Veterans are our national heroes and, as such, they are a federal responsibility and should be looked after by the federal government. They are not, as the government believes, a problem to be dismissed, undervalued, or offloaded to the provinces.
This Parliament's veterans affairs committee identified three core themes for the study resulting in the new veterans charter: care and support of the most seriously disabled, support for families, and improving how Veterans Affairs Canada delivers the programs, services, and benefits of the new charter.
The Conservatives' Bill would only partly address some of the 14 recommendations contained in that unanimous report. It would, for instance, only provide assistance to help 100 of the most seriously injured.
The NDP believes that we have the obligation, and capability, to help all veterans and their families.
New Democrats will push for the retirement income security benefits to be increased from 70%, as outlined in the bill, to 100% of what the veterans received in VAC financial benefits before age 65, to ensure that veterans have financial stability.
The critical injury benefit proposed under Bill would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Forces members and veterans. However, under the proposed criteria for qualification, only two or three people per year would qualify. This is simply not good enough for our veterans. They have given their lives and their careers for this country.
We have also heard from veterans who are disappointed in the government for not addressing the disparities and unfairness related to lump-sum disability payments, as compared with civilian court awards for pain and suffering.
Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, said the new benefits under Bill would go to just 1% of all severely disabled vets and Sean Bruyea, veteran advocate, has expressed similar concerns.
Injured and disabled vets should not have to fight their own government in court for the compensation and care they deserve, but sadly, this has become all too common under the current government.
If the Conservatives are serious about improving the care of our veterans, they should stop fighting those veterans in court and recognize our historic covenant.
Today, New Democrats are calling upon the government to restore our country's relationship with the veterans to one that is based upon respect rather than neglect.
Instead of including provisions to assist veterans in an omnibus budget bill—a cynical attempt to force opposition parties that support the measures for veterans to vote against them—the Conservatives should recognize the historic covenant that we share with veterans and honour it with decisive action.
I would like to speak, now, about the proud history of military service in London, Ontario.
I cherish the relationship I have been able to foster with the veterans in my community who have served us so well over the years. Their participation in our community enriches all of us. They support hospitals, young athletes, the homeless, the wounded, and the forgotten. I feel very privileged to stand with our veterans in the community.
Perhaps members have heard of the proposed demolition of many buildings at Wolseley Barracks, including the historic officers' mess. Bob Marshall, president of the Duchess of Kent Legion, would like to see the officers' mess repurposed as the Legion's new home, rather than demolition.
This is a reasonable proposal, a win for the Legion, a win for Wolseley Barracks, and a win for the community. I am fully behind it. I hope that the has had time to consider this proposal adequately and that he will support it.
I would also like to remind the House that, when in opposition, the Conservatives promised they would make significant veteran reforms. Sadly, after nearly a decade in office, they have done little to address the gaping holes in the services offered Canadian veterans and their families. In fact, they have gone so far as to challenge the existence of our sacred covenant with those veterans.
The Conservatives have forgotten our veterans and the contribution of modern-day Canadian Forces veterans and RCMP who served in peacekeeping around the world. That is absolutely unacceptable. Canadians are passionate and proud in our gratitude for our veterans.
During Remembrance Week and beyond, Canadians choose to honour the men and women who gave us a strong and free country. It is long past time for our federal government to likewise honour all veterans, both past and present, by serving their needs.
Monuments and parades are lovely, but they are cold comfort to the veterans and families who are suffering neglect.
It is time to mean what we say when we repeat the promise to remember. It must be accompanied by real action. That is what New Democrats are promising and proposing today with this motion
The NDP is the only party with a comprehensive veterans policy that we intend to implement when we become the government of this great country.
I am proud to support today's motion. I hope everyone in this House will do so also.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the motion put forward by the member of Parliament for .
I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I urge the NDP to work with our government to improve the well-being of Canada's veterans and their families. We understand the need to provide those who have bravely served our nation in uniform with the support they need to transition to civilian life.
Our recently announced increased benefits and services are evidence of our commitment to ensuring that Canadian veterans and their families are treated with care, compassion, and respect. It is through these new measures, which are included in economic action plan 2015, that we are demonstrating the importance we place on being there for our brave men and women when they need us most.
These new benefits and services we are proposing take significant strides in improving the new veterans charter. We are moving to better support families and caregivers, those who play such a vital role in the transition process. We are respecting reservists. The purpose clause in Division 17 of Bill , the economic action plan 2015 act, which my colleagues have discussed, demonstrates our government's duty and commitment to veterans. It is an ongoing commitment.
I encourage all colleagues to listen to the debate today and recognize that the measures our government is introducing would enhance the lives of those who have served our nation. It is not only about supporting those who have served, it is also about supporting their families.
We recognize the vital role the families play in the lives of the men and women in uniform and how veterans' health issues can impact those who stand by them. We understand the important role those who stand beside Canada's veterans play in their recovery and well-being.
I would like to highlight the action we have taken to support families and caregivers.
We recognize that the family caregivers of Canada's veterans play a large supporting role in providing those who have served with the care they need and deserve, which is why I am pleased to tell the House about a new benefit our government has introduced to help relieve some of the burden facing the families of those who are severely injured. A serious physical or mental injury causes not only immense challenges for the serviceman or woman but serious stress and strain on their families. Our government has proposed a new family caregiver relief benefit to provide an annual tax-free grant of $7,238. Family members who help with the care of the most seriously injured veterans can have the added flexibility of getting relief during times of added stress on the family or even help to recharge their batteries, if that is what needs to happen.
Today Veterans Affairs already pays for in-home medical care for the most severely injured veterans. This funding would be in addition to other VAC benefits already in place to support veterans' daily needs. It is a recognition of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. It tops things up just a bit and makes things a little easier.
This benefit is for caregivers in the home—spouses, common-law partners, parents, or adult children—who often try to juggle raising children or family duties alongside assisting their injured loved ones. Their own careers are often sidetracked or reduced, and often their own health and wellness can be impacted when there is an injured veteran at home. This new benefit recognizes their important work and would provide them with a little extra flexibility.
This funding could be used for relief options, such as covering the cost of having a professional caregiver come into the home or covering the cost of another family member or friend travelling to the veteran's home, and it would be provided in addition to other benefits already in place to support veterans' health care needs. It is a supplement. We believe that this would make a tremendous difference for these families.
This recently announced benefit is not the only action we have taken in support of veterans. Last year we announced an increase in the number of psychological counselling sessions for families of veterans from eight to 20 sessions.
We have also invested in research to help us gain a better understanding of the impact operational stress injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, have on the mental health of the spouses and children of Canadian veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental injuries have an effect on the whole family, not just on the injured veteran. Research such as this will help us get a better handle on the complex challenges facing today's veterans, their spouses, and their children when it comes to their mental health and their mental well-being. We want to identify possible next steps in this area.
We announced that we will develop and implement veteran-specific mental-health first aid training across the country for both veterans and their families. This will provide family members and caregivers of veterans with the training they need to support their loved ones in a time of crisis. It will do this by teaching them about mental-health conditions; training them in the signs and symptoms of common mental-health disorders; providing them with the opportunity to practise crisis first aid for those with mental-health conditions; ensuring that they know where, when, and how to get help; and providing education on what type of help has been shown to be effective in their situation and why.
Those are some of the actions our government has taken to honour our commitment not only to members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans but to their families as well. I am disappointed to see that once again the New Democrats are playing their political games when our government has been unprecedented in the investments we have made in improving the well-being of Canadian veterans and those family members and caregivers who stand by the side of those injured veterans.
I urge all members of this House to vote in favour of the new measures our government is introducing in support of veterans and their families. It is by taking action and passing these measures that we will demonstrate our commitment and our duty to provide those who have bravely served our nation, and their families, with the help they need.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to speak to our government's commitment and dedication to providing veterans and their families with the support they need and deserve. That is why we introduced the Support for Veterans and their Families Act and included these measures in our economic action plan 2015.
This important legislation will put new benefits and services in place to improve the health and well-being of those seriously injured during service. These are improvements the NDP members have pointed out the need for. These are advances the Veterans Ombudsman, veterans and their advocacy groups have called for. These measures also address the very recommendations the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs made in its report “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I can attest to the extensive consultations and review we undertook to ensure our recommendations were sound and addressed the very concerns of veterans, their families and the groups that represented them.
The legislation will not only improve the new veterans charter, but it explicitly outlines the government's commitment and dedication to providing veterans with the help they need to successfully transition to civilian life in a purpose statement.
This purpose statement will be included in the new veterans charter so that this existing and important legislation recognizes and fulfills the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. I think we all agree this is very important and is obviously why we are having this debate today.
My colleagues on this side of the House have already spoken at length about some of the measures in the economic action plan, including the retirement income security benefit, family caregiver relief benefit and critical injury benefit. That is why in addition to the new measures introduced, we are putting more resources where they are needed to ensure service excellence.
Everyone knows case managers and the front-line service they offer are vitally important to veterans who need their services. That is why the minister announced last month that more than 100 permanent full-time case managers would be hired to improve one-on-one service. Veterans and their families experiencing complex mental health and transition needs will have them addressed more quickly and efficiently.
These additional resources, combined with a more balanced approach to managing the workload of the case managers, will help reduce the current ratio of 40 case-managed veterans to one case manager down to 30 case-managed veterans for each case manager. This will lead to better service and ultimately better outcomes for veterans. It also means veterans will be able to access the services they need quicker.
To ensure balanced caseloads, all case managers will have their caseload constantly assessed, adjusted and balanced so their time and attention is given appropriately to the needs of seriously ill or injured veterans.
It is absolutely critical that veterans as well as the Canadian Armed Forces members who are released right now from the military know they will continue to be well served and their needs met efficiently and with care, compassion and respect.
Our government has also committed the financial resources for the department to hire more than100 new disability benefits staff, both temporary and permanent. Hiring more employees whose job it will be to evaluate disability benefit claims means veterans and their families will have faster access to disability benefits, health care and mental health treatment.
Since becoming minister in January, the has consulted with veterans across the country to ensure we implement changes that will greatly benefit those who have served our country and their families. This has resulted in fundamental improvements required to the many systems, services, supports, benefits and programs provided or delivered so veterans can served better. Everything we do to support veterans is now “veteran-centric”, meaning everything we do centres around what is best for the veterans.
We are striving for service excellence and ensuring that veterans are treated with care, compassion and respect. That is why the minister has asked that options be examined to consolidate all Veterans Affairs benefits so they only have to access one single, clear and easy to understand benefit system. This action alone can have a dramatic impact on reducing stress on the injured soldier as he or she transitions to civilian life.
The improved way that veterans and their families are cared for and served did not only begin this year. Our government also took action last year in response to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs by announcing the addition of a new operational stress injury clinic in Halifax. We also announced that the OSI satellite clinics in St. John's, Chicoutimi, Pembroke, Brockville, Kelowna, Victoria and the Greater Toronto Area would be expanded to speed access to mental health services for those with mental health conditions. These clinics play a key role in providing specialized assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for veterans and their families living with operational stress injuries.
In fact, to support them by the end of the year, veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members will have access to an established network of 26 operational stress injury clinics. Access is also being expanded to seven military family resource centres across the country as part of a pilot project. Traditionally, the services and programs offered through the centres have only been available to still-serving members of the military. Up to 1,200 medically released veterans and their families may now take part over the course of the pilot, giving them access to a wide range of services to help smooth some of the challenges they face as they transition to civilian life.
A mental health first aid training course designed especially for veterans and their families will help them better understand the various kinds of mental health conditions and their impact. A veteran or his or her family member will then be able to respond earlier when someone they care about is in crisis. New research funding will ensure that we have the information we need to develop policies and programs grounded in good science and research to support better mental health treatments, faster recoveries and better outcomes for veterans, serving members and their families.
We are making real and significant progress. We will continue to work each and every day to improve the programs, benefits and services that Canada's veterans and their families need and deserve.
Instead of playing political games, I urge all members of the NDP and the House to support the measures included in the support for veterans and their families act and in the economic action plan. It is the right and honourable thing to do for veterans and their families.
Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the House that I will be splitting my time with the great member for the beautiful riding of .
Before I start speaking on today's motion, I want to give a plug for the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. It has supported the Canadian Armed Forces in every major combat, peacekeeping and peacemaking mission around the world for the last century, including World War I, World War II, Korea, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Its members have also worked with Kosovo refugees, trained mid-level providers for the Afghan National Army, provided oral health for Haitian earthquake victims and cared for under-served populations in the Pacific and Caribbean on U.S. navy missions.
These men and women have done a great service for our country, and today I would like to congratulate them on behalf of the entire House on the centennial of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. As of May 13, it will have been in service for over 100 years. On behalf of all of us, I want to thank the Royal Canadian Dental Corps for its outstanding historic service, and for its many years to come.
We are here today to ask one simple question, which is what we do in opposition. We ask the government of the day a particular question. Ironically, this question has taken us all day, and we still have not gotten a confirmed answer. I myself have asked the following question probably 10 times to two different ministers, a prime minister and two different parliamentary secretaries, and even did a press conference on it with no response. We are asking the government a very simple question: Does it or does it not have a social, moral, legal and fiduciary responsibility to care for those it asked to put in harm's way?
It is funny, a former Conservative prime minister, Mr. Borden, once said that the government did. I wonder if the current Conservative Party does as well. However, we will find out soon enough from the votes here.
I will get back to the matter at hand regarding veterans' care.
First of all, I want to congratulate the new minister on his posting. There is no question that there is a different tone now from the previous minister. No offence to the previous minister, but it just was not his cup of tea I guess in this regard, to be completely frank, but it is not entirely his fault. The previous minister was following orders from the PMO and the PCO in how to run his department. However, the reality is, there is a different tone now and we see a different yard mark coming from the current minister.
The previous speaker is also on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We did a report that was unanimous. In this House, getting a unanimous report from a committee is almost impossible these days, but we did it. There were 14 recommendations that we all agreed should be done immediately; not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, not piecemeal, but all 14 recommendations should be done immediately.
In fact, three-quarters of those recommendations are now approaching five years in recommendations; not one year, not five months, but five years. Some of these recommendations have come from the Royal Canadian Legion, the gerontological advisory board, the government's own advisory board on Veterans Affairs, ANAVETS and many other veterans and individuals who had come up with these recommendations many years ago. We formulated them into a report, and what do we do get six months to the day of that report?
Well, the previous minister said that we were going to do this in a piecemeal approach. The thing is, he was telling the truth, because Bill that the government talks about now is dealing with about three or four of those recommendations. We have not had Bill even come up for debate yet in the House let alone before the committee, let alone before the Senate, let alone before royal assent. The government is telling us to push it forward, but we have not even seen it again yet.
Now if the government is amiable to some alterations and amendments to the bill, I am sure we can get it passed like that, because there are some good elements in that legislation. However, in typical Conservative fashion, it falls woefully inadequate on the recommendations that were in our report.
I want to thank the current veterans ombudsman and the previous ombudsman for the work they have done in advising our committee on many of these things.
Let us go to the history of the Conservative Party. The current minister is the 11th minister we have had in my almost 18 years of service here. The problems with Veterans Affairs and the RCMP and their families did not start with the Conservative Party. They started long before with the Liberal Party. However, these problems have been exacerbated by the current Conservative Party.
Let me take everyone back to a meeting in New Brunswick in 2005 when the current was in opposition and Greg Thompson was a former minister of veterans affairs. When the Liberals were in power, they said in the Agent Orange or chemical spraying in Gagetown debate that they were only going to cover people for Agent Orange in 1966 and 1967, for the one month each time, when the Americans were there. They said that was what they were going to do. The Liberals said that.
Mr. Thompson was brilliant in his advocacy against that. He said there was no way the Liberals could allow that and that the Conservative Party, if it formed government, would never do that. In fact, the current , who was then in opposition, said the exact same thing. At a meeting, he said that all people affected by the chemical spraying in Gagetown from 1958 to 1984 would be looked after and there would be a public inquiry.
What happened in 2006? Those words were out the door. In fact, thousands and thousands of people have died because of the chemical spraying in Gagetown and very little in compensation was offered. I think around 7,000 people actually received what I call a $20,000 kiss-off. Many people, like Basil McAllister of Burton, New Brunswick, had to fight three VRAB decisions, two court cases over 10 years, to get further compensation for the chemicals that were sprayed on him.
Fortunately, though, people can rest assured that when the NDP forms government in October, we will have a national public inquiry into the chemical spraying in Gagetown. That is unacceptable and that is what we will do.
The money from the offices closed by the government went into advertising during the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Democrats will reverse that. We will not only reopen the offices but make them better than they were before and ensure that many more home visits happen for veterans who may wish to have someone come to their homes and fill out the forms properly. That is what we will do when we form government. In fact, there are many other things that we will do when we form government. Right now, we just have to wait and be patient. Soon it will be time for the Conservatives to find the exit door. I say that with great respect, of course, to my Conservative counterparts.
Let us go back to another promise the made to Joyce Carter of St. Peter's, Cape Breton. He told her in a letter, which he signed, not to worry because when Conservatives form government, as prime minister he would ensure that every single widow or widower of a deceased veteran would receive VIP service, not some of them, not a couple, not from New Brunswick, not from Nova Scotia, not from B.C., all would receive the VIP treatment. What happened? Almost four years after that date, some of them got the VIP treatment, not all of them.
That was another broken promise to the widow of a veteran. If someone can mislead the widow of a veteran, imagine what else that person could do to this country. That means nobody else is safe. It is unconscionable that the could have done that, absolutely unconscionable. She actually even had to come here to get that benefit. Unfortunately, not all of them received it even though it was promised to them.
Just today in the House of Commons the was asked a question. By the way, I should let every Conservative in the House know that every single time I have ever asked a question in the House of Commons, I have always provided the question in advance to the minister. Even though my own party completely dislikes that, I do it out of respect for the position of the minister.
The question was quite clearly about a 78-year-old veteran who served many years in the military, is injured, does not have much to live on, and wishes to enter into Camp Hill veterans hospital, run and administered by the Province of Nova Scotia, as World War II and Korean veterans do now. The province pays a small portion and the Government of Canada, through DVA, pays the rest. Twice now the minister asked whether I have lobbied the province to get him in there. I remind my Conservative colleagues that I have yet to see any legislation from anyone that says the care of veterans is a provincial responsibility. It is a federal responsibility.
On behalf of my party, I hope the Conservatives and other parties will join us in supporting this motion because it is critical that we do this. I want to say, in conclusion, that we should never regret growing old because it is a privilege denied to so many.
Lest we forget.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of the opposition motion, the New Democratic Party motion. I do not usually read out the whole motion when it is a long one, as it takes up precious speaking time, but I will in this case because I find it hard to believe we are actually debating it, that this subject is actually up for debate in the House of Commons.
The motion reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, a standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation exists between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured, disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, which the government is obligated to fulfil.
It is hard to believe that we have to dedicate an opposition day, that we have to dedicate a day to debate what should be a no-brainer, what should be common sense, common Canadian sense.
Our veterans stood on guard for us. They stood on guard for Canada. Our veterans stood on guard for democracy. They stood on guard around the world in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Libya. They stood on guard for us in humanitarian missions like Haiti, after the earthquake in January 2010, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, after Hurricane Igor that same year.
Our veterans stood on guard for us, and we must stand on guard for them. That is the essence of the sacred covenant that exists between the Government of Canada and our Armed Forces. Our responsibility, our duty, is to be there for soldiers and veterans in their moment of need, not to abandon them to budget and service cuts. I call that the ultimate insult. Too many give the ultimate sacrifice and the government gives the ultimate insult.
There have been too many examples where the Conservative government has failed to stand on guard for our veterans.
The NDP MP for , Nova Scotia, who just spoke, this party's veterans affairs critic—and an outstanding critic he is—has a quotation on his office door by a U.S. senator, “If you can't afford to take care of your veterans, then don't go to war”.
The Conservative government has not been taking care of our veterans. It was not taking care of our veterans when it closed nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada, including one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, my home province.
I was told just today of a Newfoundland veteran who served in Bosnia. He had to drive eight hours from Corner Brook, his home, to St. John's, the closest office, so that the staff there could start a profile on him. He drove for eight hours across the island of Newfoundland.
The Conservative government was not taking care of veterans when it cut 23% of the Veterans Affairs workforce, or 900 jobs, since 2009. The Conservative government certainly was not taking care of veterans when it spent more than $700,000 fighting Afghan veterans in court to deny the existence of the social covenant I mentioned a moment ago.
Lawyers for the government have argued that it has no obligation or social contract with veterans. Those same lawyers also argued that is unfair to bind the government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister.
That social contract was struck in 1917 by then Conservative prime minister Robert Borden:
The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.
Not only has the Conservative government failed to take care of our veterans, to respect that sacred covenant, but it has also been playing the worst sort of politics, the sort of politics that rots faith in our political system.
The latest massive omnibus bill, Bill , is the budget implementation bill. It is 167 pages, which is short by omnibus standards, and it obviously includes measures on the budget. That is the same boutique budget that we will be voting against because it would cater to the wealthy, among other reasons. It would put the needs of the more affluent and more influential people first. However, Bill C-59 contains much more than this year's budget measures. The bill touches on almost two dozen other bills, from the federal balanced budget act and the prevention of terrorist travel act to public service sick leave and Canadian Labour Code changes.
The Conservatives have also cynically included provisions to assist veterans in that omnibus bill. They do this all the time. Such a move will force opposition parties who support those measures to help veterans to vote against the bill and then—and you can take this to the bank, Mr. Speaker—the Conservatives will throw in our faces that we voted against veterans. That is the kind of government we have in power, a government that is morally spent. I can definitely get much more creative, but I do not want to cross the parliamentary line. After nine years of Conservative government, too many veterans and their families cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports.
I had a conversation just this morning with Jamie MacWhirter. He is a Newfoundlander and he is also a veteran. Jamie MacWhirter survived a seven-month tour in Afghanistan's most volatile war zones. He survived. He drove a refuelling truck loaded with 10,000 litres of diesel. His nickname was Fireball, for obvious reasons. Near misses for Jamie included rocket attacks, the horror of a suicide bombing that killed several children, fire fights, and roadside bombs. Jamie MacWhirter survived Afghanistan in one piece only to battle a different type of nightmare back here in Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador. Jamie MacWhirter has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the battle here at home was, and still is, for help.
Jamie MacWhirter says there is some help for veterans, some services available, but too often veterans do not know about them. Too often soldiers are afraid to speak out for fear of being kicked out of the military. They are afraid to ask for help. Soldiers do not feel safe in asking for help. When they do, too often the help is not there.
Jamie MacWhirter and others have formed a support group, PTSD Buddies, to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, to help them share experiences, and to lean on one another for support. Veterans should lean on one another. It is good that they are coming together to support one another. That is what the best kind of soldiers do. However, veterans should also be able to lean on their own government.
I mentioned earlier that the Conservative government is fighting Afghanistan vets in court to deny the existence of the social covenant. Those vets are in a group called the Equitas Society. That group states:
A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to “the Government of Canada,” for an amount of “up to and including their life.”
One hundred and fifty-eight Canadians were killed in combat in Afghanistan. I say this with great respect for their families, for the loved ones they left behind. Even more personnel, an estimated 160, have died from suicide since returning home from Afghanistan.
The Government of Canada has a sacred obligation as the holder of that blank cheque to stand and deliver, to stand on guard for the men and women of our forces when they ask for help.
Mr. Speaker, this is an excellent time to have this debate on this very topical member's motion.
In response to my hon. colleague from , we have already said we are supporting the motion, so let us put that aside.
I would like to take a little bit of time to be as factual as I can and as non-partisan as I can and lay out on the table what is actually happening in the Veterans Affairs world.
I am a veteran. I have had the pleasure of serving in the Canadian Armed Forces alongside some of Canada's finest. The hon. is also a veteran. That is one of the many reasons his understanding and depth of knowledge in these matters is second to none. He understands the challenges of the military lifestyle and he knows first-hand how positive these changes at Veterans Affairs Canada will be for our men and women in uniform. I am glad to see more veterans being elected to this House, and hopefully more will be elected in October.
Veterans will get the services they need, and they will get them when they need them. The minister has clearly communicated with Canadians that how we serve and care for our veterans is a priority for this government and that veterans and their families will continue to get the support they need and deserve.
Our government has always supported veterans, and in doing so, we often see veterans join our team. One of these fine veterans is a man named Tim Laidler, who is now a candidate for us in British Columbia. We look forward to having him on the team.
Historically, the support from the government for veterans is based upon the Pension Act, which was first introduced in 1919 as assistance for soldiers returning from a war that is now a century old. As time evolved, different conflicts arose and our armed forces faced new challenges.
We cannot forecast all these things. In 1938, did we understand that we would have hundreds of thousand of World War II veterans? In 1949, did we understand that we would have thousands of Korean War veterans? In 2000, did we understand that we would have thousands of Afghan veterans? Tomorrow, or ten years down the road, will we be saying the same thing about some other conflict?
Veterans needs change, and we have to adapt with that. It is our responsibility to adapt and apply new laws and legislation that better address the needs of today's veterans while not forgetting the needs of our traditional veterans. There are almost 60,000 Second World War veterans still with us.
The Liberals' new veterans charter was designed from 1999 to 2005, culminating with its introduction and passage in Parliament in a single day. It has been said that the new veterans charter represented a new social contract with Canadian veterans.
We are all aware that the new veterans charter required some practical tuning. The government has taken on those challenges. Arguably, it could have been done faster. As with all governments, that is an easy charge to make, and frankly, I wish we could have done things faster.
The fundamental concept behind the new veterans charter is based on the wellness and rehabilitation of our injured veterans and ultimately their transition back to civilian life. It is not intended to provide lifelong financial dependence unless that is the only option. It is all about getting the veterans and their families rehabilitated and back to a life of their own choice and under their own control.
It works alongside other benefits and programs from the Government of Canada, such as the service income security insurance plan, and ensures that military personnel who are seriously injured while on duty will see an increase in overall compensation the moment they leave the forces.
Our government has applied many changes that work to benefit veterans and their families, such as adding new monthly benefits so that veterans are not just receiving a single payment if they are seriously injured. We have also changed the single payment or lump sum so that veterans can break it out into smaller payments spread out in any way they like.
We also realize that the system is far too complex, like any system that has evolved over many decades. There was one payment for this situation and another for that. There were these forms and those forms. It does get very complicated. We are trying very hard to simplify that and cut through the red tape.
Qualifying veterans now have access to five different monthly payments in addition to the lump sum. It was said that a lump sum would kick them to the curb; that could not be further from the truth. Those who are seriously injured and need the help will get it in the form of the earnings lost benefit while they are in rehabilitation. They will get it, and that goes till age 65. That has now been added to by the retirement income security benefit, which now extends that benefit for life. We might call that a pension.
They are also compensated monthly with the permanent impairment allowance, and for those more seriously injured, the permanent impairment allowance supplement. Those go for life. We might call those a pension.
Also, for the worst off, there is the Canadian Forces income support, and I have already mentioned that we are adding the retirement income security benefit.
Over the coming months we will be examining options for consolidating all veterans' benefits so we can provide those veterans who need it the most with a single monthly payment. They would get all those things I just talked about but instead of five payments showing up in their bank account, they would get one. They will still get a breakout as to where it comes from, but this simplifies the process and cuts down the red tape and confusion.
We have vastly increased post-secondary training, allowing veterans to benefit from two distinct retraining programs, one with DND, another with Veterans Affairs, as they transition from the Canadian Armed Forces. One of these benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada is a retraining allowance of $75,800 to do post-secondary training. We have loosened up all the restrictions on that. It is extremely flexible, even to the point where if the veteran cannot use it, the veteran's spouse can. Therefore, the family unit can make progress and get back to a life under its control.
We have also worked with and listened to many of the veteran stakeholder groups, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Ombudsman. The Veterans Ombudsman and the Canadian Forces Ombudsman are now working hand and glove on all matters.
At the veterans affairs committee, we sat through dozens of meetings and met dozens of witnesses. Certain items were identified that needed fixing. Between the measures already taken as a result of the recommendations, every one of which was acted on, contrary to some things members might hear, and the introduction of Bill , which is now a key component of our budget implementation bill, our government has addressed each and every one of those items and each and every one of the recommendations in that report, specifically compensation after age 65 for our most seriously injured veterans. I mentioned that the earnings loss benefit and rehabilitation goes to age 65. That was the cut off. We have now extended it under the retirement income security benefit for life. Add to that the permanent impairment allowance and the permanent impairment allowance supplement for life. Together, those are pretty nice pensions.
We have addressed the disparity in benefits between reserve and regular force veterans. If a reservist goes to Afghanistan and gets a leg blown off, it does not just affect the reservist's career if he or she stays in the reserves, it would obviously affect his or her life career, whatever that happens to be. Therefore, it only made sense that those two soldiers be treated equally. That is now the case.
We have addressed the problem that there were too few supports for family members of our seriously injured veterans. We have extended more of those benefits to them because when soldiers suffer, and I use the word “soldier” as a generic term, meaning army, navy or air force, for whatever reason, the families suffer, so we have to address the family unit because that is what needs to be fixed.
We have introduced post-65 support for survivors and widows of veterans who had died either in service or from a service-related injury. That is an important change. I know a number of the widows of the Afghanistan soldiers who died who are very pleased with that.
We have created compensation for veterans who are seriously injured but who may also completely recover after years of hospital rehabilitation treatment. At the end of the day, they may not need a big lump sum but they certainly need something to compensate for the pain and suffering while they are going through that treatment process, whether they are recovering from surgery or whatever it might be. Therefore, we introduced the new critical injury benefit, which is a tax-free amount of $70,000 and is immediate and upfront.
We have introduced important new supports for the families of Canadian veterans. We understand that those who stand beside our veterans play a key role in helping them successfully transition to civilian life. If the family member is not in good condition to help the member, then the family unit will not work.
We are making real and significant progress.
This government is also committed to closing the seam between Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces. When many veterans leave they have become lost in the gap between DND and VAC, and that is changing rapidly now. They are out there not as a soldier anymore but not holding hands with VAC yet, maybe because they have not come forward or they do not understand what is available because they have not seen the advertising that was put out there to tell them what is available so they can get those services. They tend to fall through a gap sometimes.
What this means is that is our legislation includes new authorities allowing Veterans Affairs to evaluate the applications of veterans while they are still serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, before they even become a veteran.
Each year, 5,000 to 6,000 men and women retire from the military to civilian life. That adds some highly qualified and character-rich civilians to help Canada prosper in all the ways that they do. About 1,200 of those people are medical releases. Unfortunately, the majority of retiring members present their case to Veterans Affairs only after leaving life in uniform. That is changing. The average time spent before they are released medically is between three and five years. During that time frame, they are being evaluated, they are going to rehab and they are also getting paid 100% of their military salary whether they are doing a military job or not.
Some of these delays in seeking programs create an uneasy transition for veterans and their families alike. Some get lost in the transition. However, what is happening is that the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs are holding hands all the way through the process. The soldier, before he becomes a veteran, will be dealing with Veterans Affairs so that when he leaves, there is no gap. It is a seamless transition.
I am pleased to say that we have also taken concrete steps to support a veteran's transition to civilian life in other ways. We are ensuring that contact between medically releasing members and Veterans Affairs is made at the earliest point possible, long before the member actually walks out the door of the Canadian Forces and becomes a veteran.
We are ensuring that rehabilitation professionals are identified as early in the transition process as possible and where the veteran intends to reside after his or her medical release.
The benefits the veteran expects to get will be adjudicated before he or she leaves the Canadian Armed Forces. Again, it would be a seamless transition, so when the soldier becomes a veteran, everything is already there.
More money is going into research to better understand the transition from military to civilian life, to guide suicide prevention activities, to improve the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness in veterans, and to support the development of national standards and a certification process for psychiatric service dogs, to name just a few.
Extending more psychological counselling to families of veterans is also important. That includes parents and children. By the end of the year, an established network of 26 operational stress injury clinics will be there to support the needs of veterans.
There is also a four-year pilot project to increase access to military family resource centres and related services in seven locations. Traditionally, the services and programs offered through these centres have been available only to still serving members of the military and their families. This is a tremendous resource. I have seen it in action often. It gives them access to a wide range of services to help address their needs as they transition to civilian life. Those services will now be available to veterans and their families.
All of this work builds on progress made by our government to improve benefits and support for Canadian veterans.
There is always more to do, and there always will be more that we will be trying to do. However, the key word is progress, and that is what we are making. The government continues to demonstrate true appreciation for veterans and their families. The key components are care, compassion, and respect.
As we continue to improve the way we care for veterans and their families, we do so with three objectives in mind. First is to have a veteran-centric approach to everything we do. Everything has to be about the veterans and their families. Second is to facilitate a successful transition from military service to civilian life by closing the seam between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs. Third is to strive for excellence and make access to services easier by reducing red tape and eliminating administrative burdens.
The has reached out and listened to veterans organizations and advocates. He has established and maintained an open dialogue that continues to grow and is a continuous source of knowledge and inspiration. Recently he had a very successful stakeholder summit.
We will continue to focus on our Canadian Armed Forces members and our veterans and to adapt and improve our service to them. That is why in addition to the new measures introduced we are putting more resources where they are needed to ensure service excellence. Case managers offer the front-line service that is critically important to veterans. My own niece, Beverly Martin, is one of the leading case managers in the western part of the country.
The minister has taken action and announced last month that more than 100 permanent, full-time case managers will be hired to improve one-on-one service. Effectively, veterans' needs will be addressed more quickly and efficiently. We know that, and we are taking action. The target is an optimal 30 case-managed veterans for each case manager. Better service and flexibility will allow better access to the services needed by veterans as a result.
Our government also committed the financial resources for the department to hire more than 100 new disability benefits staff, both temporary and permanent. That means that veterans and their families will have faster access to disability benefits, health care, and mental health treatment.
Our government is striving for service excellence and to ensure that veterans are treated with care, compassion, and respect. We are evaluating options for considering consolidating all Veterans Affairs benefits into one single, clear, and easy-to-understand benefits system. One might call it a pension. The goal is to reduce stress on the injured soldiers as they transition to civilian life. We understand that any administrative process that serves to delay or complicate support needs to be fixed quickly.
Even more importantly, if an administrative hurdle or form actually goes so far as to impact the overall wellness of a veteran, there is something seriously wrong, because everything VAC is structured to do is to help ease the burden of transition for a veteran after a service injury.
Speaking of forms, that has come up. I have a form that has been questioned. It is called “Medical Questionnaire: Activities of Daily Living”.
That form is 11 pages long, and it is a little bit complex, but it is designed for every veteran who is receiving benefits. The whole form is designed to ensure that the member's condition is still there and that the services and benefits that they are receiving are still relevant. If they are not, it ensures that changes are made so that they are improved. The whole form is all about making sure that the veteran is getting the service that he or she needs, and nothing else.
It is understandable why someone with PTSD might read something into some of the questions, but nowhere on that form does it say anything about missing limbs.
Our government also took action, and last year announced the addition of a new operational stress injury clinic in Halifax. There is also a network, that I think I mentioned, of 26 operational stress injury clinics across Canada, and they will be expanded to speed up access for mental health services for those with mental health conditions. These clinics play a key role in providing specialized assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for veterans and their families who are living with operational stress injuries.
These and many more actions are being taken to improve the programs, benefits and services that Canada's veterans and their families need and deserve. I urge all members of the NDP and the House to support the measures included in the and in the economic action plan. We are committed to ensuring that veterans and their families have the support and services that they need. Under our government, benefits for veterans have gone in one direction, which is up.
The other thing that has come up a number of times is the lapsed funds, which shows a deliberate misunderstanding, because I know that they understand how it works. Those who have been in government certainly understand how it works. It shows a deliberate representation that is not accurate.
Funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs or any other department are allocated through authorizations. Those funds are forecast. If we need more in any department, we go back and ask for more. If we forecast something and we need less, it is often because the demand is not there. All of these programs are demand driven. If there is a demand, the funds will be spent without question. If the demand is not there, we are not taking funds away from something that could have been done. The demand was not there. If it had been there, it would have been met. Consider it a line of credit. At the beginning of the year, we fill up the line of credit. At the end of the year, if we have not used it all, the line of credit goes back and it gets re-issued again next year.
We are not talking about $1.3 billion that has gone to somebody else. That is simply not true. Anybody over there who has been in government knows that, or should know that. If the demand is there, it does get met.
We also understand that the needs of veterans are changing. As new conflicts arise around the globe, as the previous generation comes to retirement age, and as the nature of treating injuries becomes ever more sophisticated, so too must the support provided to veterans be enhanced, especially for those who have been injured in the course of service. Before tabling the , we consulted with veterans and their families in communities across Canada on the best ways to support them and to support those who bravely served our nation through the years.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I do know first-hand that all of the veterans affairs experts were consulted prior to developing the new veterans charter moving forward. These are supports that the members in the House have called for, including the NDP, and rightly so. These are supports that the Veterans Ombudsman has called for. These are supports that veterans and their families have called for. We have responded and we understand that there will still always be more that we need to do, because we want to adapt to changes as they come about.
The increased benefits that we recently announced are evidence of our commitment to ensuring that Canadian veterans and their families are treated with care, compassion and respect. We know that there is an obligation. It has been recognized as far back as by Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden, but we are not frozen in time. Every single government from Robert Borden on has tried its very best to honour that obligation. In fact, our government tabled support for the , which included the following purpose written in the act:
The purpose of this Act is to recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. This obligation includes providing services, assistance and compensation to members and veterans who have been injured or have died as a result of military service and extends to their spouses or common-law partners or survivors and orphans. This Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled.
This purpose, coupled with our strong action in support of veterans and their families, shows that we do understand the value and importance of providing those who have served our country with the support that they need and deserve. I am heartened by the new team at the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of whom are veterans, including the , the , the deputy minister and many others in critical positions.
It is not time to play politics, but I know that is inevitable in this place. I urge the NDP and all members of the House to work with us for the health and well-being of Canada's veterans and their families. The Conservatives are supporting this motion, even though we know it is intended to be political, we know it is intended to wedge us, but we support it because it is the right thing to do and, in fact, it is what we are already doing.