Thank you for that welcome, and congratulations to my parliamentary colleagues on being appointed to this committee. The work we will do together here is very important and especially meaningful to many of you around the table.
Mr. Clarke deserves our greatest thanks for his military service and for that of his brother. Ms. Romanado has two sons who are currently serving. Mr. Kitchen's father and brother served in the forces, and Mr. Bratina's son will shortly be a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ms. Mathyssen has been a long-standing advocate on behalf of veterans.
It's an honour and privilege to be named Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, and to work alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, veterans, and their families. I understand the challenges a person faces when tragedy strikes, when injury and illness take their toll. I myself would not be here today without the support of others as well as help from various levels of government. The peace, tranquillity, and freedom I enjoy every day is because of the sacrifices that have been made by veterans, and I hope to make a difference in their lives. My mission is to reduce complexity, close the seam, and rationalize benefits for veterans and their families. We will improve support and services, and always focus on care, compassion, and respect.
The Prime Minister has given me an ambitious mandate to provide financial security and independence, education and employment opportunities, and better mental and physical rehabilitation for Canada's veterans.
With the co-operation of the Minister of National Defence, we will close the seam between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs. We will also strive for excellence in all services we deliver, setting veterans' well-being as the objective of everything we do. My mandate letter provides a good road map, and we are listening to veterans' associations and stakeholders, who will help ensure we meet the needs of veterans. We are serious about consulting with veterans and veterans' stakeholders. We don't tell veterans what they need. We ask them what they need. To that end, six stakeholder advisory groups are being set up and meetings with various groups will be held over the next while. These advisory groups are one of the mechanisms we use for stakeholders to give me advice and suggestions. To better support veterans where they live, budget 2016 proposes to reopen and staff offices in Charlottetown, Sydney, Corner Brook, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon, Brandon, Prince George, and Kelowna, while opening an additional office in Surrey. We will also expand outreach to veterans in the north by working with local partners.
Budget 2016 also proposes to hire additional case managers to reduce the veteran to case manager ratio to an average of 25:1. Case managers represent the first line of intervention to help with the rehabilitation process and to coordinate referrals to health care providers. Reducing the client to case manager ratio will help veterans make a successful transition to civilian life. To implement these measures, budget 2016 proposes to provide $78.1 million over five years, starting in 2016-17.
I would like to mention that while face-to-face interactions are great, it's clear veterans also want to do business and interact with us on their terms. We have seen a rapid increase in the number of people who have registered to use our secure online access tool, My VAC Account. There are now 32,000 registrants, a tenfold increase since 2012. We are making significant investments to ensure the financial security and independence of veterans with disabilities and their families as they make the transition to civilian life. The sum of $1.6 billion has been set aside so that over the next five years disabled veterans and their families will receive more money. This includes increasing the value of the disability award for injuries and illness caused by service to a maximum of $360,000, indexing this amount to inflation and paying it retroactively to all veterans who have received this award since 2006, increasing the earnings loss benefit to replace 90% of an eligible veteran's military salary, expanding access to the permanent impairment allowance to better support veterans with career-limiting service-related injuries, and renaming it the career impact allowance to reflect the intent of the program.
We will conduct a veteran financial benefit review to simplify benefits and determine where the gaps remain and which programs are less than fully effective to meet the needs of veterans and their families.
This review is central to determining the context for the next phase of financial benefits, including the option of a pension for life. Veterans associations at the last stakeholder summit told us to take the time to get this right, and that's exactly what we intend to do.
Similarly, we need to take action beyond financial benefits. This includes veteran education and career transition initiatives, spousal training, mental health, and suicide prevention, among others. All of these initiatives are important in helping veterans find their new normal.
Homelessness has become a significant issue in Canada and it affects the veteran population as well. We have created a priority secretariat that will examine three priority areas, one of which is addressing veteran homelessness through more support for the homeless and those at risk. Through the secretariat, Veterans Affairs is developing a homeless strategy in collaboration with partners and stakeholders that will identify ways of improving existing policies and programs. We will tie our efforts to the whole-of-government approach to ensure all Canadians, including veterans, have better access to affordable housing. Budget 2016 has proposed to invest an additional $111.8 million over two years.
Mental health has always been the challenge, but it has been long overlooked in military culture. The combat mission in Afghanistan took a huge toll on our troops. Over a quarter of the troops who deployed now receive some sort of assistance from Veterans Affairs. The public discourse on mental health encouraged many more veterans from numerous peacekeeping missions to come forward. We're also seeing veterans from as far back as the Second World War reaching out to get help. We have the medical research, and now it's time to do something about it. We will create two new centres of excellence, one of which will specialize in mental health.
Commemorating the service and sacrifices of Canada's veterans and those who paid the ultimate price is a key pillar of Veterans Affairs. We will remember the service and sacrifice of those who have served by providing easier access to the funeral and burial program. Through budget 2016 we'll expand program eligibility to more families of lower-income veterans. We will do this by increasing the estate exemption from approximately $12,000 to approximately $35,000 and will apply an annual cost-of-living adjustment moving forward.
We will continue the community war memorial program by merging it with the commemorative partnership program and by making the overall application process easier.
On July 1 we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beaumont-Hamel, both in France and in St. John's, Newfoundland, to recognize this tragic day for Newfoundlanders. Next year we will recognize the centennial anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
As we recognize these important anniversaries and honour our military and veterans, I ask for your collaboration and support so that we may advance realistic and prompt action on our mandate. It is imperative we meet the needs of veterans in the most effective and efficient manner possible, all the while doing it with care, compassion, and respect.
Finally, I want to thank not only the esteemed public servants beside me today, but those across the country in back offices who work tirelessly to provide top service for our veterans.