Thank you very much.
My name is Captain RCN (Retired) George Zimmerman. Let me first start by thanking you for the opportunity you've given to me to work with you on an issue that is so important to millions of Canadians, which, of course, is the well-being of our military and naval veterans in a just society.
Second, please accept my gratitude for your service to Canada. I understand very well the very deep sacrifices and the challenges and the long hours that go into public service. I served the navy in the Canadian Armed Forces for 38 years; 10 years as a reservist, and then 30 years as a military chaplain. Despite the significant demands of my military taskmasters over all that time, I'm immensely proud I had such an opportunity to dedicate myself to the two pillars that, of course, hold up a modern civilization, and those are the church and the state. I would, without equivocation, do it again in a heartbeat.
I retired as a senior officer in the office of the chaplain general with the rank of captain navy six years ago. I watched in sadness and somewhat in horror a government policy that on the one hand lauded our military members with the praise that probably had not been seen in generations but on the other hand tightened fiscal policies so much so that they ended up disrespecting the very people who had given so much, including, in many cases, their well-being, if not their lives, to this amazing country.
Political activity is often anathema to retired military people, as we've been so conditioned to defer to authority. But I was motivated, because of the last four or five years, to speak out with truth to power due to the amazing and distressing evidence of injustice that has been perpetuated against veterans and their families.
I'm part of a group called Canadians for Veterans, and our role is to amplify, through social media or any other means, the voices of those who are speaking in favour of well-being for veterans. We pay attention to and we repeat veteran issues as reported in the media. We advertise upcoming and commemorative events involving veterans. We raise awareness of issues raised through government actions or announcements. We laud all veteran support groups, including, for example, Quilts of Valour, which is not a political organization; it just wants to support veterans.
We see you and we see all of these organizations as Canadians for veterans. While we try to avoid being drawn into one political organization or another, we know there are injustices against the veterans. There is unfairness out there, and so with due respect, we are privileged really to speak truth to power, and I thank you for that.
The position of Canadians for Veterans is simply that we don't really care who fixes the issues; we just want to see them fixed. You, of course, as elected officials, are dedicated to the leadership of this paradise of a country. The last bastion of the privileges we all enjoy in this astounding country of ours, this amazing land, versus horrific chaos is really the uniformed men and women of the Canadian Forces. They are the very last bastion between order and chaos.
Of course, they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifices for this cause. They sign an unlimited liability clause, as you know, as volunteer citizens. In our opinion, their sacrifice in a just society as advanced as ours calls for real, substantive, and fair compensation, especially when their lives have been adversely affected by the orders issued by the Government of Canada.
I'm very aware and sensitive that you've probably been fed a firehose of information over the last six or eight months. I do not wish to add to that burden today.
Canadians for Veterans are also aware that there are many complicated issues in the pursuit of fairness for veterans' services and benefits; that is not an easy fix. However, the complexity is no reason not to get it right, not to get it done. We are very well educated, we are a mature nation, and I believe we can do this and we can do it right.
I understand the Prime Minister requires 15 deliverables of the Minister of Veterans Affairs. They were found in the mandate letter issued in November. I know that Rome was not built in a day. It takes time. These issues and the new ones that have emerged since then can't be fixed quickly.
However, our recommendation to you today is to cut through a lot of the noise and focus on three really big issues.
The first item of course, which is on all advocates' lips, is finding a way to deal with the lifelong pension as an option for veterans. We're aware of the Equitas class action lawsuit that is regretfully active again, but we still think that Veterans Affairs can advance this file without compromising the integrity of that legal process.
We think it would show good faith to Canadians if the minister were to give target dates, some milestones, and any other barriers that the department may be facing in completing this deliverable. If that alone were to happen I think the collective sigh of veterans across the nation would be heard in a very significant way.
Canada does not want to read about unfairness and injustices like those experienced by Major Mark Campbell, who had the horrific experience of losing both his legs in his second tour in Afghanistan, which was after the 2006 new Veterans Charter. As a result he missed by a tour the opportunity for a long-term pension.
The second deliverable, which is probably worth looking at as a priority, is that one of the most marginalized groups requiring the deepest study about fairness are those who have served Canada as reservists. It's very difficult to work with reservist veterans because in many cases they are living in areas under-serviced by medical services. I understand that.
Canada is not necessarily militaristic, she is militaristic necessarily.
The reserves of Canada have made possible our international contributions to allow us as a country to punch above our own weight. The dedication of those reserve forces and their families has empowered this nation in ways that need to be recognized. Veterans Affairs is called to deliver practices and policies that implement the principle of one veteran, one standard.
Canada does not want to read ever again about the machinations needed to ensure fairness for the family of the reservist Corporal Nathan Cirillo after his murder while literally standing on guard for Canada. One veteran, one standard had to be created artificially in his case because otherwise his family would have been treated with standards less than a regular force member who is killed in the same manner. Justice dictates that it should be automatic.
As our third priority, we suggest you focus on the completion of those deliverables that support families. Like you, military members want to know that their loved ones will be well treated in the event that they can no longer provide for them as a result of injury or disease or death.
The second-most affected and vulnerable people of the injured or killed military are the families. I would ask that your committee speak loudly and clearly for the children and the spouses.
Unlike you, these wage earners volunteer to be placed in harm's way. An assurance that their families have longer-term security is an essential and necessary condition for good service. Completing the two relevant deliverables of the mandate letter, ending the time limit for surviving spouses to apply for vocational rehabilitation and increasing the surviving spousal pension to 70%, would deliver that condition. Canadians should not be exposed again to stories of family neglect such as we saw in the case of Jenifer Migneault.
Completing these three deliverables for veterans I think would go a long way toward reassuring millions of Canadians that indeed we are living in an advanced and just society that takes seriously the sacrifices of the volunteers to our army, our navy, and our air force.
Thank you for your time.