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View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
2018-11-05 15:37 [p.23276]
Madam Speaker, we have been eagerly awaiting our opportunity to tell stories of local veterans in the House and to try to get them the services they need. I will be splitting my time with the member for Victoria.
Just days away is Remembrance Day. We will be celebrating and honouring the contribution of veterans. I will be standing with the Nanaimo—Ladysmith's Legions No. 256, Mt. Benson; No. 10 Harewood, in Nanaimo; No. 257 in Lantzville; No. 171 in Ladysmith; the Gabriola Islands veterans association; and Cedar Valley Memorial Gardens, all honouring and remembering the contribution of veterans. They all host us and facilitate the connection from young to old. I am looking very much forward to standing with them.
Veterans need parliamentarians to do our part to recognize and support those who have sacrificed for our country. There is clearly a debt owed, there is money in the till and sincere and vital promises have been made. Every year 3,000 veterans pass away, so let us get on with it and show that we truly support veterans everyday, not just on Remembrance Day.
On Friday, I was honoured to be in the Senate, along with my parents, for the armistice ceremony to recognize 100 years since the end of the great war, the war to end all wars. One of the quotes that moved us particularly was veterans noting that their fallen comrades said, “for their tomorrow we gave our today”. Just this year in a town hall the Prime Minister said, in response to a very angry question from the audience, that the reason the government was fighting veterans in court was veterans were “asking more than we can give”. That is a shocking thing to say, especially for those of us on the coast who do not support the Prime Minister's choice to buy a leaky old pipeline for $4.5 billion. Clearly, there is enough money to go around. What we hear everyday in our ridings is that veterans are not getting the support that they are owed.
We held a town hall along with Nanaimo Legion No. 10, during which veterans said that both Conservative and Liberal governments were “poisoning patriotism and the desire to serve our country.” They said. “Dealing with Veterans Affairs with PTSD is like being given a jigsaw puzzle and turning out the lights.”
These young veterans told me that they wanted a navigator to help with the tangled bureaucracy of PTSD treatment and to ensure that no veteran was discharged without pension and medical benefits already lined up. The Canadian Forces ombudsman echoed this in withering testimony to the Senate on March 8, saying that Canada was “not living up to our end of the bargain.” Our veterans deserve so much better.
Ken Young, a veteran in my riding. He is a brilliant and compassionate veterans advocate. He told me that someone he was working with who had ALS waited 16 weeks and still had no response to his phone call.
As NDP government leader Jagmeet Singh said:
Veterans shouldn't be put on hold for hours or redirected half a dozen times before they speak to the right person. And they shouldn't have to wait 6 months before receiving the benefits they rightly deserve, It's wrong to make our veterans wait for these services and it’s even worse that they’re being short-changed by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today the New Democrats are taking over the agenda of the House with a fix as set out in the motion by my colleague, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, which is just north of me on Vancouver Island. He represents Parksville along with north and west Tofino. His motion, if passed by Parliament and implemented by the government, will dramatically improve the lives of Canada's veterans, at no additional costs to taxpayers. It seeks to solve two issues that have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs under both Conservative and Liberal governments. It would end lapsed spending in the department by allowing this unspent money to be carried over to the next year and that would be for the sole purpose of improving services across the board for Canada's veterans and their families.
Here are some statistics since the Liberal government took power three years ago. The Liberals have only rehired 475 front-line staff at Veteran Affairs and just 260 case managers. They remain well short of the 25:1 ratio for which the Liberals themselves called.
The $372 million that has been allowed to lapse by the Liberals in their first three years could have been used to hire 5,716 full-time staff, enough to triple the number of staff working at the department. Honestly, this is what we need: to have a human voice to treat people with respect, the elders of our communities and the brave men and women coming home from the current modern wars, to take them by the hand and explain to them what they are entitled to so that nobody has to work out this maze of paperwork on their own.
I am hearing this a lot from my riding, that people are working hard. Mark Smith wrote me this year. He said, “Imagine being a 24 year old who has lost the use of both legs and suffer from the mental anguish that goes with the realization of being a 24 year old with no legs. Now receive a one time payout and a plane ticket home, imagine how fast that money disappears and imagine where that money went to.” He said about the Prime Minister, “He has stated that he has brought back life long pensions however only the most injured 75% plus will received approximately $2200 per month. This is outrageous.”
Another brave member of my community has fought Veterans Affairs for support after she, as a service person, was sexually assaulted by another service person. She has been trying to get help for a decade. It is a terrible problem.
A few wins have happened. The Canadian Medical Cannabis Council was very concerned about veterans who had been prescribed medical marijuana. In my riding of Nanaimo, Tilray is a licensed medical marijuana grower, a huge employer, a business that is deeply committed to research on the mental health side. I was sent a petition by constituents asking that Veterans Affairs cover the cost of medical marijuana extracts, because that is a more healthy way to take it. As a testament to the power of petitions and the work of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council, the government changed that policy, so that was a win for us.
A great example of a service group is Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs. It straddles my riding and the riding of the member for Courtenay—Alberni. Together we visited this charity, which has paired 29 service men and women of the Canadian Forces, RCMP and veterans of foreign war with service dogs. It was inspiring to meet with these young men and women and see the effect that these service dogs have on them. There is a tremendous waiting list and it needs more funding and support, but we are very grateful to Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs and Barb and her whole team for the work that they do.
Another person in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith, Ken Osborn, has a six-foot bronzed wreath with contributions of Remembrance Day poppies from all over the country. He offered that to the government. He was not able to qualify for funding to have this beautiful and moving war memorial travel across the country. That was a great disappointment to him, but I understand a veterans office is going to house it so maybe we will be able to see it next year.
I also want to applaud the work of the Veterans Transition Network at the University of British Columbia that is doing a series of vignettes, a play called Contact! Unload that breaks open the taboo of talking about mental health and support for veterans.
We certainly have so much work to do here in Parliament. We should put our money where our mouth is and stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting veterans in court. We should tackle homelessness. To our shame, homelessness rates in Canada say there might be as many as 1,300 veterans living on the streets. That is certainly happening in Nanaimo. To our great shame, there are veterans living on Mount Benson. I thank the people who go out to support them. We should act on detox agents for veterans exposed to chemical defoliants. We should relax the regulations on access for veterans who served in the Korean War to long-term retirement and service beds. The work for us goes on and on.
Let us please vote in favour of my comrade's motion. It would fund, with no additional cost to taxpayers, the treatment and care that veterans so clearly need.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-11-05 16:34 [p.23284]
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend from Elmwood—Transcona this afternoon.
I would like to give proper credit and due to my friend from Courtenay—Alberni who followed John Rafferty, the first one to pursue this question. John was an NDP MP for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. He was able to ask this specific question, an important technique we have here as parliamentarians, to essentially to follow the money. We see the promises.
Governments are self-congratulatory and self-promoting. When they make an announcement of a certain amount of money going toward a certain cause, they like to talk about it. Many Canadians are left with a feeling that the money will actually be spent. Not always. When it comes to veterans, not ever. It is what we have now discovered is lapsed spending. Sometimes lapsed spending can be just almost a rounding error. A large department spending a lot of money can be off by less than half a per cent and money one way or the other needs to be lapsed back into the government.
When we look at Veterans Affairs in particular, we start to see a pattern where year after year it has a large amount of lapsed spending. I will quote the Prime Minister, which is always helpful to do in debates like this. When he was campaigning for the job of Prime Minister in 2015 in August, he said, “They” meaning the Conservatives, “left unspent more than $1 billion that Parliament allocated for veteran support. Canadians know that this is wrong.” Canadians knew this is wrong and they kicked the Conservatives out of office.
It almost becomes cynical when the government year after year allocates a certain amount of money without any intention of spending it. Then at the end of the year, it says that lo and behold, it has some extra money which it can shuffle out the door to something else and announce money once, or twice or three times and leave Canadians with the impression that the job is being done.
However, veterans are coming forward year after year, saying they phoned the hotline to look for those services they were promised to deal with incredibly serious things. People coming back from theatre of war face physical challenges. There are enormous mental and spiritual costs to our veterans. They phone the hotline and when they eventually get through, after the labyrinth of things that can sometimes take weeks, they are told to wait weeks or months more. We have to understand that when the funding is not there, when there are not the workers available to help that veteran out and delays are caused, that whatever difficulty the veteran is dealing with gets worse, be it physical, be it mental, be it spiritual, and the costs can be extreme.
In my riding in northwestern B.C., I will be attending Remembrance Day ceremonies this year in Kitimat with Branch 250 in Terrace with my friends of Branch 13. The stories we get from our veterans, particularly from the more recently returning veterans from the Afghan mission and from some other deployments, are more than heartbreaking. It is right to be broken and to feel the pain of what these veterans have gone through. It is infuriating when we find out, because of that lack of funding or those delays, that pain, which is devastating in its initial form, becomes so much worse. Veterans end up not fighting one war but two. The first one is the engagement that we asked them to undertake on our behalf. I do not think there is anything more sacred or more serious than the vote we take in Parliament for the deployment of our troops overseas and put them in harm's way. The second battle they go into is often with their government, not for anything extra, not for anything special but simply what they were promised.
My friend from Courtenay—Alberni has revealed to us the lapsed spending just since the Liberals came to office, money that was promised to be spent but was not spent. It now totals $372 million. That is pretty terrible. However, we also heard the Prime Minister say this last year to a wounded vet who lost a leg in Afghanistan. He was asking for the services he and his comrades were promised. The Prime Minister of Canada, talking about court cases the government was continuing to fight, said, “Why are we still fighting certain veterans groups in court? Because they're asking for more than we are able to give right now.” The argument of why the government was taking veterans groups to court, fighting them there and spending money there, was because there was insufficient money to provide for those veterans and their comrades the services they were promised. That is brutal in and of itself. It means the government was not allocating enough money to meet the service commitment it has made to our veterans.
However, then we found out that the statement was not even true. There was money that was allocated that was not being spent, year after year, in a cynical pattern. They wonder why a prime minister would say this to a wounded vet who is standing in front of him at a town hall. Town halls are good and it is good for the Prime Minister to be out, but then to turn to a wounded vet who is missing a leg and say that those people are asking for too much, that they were asking for “more than we can afford”, was his specific comment.
Meanwhile, we knew in that year when he was talking, money was being returned back to Ottawa that had been promised to veterans. Clearly, that was not true. That the Prime Minister was accusing the Conservatives of using that same tactic, and saying how wrong that was and how Canadians disagreed with them, and campaigning that he would be different and change it, was infuriating. The Conservatives came in saying they were going to do better for our vets, and they did not. The Liberals came in saying they were going to do better for our vets, and are not.
We see now today, finally just in the last five minutes after four hours of debate, the Liberals got the note that the pressure had been sufficiently building. We have been hearing about it in my offices in Skeena in the northwest of B.C. and I am sure Liberals have as well. People are asking how can they not support this motion. It simply says to spend the money they promised for veterans services, and if they do not, then to not send the money back to the treasury but to hold the money and start to change the way they are delivering programs.
As I just pointed out for my Liberal colleague, the government set 24 standards and it is meeting 12 of them. One would suspect that maybe a lack of resources is the problem, the reason for not meeting the other 12. These are the standards that the government set for itself and it is meeting half of them. We think that if it is resources, is there something we can do about that? We can then actually put some true meaning to the words we say at the beginning of Remembrance Week that we seek to honour our veterans, we seek to serve them, we seek to give them a bit back after they have given so much to this country.
The words are important. I do not know about my colleagues, but I find the Remembrance Day speeches that I do to be some of the most difficult because they are often in front of schools. We are often talking to young people who, for the vast majority, thank God, have no experience with war whatsoever. Now there is a growing group of young Canadians who are coming from conflict zones. We speak to them on Remembrance Day and it has a significant meaning. However, to many Canadian children, thankfully they have no experience, nor do their parents or in many cases their grandparents have any experience at war.
To try to talk about Remembrance Day, 100 years after the ending of the First World War for example, is to try to bridge a gap, so we use big words: we honour; we remember; lest we forget. We make a commitment, year after year on the 11th month, the 11th day at the 11th hour, to each other as Canadians, recognizing not just the sacrifices of the past but the sacrifices of today. There is no real compensation we can give these veterans. There is no amount of money for the damage and the hurt they have gone through because perpetrating a war is unbelievably difficult, painful and excruciating in many cases, so we do not celebrate that. We do not celebrate war; we commemorate, we honour the sacrifices made.
One of the small things we here in Parliament can do is try to keep our promises. We in opposition are not here just to oppose a government that is failing on whatever services we deem to be necessary, but to also propose, as my friend from Courtenay—Alberni did, a solution to a problem that has been systemic year after year, that Veterans Affairs is unable, or worse unwilling, to get the money out the door.
If all veterans were receiving the services they were promised and there was just too much money being allocated, that would be one problem. That is a good problem to have, but that is not the problem we have in this country. All of us in our offices have had veterans come in and say to us that this is what was promised, that these are the services they were expecting and that with the delays, the services are not coming to meet that promise.
Therefore, on this Remembrance Day and in this Remembrance Week, let us know that we are doing something right together. Let us know that we are going to make things better together, because that is what they did for us. They did something together that was so important that we respect and we honour. Let us back up those words with actions. Let us support this motion and make veterans as proud of us, a little bit, as we are of them.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-11-05 16:49 [p.23287]
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this first day of Veterans Week to speak to a motion that is exactly about trying to do more for Canada's veterans and trying to ensure that they get the services they need when they need them.
That is something we want to see done all year long, not just around Remembrance Day. One of the important elements of Remembrance Day is that it is an occasion for us to reflect on the horrors and sacrifices of war; to try, as best we can, especially those of us who have not participated, to understand what goes into that; and to renew our commitment to making peace in the world and building peace in the world. We should also renew our commitment to helping those who have been in conflict zones and have come back, whose lives and family members' lives are affected by that experience and the fallout from it.
That is why this is a very timely motion. It is not because it has to do with the services and that this is important to talk about around this time of year. It is important all year long. This is the time of year when we reflect and renew our commitment to doing better.
I am very proud to come from northeast Winnipeg, where there is a strong tradition of remembrance at our three legions: the Transcona Legion Branch 7, which is my home legion; the Elmwood Legion Branch 9; and the Prince Edward Legion 81. Beyond the traditional remembrance that has gone on in northeast Winnipeg, lately we have also been participating very heavily in organizing “No Stone Left Alone” ceremonies, thanks to the leadership of some members in our community, such as George McCall, with the Elmwood Legion, and Peter Martin, from the Transcona Legion. These are ceremonies that bring school-aged children to cemeteries where veterans are buried to lay poppies at gravesites. It is done to try to establish a connection between our youth and that memory, because as generations pass from the great wars, that connection gets harder and harder to maintain.
That is why we need to double down on our efforts and remember how horrible it is for young people, to be sure, and for all of us, when we get involved in very large conflicts, such as the First and Second World Wars. There is some great work going on in northeast Winnipeg to that effect.
It helps to set some of the context for today's motion. If we recall, in the last Parliament, the government's relationship with veterans was seriously strained. We all remember when the then Minister of Veterans Affairs insulted a group of veterans who had come to meet with him and essentially kicked them out of his office.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. That was a sign of disrespect, but when it came to policy, the former government was closing offices and letting staff go. It also decided to take on veterans in court. The Equitas Society said that there was a special covenant between the government and its veterans. The government of the day decided to take the position that this was not, in fact, the case and spent a lot of money fighting veterans in court. We also heard about the $1.1 billion in lapsed funding over the tenure of that government.
It was a campaign issue. It was a campaign issue in a way that, it is fair to say, veterans issues had not been before, not because it had not been discussed but because veterans groups were politically mobilized in a way the veterans community traditionally had not been, in part because they felt so mistreated by that particular government.
We saw the Liberals take up the issue on the campaign trail. With respect to the lapsed funding of the previous government, we heard the Prime Minister say on the campaign trail, “They left unspent more than $1 billion that Parliament allocated for veteran support. Canadians know that this is wrong.” That was something the Prime Minister said at the time he was running for the job.
He also said in the Liberal platform document that the Liberal plan would “ensure that no veteran has to fight the government for the support and compensation they have earned”, referring to the Equitas lawsuit. That is on page 49 of the Liberal platform, a memory perhaps some Liberals in the House have suppressed, because it is accompanied by a photo of the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill.
The Liberals in government have been quite different from the Liberals on the campaign trail. Despite the Prime Minister saying that lapsed funding was something that was wrong, that needed to be addressed and that the department needed to work to ensure the money was spent properly, the Liberals have already lapsed $372 million in just three years.
Liberals are failing to meet 12 out of 24 self-identified service targets. For instance, only 43% of veterans who apply for disability benefits are hearing back within 16 weeks. Only 56% of veterans who apply for the earnings loss benefit hear back within the four weeks that has been set as a reasonable target. Forty-five per cent of veterans applying for the long-term care program are hearing back within 10 weeks and the rest hear back within a longer time period. Of course, we also know that the government, far from terminating the court battle against veterans, decided to keep it up after what was a very explicit promise to drop it. That is what the quote in the platform was about: that veterans should not have to fight the government to receive their benefits, but alas, here we are and that lawsuit continues and veterans are having to continue to fight the government in court.
What we are making today is quite a modest proposal to say that we know veterans are not being served in a way everybody in this House and in Canada would like them to be served, so we are trying to be constructive. We are trying to find a solution to enhance that service. Because of the $1.1 billion that lapsed under the Conservatives and the $327 million that has lapsed so far under the Liberals, we know there is reliably more money to spend within the existing Veterans Affairs envelope. We should be doing a better job of making sure that the money gets spent for the purposes intended, which is to serve veterans better.
When veterans are calling to receive information about how to apply for their benefits and are having to wait hours on the phone, we know it is because there are not enough people to answer the phone. The answer to that is to hire and train more people to do that work. That is not a great mystery, or I certainly hope it is not a great mystery to anybody in the House. If the question is where the money would come from or how we would find the money to do this, we know that in the last two years over $140 million has lapsed. A lot of people can be hired for that amount to answer a phone, listen compassionately and provide good advice on what those veterans need to do and where they need to go to access those services.
When we see tens of millions of dollars unspent year after year, it is not a quibble about accounting practices, which is what we have heard from the government today. I thank the government for its respect of our knowledge of good accounting, but I want it to know that this is not just our excellent accounting skills. It is not just a little quibble about how we label things. This is about the fact that there are not enough people to answer the phone to give the right advice to veterans who need to access services when we have the money to be able to hire and train those people, because we know each year tens of millions of dollars are going unspent.
My colleague from Courtenay—Alberni has quite rightly said that if we know the money is not going to be accessed and we know the services are not going to be accessed, and we have a long track record now of knowing that the money is not spent, then we should use it to hire staff to enable veterans to better access those services. That just makes sense.
It has been interesting to hear the debate today. It seems we are coming to a consensus that this is something everybody is going to support. I am very glad to hear it because it makes a lot of sense. Let us do this. Let us move forward. Let us try to minimize some of the cheap shots that have been going on today. This is a common sense idea. We know we can do better for Canada's veterans, and it is time we started doing it.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I will start this evening by sincerely thanking the member for Courtenay—Alberni. The motion we are discussing today, cloaked in the guise of financial reporting standards, cuts to the core of this government's commitment to the men and women who have bravely served this country.
As we draw closer to the centennial anniversary of the armistice that was supposed to end all wars, it is important that we consider the commitment we owe to those men who fought a century ago and to the men and women who have fought and protected us since.
Veterans Affairs' entire foundation is set around its responsibility to ensure that veterans and their families receive the respect, support, care and economic opportunities necessary as they transition to a post-military life.
Let us be clear. The support that our government gives members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans and their families begins the moment they are recruited and continues throughout their careers and their lives. We are ensuring that each of them has access to any program they need for as long as they need it.
The motion today is based on the premise that lapsed funding in Veterans Affairs Canada is in and of itself a problem. The motion seeks to address a concern that lapsed funding creates a use-it-or-lose-it scenario for the department. The assumption seems to be that when there are lapsed funds, there must be programs or services that have been underfunded or not delivered. This could not be further from the truth, which is why there is no need to change the accounting for a process that works for veterans. However, there is an opportunity today to explain and perhaps educate members on the root cause of lapsed funds.
Whether 10 veterans come forward or 10,000, no veteran who is eligible for a benefit will be turned away because we do not have the funds. To ensure that is the case, we go through the annual estimates process and forecast how many veterans will avail themselves of our benefits.
Given that demand can change throughout the year, our programs are quasi-statutory, so that the government does not need to come back to Parliament if we exceed our forecast of the demand from veterans. If a veteran is eligible for a benefit, that veteran will get it. When that pendulum swings the other way and there are fewer veterans seeking a particular benefit, the money stays in consolidated revenue ready to be used the next year.
Lapsed funding is not a new phenomenon, but it is critically important to distinguish the causes of those lapsed funds. This government has generated lapsed funding because, simply put, our estimates of the level of demand for services have been high. That is distinguishable from the previous government, which lapsed over $1 billion while cutting front-line staff, closing offices and letting the new veterans charter wither unchanged on the vine.
Simply put, one can generate lapsed funds and attendant cuts by placing barriers between veterans and the programs or services to which they are entitled.
The previous government demonstrated from the outset that it wanted to balance the budget and that veterans and their families were not immune from its red pen. We thought those cuts were unconscionable.
That is why our first acts in our first budget were to increase the disability award to a maximum of $360,000, where it should have been for years, and increase income replacement for ill and injured veterans to 90% of their pre-release salary. We reopened all of the offices the Conservatives closed. We started to staff up Veterans Affairs again after nearly a quarter of the workforce was wiped out by the Conservatives. We expanded eligibility to programs veterans were asking for. We made it easier to access dignified funeral and burial services. And we did not stop there.
In the budget of the following year, we introduced our new education and training benefit, which applies not only to ill and injured veterans but also to those leaving the Canadian Armed Forces for any reason after six years of service.
We reformed the broken career transition services that the Conservatives had ample opportunity to fix by changing it from cutting a cheque for $1,000 and saying “good luck on the job hunt” to a comprehensive program veterans and their families could access for job training and job-finding assistance.
Last December I was thrilled to finally unveil the new pension for life, which delivers on our campaign promise to provide a monthly tax-free payment for life in recognition of pain and suffering. This pension for life also simplifies many of the other benefits we offer, making it easier to apply for and access the resources veterans and their families need and deserve. It is no surprise, then, that since coming into office, we have marked a 37% increase in applications for programs and benefits. Veterans are coming forward again to get the help and the support they need in their post-military lives and careers.
We are getting better at forecasting the budget, but due to the nature of the demand-driven programs and services at Veterans Affairs Canada, we will never be able to estimate with 100% accuracy the exact funds required for every program. Looking at the types of services and benefits we provide and the continually evolving demographics that we serve, this approach cannot change.
There are approximately 649,300 veterans in Canada and 95,000 serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Veterans Affairs provides services to nearly 200,000 veterans, family members, RCMP members and others who require support.
Ranging in age from 18 to 100, we serve traditional veterans who served in the Korean War or earlier and modern-day veterans who served after the Korean War. To say we serve a changing and diverse population is an understatement, and each one of them has different needs.
This is why we have seen a significant increase in demand for programs and services, and that is a good thing. It means veterans are coming forward and getting the help they need.
In order to respond to this increased demand, the department has to request additional funds in the middle of the year. As many of my colleagues in the House are aware, these are the supplementary estimates. The department asks Treasury Board for more money, because we have more veterans who want more of the programs and services they are entitled to and, indeed, they deserve.
This is why our services are demand-driven, so whether it is 10 or 10,000 veterans coming forward, they will receive those services. Instead of going back every day when we see another veteran come forward, the department estimates how many people will access benefits and how much money is needed. It is not an exact science. This process guarantees that whether veterans come forward this year or next year or the year after that, we will always have the resources available for them and their families to access programs and services.
If we overestimate in our zeal to ensure that everyone who comes forward requiring that service or benefit receives it, then so be it. Our primary concern is to ensure that the funds are available if they are required, period. Government policy dictates that any money that is not used for its identified purpose by year end must be returned. It is as simple as that. Lapsed funds do not indicate lost money. They do not indicate penny-pinching at the expense of veterans.
Perhaps I have to remind my hon. colleague who put forward this motion that penny-pinching at the expense of veterans would look like a promise to balance the budget no matter what, to balance the budget come hell or high water, a promise he and his colleagues ran on in the last election.
Almost 20% of new funds in the last three budgets have been for veterans and their families, funds they would not have received if the New Democrats were running the show. We know this is a source of confusion amongst veterans and their families, amongst stakeholders, and amongst the general public. This is why we have been addressing it at town halls and stakeholder meetings right across this country.
Just last week we held our national stakeholder summit here in Ottawa. We covered this exact subject in depth to ensure that participants understood the process. We know they have questions. We wanted to explain exactly how an idea goes from a concept to implementation, from gaps or issues being identified to research and analysis to the memorandum to cabinet that paves the way to implement a new program or benefit.
The department's programs are ongoing, and each year adjustments are made to ensure that we can provide for all veterans and their families who may be entitled to benefits. My department will continue to provide programs and services that adapt to the changing needs of veterans and their families. We will continue to review these programs and services to see where things can be improved.
When we came to office, we knew we needed change. Veterans made it clear that there were problems, and they wanted them fixed. They deserved to have them fixed. The Prime Minister tasked us with an aggressive mandate to address these problems, from improving veterans financial support and reopening offices to streamlining the transition from military to civilian life and overhauling how the department's services are delivered. Three years later, we are on track or have delivered on all of them. However, make no mistake, wholesale change was needed to accomplish this, and that could not happen overnight, not if we wanted to do it right.
We also knew that a full conversation was needed. We could not start making decisions on an individual basis. We had to open a dialogue with those who were affected, and that is what we have been doing.
We have heard that service delivery is an issue, and we have been diligently taking steps to resolve this. As a starting point, we opened 10 offices to provide better in-person services to veterans and their families, in addition to hiring over 470 new staff, which has included close to 200 case managers.
Service delivery is now focused on individual veterans: their circumstances, needs and strengths and those of their families. The department is streamlining the processes for applying for and delivering benefits. It is also ensuring that veterans and their families get information they need about the programs, services and benefits they are entitled to, which has been an issue in the past. Some veterans simply do not know what is available to them.
We also increased service in the north, and in 2017, our staff made 12 trips to Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse to meet with veterans and their families. Our staff is committed to ensuring that veterans and their families are better informed, better served and better supported. The approach is working. Applications are on the rise. This is a good thing. It means that more veterans are applying for the benefits they have earned through their service to Canada. It is also why the department is focusing on improving service delivery and streamlining the application process.
This government made a commitment to make it easier for the men and women who have served in uniform to access the benefits they deserve, and we have spent $10 billion in three years to do just that. Starting with increasing the disability award and the earnings loss benefit and expanding the career impact allowance, we are putting more money in the pockets of veterans and caregivers. We also supported a continuum of mental health services, introduced new education and training benefits and expanded a range of services available to the families of medically released veterans.
While there has been a lot of change at Veterans Affairs, the steadfast commitment to veterans and their well-being has remained the same. It is that commitment to wanting to ensure overall well-being that drove the need to take a step back to look at how they could get to where they wanted and needed to be. They knew that well-being was defined as a veteran with purpose who is financially secure, safely housed, in good physical and mental health, highly resilient in the face of change, well integrated in the community and proud of his or her legacy. That fuelled the new vision of a comprehensive approach to veteran well-being to address all aspects of wellness.
In looking at the many factors, we can all agree, without a doubt, that without financial security, it is hard to focus on anything at all. That is why we pushed to reintroduce lifelong pensions. Last December, this government announced plans to restore the pension for life for ill and injured veterans. With the return of a monthly pension option, the pension for life recognizes and compensates veterans for disabilities resulting from a service-related illness or injury with a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support and stability.
One of the key new benefits is pain and suffering compensation. This is a monthly, tax-free, lifelong payment recognizing a member's or veteran's pain and suffering caused by a disability resulting from a service-related illness or injury. The monthly amount can be cashed out for a lump sum, giving members and veterans the flexibility to choose what works best for them and their families.
Additional support for those with service-related severe and permanent impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment into post-service life is available through the additional pain and suffering compensation, provided as a monthly tax-free benefit.
The income replacement benefit is a monthly program that will replace six current benefits and will provide income support for those facing barriers to re-establishment caused by health problems resulting primarily from service. Additionally, veterans who are able to join the workforce may earn up to $20,000 per year before any reduction to their IRB payment.
Set to come into force on April 1 of next year, the pension for life combines what veterans have been asking for with the most up-to-date research and understanding of the well-being of veterans. More important, it will become an integral part of that comprehensive approach to the well-being of veterans, reinforcing all the programs and services available at Veterans Affairs, of which mental health is a priority.
Pension for life was announced with budget 2018, which reflected other commitments of our government when it came to better supporting veterans and their families. In addition to the $24.4 million over five years for cemetery and grave maintenance to eliminate the current backlog of grave repairs, budget 2018 also committed $42.8 million over two years to increase service delivery capacity, building off the $78.1 million already invested over the last two years.
Make no mistake, Veterans Affairs continues to strive to provide faster, more efficient and higher quality service for our veterans. However, in our efforts to accomplish this, we must rely on our expenditures forecasting to ensure no veteran or family member goes without. That will always result in some degree of lapsed funding. That is simply the nature of the government's accounting process.
I think all of us here can agree that Canada's veterans deserve respect, financial security and fair treatment. I assure members that this government is committed to treating our veterans with the care, compassion and respect they have earned. This government will never cease in our efforts to improve the lives of our veterans and their families.
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
2018-11-05 17:31 [p.23293]
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Trois-Rivières.
I am pleased to rise in strong support of our NDP motion brought forward by the member for Courtenay—Alberni. It is based on a question on the Order Paper in which he asked a question and it was revealed that $372 million has gone unspent by the Liberal government in the Veterans Affairs file.
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of our previous NDP member of Parliament, John Rafferty, who first highlighted the lapsed spending issue of the Conservatives when he discovered there was $1.1 billion that was not spent on Veterans Affairs. I am pleased to hear that the Conservatives will be supporting our motion today to correct the past and ensure that this practice of leaving money on the table that could help veterans will be reversed.
All of us in the House today and throughout Remembrance Day will be wearing the poppy over our hearts to remind us of the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. We will be attending moving ceremonies in all of our ridings in the coming week. In our communities we will march, lay wreaths and speak of the ultimate price that has been paid by our veterans and their families. Even throughout social media, there are numerous ways for people to participate. People are sharing stories of their relatives and their service, the symbols of our strong pride in Canadians, like the poppies we can now create and personalize with a family member's name or the names of others who have served our country. All of these ways of remembering are very important to keep the understanding of our freedom and how fragile it is, and to keep all of their memories alive.
However, we can and should do so much more. Most Canadians expect us in this chamber to respect the covenant that we have for men and women who have served our country. Today is an opportunity to do more than talk about our commitment to veterans. It is an opportunity to actually do something to improve the services veterans receive.
Every member in the House who is wearing a poppy today should be voting to carry forward this money. It is funding that would dramatically improve the lives of veterans and their families in my riding of Essex and throughout Canada from coast to coast to coast.
In the three years since the Liberals promised to restore the cuts that were made by the Conservatives, our veterans have been shortchanged to the tune of $372 million which has gone unspent. The Conservatives closed nine regional Veterans Affairs offices, like the one in Windsor that served our communities in Essex. These offices were used by our veterans for services. They also cut 1,000 Veterans Affairs employees. The Liberals have managed to hire back less than half of those front-line workers to this point. The money we are talking about today could have hired back the full 1,000 and increased the services that veterans are receiving at these offices. Instead, we learned that the money has been left on the table.
Closing offices was a tragedy, and we are happy that the office is back open in Windsor. I joined the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Windsor West in celebration when it was reopened in our community. However, if it was fully funded, the level of service would dramatically improve. If the $372 million that has been left on the table was spent, we would not have the backlog of services that we still see today.
What does it look like when $372 million is not spent? We know that veterans are being put on hold on the phone for hours and are being redirected half a dozen times just to get to speak to the right person. There should not be wait times of six months before receiving an answer. That is what is happening. That is the reality for our veterans in Canada today. This backlog is growing. It is in the tens of thousands, and it grew another 10% in June. These are veterans who are waiting to get their disability benefits.
In fact, the government has set its own 24 service standards and shamefully is only on track to correct half of them, only 12 of its 24 service standards. The Prime Minister promised the government would provide one case worker for every 25 veterans, but the ratio remains as high as 1:39 in some regions of the country and 1:42 in cities such as Kingston, Thunder Bay and Calgary. Clearly, this money could go toward improving the standards the government has set for itself.
I just want to read a couple of the targets, and how far off they are from where we need to be.
When people call our national contact centre network, they can expect to be connected with the next available analyst within two minutes. The target is that 80% of people who call would reach that within two minutes. The result is 66%. There is room for growth, for us to improve. Therefore, if people were hired out of the money that has lapsed, we would be able to improve the services on those calls.
One that is probably most egregious is that when people apply for VAC disability benefits, their decision will be made within 16 weeks. The target is again 80%. The 2016-17 result is 43%. Clearly, this money could be used to improve one of the government's own service standards that is woefully inadequate at this point. When only 43% of people are getting a decision made within 16 weeks, clearly there is room for improvement. What my colleague has found is some funds to be used in order to do that.
I have one more that I will read out, and I heard the minister speak about this. For the VAC career transition programs, the decision is to be made within four weeks. Again, the target is set at 80% and the 2016-17 result is 31%. Clearly, there is room for dramatic improvement.
This funding that has been lapsed and left on the table could be used to get to these targets faster to improve the service level for everyone in our country. We could clear all this backlog in a timely manner. We could answer calls. We could approve claims and improve the lives of our veterans. Veterans deserve our respect and the dignity of getting the services and the benefits they need quickly and efficiently. If members support this NDP motion, we can use this money being rolled over. It could be allocated to help Canadians, who expect that we use every dollar here in this House in the best possible way for our veterans.
The question that Canadians are asking today is, why is the government authorizing spending and then failing to spend it? This week, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our communities to mark November 11 as Remembrance Day. However, we must do more and supporting this motion today is a step. I am disappointed to hear that the Liberals will not be supporting this motion, choosing instead to leave this money on the table unspent, and our thousands of veterans lingering in this backlog without services.
What Liberals are asking us to believe in this House today is that they have done enough. Until every veteran who serves our country is able to receive his or her benefits in a timely, meaningful way, then I would offer to the Liberals that they should find some humility today and understand the message they are sending to veterans. It is the same one that the Prime Minister gave when he stood in Edmonton at a town hall, where he told an Afghanistan vet who had lost his leg to an explosive device that they are asking for more than we are able to give right now. That is not the message to send to Canadians as we stand proudly in this House and honour veterans throughout this week, wearing the poppies to honour the men and women who deserve the $372 million to be spent on improved services.
Today, this is an opportunity to help veterans and their families in a meaningful way. I implore Liberals to consider this wrong-headed, hurtful and insulting position to our veterans, and that they stand with the NDP, and all members of this House as we have heard today, to put this unspent money back into the services that are desperately needed for our veterans.
Liberals have gone back on many election promises in these last three years. This cannot be one of those promises that are broken. It is beyond time to end the undesirable practice of lapsed funding. The Prime Minister himself promised this during the 2015 campaign, saying, “Canadians know that this is wrong.” This is the time for us to make this right, and I hope that Liberals will vote with the NDP on this motion today to support our veterans.
View Christine Moore Profile
Madam Speaker, I want to begin by extending my deepest condolences to Catherine Campbell's family. Ms. Campbell was the victim of a horrific crime, and I cannot imagine the pain her parents and loved ones must be feeling. I also want to tell the family that Catherine Campbell's name will not be forgotten.
This story reminds us of how much more work needs to be done to address violence against women. Ms. Campbell had gone through police training, but sadly, she is no longer with us.
It was very important for me to extend my condolences to Ms. Campbell's family and to let them know that she will be in my thoughts as I fight to end violence against women, with the support of the NDP and many MPs.
Regarding veterans' benefits, it is important to understand that there is a huge backlog and that the process is extremely long and complex. In many cases, soldiers with chronic back pain, to give an example, send in all their forms and benefit claims, only to be told that their injury is not related to their military service. They then have to fight to prove that the injury really is related to their military service. That is one of the reasons frequently cited for denying benefits.
We understand that privacy is required in the case of Chris Garnier. However, judging by the information we have received and the public statements that were made, including at trial, the injury for which he is receiving treatment is in no way connected to his father's military service. There is no connection between his injury and military service.
In my opinion, Veterans Affairs Canada should not be paying benefits in this case. Chris Garnier can get the care he needs from Corrections Canada, but Veterans Affairs Canada certainly should not have to pay for his care, since this injury has no connection to his father's military service.
I do want to point out that when family members experience psychological trauma, this trauma is sometimes connected to military service. During their career, soldiers must regularly tell their spouse that they are being deployed, but that they do not know where or for how long.
This type of situation creates a tremendous amount of stress for the spouse, who has no idea if the person will come home or what that person is getting into. That is extremely stressful. In the long term, it can have an impact on the mental health of the military spouse and that of their children. In this case, there is a very clear link between the need for psychological care for family members and the military service of the spouse.
In the case of Ms. Campbell, the crime was especially heinous. The monstrosity of the crime aside, the logical conclusion is that there is no link between the injury and the military service of the father. We are also talking about a 30-year old man, not a teenager or a child who was still in their parents' care or whose parent was a soldier or veteran at the time that the injury occurred.
The important thing now is to discuss what is currently going on with veterans. Let us be clear and honest. I know veterans who served under the Pierre Trudeau government, and those who served under the Chrétien, Martin, and Mulroney governments, and even under the current Prime Minister. Not one can say that everything went smoothly under any of those governments or any prime minister. The problems at Veterans Affairs Canada have been going on for decades.
Everyone is trying to solve these problems but sadly, over time, other problems are created, especially with respect to access to services, which often discourages people. Generations of veterans have wound up feeling abandoned because they have had enough of the endless back and forth with Veterans Affairs about their cases and the never-ending medical exams. That is unacceptable. To their mind, the injury they received during their military service is so obvious that it cannot be challenged. Unfortunately, veterans regularly abandon their claims because they are no longer able to go on fighting and they cannot understand why they are made to feel guilty about asking for what they are entitled to. These are real injuries and there is no doubt about their military service, but they are regularly required to fight with the department. That is unacceptable.
Veterans come to our riding offices asking for help. They come with two-inch files full of papers, including their medical file, correspondence with Veterans Affairs Canada and third-party medical assessments, in the hopes of solving problems that sometimes seem unthinkable. The compensation requested is sometimes $2,000 or $5,000. With everything that has been done administratively to block their claims, I am convinced that it is more expensive for the department to try to prevent veterans from obtaining reasonable benefits.
Facing these kinds of situations, which happen every day, and knowing that benefits have been awarded in some cases, people have every right to wonder what is going on in the department. Why is such nonsense happening? So many soldiers need treatment, but there are also family members who have to fight, deal with delays and are turned away six times before they actually manage to speak with someone.
This is not to mention one particular group that is being deprived of services: francophones. All too often, people have a hard time obtaining services in French. Unfortunately, I know a few veterans who have ended up accepting services in English simply to speed up the process. It is extremely frustrating. We need to take immediate action today to provide better services to veterans.
I would also remind members of the $372 million allocated to Veterans Affairs Canada that has yet to be spent. With that funding, how many employees could be hired in the various offices to provide services? It is worth doing the math, since $372 million is a huge amount of money that was supposed to help veterans, but has yet to be spent. We should all be thinking about immediate action we could take together, as members, to quickly restore adequate services for veterans and their families.
Too many people never speak of the sacrifices they make throughout their spouse's military career because they do not want to affect their health. We need to recognize their sacrifices and acknowledge that they are very much linked to their spouse's military service. Any benefits received should be related to military service.
View Gord Johns Profile
View Gord Johns Profile
2018-09-25 12:43 [p.21789]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend and colleague from Barrie—Innisfil for the important work he has done for veterans, for bringing forward a bill to recognize the sacred obligation to veterans, which was defeated by the Liberal government.
At the same time, I have to talk about services for veterans today. We know the Liberals want to spend their time patting themselves on the back, while the backlog is growing and while veterans are waiting longer and longer to get the services and follow-up they deserve on disability benefits.
We also know the Conservatives cut 1,000 jobs when they were in government. Does the member regret that decision to cut 1,000 jobs and how does he perceive moving forward to ensure the backlog is eliminated and veterans get the services they very much deserve?
View John Brassard Profile
View John Brassard Profile
2018-09-25 12:44 [p.21790]
Mr. Speaker, when I went across the country in my previous role as a critic for Veterans Affairs, I was the first one to acknowledge that mistakes were made in the past. Acknowledging problems is the first step in correcting them.
The Prime Minister stood in Belleville, with his hand over his heart, and made promises to veterans, promises that he knew he had no intention to keep. In fact, in Edmonton, in reaction to Brock Blaszczyk, the Canadian veteran who asked a question, he said that veterans were asking for more than what he could give right now.
What veterans are asking for is what the Prime Minister promised them. He has failed veterans of our country in every aspect. Veterans are taking notice. They are taking notice of the failed promises. They are taking notice of the red herrings. They are taking notice of this issue as well. They will not forget it in 2019.
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2018-09-25 12:47 [p.21790]
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand here today.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the comments coming from some of our colleagues across the floor, some who I deeply respect with respect to their service to our country. However, it is the talking points. I have listened intently to this debate.
It was August 28 when I received a message from our veteran community, asking if I heard about Chris Garnier who had heinously murdered Catherine Campbell, a Truro police officer of six years, badge 137. Catherine was also a volunteer firefighter.
In the process of the legal battle that he and his family waged, they used every dilatory motion possible to re-victimize Ms. Campbell's family, such as putting a peace bond on her family members during the court case because Mr. Garnier's family felt threatened. When the sentencing came up, all of a sudden he had PTSD. From what? He had PTSD from the murder he committed. How did we find this out? An email was sent during the sentencing, which was only about a month and a half ago.
Since August 28, when I did a video on my social media, over 90,000 Canadians have viewed it and they are angry. The comments we have received have been incredible. People are furious. I want to read one for members. It states:
“I am not allowed to lend my voice to the outrage of providing services to a non-veteran convicted murderer, however, I am absolutely speechless. Well, perhaps not speechless, but I'm trying to be polite and professional.”
“ As a citizen of this country, I am so angry and ashamed. As a Veterans Affairs employee, this is not what I signed up for when I began my career, providing services to our veterans and their families. I love my job and it is an honour to support those who are willing to lay down their lives for me and my fellow citizens, but now I just want to go home with my head hung in shame. knowing what someone in my organization has approved.”
It goes on to say, “Under family services, it clearly states that we do not cover family members' own mental health issues. It is a provincial jurisdiction, or in this case, it is a Corrections Canada jurisdiction. We only directly support veterans' family members with their mental health issues only as needed for them to participate in a veterans rehab plan.”
I offer that to members. All we have heard from the minister straight across the Liberal caucus is garbage. There is no other way to put it. It is shameful.
Veterans and first responders are listening today. I have had, if not hundreds, possibly thousands of messages regarding this issue. Chris Garnier murdered Catherine Campbell. He is currently appealing his case now because the judge was heavy-handed in sentencing. Chris Garnier met Catherine Campbell and two hours later he murdered her. He dumped her in a recycling bin, wheeled her through Halifax and tossed her away like a piece of trash. Now he and his family are trying to milk the system, using PTSD as an excuse. It is shameful.
Through my work on Bill C-211, we have worked hard in trying to break the stigma so those who are suffering can feel comfortable and know that when they come forward to talk about their stories, they will be believed. Now we have this dirt bag. I have said it, and I believe that with my whole heart.
This man is re-victimizing the family. He is taking advantage of a situation. He is using every tool possible. Now he is using PTSD as a mitigating factor, hoping to get some leniency in his sentencing. We have colleagues across the way, all whom I respect dearly for their service, coming out, spewing the talking points.
If a veteran commits a crime, he or she loses his or her benefits. My hon. colleague, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, mentioned it earlier that a 30 year old was not a dependant. To have a convicted murderer jumping in front of a veteran or a first responder who requires treatment is shameful.
The day after I posted my video, the minister said that he was seized with this issue. It has been 28 days. He stands in the House and blathers on. He had an opportunity at the beginning of this debate to talk about the action he had taken on this case, but he continued to spew political talking points. We can tell we are going into an election season, but on an issue like this, it is absolutely shameful.
I promised I was not going to get heated up, but I have received more messages from veterans.
One veteran says, “Hey, Mr. Doherty, I just want to scream and cry at the same time. I have been waiting in line for what seems like forever. Every time, veterans affairs has some excuse as to why. I served 21 years for my country, yet I have to continue to wait in line.”
Mr. Garnier has already been receiving this treatment, yet he was only just sentenced about a month and a half ago. He immediately jumped to the front of the line. How did he do that? We have a lot of questions. Is he highly connected? We do not know. It is absolutely shameful.
This veteran goes on to say, “I am so lit up. I don't know what to do. I don't even know if.... the thoughts that are going through my mind. I don't know what to do.”
I have two minutes left and I wish I had so much more time for this. It is absolutely shameful.
Catherine Campbell served our country and served our community. She wore two uniforms, and Christopher Garnier took her life.
It is not about hypothetical cases. It is not about “coulda, woulda, shoulda”. It is not about his father's treatment plan. It has nothing to do with that. That is what is being paraded out there. It has not even been brought up. What was brought up is that his lawyer has said that he needs treatment for PTSD because of the crime he committed, the murder he committed. That is shameful. He has jumped to the front of the line.
I am going to leave the House with this, because it is important.
Freedom is not free. Our brave men and women, who have served our country and our communities, have paid our collective debt for our freedom, our safety and our security. When they ask for help, rather than welcoming them and telling them that their bill is paid in full, they are continually refused service or told to go to the back of the line. Many of them are losing hope. We continue to lose veterans and first responders at a horrendous rate. Why? Because of issues like this. They lose faith in the process.
This is wrong. Those brave men and women, who put the uniform on every day in service to our country, to our community and to our flag, sacrifice for us. Christopher Garnier did not serve. Instead, he took the life of someone who served her community and who was willing to give her life for her community. The Campbells and our veterans and first responders deserve better than what they are hearing in the talking points from the minister.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.
I cannot imagine that there is a single heart in this place that does not go out to the family of Constable Campbell. We grieve with them and share the frustration of Canadians, who are upset that a convicted killer has received mental health services through Veterans Affairs Canada. Unfortunately, my friends across the way are taking advantage of a tragic situation to once again play politics with veterans benefits.
While it may be cathartic for some on that side to adjudicate this case in public, it is essential to protect the privacy of veterans who are clients of the department, and for that reason we will not be commenting on the specifics of any veteran's personal information, including the medical benefits that he or she may access.
Our government made a commitment to make it easier for the men and women who have served in uniform so courageously and given us so much to access the benefits that they so rightfully deserve. In 2015, we pledged to make it easier for veterans to access services. We said we would do more to support families, streamline benefits, reduce the administrative burden, improve the veteran's experience with Veterans Affairs Canada and help veterans make a successful transition to life after service. These were ambitious goals, and our government is making progress in leaps and bounds.
The veterans community told us loud and clear that we need to make it simpler, easier and more user-friendly to access the programs and services of Veterans Affairs. They told us about the effect of the backlog of applications for benefits and services and the time they have to wait for decisions to be made. They also told us that they do not always know about the suite of programs and services available to them, both of which are a result of the 10 years of cuts we saw under the Harper Conservatives.
Over the past three years, we have made significant improvements to both the programs and services available and our ability to communicate them to veterans. To make it easier for veterans to talk to our staff about these benefits, we reopened the nine offices the Conservatives closed, opened a tenth one in Surrey and hired over 475 new staff, including over 180 case managers.
We also increased service in the north. In 2017, our staff made 12 trips to Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse to meet with veterans and their families. Our staff is committed to ensuring our veterans and their families are better informed, served and supported. We owe veterans the means to get back on their feet and on with their lives, and that is what our department is committed to delivering every day: helping them to accomplish that with a successful transition and, after their release from the military, to rebuild their lives and enjoy a healthy state of well-being.
We learned from the 2016 life-after-service studies that while 52% of regular forces veterans report experiencing an easy or moderately easy transition to post-service life, 32% report having trouble. With the Canadian Armed Forces projecting an average of 2,500 medical releases per year over the next five years, we recognize the importance of strengthening our transition services to members.
We also recognize that no two veterans are the same. Each has his or her own personal history and experiences that result in different needs and challenges. This is why we hear so much about the department's flexible approach to benefits and services that can be tailored to each veteran and each family's individual needs. We have worked to create a system that can be adapted to each veteran's particular needs at that particular point in time. We saw that the cookie-cutter approach left some veterans falling through the cracks.
Our pension for life not only addresses the wide variety of needs of veterans but also takes into account feedback from veterans on the need to reduce the complexity of support programs available to them and to their families. Pension for life has three key pillars: monthly, tax-free financial compensation, services and benefits, and an income replacement benefit.
This income replacement benefit will consolidate six income support benefits into one single financial benefit to simplify the administrative demand on veterans and their families. Veterans told us to streamline our programs, and that is exactly what we have done.
Let me come back to the idea that no two veterans are the same. While some prefer to interact with staff in person, other veterans prefer to find information and manage their interaction with the department themselves, using online tools. Working with feedback gathered through the service delivery review, Veterans Affairs simplified its online system, My VAC Account. It made registration both easier and more secure, simplified the language and added functionality. Veterans can now communicate with department staff, including case managers, using secure messaging in their My VAC Account. They can ask questions about their benefits and services and get reliable answers from qualified agents.
The program is proving popular and is gaining more than 1,000 new users every month. The department has also taken concrete measures to improve service delivery by telephone, and is taking the initiative to reach out to veterans to get the information needed to support claims and explain benefits.
With all of these new enhanced benefits and services, and increased efforts to inform veterans of what is available to them, application rates have increased dramatically over recent years. For example, over the past three years we have seen a 32% increase in disability benefit applications. That is good news. It means more veterans are aware of the benefits for which they may be eligible.
To keep up with the rise in demand and ensure that veterans get the services and benefits they need when they need them, the government is spending $42.8 million over two years, starting this year, to improve service delivery to Veterans Affairs Canada. Following our announcement of this funding, Union of Veterans Employees president Carl Gannon Jr. tweeted, “$42.8 million over two years to rebuild service delivery capacity...I can more than live with this.”
We're going to do better to get veterans the benefits and services they need, when they need them. Following 10 years of nothing but cuts to funding and staff, we are rebuilding the trust of veterans with the investments needed to deliver services effectively and efficiently.
In addition to new funding, we have also made changes to ensure veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to. Veterans Affairs staff triage claims to ensure that veterans who apply for mental health services receive priority in their evaluation so they can receive treatment without delay. Mental health is an area where we provide access to services before a veteran is approved, in order to make sure they are getting the support they need to get better as soon as possible. Through additional staffing and process improvements, we have been able to increase the number of disability claims processed. For example, 96% of first applications completed for PTSD are approved.
As more veterans keep putting up their hand and asking for help, we want to make sure we have the staff and the capacity to make sure they have access to the services they need as quickly as possibly. To that end, we have hired more than 475 new front-line staff, new employees, to help ensure that veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, RCMP personnel and their families are provided with the best possible services when and where they need them.
Make no mistake, Veterans Affairs continues to strive to provide faster, more efficient and higher quality service for our clients. I think all of us here can agree that Canada's veterans deserve respect, financial security and fair treatment. Be assured, our government is committed to treating our veterans with the care, compassion and respect they have earned.
It is important to remember, too, that there is a veteran involved in this case. The government of any day and any stripe has a responsibility to his or her health or well-being. What happened in Nova Scotia is a tragedy, and there is no person in the House who does not mourn with the family of Constable Campbell. No family should have to deal with the loss of their loved one. To play politics with so tragic a situation diminishes all of us and our responsibility to everyone involved.
We know there is always more to do, especially after inheriting a system left so neglected by the party opposite. We stand by our commitment to improve the lives of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our peace and security.
View Dane Lloyd Profile
View Dane Lloyd Profile
2018-09-25 15:42 [p.21817]
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time speaking to this important issue with my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
I rise today to speak to our Conservative opposition motion regarding the outrageous and unjust payment of veterans benefits to cover post-traumatic stress disorder treatment for a convicted second-degree murderer.
My heart is with the family of officer Campbell. The murder of a loved one is something a family can never get over. Although justice has been served in the sentence of the loved one's killer, knowing this criminal has received benefits that are intended for veterans must be painful.
It is painful for me to talk about this issue as well. It is not something that I gladly rise to speak about today, but it is serious and it needs to be addressed. The Liberal government has failed to address this issue adequately.
It has been known for several weeks now that a convicted killer who has never served in the Canadian forces is receiving benefits intended for veterans. A veteran is involved, and we certainly want to respect the privacy of this individual and the family, but we cannot use that right to privacy to bypass the fundamental principle that veterans benefits are for veterans and their families, not for a convicted killer who has never served a day in his life.
There has been some movement on this issue over the last couple of hours, but a lot of my speech still applies.
I am proud to represent many communities that have significant numbers of military personnel and their families. Many of these soldiers choose to retire in my area after their years of service.They are looking for a quiet place to settle down, on a country acreage or in a small town. I have had the privilege of meeting with many of these veterans to discuss issues like their benefits. I am happy to call many of them my friends and my dearest supporters.
Today I am going to speak about two veterans I have had the opportunity to get to know over the past year. They have had a really big impact on me.
Many members in the House know of Major Mark Campbell, an infantry officer who lost both of his legs to an IED in Afghanistan. He and his comrades took the federal government to court again and again, finally appealing to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear their case. It was then that they realized that the party that had promised to never take a veteran to court to fight over benefits had broken its promise.
I bring up this example because in the past few weeks we have seen a government, a Prime Minister and his Minister of Veterans Affairs absolutely stonewall this Parliament, even in some cases refusing to answer questions and denigrating the opposition for having the audacity to hold them accountable.
They claim they are standing up for a veteran and that we should not be speaking out on this outrageous decision from Veterans Affairs for a killer who is receiving benefits and yet has never served.
Why is the Liberal government fighting against our veterans so fiercely in our courts and yet in the House defending so vigorously someone who has never served?
I often say in my riding that I am running because I want to put victims and their families first, not criminals, but too often it seems that the Liberals put criminals first, not victims and their families.
Many members in the House will also remember that back in February, when the Prime Minister came to Edmonton, he took questions from a constituent of mine, former corporal and Afghanistan veteran Brock Blaszczyk. Brock told the Prime Minister that he was ready to be killed in action, but he was not ready for his government to turn its back on him. Some of that is on us as Conservatives, but a lot of it is also on the Liberal government. The Prime Minister's response was to tell Brock that veterans “are asking for more than we can give right now”.
Today we see that resources that should be going to our veterans are being diverted inappropriately to someone who has never served, someone who, even if he had served, would not be eligible for these benefits because he would have been dishonourably discharged for his crime.
Why does the Prime Minister tell our veterans they “are asking for more than we can give”, while holding out his hand to provide for those who are not entitled to these benefits?
When this issue came up, I decided to text Brock to ask him what he thought. He messaged me back later, saying, “This is another slap in the face to veterans. The government says that every claim is treated on a case-by-case basis, but what could the case have been for a 30-year-old cop killer who never served?”
Brock has been continually denied his full benefits from Veterans Affairs, despite having lost a leg, suffering 55% soft tissue loss, 80% nerve damage in his other leg, and 30% nerve damage in his arm, and being diagnosed with PTSD from his time serving his country in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Prime Minister rose in the House to state that when members serve, their families serve with them. This is something I absolutely agree with. It is absolutely true. However, no member of the Canadian Forces who murdered a police officer, or anyone for that matter, who hid the body of their victim and who then was even caught in the process of trying to make it impossible to find the body, would be eligible for those benefits. No one who served would be given those benefits. Why should someone who has never served be treated better?
This brings me to my final example. This extraordinary woman is not a veteran herself, and her husband did not serve in the Canadian Forces. Nonetheless, he gave his life in service as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This man is the late Constable David Wynn from St. Albert, Alberta, which is just next to my riding in Sturgeon River—Parkland. His wife's name is Shelly MacInnis-Wynn. Shelly and I have known each other for a couple of years now, and despite the crime that was committed against her and her family, she has never backed down from saying what needs to be said.
The Prime Minister says that when members serve, their families serve with them. If the Prime Minister is true to his word, why does Shelly have to fight this government for funding to cover the cost of her PTSD treatments from the brutal murder of her husband that fateful day? Has she not given enough? Why does she have to fight, while this killer gets his benefits up front? Should a victim not be given priority?
Why is it that the Liberals will fight so hard to ensure that all criminals get their payout and receive their benefits, yet they throw the book at and stymie the needs of victims' families with endless bureaucracy? It is perverse. It defies logic and common sense.
Speaking for my constituents, I call on the Liberals to do the right thing, to not hide behind sympathy or some legal bafflegab but instead take action. Today, we have seen some action, but we need to get more clarity on that action. I call on them to rescind his benefits, which are benefits for veterans, not for criminals. Give him what he is due as a criminal in our justice system, but do not give him what he has not earned through service to our nation.
Immediately after this, I hope the government will work immediately to ensure that no victim and no victim's family has to fight the bureaucracy for the benefits they deserve. I call on the Liberals to stand up for victims, stand up for their families, do the right thing, rescind these benefits and get the job done.
View Sherry Romanado Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to debate Bill C-378, an act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.
I want to thank the member for Barrie—Innisfil for his advocacy on behalf of veterans. It is a real pleasure working with him on the committee for veterans affairs.
I do not think that there is a person here today who does not want what is best for Canada's veterans. I know that the Government of Canada respects what veterans have done for this country, and will ensure that those with service-related pain and suffering will be well cared for and supported for life.
In hindsight, it is no secret that the new veterans charter introduced in 2006 was not completely successful. Some parts of it worked, but many others did not. The matter of the transition back to civilian life was never properly addressed.
When the Liberal government took office in 2015, the Prime Minister clearly indicated that the time had come to fix that. Veterans and their families deserve our respect and gratitude, and the existing system needed a major overhaul to create a process that is easy to access, simple to navigate, and focused on the veteran.
To accomplish this, he tasked the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence with an aggressive mandate, with 20 commitments that focused on three clear points.
First, the veteran must be at the centre of everything that Veterans Affairs Canada does. Second, we have to work harder to include the veteran's family in all planning, benefits, and services. Third, we have to do whatever we can to help every veteran reach their new normal.
A big step forward in achieving these goals is to regain the trust of Canada's veteran community, which is something the department has been making strides in by engaging with veterans and taking action. I have personally travelled to 12 wings and bases since March, and I have talked to our troops, veterans, and their families about how we can work together to get this right. As part of a military family, I believe it is important to listen to our veterans, our Canadian Armed Forces members, and their families, and I will always be willing to do so.
Veterans Affairs Canada has held stakeholder summits and working groups, has created six ministerial advisory groups, and has listened to concerns, ideas, and suggestions from veterans and veteran stakeholders from across the country. That feedback helped lead to our delivering on six mandate commitments in 2016, and to the initiatives that were introduced in budget 2017 that will deliver on eight more.
In budget 2016, the government committed to investing $5.7 billion over six years to restore critical access to services, ensure the long-term financial security of veterans with disabilities, and honour the service, sacrifice, and achievements of those who served in our military.
Budget 2017 provides for a comprehensive set of measures to recognize the important role of caregivers, help more families, support mental health, and pay for the education and training veterans need to find a job.
That includes the implementation of eight measures totalling $624 million over six years.
Our work continues as we enhance the financial security and wellness elements of the new veterans charter to help veterans and their families transition to post-military life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be work, education, or other activities.
There is no doubt that our government has worked hard to provide veterans and their families with the care and support they need, and to commemorate those who served, all in line with the principles laid out in the Veterans Bill of Rights. Applying to all former members of the military and family members, the bill of rights includes the principles of dignity, respect, and fairness, because this government knows it is due to their contributions and sacrifices that we are all here today.
As I can confirm, family should always be a part of the discussion, because when a man or woman serves, or when their sons are serving, as mine are, the entire family serves along with them.
While the new veterans charter, introduced in 2006, received all-party support, what emerged over the years was a patchwork system of policies and benefits, which made it more complicated for veterans to get the support they needed when they needed it. This was a consistent message from the veteran community, and something the department has gone to great lengths to address. For over a year, through a service delivery review, they reviewed and assessed how programs and services are delivered to veterans and their families.
We now have a plan to provide services that are faster, more flexible, and more responsive by focusing more on veterans when they contact the department for the first time and by providing a personalized response that meets all of the veteran's needs.
Regardless of whether veterans call, visit an office in person, go online, or send a request by mail, Veterans Affairs Canada will ensure that they get the same information and have the same positive service experience.
This type of change does not happen overnight, but we have an action plan in place. It is posted on our website. It outlines each recommendation and when it will be completed.
The department has already started making some of the important changes that will make a difference now. For example, it has simplified the approvals process for certain disability claims, like PTSD and hearing loss, and has reduced the burden on veterans. This has resulted in 27% more decisions being completed in the last fiscal year compared to the year before. It is a small step, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
One of our biggest endeavours so far has been the guided support pilot project. Launched in a few cities, a group of veterans were identified to receive one-on-one assistance in applying for benefits and services to ensure that they are getting the most out of what the department has to offer. The pilot project received tremendous feedback and delivers on some of the recommendations for in-person service delivery. It also addresses the larger issue of veterans not always knowing the right questions to ask. The department does the hard work of navigating the system and provides the veterans with the specific information and advice they need. Veterans Affairs is currently looking at the next steps with the project in order to roll it out nationally.
Another recommendation was to bring back the client survey in order to ensure that all veterans and their families had a chance to provide feedback. I am proud to announce, on behalf of the department, that the results of this national survey are in, and it is clear that we are making progress.
Some of the results attest to the department's efforts to improve the long-term financial security and independence of veterans who are sick or injured. To restore critical access to services, Veterans Affairs Canada reopened 10 offices across the country last year, in addition to substantially improving access to front-line staff and case managers.
In this recent survey, 83% of veterans, RCMP members, and family members responded that they felt their case management plans met their needs. That is a significant increase from 2010, when only 24% were satisfied. Additionally, 81% responded that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the support the department provides, and many felt that services exceeded their expectations. An overwhelming 94% found that VAC staff treats them with respect. That speaks volumes for the progress the department is making, indicating that it is headed in the right direction in respecting, supporting, and treating all veterans fairly.
The issue at the core of the bill comes down to how we treat veterans and their families in their dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada by calling on the department to treat them with fairness, respect, and dignity, and to recognize the unique experience of veterans and their families. I doubt there is a member in this place who disagrees with the importance of these sentiments.
The challenge presented by the bill is how we define these principles so they are interpreted consistently and not subjectively. These principles exist in the Veterans Bill of Rights, and if they can be strengthened, we should examine doing that. I would like to see the bill make it to committee where members can take a much closer look at these principles and how Veterans Affairs can and should apply them.
When it comes to our Canadian Armed Forces members, our veterans, and their families, we will always strive for excellence and to improve our services and benefits. Indeed, the very reason I decided to run for federal office was that I felt veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members and their families were not being treated as well as they could be. With two sons serving, I know that they, too, one day will be veterans, so I am committed to working hard for them and all military families.
I look forward to working with the member for Barrie—Innisfil to make sure that we do right by our brave men and women in uniform, those who have served, and the families who support them.
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