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Results: 1 - 41 of 41
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Speaker, yesterday's announcement was on our commitment to the transition from the military to veterans life. It is an extraordinarily difficult transition for many people in the military, and it is one that our side of the government is committed to helping veterans and their families make.
We will not waver in our mission to make life better for veterans and their families. We will not be distracted by personal comments, innuendo, or maligning comments. We stay committed and focused on veterans and their families.
View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, this week is dedicated to the veterans who risked their lives to defend us, but the best tribute we can pay them is to take care of them when they return to Canada. However, when they call about services, our veterans have to wait hours and hours and are redirected half a dozen times before they finally get to speak to the right person.
Then the Liberals find a way not to spend $372 million after three years, despite all their promises.
Is the Prime Minister prepared to support our motion and to spend the entire budget for veterans?
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2018-11-06 14:26 [p.23331]
Mr. Speaker, since 2016, we have spent $10 billion in programs and services for veterans, we have increased financial support for veterans and caregivers, and we have supported a continuum of mental health services.
In budget 2018, we announced $42.8 million to increase service delivery capacity and launch the pension for life. We also re-opened all Veterans Affairs offices that the former Conservative government closed.
View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, is that his response?
In addition to the $372 million that was left unspent, the Minister of Veterans Affairs admitted that an accounting error caused Ottawa to accidentally withhold $165 million over seven years.
The government is also going to save more than $500 million over five years by abolishing the lump sum payments made to veterans with a disability. The Liberals are refusing to commit to using this money to fill the gaps in the veteran pension system.
Is the government really working for veterans or is it saving money at their expense?
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2018-11-06 14:27 [p.23331]
Mr. Speaker, our government remains committed to supporting and honouring Canada's veterans and their families.
Unlike the previous government, we are ensuring that funding is in place to support veterans when and where they need it. The Conservatives cut services for veterans including the veteran services offices in order to create a bogus balanced budget. In three years, we have increased financial support for veterans by more than $10 billion.
We will always be there to support our veterans and we will of course support the NDP motion.
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2018-11-06 14:28 [p.23331]
Mr. Speaker, our government is, and continues to be, committed to supporting and honouring Canada's veterans and their families.
Unlike the previous government, we ensure that the necessary funding is made available to veterans when and where they need it. What the Conservatives did was to cut services to veterans, including service offices, to create a fake balanced budget.
In three years, we have increased financial supports by over $10 billion, putting more money in veterans' pockets, increasing mental health supports, and are delivering on the promises we made to veterans and their families.
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2018-11-06 14:29 [p.23332]
Mr. Speaker, the well-being and financial security of Canada's veterans is our top priority.
Our investment in veterans is $10 billion in new funding, including delivering on our promise for a pension for life option. Because more veterans are expected to take the $1,150 monthly tax-free payment for the rest of their lives, rather than a lump sum upfront, the budgetary costs are obviously spread out over a longer time. We immediately increased financial support for veterans, increased mental health support, and are delivering on our promise to veterans.
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-11-05 12:36 [p.23238]
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I would like to salute the men and women in uniform who are watching us on TV right now here at home or abroad.
I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to talk about veterans. They represented Canada proudly, but I find that government after government has neglected them.
Veterans do not have access to all the services they deserve and are entitled to. That has to change. One example of how little consideration governments have shown veterans is the Harper government's decision to close regional offices. That decision felt like a harsh betrayal to veterans, who felt they should be able to count on personalized help, and they said so.
They felt the closures would make it harder for them to get the essential front-line services they need because of their health issues. They were right. At the time, veterans and Public Service Alliance of Canada people representing employees at the shuttered offices went to Ottawa to meet with the minister in an attempt to reverse Veterans Affairs' decision to close the regional offices, but their efforts were in vain.
Things have not gotten any better under the Liberals, either. As I said in question period last week, the Liberals are making promises to our veterans that they cannot even keep. They authorize spending but then keep the money, just as the Conservatives did. On the surface, this might look good, but the reality is altogether different.
The Liberals left $89.9 million unspent in 2016, $143 million in 2017, and $148.6 million in 2018. Without that money, veterans cannot access the services they are entitled to. As everyone knows, other departments also do not spend all the money allocated to them. When it comes to veterans, however, the full budget must always be used in order to give veterans a better life.
Since the government is accumulating a surplus within the department, since it is not spending all the money it budgeted for veterans, I definitely agree with my colleague's motion, which we are debating today. This is an absolute necessity, and I hope that all parties will vote to support the motion.
If the government is not sure how to spend the money that is allocated for veterans, I will gladly offer some suggestions today.
I am the granddaughter of a Canadian Armed Forces veteran who worked as a mine clearance expert on small navy vessels during the Second World War. My father worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for 35 years. He is currently retired. I am all too aware of what these people need and the challenges they face.
I have also been involved with legions and veterans since my election in October 2015. I am very attuned to their expectations and especially their needs. I also want to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of all the men and women who, day after day, volunteer in the legions in my riding, Jonquière, and everywhere in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. They give their all to their volunteer work, without counting the hours, because they believe in what they are doing and they want to help their loved ones. I learned a lot from talking with them about what they do and also about what we could do to fix certain problems.
Today, I would like to talk about a few projects aimed at improving the situation in my riding of Jonquière and in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. I would like to propose some solutions in case the government has money left over. That money could be invested. We see that there was a surplus, that the money was not all spent. Branch 235 in Chicoutimi already has a project that it wants to implement. The president of that branch told me what had been discussed with Legion members. They want to open a care facility for people in uniform, a place where men and women in uniform with operational stress injuries could get treatment. They could be treated directly in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. Right now, because of service cuts, they are unable to receive care in the area. They have to travel over 250 kilometres to get treatment, to have access to services.
That would take its toll on anyone. Often, when people have to leave their region, their home, and travel long distances, their family has to go with them. That can sometimes cause collateral damage and it creates stress. When people are unable to receive care in their own region, their injuries may take longer to treat.
The centre for military members project is ready to go and it could already be under way. The problem is that there is no appropriate federal program to make this project happen.
Presentations have been made to the government and Veterans Affairs. The department responded that it cannot buy the building because there is no program for this type of project. There is definitely a will to see this care facility open, but there is no program.
This could be a great opportunity for the government to develop a program that would make it possible for our veterans, like members of the Chicoutimi Legion Branch 235, to get this project off the ground. This centre for military members would finally be able to provide care to our men and women in uniform, who could then receive services in the Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean area.
As I was saying, I have been regularly attending these events for three years. I salute the members of the Arvida Legion branch 209. I will be there on November 9 to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice and on November 11 to join them in remembrance of our men and women who fell in combat.
Every time I go there, which I will be doing again soon, the men and women talk to me about infrastructure. Many legion branches have facilities that require considerable investment over time. I already know that the government will say there are programs available to help. That may be true, but most of the programs they apply for require them to supply 35% to 50% of the funding themselves.
For these organizations, that is a lot of money. If the government could tweak its programs, it would make a huge difference, because these gathering places are tremendously important. Many veterans who are watching right now could tell us how vital it is for them to have places where they can meet up, reflect and talk about what is going well and what is going not so well.
I want to mention a wonderful initiative that, again, was created as a way to address the lack of services. Once a month starting in 2019, the Royal Canadian Legion branch 235, Chicoutimi, will open its doors for anonymous meet-ups where men and women suffering from operational stress can come to share their experiences and unburden themselves, as well as to learn about best practices and feel better knowing that they are not alone.
My time is running out, but I just want to close by saying that I hope that any future funding allocated to veterans is spent and goes towards services. Our men and women in uniform have worked to keep us safe. They are present every day in our communities.
I hope the government and all members in the House of Commons will vote in favour of the motion put forward by my colleague from Courtenay—Alberni today. I want to thank him for his work in the community and for bringing this motion to the House.
View Nick Whalen Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Nick Whalen Profile
2018-11-05 12:47 [p.23240]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from Jonquière for her excellent speech on this very important debate.
I want to reassure her that the government is already ensuring that money returned to the treasury for quasi-statutory programs is used the following year to fund demand-driven veterans programs. She must already know this, since we sometimes serve together on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
We have already instituted the pension for life, reopened nine offices closed by the Conservatives and hired 470 new employees. Does she think that we are heading in the right direction to support our veterans?
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-11-05 12:48 [p.23240]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, but that was a rhetorical question.
We had to move a motion in the House because there are still people waiting. The government's website shows that 12 of its 24 service standards have not been met. That is not even at 80%.
I said this in my speech, but I want to repeat it. The Liberals left $80.9 million unspent in 2016, $143 million in 2017, and $148.6 million in 2018. We are debating this motion moved by my colleague in the House today because there are still problems.
I have many more examples of the glaring lack of services, which I could perhaps talk about in response to another question.
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-11-05 12:50 [p.23240]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
There has been a bit of progress, but the government promised us major investments. It allocated funding, but now the department has a surplus. That money is not being used.
Last year we worked with one of my constituents for a year. We supported this individual and listened to him. However, when I asked him simply how he was doing, he said he has not been able to reach a person by telephone, just to ask whether his application was accepted. This means that problems still exist, if our constituents still have to come to our local offices to let us know that they have not been able to speak with a person.
Investments have been made, but right now we are talking about services and money that was allocated. Surpluses are accumulating, so there must be a problem somewhere.
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-11-05 12:52 [p.23240]
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party closed nine offices that provided direct services to veterans and left $1.1 billion sitting in the coffers for 10 years, so the Conservatives are in no position to lecture the government.
However, we are talking now about services. Earlier, I talked about some of the projects that would help my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. There are people who volunteer in our legions every day to provide services to our men and women in uniform. These people are ready. I therefore hope that the government will be open to the idea of the care centre for people in uniform that I spoke about earlier. That would be a great help to the people of my riding.
View Linda Lapointe Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Linda Lapointe Profile
2018-11-05 13:19 [p.23245]
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague. I would like him to go over what the former government cut and our government restored again. That way, people tuning in, including those in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, will know what we have done to make things better for veterans and ensure they are well taken care of.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Speaker, back to the regularly scheduled programming, I want to thank the member for Yorkton—Melville. At the beginning of her speech when she described the statutory elements the minister goes through when administering the department, I appreciate that her comments were well researched and well done. She outlined the way we do things here. As a member of Parliament, in a non-partisan way, I thank her very much for that. However, in comparing the former administration with this one, there was a glaring omission.
I am reticent to say this, because I know a lot of people get into comments to the effect, “this is what you did and this is what we did”, and those sorts of thing. However, the glaring omission here, which should be looked at, is on the point of entry for a particular veteran.
I can say from experience, not as a veteran, but as someone who has dealt with veterans, that when they want to reach out to someone when they are going through major issues, there is always the element with a government department of where one goes. Many government departments are siloed into different areas, and a lot of people get confused with what direction to take if they do not get it from their local member of Parliament. Therefore, one of the things we did was to transition back to a point of entry that was more familiar to a veteran in the sense of having Veterans Affairs offices, as opposed to regular bureaucrats.
I am sorry if I am interrupting the NDP heckling, but the question is simply about what had to be done in that circumstance, and that was different from the last administration.
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-11-05 14:34 [p.23257]
Mr. Speaker, since 2016, the $372 million promised to our veterans has been left on the table. Our veterans deserve high-quality services. It is not like there are a hundred different ways to improve services; the Liberals have to invest the money they promised.
The motion we put forward today calls for the government to automatically carry forward all annual lapsed spending to the next fiscal year, which would solve the Department of Veterans Affairs' financial problems.
Will the Liberals make the right choice, put partisanship aside and support our motion?
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
NDP (QC)
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
2018-11-05 15:10 [p.23264]
Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and if you were to seek it, I think you would find that there is consent to adopt the following motion:
That, at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the Member for Courtenay—Alberni, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
NDP (QC)
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
2018-11-05 15:51 [p.23278]
Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague, the critic for the status of women and gender equality, whether she is concerned about the fact that the ombudsman's most recent report clearly shows that response times are much too long for francophone female veterans.
Does she not believe that the government should invest more in services for women and francophones?
View Fayçal El-Khoury Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Fayçal El-Khoury Profile
2018-11-05 16:02 [p.23279]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
Last year, $4.4 billion was spent on veterans and their families, which is $1 billion more than the Conservative government's peak spending.
Our plan for veterans goes much further than that of the NDP.
How can my colleague explain the NDP's change in vision?
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
NDP (QC)
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
2018-11-05 16:06 [p.23280]
Madam Speaker, I would like to know what my colleague thinks about the fact that, with $372 million, we could review the federal government's decision to transfer the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital for veterans to the provincial government.
We were told that this transfer would have no effect on the number of doctors or the nursing care offered to patients, but that is not true. Some articles have shown that veterans feel that services have been lacking since the hospital was transferred to the provincial government.
Does my colleague believe that the $372 million could have been used to provide services in regions like mine where there are five branches of the Royal Canadian Legion and veterans who need services?
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
NDP (QC)
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
2018-11-05 17:02 [p.23288]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I am pleased to participate in today's debate on the sums allocated.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting in Veterans Affairs Canada's coffers, yet branches like Branch 146 in Beauharnois say that, when they call Veterans Affairs Canada, they have to wait a long time for someone to take their call and answer their questions.
As everyone knows, $372 million has been languishing in those coffers for the past three years. Hundreds of people could be hired to answer veterans' questions. Veterans deserve those services.
I think it is time for the government to invest and spend that money. The Conservatives cut 1,000 jobs, and the Liberals say they rehired 475 employees. That means more than half have yet to be rehired to ensure that the people who risked their lives in battle get the services and respect they deserve.
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 Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, as I said in my statement, lapsed funding is necessary. Lapsed funding is a way for us to ensure we always have the money available for veterans when and where they need it. It is money that we have consistently reinvested back into veterans and their families since we have taken office. We have seen an influx of new funding for veterans and their families not seen in decades. Our record on this is good. I would say, with all humility, as the member recognizes and I agree with him, are we there yet? Far from it. We have a long way to go.
People should be held accountable for their actions. The actions of the previous government with respect to what it did to this department and the benefits and services for veterans is frankly unconscionable, and it will take us more time to get through it.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I can only say that if the hon. member is troubled by statements that veterans are making now, I can only imagine how troubled she must have been when she was in government.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Chair, I would invite the hon. member to speak to her colleagues who sit on that side and ask what they were doing as men and women were returning from Afghanistan. It was considered to be a way of thanking our veterans by gutting the department, by cutting benefits and services by billions of dollars. I can produce the numbers, I can produce the record or we can actually listen to veterans.
I can tell the member that while ministers of the previous government may have walked away from veterans when they were asked questions, we have gone out to 45 town halls so far this year, and counting. We listen.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I would say it is still very much a challenge. The way the previous government treated veterans and their families was nothing short of deplorable, and it will take some time to get over this damage.
Of the 1,000 people who the Conservatives let go from that department, I guess in the interests of providing better services and benefits to veterans, it has been tough trying to hire them back. These are talented people, often bilingual, and we have a lot of work to do, as the service delivery measurements show, particularly on bilingual servicing.
It will take time to get over the 10 years of damage that was done to Veterans Affairs Canada by the previous government, but we are getting there as quickly as we possibly can.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I would say that I perhaps would contest the spirit this is said to have been brought forward with. While I welcome the opportunity to talk about how lapsed funding works, I think hon. members here know that. What I dispute is the inference that somehow we are taking that money and putting it somewhere else. We are not. That money will always go toward benefits and services afforded to and deserved by our veterans.
I do not like muddying the waters, because veterans and their families have enough change going on. We have added to that change with improvements to the programs. I am not terribly happy about the fact there has been an attempt to muddy or politicize this, but I do understand that this is a good opportunity to talk about how lapsed funding works and for veterans and their families to understand that that money for benefits and services will always be there for them.
View Robert Aubin Profile
NDP (QC)
View Robert Aubin Profile
2018-11-05 17:46 [p.23295]
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the chance to speak on veterans issues in the House. Every time I rise on this issue, I do so not only with immense respect, but with great honour.
The motion we are debating today would be relevant at any time, but it takes on a special significance this week, given that next Thursday, the 338 members of the House will leave for their ridings so they can attend remembrance ceremonies on November 11.
Why do we make it our duty to attend these remembrance ceremonies? My riding alone has three scheduled. Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to be in two or three places at once on the stroke of 11 on November 11, but one thing I can say for sure is that I am going to visit every legion branch. Each and every one of us has a duty of remembrance.
The ceremony on November 11 includes some deeply emotional moments. One especially moving moment that I would never miss, come hell or high water, is when they read out the names of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That can take a few short minutes or stretch over a longer time, depending on how many from the riding gave their lives. These people died so that we could have freedom of speech and the chance to live in a democracy. We owe them a great deal.
I am lucky enough to know some Second World War veterans in Trois-Rivières who have shared their stories with me and take it upon themselves to tell younger generations about the true reality of war. It is not at all like in the movies or video games, which are basically the only contact that our young people have with war, thank God. Since humankind has trouble learning from its own history, the fact that we have veterans who share their experiences with us is a priceless blessing.
When I hear the names of all the fallen read out loud, I always wonder what message they would have for us today. It is wonderful that so many of us, tens, hundreds, even thousands of Canadians take the time to remember them. What is their message? Perhaps this is a natural family instinct everyone has, but I always feel that those who made the ultimate sacrifice would ask us, in recognition of that sacrifice, to ensure that their loved ones have everything they need. They would ask us to take care of those they left behind because they fell on the battlefield.
We therefore have more than just a duty to remember. We owe them much more in return. We must pay it forward to those who have given so much and who, by chance, may still be with us today, or to their spouses and families who are still with us and who for years endured the absence of a loved one.
What is the best way to answer that call from the heart? It is by providing adequate services to our veterans and their families.
When I see the simplicity of the motion before us today, I have to wonder why this is not already a fait accompli. It is worth noting that this situation precedes the current Liberal administration. I sat in Parliament in 2011, and these very same issues were being discussed back then. For the benefit of those following our debate, I would like to reread the motion as it is written. Everything is there; it speaks for itself.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should automatically carry forward all annual lapsed spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the next fiscal year, for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans, until the Department meets or exceeds its 24 self-identified service standards.
“Automatically” means stop debating this, stop asking questions, and just make this a priority.
Unfortunately, as we saw under the Conservative administration and are still seeing with the Liberals, there is a significant difference between the amounts announced and those paid out.
This begs a fundamental question: announcing extraordinary amounts even thought they do not have the money, thinking that it will make them look good by showing good intention, and then in the end spending less than what was announced since they know they do not have that money—is it all a political show? It would be even worse if they announced amounts that they do have and then chose not to spend the money, returning it to the consolidated revenue fund so it can be allocated to other things or used to pay down part of the deficit.
In the past, the Conservatives often used this strategy when they made their grand announcements. The Conservatives had the largest infrastructure program ever. However, the real amounts invested were nowhere near those announced. The Liberals are using the exact same strategy, which is outrageous, to say the least.
I will cite a few examples of how the transfer of these lapsed funds could achieve a certain number of objectives. I will name a few so that people have an idea of what we are referring to.
Most of the time when a veteran calls the National Contact Centre Network, they hear, “your call is important to us, please stay on the line for...” three hours, four hours, three days, two weeks, a month? It takes a lot of patience to get a response. According to the service standard, you can expect to be connected with the next available analyst within two minutes. The target is 80%. The result is 66%.
I have a problem with 80% as a target. That is like saying if analysts respond within two minutes 80% of the time, then that is not so bad. However, the point of having a service standard is to serve all veterans. The target cannot be anything less than 100%. The result might be 80%, and then we would say that is not so bad, almost everyone was served within the service standard—but no, we are setting 80% as a target.
That would be like me taking an exam or asking my daughter who is studying for an exam not to aim for 100% but rather for 80%, and if she gets 70% then that would be good, or if she gets 66% then that would be fine. Give me a break. We have to always aim for the best outcome. How can we set 80% as a target for a standard, an approach or a federal government and think that that is okay?
I am running out of time and cannot give more examples, but perhaps I will be able to share some during questions and comments. This makes absolutely no sense. This approach at Veterans Affairs Canada is nothing new. You can find it with many government services, including immigration and EI. Anytime a Canadian needs to call the government, the target is never 100%.
I would have liked more time to talk about the ombudsman's report, in which he made some very important recommendations that have not yet been implemented. I may be able to revisit this, but in the few seconds I have left, I would like to say that I truly hope this motion will get the unanimous support of the House. That seems to be the likely outcome, which would be a good thing.
I also hope that once this motion is adopted, the government quickly implements it. Too often, motions are adopted unanimously or by a majority in the House, but nothing comes out of it. With all the respect we owe our veterans, I cannot even imagine that happening.
View Robert Aubin Profile
NDP (QC)
View Robert Aubin Profile
2018-11-05 17:58 [p.23296]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
Obviously, if we start getting into all the minute details, we could quickly lose those who are watching since they are not experts in the matter. I am not an expert either, but I try to stay informed.
We are basically saying exactly the same thing. It is unthinkable that available funding is not being used. Unless the government made announcements with money it did not have, it is unthinkable that funding that is just sitting around would not be used to train staff, for example.
The Liberals are saying that they hired 400 people. I commend them for that, but it does not meet the needs. If we consider that the Conservatives cut 1,000 jobs when they were in office, then it seems to me that we are still short 600 positions compared to the level of service provided in 2011-12 before the cuts were made. We are far from meeting the objective and so it is unacceptable to me that there is money just lying around unused.
The motion seeks to ensure that any money for veterans that is not used for its identified purpose by year end be carried over for use by veterans the following year.
View Robert Aubin Profile
NDP (QC)
View Robert Aubin Profile
2018-11-05 18:01 [p.23297]
Mr. Speaker, I will quickly address two things.
First of all, the member obviously did not listen to my speech, since I ended by saying that it seems likely that this motion will receive unanimous support. I do not know where he got the idea from my speech that the Liberals were going to vote against it.
Regarding his mention of the minister's statement that every eligible veteran will receive the services they are entitled to, I say that is all well and good, but the purpose of the motion is not to figure out whether they will get these services, but when.
Funding is the problem. I think we are justified in thinking that the process could be sped up when money is sitting in the treasury and services are not being provided.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to this motion and our recent efforts to ensure veterans and their families receive the respect, support, care and economic opportunities they deserve as they transition to a post-military life.
While much has been said in the past few days, the fact remains that our government has placed the highest priority on making sure veterans and their families have the support and services they need, when they need them.
Our government also places that same priority on the privacy of Canada's veterans' personal information, which prevents us from discussing specific cases. When it comes to Canada's veterans and their families, we are not in the business of political opportunism. We are interested in getting veterans well again.
We can and should, however, look at everything our government has done in the last three years to improve benefits and services, not only for our nation's veterans but also for their families. We know that when a man or woman serves in the Canadian Armed Forces, their whole family serves with them.
Veterans Affairs Canada is a different department today than it was three years ago. It is driven by a new vision, with a focus on the well-being and successful transition of our Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP members, veterans and families.
It is this vision that saw us reopen the nine Veterans Affairs offices that were closed by the previous Conservative government, open a new one in Surrey and increase outreach into the north. It is this vision that saw us staff up and hire more than 470 employees after years of cuts. It is this vision that saw us bring benefits in line with where they should have been years ago.
Year over year, our government has committed more money to veterans programs and benefits, ensuring more and better support for veterans and their families, based on feedback directly from them. Their feedback has led to investments of $10 billion since 2016. Ten billion is a big number, a bigger number than most of us can really picture. I will explain in a little more depth how that number translates into the programs, services and benefits that our veterans now have access to every day.
First, I want to address an issue that has recently been brought up, which is lapsed funding. Over the past three years, Veterans Affairs Canada has seen a significant increase in demand for its programs and services, and that is a good thing. It means veterans are coming forward and getting the help they need. It means they are beginning to trust their government again. I am sure that is not easy to do after 10 years of distrust in the previous government.
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 supplements. The department goes and asks Treasury Board for more money, because we have more veterans who want more of the programs and services they are entitled to, indeed, that they deserve.
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, though.
This process guarantees that whether a veteran comes forward this year, next year or the year after that, we will always have resources available for veterans and their families to access programs and services.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, as I was saying, this process does not guarantee that whether a veteran comes forward this year or the next or the year after that, we will always have resources available for veterans and their families to access programs and services. Lapsed funding does not result in anyone receiving less than they should.
Year over year, we have seen more financial compensation go to veterans and their families than in years previous, certainly in the previous 10 years. We have seen more veterans avail themselves of programs and services, and we have definitely seen more support being given to veterans than what the Conservatives failed to do in a decade.
I bring up the previous government because we know that they too had lapsed funding. This is not a new accounting method. It is how departments budget, but when we look at the Conservatives' record, when we look at the cuts in their Veterans Affairs departmental budgets, the cuts of 1,000 staff at Veterans Affairs and the closure of Veterans Affairs offices, it is a very different picture, one that veterans and Canadians see through.
I would like to dig in a little more on these benefits. Since January, I have held 41 town halls and round tables to meet with and hear from veterans, their families and stakeholders, and one thing I heard repeatedly was that veterans and their families needed better support and that change was needed. While there has been a lot of change at Veterans Affairs, my commitment to veterans and their well-being has remained the same. I am committed to ensuring that veterans' overall well-being is what drives everything we do. We want to make sure that veterans have purpose and are financially secure, safely housed, in good physical and mental health, resilient in the face of change, well integrated in the community, proud of their legacy and protected from political expediency.
When we look at these factors, we can all agree that without financial security, it is hard to focus on anything. That is why last December, we announced our plan to bring back a pension for life for ill and injured veterans. With that return of a monthly pension, 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.
Pain and suffering compensation is one of the main benefits. It is a monthly, tax-free payment for life that recognizes veterans' service-related pain and suffering.
This compensation is paid to members and veterans with a disability resulting from a service-related injury or illness.
Veterans and members can choose to receive either monthly payments or a lump sum, giving them the flexibility to choose what works for them and their families.
As well, additional support will be available for those with severe and permanent impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment and post-service life through the additional pain and suffering compensation. This will be provided as a monthly, tax-free benefit for life.
On top of that, the income-replacement benefit is a monthly program that will replace six current benefits and provide income support for those facing barriers to re-establishment. Additionally, veterans using this benefit will be able to earn up to $20,000 per year before any reduction to their IRB payment, and that benefit is 90% of their pre-release salary, which keeps up with inflation and includes a salary increase every year for 20 years to match their expected career progression.
Set to come into force on April 1, 2019, the new pension for life combines what veterans have asked for with the most up-to-date research and understanding of a veteran's well-being, but more importantly, the pension for life will become an integral part of that comprehensive approach to veterans' well-being, reinforcing all the programs and services available at VAC, of which mental health is a priority.
Another issue surrounding mental health we have talked about recently in this House is psychiatric service dogs. Some veterans have made it clear that service dogs could be beneficial for them if they are suffering with conditions like PTSD. That is why, earlier this year, we expanded the medical expense tax credit to recognize the costs for these service animals.
The department also invested in a pilot study to explore the use of service dogs as a safe and effective support for veterans with PTSD. As was reported last week, this study was recently completed, the department is reviewing its results and the final report will help to inform policy decisions related to service dogs.
We know that military service creates unique stressors for serving members and their families, both during and after service. Veterans Affairs Canada has concrete measures in place to address mental health, including the joint suicide prevention strategy. Announced last fall, the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs committed to a coordinated collaborative approach and identified over 160 initiatives dedicated to saving the lives of veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members. One suicide is too many, and with the two departments working together, we will be better able to help military service members and veterans reduce the risk, build resilience and prevent suicide.
Because families play an important role in a veteran's life, we recognize that they are there from day one. From base to base, from day to day, they bear intimate witness to the mental health struggles that some veterans deal with. That is why sometimes it could be determined by Veterans Affairs staff and medical professionals that access for a veteran's family members to counselling and other services would assist him or her better in achieving rehabilitation. Veterans Affairs staff consult and act on the recommendations of mental health professionals from across the country. The department has a nationwide network now of over 4,000 mental health professional who deliver services to veterans and RCMP and Canadian Forces members who have post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. Veterans and family members can also find mental health information, support and resources at the 11 operational stress injury clinics and eight satellite clinics across the country plus use of telehealth services, for those living in remote areas.
It is fundamental that we continue to learn and share best practices. Our government recently launched a centre of excellence on PTSD and related mental health conditions that will allow us to do just that. Announced in May with the Royal Ottawa Hospital, this centre will create and share knowledge on veterans mental health treatments that work and place that information directly in the hands of mental health professionals and others working with veterans on a daily basis.
While mental health is a critical factor in a veteran's overall well-being, the department's vision aims to address all aspects of wellness. That is what led to the new and enhanced benefits that rolled out on April 1 of this year. Addressing families and well-being, financial security and education and training, all were designed with a veteran's well-being in mind. One of those new initiatives is the veterans emergency fund. Veterans or family members who may find themselves in an emergency situation can now apply for those funds 24/7, because as we know, emergencies do not only happen nine to five, Monday to Friday. Another is the caregiver recognition benefit, which provides a veteran's caregiver with $1,000 a month, tax free, recognizing the invaluable role caregivers play in caring for veterans.
Two other new programs that launched this year and are proving to be very successful are the education and training benefit and the career transition service. So far, more than 1,400 veterans have been approved for funding to further their education, and more than 900 Canadian Forces members and veterans have been approved for career transition services, and it has only been five months.
These are just a few of the real differences we are making in the lives of our country's veterans.
Whether having served in the Second World War, the Korean War, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus or any other mission Canada has supported, every veteran has his or her own story based on his or her service, combat experience or injury.
Veterans' needs and the needs of their families and caregivers have evolved. They will continue to evolve, and we will evolve to meet them. Our government will continue to ensure that we are meeting their needs, enhancing their well-being, and helping them to successfully re-establish their lives after service.
Before I conclude, I would like to directly address the motion that has brought us here. As I have said previously in the House, I have instructed my department to look into this particular case and how this decision was made. I have reviewed the department's findings on this issue, and I am directing it to first, ensure that the services being received by a family member of a veteran are related to the veteran's service-related illness or injury, and where they are not, that the case be reviewed by a senior official before a decision is rendered. Second, I have requested that the department address its policy in providing treatment to family members who have extenuating circumstances, such as a conviction for a serious crime.
From now on, in cases with extenuating circumstances, the decision to extend treatment to a non-veteran family member must be made by an area director in consultation with our departmental health professionals.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his observations.
I will once again tell the House that it has been frustrating to attend 40-plus town halls to talk to veterans each and every day and to their families. It will take a long time to win their trust back.
Like any other member on this side of the House, I do not like to stand up and continually blame the other side of the House for what we need to do, but it is very important that Canadians and veterans understand what we are dealing with. Most veterans get it. Most veterans understand.
We will do what needs to be done, and we will stand by veterans and their families, even when it is not politically expedient to do so.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
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 Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, the devotion of our men and women in uniform is undisputed and unparalleled. I assure my colleagues that just as veterans and their fallen comrades have made sacrifices to preserve our future, our government is committed to protecting them and their future. Our government made promises to veterans and all Canadians, and we are committed to keeping those promises. That is what we are doing. We have heard the concerns of soldiers, veterans and their families and we consulted the veterans' community, as well as veterans advocates and experts, on the best way forward.
That being said, we recognize that we will never make everyone happy. Our government has made a lot of positive changes over the past three years in order to better serve veterans and their families. New and improved Veterans Affairs programs have all the necessary ingredients for promoting well-being; an important one is the balance between financial, mental, physical and social well-being.
The result is a flexible set of benefits and programs that enable veterans and their families to decide what type of compensation is best for them. One of the promises was to provide a lifetime monthly pension. In his mandate letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Prime Minister clearly asked him to “[r]e-establish lifelong pensions as an option for our injured Veterans, while ensuring that every injured Veteran has access to financial advice and support so that they can determine the form of compensation that works best for them and their families.”
The new pension for life was announced last December and was designed to provide the greatest possible support for the most seriously injured veterans. This new approach consists of a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support and stability for military members and veterans who suffer from a service-related illness or injury.
One of the benefits that we are especially pleased to provide is the compensation for pain and suffering. It is a non-taxable lifetime monthly payment in recognition of service-related pain and suffering. This benefit is based on the extent of the impairment, and the monthly and lump-sum options give members and veterans the opportunity to choose what is best for them and their families.
The additional pain and suffering compensation, which is also a monthly, non-taxable benefit, provides additional support for veterans who have a service-related permanent and severe impairment. This benefit is paid in addition to the pain and suffering compensation and is meant to recognize the barriers to establishment in life that veterans face after service.
The income replacement benefit is another monthly program that will provide income support to veterans who need financial assistance because they are experiencing barriers to re-establishment in post-service life due to a health problem resulting primarily from service. In some cases, the benefit may also be offered to veterans, survivors and orphans, should they need it.
We realized that what we announced in December might have seemed complicated, which is why Minister O'Regan held round table discussions with veterans and stakeholders across the country. We wanted to make sure that veterans and their families understand the scope and the impact of the changes we are introducing. These meetings were also an opportunity to hear what veterans and stakeholders think about the new approach.
Overall, many people are satisfied with these changes. We are all aware that the needs of Canada's veterans have changed a lot over the past century. Since the Pensions Act was introduced, Veterans Affairs Canada has ensured that its programs and services have kept pace with those changing needs by adopting a better approach that incorporates the financial, mental, physical and social factors that play a role in the successful transition to post-service life.
It is clear that the new pension for life meets the government's promise to bring back a lifetime monthly pension. More importantly, it reiterates the government's unwavering commitment to ensuring that all veterans and their families are treated with dignity, respect and fairness, which is really at the heart of everything we do.
Over $6 billion in initiatives were announced in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, and we are investing another $3.6 billion on top of that in the flexible package of benefits and programs that is the pension for life.
We are committed to providing financial compensation for service-related pain and suffering. We are committed to providing income replacement to provide financial support for veterans during rehabilitation or to compensate them for their loss of income. We are committed to providing education, work and physical and mental health support programs for veterans. We are committed to making veterans' lives easier.
We know that every veteran has their own unique history and situation. That is why pension for life was designed to give every veteran the flexibility to decide what form of compensation works best for them and their family during the transition from military to civilian life. Pension for life provides a full suite of financial security and wellness elements to help veterans and their families transition to the next phase of their life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be education, work or retirement.
We have made a lot of progress in enhancing support to our courageous veterans. The government will never stop working to improve the lives of our veterans and their families.
Following a review, the Minister of Veterans Affairs has informed the department that services received by the family member of a veteran must be related to an illness or injury connected with the veteran's service. Where they are not, the case must be reviewed by a senior official before a decision can be made.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs is directing the department to address its policy on providing treatment to family members under extenuating circumstances, such as conviction for a serious crime. From now on, in cases involving extenuating circumstances, the decision to extend treatment to a family member other than the veteran must be made by a director, in collaboration with departmental health professionals.
In this specific case, it is important to understand that we cannot comment any further on the shameful murder of Constable Campbell. Our hearts are with the family, and we offer them our condolences.
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
NDP (QC)
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
2018-09-25 12:28 [p.21788]
Mr. Speaker, the situation of our veterans has deteriorated. Veterans are waiting longer and longer to find out whether they are eligible for benefits. This problem started with the Conservatives' budget cuts a few years ago, but things have only gotten worse under the Liberals' watch. Veterans are waiting even longer, despite the Liberals' election promises.
My question is extremely simple. Why is the money that is supposed to be allocated to veterans in the budget not being used to help those veterans, whom the Liberals say they want to help?
View Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.
What I like about that question is the part about how things seem to be worse under the Liberals. I can assure the hon. member that the rehired front-line officers are providing better service, suitable service. The ratio of cases per front-line officer has been considerably reduced. Each field officer now handles a dozen fewer cases. I can assure the hon. member that we are on the right track. A lot remains to be done. I agree with my colleague that we must do more. What I can say today is that we stand with our veterans and always will.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, given that my colleague was once a minister at Veterans Affairs, I would like to ask him a question. What criteria should be used to determine whether the child of a veteran is eligible for benefits?
In this particular case, why would Mr. Garnier not meet that criteria?
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.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Speaker, “You have done it,” Prince Harry said to the athletes. “You are Invictus.” The Latin word from which these games take their name means unconquered, and that unconquerable spirit was written on the face of every athlete we saw at these games. They flew our flag higher and they lit up the world. When they put their hand up, we will be there to help. There are 4,000 mental health professionals, a network of OSI clinics, and their brothers and sisters waiting to help them.
View Angelo Iacono Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Angelo Iacono Profile
2016-12-02 12:20 [p.7590]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-29, which implements certain provisions of the budget tabled in March.
I am pleased to speak today because I am very proud to see that our government is keeping its promises and commitments to Canadians, the middle class, families, seniors, students, workers, retirees, and veterans. All of these people work or worked very hard and deserve a good quality of life and better futures. These people often struggle to make ends meet; they need measures to help them meet their everyday needs. That is what our budget measures do.
Talking about the budget provides me with an opportunity not only to express my support for Bill C-29 but also to talk about the people in my riding who will be affected by the provisions of this bill. These people put their trust in the Liberal Party. They put their trust in me by voting for me in October 2015, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their support. I can tell them today that they made the right choice. They voted for the right party. The bill before us today is further proof of that.
Many measures in the 2016 budget address the concerns and interests of the people, businesses, and communities in Laval. Even today, 11% of Alfred-Pellan's population is comprised of low-income earners. These people need help to meet their most important need, which is housing. The Liberal budget makes major investments of $1.5 billion over two years to improve access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing.
Other vulnerable people benefit from this budget's measures. The Canada child benefit will finally give more to those who need it most. This measure will lift 300,00 children in Canada out of poverty. In my riding, it will benefit 14,505 families with children, who will no longer pay taxes on this benefit, and will have the full amount at their disposal.
During a community event at the church in Vimont last week, Joe, a constituent with no political affiliation or interest in politics, told me that the $425 a month makes a big difference. This measure will mainly help the 5,290 single parent families in Alfred-Pellan, which will receive more money to help provide better living conditions for their children. This benefit is much more generous than the benefits provided by the previous government and it gives more money than before to families with children. Families will see their benefits increase by almost $2,300 on average in 2016-17. This will allow families like Joe's to buy winter clothing, groceries, school supplies, and clothing. It will allow other families, like that of Marie-Carmelle and Robert, to save for their children's education.
Let us also talk about seniors, Canada's human legacy. Our government knows how important it is to improve their quality of life. For that reason, the budget includes such measures as the OAS enhancement. We also recently announced the enhancement of CPP benefits. This will ensure a comfortable and dignified retirement for our seniors who built the Canada of today.
As my Aunt Giuseppina said, after so much sacrifice and hard work, she can finally rest assured that she will not be a burden to her children. Her savings and her government are all she needs to live with dignity. That gives us a good sense of what these measures mean to people.
Bill C-29 implements some very specific measures from the last budget. These measures are part of our overall plan to stimulate economic growth in the short term and, most importantly, pave the way for a strong economy in the long term. Our country has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7. This is the right time to invest for our future success and to ensure a prosperous and green future for current and coming generations, a future in which everyone has a chance to succeed.
As a father, I want to make sure that my son, Gabriel, who is almost three years old, has a sustainable, prosperous future full of opportunity. That is what my parents did for me. That is what informs my day-to-day work as an MP: the prosperity and well-being of the people of Alfred-Pellan. They expect their MP and their government to understand what things are like for them and to pass budgets that reflect their reality and help them make the most of their lives.
Let us not forget our veterans, those who sacrificed so much to preserve our dearest values and uphold the peace in land and all over the world.
The government will give back to veterans, who have given so much in service to all Canadians, by restoring critical access to services that were recklessly cut by the previous government and ensuring the long-term financial security of disabled veterans. Canada's veterans will receive more local, in-person government services as well as better access to case managers.
Last week, I discussed with a very concerned constituent the issues of unemployment. Mario, a 55-year-old hard-working gentleman, found himself laid off from his job and wanted to know how our government would help him and the thousands of people in the same position. I assured Mario that the changes to the current EI system that we were proposing would give Canadians the help they need when they needed it, be it the changes to eligibility rules, which would make it easier for new workers and those re-entering the workplace to claim benefits; the reduction of the waiting period from two weeks to one week, which would provide unemployed workers with hundreds of dollars more at the time they needed it most; or the extension of employment insurance benefits in regions affected by the collapse of the price of oil and other commodities that would be aimed to ease the burden of Canadians in parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, northern Ontario, and Newfoundland.
Our Prime Minister has deployed enormous efforts to make Canada once again a leader on the international stage. Helping international development for Canadian businesses and to ensure that our financial sector remains strong, we will strengthen the framework that regulates financial institutions and balance the need for stability and competition with the needs of consumers and businesses.
Moreover, as a matter of fairness for all taxpayers, the government will seek to prevent underground economic activity and tax evasion, and combat tax loopholes.
We will invest in effective administration and enforcement of tax laws and we will propose actions to improve the integrity of Canada's tax system.
All these measures define my unwavering support to Bill C-29. I invite all members to reflect on the benefits Bill C-29 has for Canadians and join in support of the bill.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, far too many victims of assault and sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces have been refused PTSD benefits. After the hell they have gone through, these victims want only two simple things from the government: first, for it to publish online what services are available; and second, for it to screen all members of the Canadian Armed Forces and provide information about the assistance available.
Will the government heed those simple requests?
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