Good afternoon, Minister. We are pleased to have you with us today. I think this is the first time that you have appeared before this committee.
As you said, we have met with many veterans and several groups. I was surprised to hear you say that the services for veterans were moving forward, that you were improving the system and that you expected further achievements down the road.
We heard several witnesses: the president of the Royal 22nd Regiment Association, Mr. Renaud; retired Colonel Pat Stogran, a former veterans' ombudsman whose contract you did not renew; Mr. Bruce Henwood, from the Special Needs Advisory Group; Mr. Victor Marshall, chair of the Gerontological Advisory Council; Mr. Sean Bruyea, a former member of the armed forces. Mr. Mark Campbell, a soldier who stepped on a bomb in June 2008, also appeared before another committee. The generally held opinion was that the New Veterans Charter deprives disabled veterans of 40% of their income.
According to several witnesses we heard here when we studied the New Veterans Charter, it seems undeniable that the abolition of the monthly pension in favour of a lump sum payment greatly penalizes a number of veterans.
We in fact saw certain statistics in this regard. A person with a 20% disability used to receive approximately $600 to $800 monthly. Now that person would receive approximately $50,000.
If you were 21 or 22 years old, Mr. Blackburn, and you were given a choice between receiving $600 to $800 per month for life and receiving a sum of $50,000, which would you choose?
How can you tell us that you are improving the situation for veterans when you are depriving these people of a large part of their potential income by abolishing this monthly lifetime benefit? You know very well that in Quebec, as well as in other provinces in Canada, petitions were circulated asking that the lump sum payment be abolished in favour of a return to a monthly lifetime pension.
There are young people who have accidents when they are 20 or 25 years old. If, as Bill C-55 provides, this lump sum payment of $50,000 is divided into two or three payments, that only amounts to $10,000 or $15,000. It is not sufficient, it won't allow disabled persons to meet their needs for the rest of their life.
What happens in those cases?
Some mothers came here to tell us that it was often the family that then had to take on the costs related to a soldier's serious injury.