People gathered at cenotaphs and legions around the country yesterday to observe Remembrance Day ceremonies and honour Canada’s veterans. It is very important we continue to honour those who have served Canada, and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

But beyond the somber ceremonies, we must also ask ourselves some tough questions; if we truly honour the service of those in uniform why do we continue to accept the shoddy treatment of our veterans, and peacekeepers by our government?  Why do veterans continue to face long delays in the processing of disability claims, inefficient service delivery and a system that too often does not meet the needs of veterans and their families?

I am a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.  When the current session began, I put forward a motion to look at homelessness and financial stress facing some of our modern day veterans and peacekeepers.  I wanted a study with recommendations for action that would go to Canada’s parliament.  That motion was rejected by the Conservative majority on the committee.  Instead we are looking at commemoration in the 21st century , monuments and graveyards.  Who really thinks that is the top priority for our veterans?

What we urgently need is an overhaul of the way Veterans’ Affairs Canada administers health and disability benefits for veterans.  Too many veterans spend years caught up in a system of bureaucratic red tape trying to prove they have a disability related to their service years.  Veterans and those who support them want programs that evolve with their needs. Many veterans cannot access the Veterans’ independence Program (VIP) because their health condition in later years is not linked to a specific war or service related event.

We absolutely must tailor these programs so that they evolve with the changing requirements of veterans. 

Today in Canada we know that some veterans are turning to food banks and homeless shelters for assistance. Last year newspapers across the country published a photo of Prime Minister Harper packing a food hamper for the Calgary poppy fund Veterans’ food bank.  He should have been ashamed that any citizen had to rely on a food bank.

This is a national shame and a direct failure of the federal government and the department of Veterans Affairs to provide immediate help to those who served our country. 

In addition to that, cuts to Veterans Affairs  Canada are on the way.

The 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities shows a decrease to the 2012-2013 VAC budget of $223 million. Both the Canadian Legion and Veterans’ Ombudsman are very concerned about these cuts. 

This decrease is in addition to the 5 to 10 percent cuts that are part of the government’s strategic and operational review designed to reduce spending by $4 billion. Veterans’ Affairs has already submitted its strategic review subject to cabinet decision making.  But a media leak has revealed there will be 300 more jobs cut at VAC, despite evidence that the caseload for Veterans’ Affairs staff will increase with the needs of younger veterans.  What about the hurts both physical and emotional of those men and women returning from Afghanistan and Libya? 

With Remembrance Day behind us for 2011, it is long past time for our federal government to honour our veterans both past and present by serving their needs throughout the year.  Monuments and parades are important; but they are cold comfort to the veterans and families who are neglected and suffering.  It is time to mean what we say when we repeat the promise to remember. 


Irene Mathsysen, MP

member of the parliament's Veterans Affairs Committee