In Debate: Telling the Truth About Veterans Issues

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

    Mr. Speaker, in October of last year I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs who cared for our soldiers after they came home from deployment. The government likes to tout that it supports our troops. However, the minute those troops become veterans, they are all but forgotten.

A case in point is the government's lump sum payment plan for injured veterans. For the most part, the lump sum payment plan has proven to be a failure. In some cases, injured vets get only 10% of what they have received through the courts or worker's compensation. Imagine having to fight the government in court to get a fair pension after risking everything for one's country.

I asked the minister back in the fall when the Conservatives planned to change the lump sum formula to ensure that veterans received the pensions they deserve. His answer did not address the issue. He did not seem to appreciate that some veterans received less than they would on worker's compensation.

    Another glaring example of how veterans are abandoned is the government phasing out access to long-term care beds for modern veterans. These veterans are people with special care needs and requirements.

    The New Democrats are advocating that the federal government continue the veterans' long-term care program. Currently, World War II and Korean veterans are eligible for dedicated departmental contract beds or priority beds in veterans' hospital wings such as Parkwood Hospital in London, Sunnybrook in Toronto, Camp Hill in Halifax or approved provincial community care facilities if they meet certain criteria. This program will cease when the last World War II or Korean war vet passes away and the Conservative government has no intention to open access up to CF and RCMP veterans. This means that veterans will no longer have priority access to departmental contract beds and will compete with the civilian population for access to long-term care in provincial community care facilities.

    Unlike the minister, the New Democrats continue to advocate for veterans because the federal government does have a responsibility for their long-term care in recognition of those who accept the unlimited liability of service in the armed forces.

    The NDP proposes that veterans have access to veterans' hospital wards throughout Canada staffed with health care professionals experienced in the dedicated and exclusive treatment of injured veterans.

    The minister is not getting the message and people are suffering, people such as retired air force Colonel Neil Russell, who is confined to a wheelchair. He cannot return home and he was callously denied a long-term care bed at Parkwood Hospital in London. It was ludicrous because Neil would have been on the street because there was a one to two year waiting list for a nursing home bed. After many letters to the minister and media pressure, Colonel Russell was told he had a bed. Sadly, within a few days, he was then told he did not have a bed and was informed that he had misunderstood and was given a provincial contract bed, for which he has to pay.

    I would like to remind the minister that veterans are a federal responsibility not a provincial responsibility. They have served our country and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Ensuring that they have access to the long-term care they require is the least we can do.

    Will the minister do the right thing and support long-term care for all of our veterans?

Mr. David Anderson (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC):

    Mr. Speaker, I can understand why my colleague wants to change the focus of her question, because the reality is that we have answered the question she asked last fall.

When Parliament passed the new veterans charter in 2005, it was with unanimous support. The new veterans charter is a suite of programs and services that can be modified and adapted as time passes. The perfect example of this evolution is when our government implemented new payment options for the disability award, which is what the member opposite wanted to address. We heard loud and clear that the veterans wanted options, and we listened. Now they have the choice of receiving the lump sum payment, an annual installment over a number of years of their choosing, or a combination of the two payment plans.

    When we introduced enhancements to the new veterans charter just last year, we took steps to ensure that the most seriously injured veterans would receive the support, financial or otherwise, that they truly needed.

    Veterans can now receive comprehensive care that goes well beyond the immediate and long-term financial support available to them. This model also includes full physical and psychological rehabilitation as well as vocational assistance, health care benefits and one-on-one case management.This includes things like home visits or visits by a registered nurse so that a service injured veteran does not have to leave his or her home to visit an office.

    We have done this because offering a comprehensive care and support system such as that found in the new veterans charter will lead to rehabilitation and will further enable a smooth transition by veterans back to civilian life.

    Why, since the new veterans charter came in, have the member and her party voted against so many initiatives that have been brought in. The member voted against Agent Orange funding, against veterans benefits services and even against long-term care. It is all very puzzling. Most sadly, the NDP has voted against increased funding for our most seriously injured veterans.

    We on this side of the House are focused on delivering concrete results for Canadian veterans. We have introduced direct deposit so that veterans no longer have to travel to the bank to receive their benefits. We have eliminated over 2.5 million phone calls, mailings or other steps veterans once needed to complete to gain access to the information and benefits they needed. Veterans no longer have to send in receipts, for example, for a $15 snow clearing expense, only to be reimbursed weeks later—no more under our government. Instead, we provide that funding up front.

    In all, our government is focused on improving the lives of Canadian veterans by introducing measures to empower them in their quest to transition back to civilian life.

    The real question I think we should ask this evening is whether the NDP and Liberal leaders in the future will let my colleague across the way actually vote for veterans benefits this year.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, it absolutely astounds me that Conservatives can sit there and perpetuate this nonsense.

    We voted against environmental destruction. We voted against seniors being robbed of their pensions. We voted against all of the incredible and undermining things the government has done and plans to do to people all across the country, undermining employment insurance and undermining the poor. How dare they come here and say that somehow or other these insidious things are going to benefit anyone at all.

    Conservatives want to abandon veterans. They have made it very clear. They will not support modern-day veterans, and most modern-day veterans have no idea that they are not covered under long-term care. The government has made a very clear decision that it is going to dump the problems, costs and responsibility onto the provinces. They do it every day.

     Veterans are a federal responsibility. They are not a provincial responsibility.