Veterans STILL Waiting for Minister to Take Action

6 months and counting, the 14 recommendations of the all-party parliamentary committee have yet to be implemented

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

    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

    As the House knows, we are debating a concurrence motion regarding the new veterans charter and the changes that are absolutely essential for veterans today. Veterans deserve far more than ceremonial recognition.

    I am most grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate concerning some very remarkable citizens of this country. They are indeed remarkable citizens, because collectively they took and take citizenship very seriously. They proved their commitment to Canada through their service in the Canadian Forces.

    When our country was in danger during World War I and World War II; or when our country called upon Canadians to be peacekeepers in faraway places like Lebanon, Bosnia, Somalia, Cyprus, East Timor, Suez, and Afghanistan; or when they were sent to serve in NATO; or when our country asked them to stand on guard here at home or to help communities jeopardized by floods, earthquakes, ice storms, and forest fires, they did not hesitate.

    As we have seen with Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, some paid with their lives. They did what they were asked to do. They did their duty in world wars, in Korea, at home, and in multiple deployments since.

    In the course of duty, our country made a contract with them, a covenant. Canada made promises that the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces would not be forgotten or abandoned. Our governments made and continue to make promises assuring these men and women that they will be remembered and honoured by a grateful nation. That is a wonderful sentiment.

   I know without a shadow of doubt that the people of Canada are grateful and that they do remember and truly honour our service men and women in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. I see it every day from my constituents in London—Fanshawe.

   Sadly, however, it has become painfully obvious that our government neither honours our veterans, peacekeepers, or those currently serving nor is it willing to provide the services, pensions, programs, and special care to which these veterans and members of the Armed Forces and RCMP and their families are entitled. That is what the report of the veterans committee is about.

    The committee made 14 recommendations for important changes that are long overdue. As one veteran said:

 

    ...there should be more presumptions in the system, and I don't mean that in a legalistic way. If I come to you as a double-leg amputee...I shouldn't have to do much more than that. I should just simply say, “Look, I'm a double-leg amputee. What have you got for me?”

    The point is that the wounds in service are obvious. The obligation to provide care and support  a respectful manner should also be obvious.

    The Conservative government likes to tout the “support our troops” line, but 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. The lump sum plan, for the most part, has proven to be a failure. In some cases, injured vets get only 10% of what they would have received through the courts or workers' compensation. Imagine, after risking everything for one's country, having to fight the government in court to get a fair pension.

    I asked the minister a year ago 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 receive less than what they would on workers' compensation.

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

    New Democrats are advocating that the federal government continue the veterans long-term care program. Currently, World War II and Korean vets are eligible for a dedicated departmental contract bed or priority beds in veteran hospital wings like Parkwood Hospital in London, Ontario; Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto; and Camp Hill in Halifax, Nova Scotia; 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, New Democrats continue to advocate that the federal government has a responsibility for long-term care for our veterans, in recognition of those who accept the unlimited liability of service in the Armed Forces.

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

    Obviously, the minister is not getting the message and people are suffering, people like retired veteran 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 is ludicrous, because Neil would have been on the street because there was a 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, the Colonel was then told he did not have a bed and was informed he had simply 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 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 very least we can do.

    What we urgently need is an overhaul of the way Veterans Affairs Canada administers health and disability benefits for CF and RCMP veterans. Too many veterans spend years caught up in the 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 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. More help is also needed to support veterans and their families struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Today, in Canada, we know that some veterans are turning to food banks and homeless shelters for assistance. It is unknown how many veterans access food banks across the country, because our veterans are proud; they do not talk about it. They have done their duty for this country, yet we know a recent report from the national association of food banks tells us that food bank services are now more than ever utilized by children, seniors, and veterans.

    We also know that there are more and more homeless veterans seeking shelter, couch surfing, or even living rough outside of our communities—the very communities they served and protected.

   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.

  I would like to remind the House that, when in opposition, the Conservatives promised they would make significant veterans reforms, but none of these have been implemented.

   Just as the current government has ignored the veterans affairs committee report, so too has it forgotten our veterans and the contribution of modern-day Canadian Forces veterans and RCMP members who served in peacekeeping around the world. That is absolutely unacceptable. It is a travesty, and it is a crisis in this country.

    Canadians are very passionate about their pride in and gratitude for veterans. During Remembrance Week and beyond, Canadians choose to honour the men and women who gave us a strong and free country. It is long past time for our federal government to likewise honour all veterans, both past and present, by serving their needs.

     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. Let us truly remember. Let us see the 14 recommendations of the veterans affairs committee implemented and implemented immediately.