In the days leading up to Remembrance Day, our thoughts turn to the contributions of the men and women who served our country and gave their lives in times of war and peace. Millions of Canadians will gather at cenotaphs, community centres, and Legion halls to honour the living, remember the fallen and thank active Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel.
But rewind to November 5th when veterans across the country joined together for a National Day of Protest. This is the second year veterans have organized a protest to press the federal government for better disability benefits and more support.
What has happened so that veterans must now take to the streets to demand fair treatment? Why have veterans now launched four separate class action lawsuits against the federal government to try to get their issues resolved?
It boils down to this: the federal government’s programs and services for veterans and their families fall woefully short of meeting their needs.
When they were in Opposition, the Conservatives promised significant reforms—including resolving the unfair reduction of veterans’ disability insurance payments, extending home care benefits to all veterans’ widows, holding a public inquiry into Agent Orange exposure, and fully compensating all victims. They also promised to stop appointing their friends to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and to seek out qualified members with a medical or military background.
Veterans are still waiting for action on all of these promises.
But instead of moving forward, Ottawa is proposing to cut some $226 million from Veterans Affairs Canada and eliminate 500 employees. I am very concerned about how these cuts will impact veterans’ services, with recent data showing demand for services increasing rapidly among younger veterans. Calls by the Royal Canadian Legion and National Council of Veterans Association to exempt Veterans Affairs from federal cuts—as President Obama has done in the United States—have gone ignored.
As the Official Opposition critic for Veterans Affairs, I have seen so many examples of how the system of caring for our veterans is broken. Like the ex-soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who was denied access to his psychologist because Veterans Affairs would not cover travel costs for appointments. Or World War II veterans denied reimbursement for stair-lifts to access the upper and lower levels of their homes—because these are not considered “essential living spaces.” Or countless others denied care at veterans hospitals because only those who served overseas in World Wars and Korea are eligible to apply.
I am deeply troubled to see veterans going on hunger strikes to get better care from Veterans Affairs and the widows of soldiers killed in Afghanistan being denied help at home under the Veterans Independence Program. Meanwhile, homelessness is on the rise and more veterans are using food banks. In the Prime Minister’s own city of Calgary, volunteers have organized a food bank specifically for veterans and their families. In 2005, it served 58 veterans, and in 2010 it served over 200.
Enough is enough. New Democrats are proposing practical solutions to ensure our veterans get the services they deserve. As part of improving vets’ access to modern health care, we’ve proposed moving forward with Veterans’ Health Care Centres of Excellence. Here in 2011, we can do so much better for those suffering from PTSD. It’s time to reform the New Veterans Charter to ensure fair disability benefits for everyone who needs them. And it’s time Ottawa stopped unfairly clawing back service pensions from veterans—and started extending VIP home care benefits to RCMP veterans and widows.
After giving so much to this country, our veterans and their families deserve our respect and they deserve to be taken care of—from the moment they sign up to the moment they pass away. You can count on New Democrats to keep fighting to make that happen.
For these brave men and women, Remembrance Day is every day.
Lest we forget.