House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

March 2nd, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government is giving out lump sum payments just to save a few dollars. We met with people from Veterans Affairs and made projections for someone with a disability assessed at 4% and one at 40%. We looked at the two cases separately. The former payment formula paid more. When we take into account the Pension Act, payments were higher before than the current lump sum payment plus the additional payments.

Why am I concerned about veterans who are injured in a theatre of operations? I used to be a union representative for workers hurt on the job. I have empathy for people who come home injured. Those who are injured in a theatre of operations did not ask for it. They should receive the best possible compensation. Canada owes them that much.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the daughter of a World War II veteran, I have a personal interest in speaking today to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. This bill also amends the new veterans charter introduced in November by the Conservative Minister of Veterans Affairs. I was very active on this issue given that I am an MP from Quebec City and the Valcartier military base is in that region.

I will briefly outline the measures proposed in Bill C-55. The lump sum payment remains the same, as my colleague was saying earlier, but injured soldiers could now spread out the payment or opt for a single payment. They will have the choice between a single payment, a monthly payment or a combination of the two. Nonetheless, the maximum amount of the lump sum is not being increased, and that does not really meet the expectations of the veterans who appeared before the committee. Income for veterans who can no longer work has been set at $40,000 before taxes, and monthly benefits can range between $536 and $1,609. As my colleague was saying earlier, $40,000 is not very much, and no consideration is given to the salary the individual was earning before being injured or, in many cases, maimed.

Although the minister decided not to increase the amount of the lump sum payment given to veterans who are seriously injured during combat, the Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill should be studied in more depth in committee. We have asked that the families of witnesses and veterans themselves testify to provide us with their insight on all of the new measures tabled by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Many stakeholders, in particular the Royal Canadian Legion, do not believe that this bill goes far enough. Given the magnitude of the mission in Afghanistan—it is a very high-risk situation in which an increasingly large number of people are being injured—the federal government could have increased its investment. We hope that veterans will be able to come and share their opinions on this bill and testify about their situation.

With regard to the desire of many stakeholders that compensation for injured soldiers be given in the form of a lifetime monthly pension, on October 5, I tabled in the House of Commons a petition signed by 6,000 people asking the federal government to bring back the lump sum payment. That is why I said that I was very interested in this issue and that I had worked on this file. That being said, the impact of the new measures will have to be determined.

I also decided to take some concrete action after meeting with Francine Matteau, a constituent of mine from Quebec City. Her son injured both of his legs in 2007 when he was serving in Afghanistan. He had to have nine surgeries. He has constant pain in his ankles, and one leg is shorter than the other. His ankles are practically immobile. He has lost control, mobility and strength in both of his legs. He has difficulties holding a full-time job and no longer meets the army's requirements. I know that he dreamed of a career outside the military when he returned from Afghanistan.

If he had been wounded before the adoption of the new charter, he would have received $5,400 per month, instead of a lump sum payment of $100,000. Yes, $100,000 is a lot of money, but when you spread that out, for someone who is 20, 21 or 22, who is returning seriously wounded and can no longer work, that is definitely not enough. The family must pick up the slack, and he becomes dependent.

I have other similar examples.

Elphège Renaud, the president of the Association des anciens combattants du Royal 22e Régiment de Valcartier, met 19 soldiers who were severely disabled. Most of them were penniless despite having received compensation.

The former veterans ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, has also spoken out about this situation. He has called for the reinstatement of the monthly pension to prevent injured soldiers and their families from falling below the poverty line.

Moving to a lump sum payment means that Canada refuses to recognize as full veterans the soldiers who return from Afghanistan with injuries. This was reported in La Presse on September 13, 2010. Again according to Mr. Stogran, the adoption of the new veterans charter created two classes of veterans: those who served in the second world war and in the Korean War, and all the rest. What is also left unsaid is that those who were injured in World War II had to prove that their injuries were actually related to the battles that had taken place.

According to Mr. Stogran, the government is clearly failing to fulfill its obligations towards an entire generation of veterans, and the enhanced new veterans charter makes only one thing possible: to save money at the expense of this new generation.

On August 30, an independent study ordered by the veterans ombudsman and submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs was made public. It compares the one-time lump sum payment to the guaranteed lifetime pension. It concludes that soldiers injured in combat, veterans and the families of severely disabled members are the losers with the implementation of the enhanced new veterans charter.

As was said earlier, to be entitled to fair compensation you must be severely disabled, and the compensation is not enough given that a severely disabled person requires more individualized health services. For that reason we are asking if it would be possible, in committee, to amend the bill so that it better meets the expectations of those injured in combat.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs always replies that changes were made to the charter on September 19 in order to improve assistance for veterans. This afternoon, I am telling him that it is not enough. The minister should be much more sensitive to what these young veterans really go through when they return home. They often have fairly serious psychological issues. The minister himself admitted, at a press conference, that the new measures he was announcing would not result in a return to a monthly pension rather than a lump sum payment.

This bill no longer imposes a lump sum payment, which is a step in the right direction. As for the single payment option for a lump sum payment, as I said earlier, that is an in-between solution that will not ensure greater stability or the well-being of our younger veterans in the long term, compared to what a lifetime monthly pension could do.

We can draw a parallel with another issue: water contamination in Shannon. A little earlier, an NDP member raised the whole issue of agent orange and the need for a much more in-depth study. Some soldiers were contaminated by chemicals and, in some cases, even developed cancer. I would like to remind the House about the whole issue of water contamination in Shannon. For years, people drank contaminated water from the groundwater that had been contaminated by National Defence. Many veterans, soldiers and civilians lived in this area neighbouring Valcartier. They were contaminated and had a higher than average rate of cancer. A class action lawsuit has been launched against the Department of National Defence and SNC-Lavalin. The residents needed a great deal of money in order to be heard, since neither government—the Liberals, at the time, and now the Conservatives—acted responsibly.

Acting responsibly would have meant, for example, doing what was done in the United States. They tried tracking down all of the soldiers who worked at Camp Lejeune and drank the water. The same thing happened there. The army had contaminated the groundwater and the people, including young cadets, had drunk the contaminated water.

Thus, we would have liked the federal government to do more to show that it cares. They always talk about how proud they are of our soldiers who go and defend democracy overseas on behalf of the Canadian nation. However, it is shameful and appalling to see how the government takes care of these soldiers when they come back.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, when the lump sum payment first came in, some people said that the rationale was that if they had their money in the beginning they could invest in a small business, a house or something else and that would be better. However, I am not sure it worked out that way.

I wonder if statistics have been kept on the people who took the lump sum payments, where they were actually successful and where they were able to move ahead. Or, do the stats show that for most of them it has expired and they really need the ongoing pension, that it did not really work out as was originally envisioned?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Liberal Party has raised an important issue. Soldiers who returned and received lump sum payments ended up without any money a few years later. Their families had to take them in and support them. We are proposing things to prevent that from ever happening again.

Earlier, an hon. member said that many other countries take better care of their soldiers than Canada does. It is all well and good to give a lump sum payment, but we must also see how the soldiers can carry on in life without living under the poverty line and without putting their families under pressure to support them. When they return home, they need services adapted to their reality. The young man I was talking about earlier, who returned with multiple handicaps and had nine operations on his legs, will never again be physically able to hold down a job.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see a member of the Bloc stand in support of Canada and its military and recognize the great work it does to ensure our safety.

I share the concerns that the member has in regard to how we deal with some of the lump sum payments and other things that are offered and which are clearly presenting problems. Bill C-55 puts forward some solutions and some modifications to the existing plan.

What else would the member like to see? She talked a lot about the concern around the lump sum payment in particular. What would the member's advice be as to what she would like to see done differently?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we should assess the monthly amount that injured soldiers could receive, according to the degree of their injuries. The hon. member said she was pleased to see that members of the Bloc support the troops. I started my speech by saying I am the daughter of a veteran of World War II. Within my family, a number of people have served in the Canadian Forces. I will not take her comment personally, but it makes me laugh because many soldiers from Quebec took part in World War II and returned injured, but that is another debate.

We want the bill to be referred to committee so that we can have a serious discussion not about a lump sum payment, but about a monthly benefit, and determine the best amount to pay in various cases. We could come to an equitable decision and still consider granting a lump sum payment. Earlier it was said that with $100,000 a person could buy a house. Today, $100,000 will not even buy a business. What can a person do with $100,000 or $200,000? It is unrealistic. The maximum payment is $276,000 and for that the person would have to be almost completely physically disabled and confined to bed. If the person lived for 20 or 30 years, that $276,000 would be gone in no time, and that puts pressure on the parents and the family, whom we also have to consider.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the member for Sault Ste. Marie, Poverty.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the movement of this bill to committee. The Liberals have supported this all along and feel very strongly about it.

Veterans have told us over and over that they want to see this legislation move forward, not because it is a perfect bill by any means, but because it is at least a step in the right direction. I do want to know why it took so long. Why did some tragic incidents need to occur, such as the ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, who was vilified when he started to show the flaws in the new veterans charter?

It is a pity that had to happen and that we had to wait so long before we saw some of the changes in the new veterans charter. It has been four years and over those four years many veterans have had a lot of problems accessing some of the benefits that they expected to have. It is a pity that it had to take so long but it is better late than never.

This bill is a move in the right direction. We heard the minister himself say that this is a second step, which leads every one of us to hope and believe that there will be a third and fourth step that will incrementally look at the whole issue of veterans and their needs after they have served their country with such valour and such selflessness. After we encourage them and applaud them as they go out to fight for us, they should know that when they come back they will be in safe hands and that no matter what disability or harm they faced when they were at war, they will be taken care of by their nation for as long as they are in need.

There are some problems within this bill that I hope we can look at in committee. Members heard everyone say that.

I have a lot of veterans in my riding. I have many recent veterans in my riding who were in Afghanistan. I want to talk about them because I have been meeting with them. I go to all of their events. I have heard some things that I want to put on the table that I hope we can fix.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for York West.

I heard about three things that we need to look at during committee stage. One of them is the lump sum payment and the fact that the lump sum payment is capped, as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois said, at $275,000. In order to get that amount, a veteran would need to be severely disabled.

One could say that a physical disability is going to last for x length of time and that person may need assistance with such things as wheelchair accessibility, renovations to his or home, et cetera. However, the disabilities that defy prediction and prognosis are neurological disabilities. Agent orange was referred to earlier in the House. There are many chemical weapons. Neurological damage can occur in a physical disability. We do not know how these neurological damages will play out.

With a lot of young veterans coming out of Afghanistan, how do we limit them to this amount of money. If they live to be 70 years old, what will their needs be? Will their situation get progressively worse or progressively better? It is not a predictable thing. We should not talk too much about limitations. Whatever our veterans need for as long as they need it, whether it be for a lifetime, six years, six months, or whatever, we should not set limitations on how we deal with injured veterans. That is totally unfair to them.

I wanted to speak to the issue of the lump sum payment as a physician and about the unpredictability of what could happen with a disability, especially a neurological one.

That moves me on to another type of disability which is not a new one. It is just one that nobody ever talks about. I remember meeting with a World War II veteran who said that when he was in the army he was told to soldier on because that is what a soldier did. A soldier never complained. He told me that when they come back they were changed men and women. Their spouses did not know who they were. They know now that they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He told me that they were changed and that many times they were not able to deal with their families in the same way. Post-traumatic stress disorder creates isolation, anger and depression, which affects the whole family.

Now that we know about post-traumatic stress disorder and we understand the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder, I think it is a pity that the bill does not actually refer to it as an entity on its own. For instance, there are no programs at the moment to deal with the rehabilitation and the psychiatry that is needed to help persons with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There is one at UBC, but it is paid for by UBC funds and by the poppy fund. The government has not put any money into dealing with the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder when it is something for which there should be a lot of programs and a lot of centres, and the government should put money into dealing with these issues.

I saw a film of the UBC program. I was moved to tears and the veterans in the room were moved to tears. Many of the old veterans from World War II were saying, “Oh, my God, if I had only had access to this at one point in my life”. The men and women who were speaking at this post-traumatic stress disorder clinic were saying, “I feel like a wimp, but my buddy was blown up and the blood was all over me and his brains. I feel if I complain or if it affected me psychologically, that I'm a wimp, that I'm not this macho man”.

We are breaking through that to get them to talk about things. We need solid programs for vets to be attended to. I am hoping that will come up at the committee stage and that we will look at this really important issue.

The third thing that I want to talk about that I think needs to be looked at in committee are the current programs and the current service delivery. I have heard from veterans that, in fact, this is very spotty across the country. Some areas have great programs, great ways of accessing them, and others do not. We need to look at how to make this a seamless kind of delivery of services no matter where people live across the country.

For instance, I have heard from veterans that they wait six to eight or nine months just to get the papers processed while they are in pain, while they have a need for all kinds of early interventions. We all know that, with disabilities, the earlier we intervene, the better the chance of recovery. The longer we wait, the more difficult it is to recover from these disabilities, whether they are physical or mental.

We have heard that people have been waiting for a long time, that when they get there, they sometimes face hostility. They feel like they are begging. They feel that they are often accused of lying or they are often accused of overstressing the problem that they have. They have to provide the burden proof that there is something wrong with them. Many of them have said that their physicians have written notes saying that this is what this person has and this is what this person needs, and then they would be told things, such as, “Oh, well, your physician is just lying to help you out”.

We are traumatizing the people who went out to fight for us. They come back and they have to face this re-victimization. That is really tough for them.

In fact, I have spoken to many World War II veterans who are in their eighties who cannot deal with it. It is something that just makes them so anxious and upset that they have just left themselves disabled; they have not sought the help that they need.

I just want to take a minute to speak about an individual veteran. This veteran talks very much about her service history. She was in Afghanistan. She talked about the fact that in British Columbia, where she lives, there is no rehabilitation centre, there is no one-stop shopping. She has to go and meet case worker A and then she has to go, for a different thing, to case worker B. She wanders all across the province. Then, when she has a problem, she has to go into the provincial health care system and stay in line with others to get physiotherapy, to get a wheelchair, to get various many other things in order to get the help that she needs. There is no veteran service centre, no rehabilitation centre.

We used to have this in Vancouver. It is no longer there. When she needs things, sometimes she has to call back east to get stuff. And if the weather is bad or if the phones are not working, she may not be able to get somebody back east. The time differences often make it difficult for her.

She is suggesting that we look at the delivery of service, make it seamless, make it national, ensure that there are three centres, one in the east, one in the centre of Canada, and one in the west, so that veterans do not have to spend a lot of time and energy trying to get the help they need.

I think we are going to support this bill, obviously. It is a step in the right direction. However, I hope we look at these three issues when we get to committee.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment my colleague. Clearly, her role as a medical doctor and her many meetings with veterans across the country has helped.

I am vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and we are doing a study on suicide in our veterans community. One of the presenters this afternoon was a professor from UBC who talked about a program called “Veterans Transition”. I do not know if the member is aware of it, but he certainly spoke very highly of this wonderful program. It does not receive and has not to date been able to receive federal funding. It is receiving its funding through the Royal Canadian Legion.

I would like to hear some comments from the hon. member. Has she made interventions on behalf of this group, or is she aware of this veterans transition organization?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, actually I did mention the UBC program. I have seen some of the films that were made and have met with some of the doctors there who have been dealing with this program. The member is absolutely right. They get money from UBC and the poppy fund, which is the Legion; but they do not get a penny from the federal government.

This is a very small program and they are not able to expand it. The work they are doing is very labour intensive. It is sometimes literally one-on-one counselling and a one-on-one workshops that they have to do. This is to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

They have pleaded with me to come and speak to this issue here today, bring it to the attention of the veterans committee, and our party, so that we can talk about this very important issue. Speaking as a physician, the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder is a very longstanding and deep-rooted issue that can last a whole lifetime.

We have many young men that have returned from Afghanistan. For example, the unfortunate young man, Trevor Greene from the Seaforth Highlanders, who had an axe in his head. We could look at how to honour this man by setting up a new rehabilitation centre, of which we have none at the moment in B.C., and call it the Trevor Greene centre.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that we can speak of a culture of protecting veterans, particularly in Europe. Some members will probably say that Europeans have seen so much war that they have had time to develop that kind of culture.

I would like to ask my colleague if she thinks that it would be good if the committee, during discussions about Bill C-55, drew on that culture in general. I am not only talking about physical things or regulations or the way in which laws are created. Veterans are cared for differently in Europe than they are here.

We could basically say that this type of culture does not exist here. Here there are people who want to forget them. I would like to hear her thoughts about proposing that to the committee.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is an excellent suggestion made by my colleague. This is what I meant by the system not being a national one of service and programs.

In many provinces, like mine, veterans have to go to the provincial health care system and wait in line. One of the things they talked about was having a culture that recognizes and respects our veterans.

They suggest that in many countries veterans actually work within these rehabilitation centres. Veterans actually work within the system because they know what it is they need to do to manipulate their way through the system. They feel that is a way to use veterans, who have come back, to get them into the system, to create a culture of respect and understanding of the issues veterans face, and the hoops they have to jump through.

I think it is important for us to look at that system and at how we can deal with our veterans in a holistic way.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my 10 minutes to this very important debate today on Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. It is a very long title for an important bill.

Before I continue, I want to take moment and pay special tribute to the thousands of current and former military service people, their families, and most especially to all those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we all enjoy today.

In the words of my colleague from Etobicoke North, the life experiences of our veterans:

--affect me and all Canadians deeply, and remind us that we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. Instead of trying to repay our obligation, we let them down on so many issues. For example, too many injured veterans go without the care they need. Too many veterans do not receive the support they have earned. Too many veterans have nowhere safe to sleep at night.

This must change and we have the power to change it. Bill C-55 is a step in the right direction.

As the vice-chair of the veterans committee and as an elected member, whenever I am called upon to speak or to vote on these matters, I remember the spirit that inspired these brave men and women to serve our country, and I try to conduct myself in accordance with their example.

As someone who grew up on Canada's east coast, I have seen firsthand that spirit, how it lived in the people of our communities and what it felt like each time a ship put out to sea with a crew of our finest young men and women.

I have also witnessed firsthand the challenges that are too often faced by that same crew upon their return home from the horrors of combat. The need for effective rehabilitation, services, and compensation are at the heart of why we are here today and, as we deliberate, I would certainly hope that all members of this House would remember that basic guiding ideal.

Let us right these past wrongs. Let us make Bill C-55 serve the people who need it the most.

We have all heard stories of elderly veterans who can no longer make ends meet. They are forced to give up their possessions, their independence and, ironically enough, they are forced to relinquish their personal freedom, all because they cannot access the appropriate services and supports they might need to truly return home.

We have all heard the terrible stories of young men and women battling marital breakdown, financial ruin, and even criminal implications prompted by battle-induced PTSD. What we do not often admit is that these things are actually avoidable.

National media headlines like “Veterans wanted dead, not alive, ombudsman charges” and “Canada's treatment of war veterans 'a national embarrassment'” tell a story of tragic failure on the part of the government.

Just this past July, the Toronto Star ran the story of John Sheardown. According to the article, Mr. Sheardown is an 85-year-old former bomber pilot. He is suffering from Alzheimer's and recovering from a broken hip.

Despite his distinguished service to Canada, Mr. Sheardon was left to languish in hospital, facing a wait of up to 18 months for a bed in a veterans long-term home in Ottawa. Now I ask, how is that okay? How is this appropriate treatment for a Canadian hero?

Our veterans deserve our help. They heroically stood for Canada and for Canadians, and now we need to stand with them, no exceptions.

What has brought us to this point? How is it that even after the implementation of the new veterans charter in 2006, we still have veterans falling through the cracks?

The Minister of Veterans Affairs tabled Bill C-55, Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act on November 17. The legislation consolidated several smaller announcements the minister made the previous fall, and it would make further minor changes to the new veterans charter, as called for by several veterans organizations including the Royal Canadian Legion.

Bill C-55 also proposes to introduce changes to the administration of the lump sum disability award, something we have heard a lot about at the committee level. Specifically, Bill C-55 would amend parts 1 to 3 of the new veterans charter, as well part IV of the Pension Act.

Despite all of this, on behalf of the veterans and in concert with many of my colleagues on this side of the House, I must ask why the government waited four years to propose any change to the new veterans charter.

Conservatives have suggested that the veterans charter is a living document or, as they call it, a work in progress that would be continually adapted to meet the changing needs of veterans, but I see very little evidence of this. How can they say this with a straight face when so many of our veterans have been left out of the government's plan?

Some on the other side of the House might say that I am being unfair with my criticism and so, as an example, I would ask why Veterans Affairs Canada did not live up to its 2006 commitment to review lump sum awards versus disability pension within two years. It would have saved an enormous amount of anguish for an awful lot of people if that had already been done, as was required in the original charter. I do not think it is an unfair question. It is a fair one that deserves an answer.

The former veterans ombudsman explained to the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs that such examples of lack of timely action undermine the sincerity of the chorus of loyalty to our veterans. With this in mind, Liberals have no intention of holding up this bill. We will work in the best interests of veterans and Canadian Forces members and, most importantly, to ensure that this bill rightfully addresses their needs.

However, to do this effectively, we are going to have to move fast. Canada, unfortunately, is now facing the possibility of an election. Again, when will the government get serious about the passage of Bill C-55 and its extra support for veterans? It will not happen if there is another election.

There is no real doubt that change is needed. A study by the minister's own department found that 31% of veterans are unhappy with what they are currently receiving. Yet, rather than making the necessary changes immediately, the government opted for a lesser approach. It simply divided the payment up differently.

Rather than fix the underlying problem, the government is proposing to permit the recipient to collect a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years or as a single lump payment. This is nothing more than bean counting and does very little to actually address the challenges already being identified by Canada's veterans.

I must point out that the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the overall amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. In Australia, service members receive about $325,000 and service members from the U.K. receive almost $1 million.

On a personal note, I would agree with the legion when it suggests that Canadian veterans have every right to expect at least what their civilian counterparts might expect to receive. I would even go one step further. Perhaps Canadian veterans should expect even more given what they have done for us.

This is but one example of what is lacking with the government. Whether we are talking about the government's lack of action on the agent orange file, the atomic veterans' concerns or the matter of PTSD most recently raised by the committee, the government has consistently failed to take a proactive approach to supporting veterans.

As I have also raised, the government has turned a blind eye to the changing demographics associated with our veterans. Canada's first contingents of regular Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in January 2002. Since then, thousands of our young men and women have served in what has been some of the most horrific and trying battle conditions seen in years.

In addition to the actual loss of life, Canada's newest returning heroes are facing a host of medical and psychological challenges: PTSD, heightened rates of suicide, marital breakdown, homelessness and even, according to some studies, higher rates of diseases such as ALS.

This is the new reality faced by Canadian veterans and as the former critic for Veterans Affairs, as the vice-chair of the veterans committee today and as an MP who thinks our war heroes deserve better, I am here to say that I think the government is simply not doing enough. The government has been quick to deploy and keen to arm, but very slow and lethargic to prepare for the human consequences of its actions and policies.

Liberals will be supporting Bill C-55. We look forward to it going to committee, an opportunity to try to improve a bill that does some things but clearly does not do enough.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to compliment the member as the champion in Parliament for pension reform in the special debate she had on November 23. I want to use my comment time to emphasize the point that for the reservist veterans there is a technical point where they fall through the crack. Whereas other public servants and Canadian Forces people working full time have to work six months to get the pension, reservists very seldom work longer than six months at a shot. They serve for two or three months, then they go back to their job and so they do not get any pensionable time. Most, if not all, reservists are being robbed of pensions that they rightfully should have for their great defence of our country. I hope the member would support me in trying to get that changed, maybe down to two months' service at least, so that reservists could get the pensions that all other service people get.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member as someone who has done an amazing amount of work when it comes to representing his constituents.

When we get into the area of pensions there are many inequities. He raised one particular area when it comes to the reservists that needs to be reviewed and some of these things need to be corrected.

I recently put out a white paper with 27 recommendations on a variety of things that need to change to bring ourselves into the 21st century and to ensure that we are treating people fairly. Reservists give us an awful lot and ask for very little back. The least we should be able to do is ensure that they have access to some pensionable earnings.