House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was literacy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for an amendment to this motion. I would hope that the members of the Conservative Party and all members of this House would now see that this motion should be passed.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has, as other members have mentioned, been a stalwart defender of the rights of veterans. All of us are very concerned that declining veterans benefits, declining to care properly for our veterans, is a growing national scandal.

I would love to see this amendment pass. I would ask my hon. friend who has moved this motion if he believes that, with this amendment, the motion can have the unanimous consent of this House?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the amendment is only intended to hold the government at its word.

Members opposite, including the minister, have spent some time today talking about how the cuts will not affect programs and services for veterans but that they will go forward with the cuts but do it through cuts to red tape and somehow mysteriously finding some savings.

All I want to do, and I think members in this chamber would agree, is ensure that we hold the government's feet to the fire. If it finds, through its operational strategic review, savings, it should ensure it goes directly to the programs and services for veterans so they are not affected.

Members opposite should put their money where their mouth is and get this done. We could then have a unanimous passage of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.

Canadians recognize that the RCMP is Canada's largest police force with a strength of over 20,000 members. In addition to those still serving, there are approximately 15,000 former members of the force who have commenced retirement. We should never forget that these proud men and women have served our country both domestically and internationally with distinction, whether on special assignments in traditional police functions and to protect and to serve Canadians be it at home or abroad.

How do we provide appropriate care for these officers and retired veterans of the RCMP? What is available to this group as they age and are in greater need of long-term or complex continuing care? Programs in place today allow for benefits for current and retired RCMP regular and civilian members who have sustained permanent work-related illnesses or injury. These benefits are similar to those provided under the Canadian provincial-territorial workmen's compensation regimes administered through Veterans Affairs Canada.

Since 2002, Veterans Affairs Canada has administered the RCMP's disability program that applies to all serving and retired RCMP regular and civilian members, their dependants and survivors. Through this administrative arrangement, Veterans Affairs Canada performs an initial assessment to determine if a disability can be attributed to the RCMP service. Veterans Affairs offers a form of redress for denied claims and serves to analyze applications made for subsequent disabilities and/or a deterioration of an original pension condition.

The RCMP disability pension is designed to compensate a member and/or their dependants if they become disabled or, in the extreme, a member pays the ultimate sacrifice and is killed while on duty. This financial support is in the form of a monthly, tax free, lifetime, indexed payment. Payment can also be granted for pain and suffering, as well as for the loss of life, dependent upon the mitigating circumstances.

Under normal circumstances, a single disability pensioner will receive a smaller monetary benefit than a disability pensioner with dependants. This recognizes that a disability not only affects the individual officer but the financial well-being of the entire family.

Other allowances are available for disability pensioners who require specialty clothing, an amputation or to incorporate a prosthetic limb. Aid is made available for disability pensioners who face challenges performing their daily activities and require assistance to support feeding, bathing, dressing, medication administration and various other day-to-day activities that we take for granted.

The RCMP disability pension provides a wide range of financial support as a pensioner's condition worsens or as they age, deteriorate physically or mentally. The amount of financial benefit paid varies based on the extent of the helplessness, pain, discomfort, loss of enjoyment of life and shortened life expectancy of the pensioner.

We also provide many services to disabled pensioners, including program counselling, case management and assistance referrals to name just a few. The goal is to ensure that these deserving Canadians get the assistance they need.

Basic health care for an RCMP officer is similar to provincial health care coverage and the RCMP supplemental health care is similar to extra coverage that Canadians purchase through their employer or on their own.

When an RCMP member with a work-related disability leaves the force, he or she is no longer covered by the RCMP health regime. The care for the disability condition falls to Veterans Affairs. Former regular member disability pensioners and civilian members, while serving or not, will both receive a VAC health care card indicating the type of treatment specifically tailored to each disability pensioner.

Veterans Affairs' treatment allowance benefits and services are made available to specifically address conditions for which a disability pension has been rendered. These benefits and services include: daily living aids, such as walkers, canes, et cetera, to improve mobility; ambulance services; audio or hearing devices; in- and out-patient hospital services; nursing services which are critical to their well-being; prescription drugs; related health care services, such as psychological therapy or physiotherapy; special equipment, such as bath lifts, chair lifts, et cetera; and vision care. These services are critical for disability pensioners who have left the force.

I would also like to add that the RCMP has worked closely with the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada with respect to the development of a joint network for operational stress injuries. The RCMP has collaborated with Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Forces in the establishment of sharing of access to operational stress injury clinics right across Canada. This service helps our members who have served our country domestically and internationally.

To clarify what an operational stress injury is exactly, I will provide the definition that an operational stress injury is any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from service related duties performed by a Canadian Forces member or occupational duties for an RCMP member. This includes, but is not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety disorders.

This co-operation allows the RCMP members to receive care from these very specialized clinics. We are taking care of our people and recognize the impact their duty to their country can have on their well-being.

The RCMP also recognizes that our police officers need additional support when facing personal challenges. Daily, police officers face stressful situations and often see horrific sights. The RCMP has a proactive peer-based employee assistance program. They are a group of trained employees who assist fellow RCMP officers and their families during difficult and stressful times. The RCMP family also takes care of its own when they have passed on by providing some financial support for costs associated with members' funerals.

As an organization, the RCMP continues to review its programs and practices while working closely with Veterans Affairs Canada to ensure that our employees and disability pensioners receive appropriate care.

I thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to outline how the RCMP and Veterans Affairs Canada work together to provide care for disability pensioners of our national police force.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 5th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, our international allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, have made a clear commitment to protect veterans against cuts to programs and services in any governmental strategic reviews. Will this Conservative government do the same, yes or no?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the member's question in this way.

We currently are finding savings within the administration of all of the Government of Canada, including every department, including Veterans Affairs.

We are not cutting back on actual services as the opposition infers. As a matter of fact, in one of our budgets, we committed the largest lump sum commitment to veterans services in recent memory. I believe the amount is in the area of $2 billion, or in excess of $2 billion. We did that because our veterans deserve no less. We will continue as a government to provide those kinds of services that our veterans of the Canadian armed forces and the RCMP deserve.

For the member and his cohorts to get up and suggest that we are cutting back is somewhat less than factual.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, veterans across the country want real change. One veteran told me that because the compensatory reward was initially withheld, he ended up homeless.

Here are a few more comments from our country's extraordinary heroes in their desperation: “We're all suffering and we need help. It's not only the guys we lose overseas, it's the guys we lose here to suicide. They might as well have died overseas. We've all contemplated it; the thoughts are relentless. When I contemplate suicide, it is relief. It means stopping the pain. No more fights. Telling me my appointment is in one month when I've got two barrels loaded doesn't really do a damn thing, does it?”

Does the hon. member think our veterans need more services and more supports, not less, or a reduction in red tape?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked me questions before. We are not cutting back on services to veterans as previous Liberal governments did.

However, let me say something about issues surrounding mental health of people who gave their all for this country. We have opened up in the Canadian armed forces special clinics right across this country. We have increased the services for those members and their families who suffer from the stress of separation and the stress of having a member back in their midst, a loved one. Our hearts go out to them. We have brought in special programming, and I mentioned it with regard to the RCMP, specifically designed to treat veterans who are experiencing these problems and more so to have their peers and their supervisors see when their mental health is brought into question before they themselves may even realize it.

We are not cutting back, nor have we cut back, on those services. As I have just said, we have increased those services.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his speech on the RCMP. My grandfather, George Harris, had the honour and pleasure of being part of the RCMP's musical ride when he served many years ago. Like many other family members, they received services from Veterans Affairs and were well taken care of by Canada. I am proud as a Canadian to say that we did that.

My question for the member is, if there are no cutbacks coming, then why the harm in supporting the motion?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, having served 30 years in a deployed police force, I can appreciate the member's family connection to the RCMP and his appreciation for police officers.

People ask why not support this and why not support that. As I have said before, we are going to find ways to improve efficiency right across the breadth of this government, as Canadians expect us to, and that includes every department, including Veterans Affairs.

As the minister stated and as member after member of the government has stated, we are not going to cut back services to veterans. As a matter of fact, we have done just the opposite.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate for several reasons. The motion before us involves an issue of particular importance since it concerns the fate of Canadian Forces veterans and former members of the RCMP. The motion provides us with the opportunity to discuss a subject that our government takes very seriously. It also allows us to illustrate the measures already in place that ensure the well-being of those brave men and women who wear a uniform.

By tabling the motion, the member is implying that our government has been neglecting our responsibilities with respect to our veterans and their families. Nothing is further from the truth. Many other members of our government have talked about the wide array of programs and supports available to veterans and how we continue to increase spending in this area, but so far, no one has touched on the issue of mental health support. I would like to focus my remarks on this topic as I feel it is the area in which we have provided exceptional programs and services to Canada's veterans.

Veterans Affairs Canada, in collaboration with the Department of National Defence, has created a network of 17 mental health clinics across the country to offer specialized services to veterans, and Canadian Forces and RCMP members suffering from operational stress injuries caused by their service. There are currently ten such clinics administered by Veterans Affairs Canada, nine of which are out-patient clinics located in Fredericton, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The tenth is the Residential Treatment Clinic for Operational Stress Injuries at Ste. Anne’s Hospital. I will take a moment to talk about how these operational stress injuries, OSI, clinics work.

While continuing to live in their communities, veterans attend appointments at the OSI clinics. They are offered a clinical assessment and a variety of treatment options, including individual therapy, group sessions, psycho-educational sessions, and other resources. The clinics' teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and other specialized clinicians who understand the experiences and needs of veterans. Loved ones can be involved in the treatment and eligible family members can also receive services. Treatment approaches in OSI clinics are based on best practices and are tailored to meet each client's needs. The team works closely with other health care or community organizations to ensure appropriate follow-up as needed. A referral to other centres may be part of the treatment process depending on the needs of the client. When there are difficulties with addiction or substance abuse, these centres provide specialized treatment.

Telehealth services help ensure that veterans are provided with easier access to emotional support when they need it. Coast to coast support is available to help these brave men and women overcome challenges of complex mental health injuries.

I know the Canadian Forces offers similar support as well through its seven operational trauma and stress support centres.

These new services significantly enhanced the country's support to veterans and their families living with mental health conditions. Today there are more services and programs available than ever before to support them. There are also more front-line health specialists than ever before to ensure the support is effective.

Integrated personnel support centres located on 24 bases and wings give staff from Veterans Affairs Canada and DND the opportunity to offer early intervention and support. Working side by side, the front-line employees from Veterans Affairs Canada and DND develop personalized case plans for each individual veteran to support his or her re-establishment into civilian life.

The two organizations have also created a very successful peer support network called the operational stress injury social support program. Specially trained peer support coordinators who have first-hand experience with operational stress injuries and the loss of loved ones provide vital personal support to Canadian Forces members, veterans and their families.

For those in distress, assistance is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the VAC assistance service line. Veterans and their families can access counselling and referral services, including support for mental and emotional health concerns. In addition, more than 4,000 community mental health providers are registered to provide care, support and professional counselling services in veterans' communities.

There are over 200 clinical care managers registered across the country who are dedicated to providing intensive support, daily if required, to veterans with complex needs. There are health professionals, such as occupational therapists and mental health nurses, who build strong support relationships with veterans and their families. They help them follow through on their case treatment plans, help them link to the community resources they may need and connect them with health professionals who can help them and their families with recovery.

Nearly 15,000 veterans suffering from mental health problems receive some form of assistance or support from the department. Our government takes it very seriously. I want to assure veterans and all members of the chamber that we are fully aware of the importance of our responsibility in this regard. We are not neglecting our duty to these brave men and women. Their dedication throughout this country is a constant reminder that our government, in turn, must serve them with equal devotion.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us look at the situation as it currently stands. This government has increased costly tax measures, sometimes by tens and sometimes by hundreds of millions of dollars, for a total of billions of dollars. And that does not include cuts to the GST and corporate taxes. In total, tens of billions of dollars in taxpayers' money is wasted every year, which allows this government to create one artificial crisis after another. The treatment of veterans is an artificial crisis created by this government.

Considering the delays in processing veterans' claims and considering the current system's many shortcomings, will my colleague not vote with us to defend maintaining the current budget at least, if not possibly even increasing it? At the very least, the current budget needs to be maintained in order to avoid cuts.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to repeat what was said in the House many times before. There will be no cuts to services provided for veterans. This government has been increasing the quality of services for veterans. The hon. member may remember that the greatest cuts of services for veterans occurred in 1995 by the previous government. Some of those services were fully restored. Some are being restored by this government. We have been dedicated to providing and enhancing services for veterans. This is what we are doing now.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, for his remarks and interest on the mental health of veterans.

He rightly pointed out that there are 17 occupational stress injury clinics across the country. My question for the hon. member is this. Should we be satisfied with that? Is that enough? Is the problem of mental health within the veterans community fully and adequately served at that level?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is very simple. As to whether there is room for improvement, there is always room for improvement. The Minister of Veterans Affairs stated many times that the goal of this government is to improve services for veterans. Of course, there is room for improvement. We are working to improve services, provide more services and continue to provide more and better services to our great men and women in uniform who serve this country.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for Mississauga East—Cooksville, who came to Canada from Poland, for his excellent speech and for pointing out how important it is to help our veterans who have mental health issues. For that reason, we have 17 clinics that serve 15,000 veterans and their family members. As the member said, we must continue to improve.

Have the veterans in his riding asked him if we should continue to improve our services, especially by reducing red tape? Should we stop burdening our veterans with a bureaucracy that draws out processing times and makes its procedures unwieldy? Have veterans in his riding asked him to cut down on bureaucracy and red tape in order to improve services?

I would also like to thank him for supporting our programs, such as the helmets to hard hats program. Unfortunately, we were not able to count on the support of the NDP. However, I would like to thank the member who supported our veterans.