Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, of this committee of enormous significance to so many people. Thank you for having the patience of inviting an older vet, a retired general who is busy at times on the other side of this Hill.
I am here very much to speak as a veteran, as a retired general officer, and a bit in my duties as a senator.
In so doing if I may I wish to give a bit of history. I'll go a little further than CNN history, though—which is last week—and then bring you into certain points that I would like to raise. Hopefully I will not overstep the bounds of how long I should speak, although brevity is not the strength of retired generals, so I'll work on that.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am appearing before you as a veteran to raise some issues surrounding the New Veterans Charter. I will provide you with some background and also put into perspective this charter you are studying in detail.
I congratulate you for undertaking this study and for taking the time to hear from many witnesses. When he appeared before your committee, the minister instructed you, I think, not to go on the ground, not to meet with veterans and their families in their communities. That decision should have perhaps been reconsidered, although we are often told that this type of initiative is expensive and time consuming.
As they say, once a veteran, always a veteran. For us, this is not a matter of time—on the contrary. It is a matter of having our needs met.
I would like to give this brief intro in the sense of telling you about this charter and some of its genesis. I know in reading the blues that General Semianiw gave you an extensive presentation on how it came about.
I wish only to bring out a couple of points on its genesis. The first point is that the charter did not appear because all of a sudden a bunch of bureaucrats decided that it was a way of solving a problem. The charter came about because of a fundamental need that was articulated by a multidisciplinary committee created originally by Admiral Murray, who was a deputy minister at the turn of the century, about 2000; and under the chairmanship of Dr. Neary, who wrote an extensive book on the 1943 original charter.
The multidisciplinary committee was advising the deputy minister and of course by extension, the minister, on the problematics of trying to apply the new Pension Act to a new generation of veterans. In so doing there were problems in its application, but also problems in being able to meet the demands of these young people versus the octogenarians whom the department had been more focused on.
So we were looking at a radical shifting of a government department into an area that they hadn't touched since 1940, 1950, where at that time the bulk of the veterans were 18, 19, 20, 23-year-olds, and of that age. That in itself was a significant trauma.
So that multidisciplinary team from different government departments, of different players, and also stakeholders provided significant input and produced the report called the Neary report in March of 2004.
I was able to participate in that as the representative of the ex-Canadian Forces veterans as we were articulating the gang since the end of the Cold War, and with Dr. Neary presented it here in this building in March of 2004 for consumption by the department, by veterans, and in support of reform.
The result of that was not necessarily what the Neary report was providing but was a sort of amalgam, a mixture of both some of the elements of the Neary report and extensive internal reviews and reorganizations being done by the department itself as it tried to cope with the problems and was looking at how to handle this influx since the early 1990s of a new generation of veterans.
What ended up, of course, is this bill. I am the one who squired it through the Senate, Bill C-45. I was three weeks on the job, but that was longer than the amount of time we spent studying it, which was 24 hours, and in so doing, the charter is an essential document of our time but it had a very significant caveat to it. It had to be a living document because we knew that we didn't have all the parameters of what the needs of the new generation of veterans would require, and also the needs of their families, which was instrumental in the argumentation behind the Neary report. You were not just now deploying members of the forces, you were essentially deploying their families also.
A quick anecdote is when I came back from Rwanda 20 years ago, my mother-in-law, who was still alive at the time, said she would have never survived World War II if she had had to go through what my family went through. My father-in-law commanded an infantry regiment in World War II. The whole country was at war. Information technology was very limited, but also censorship kept people pretty well away and separated from the actual war, from the conflict area, and so they knew very little.
However, with the revolution of communications that's been going on, and the ability of getting real-time reports, what we see now is the families continuously clicking on different channels as they are looking for what channel is going to report first who has been killed, injured, taken prisoner, or whatever, and so by the time we come back from those missions, we see a family who has also lived the missions. The families are now living the missions with the members. It is not a separated exercise. It is a marriage.
It's a communion between the two, and so any policy that doesn't reflect that communion is a policy that will have a fundamental flaw in it, and the fundamental flaw is you can't help the member and let the families be taken care of by somebody else, by another body, and hopefully they might even have a priority in their support. That dimension, which was supposed to be intrinsic in what we were hoping the legislation would be, is not there. You have a hard time finding “family” in this legislation.
However, with the legislation, it did give the government that came into power in January 2006 the ability to implement a whole new generation of tools that it felt was going to meet the requirement as per what the legislation was calling for. Just as a side point, both Dr. Neary and I were brought into P.E.I. three months before the legislation was presented, and we were informed about a series of recommendations on how the legislation would be changing things.
A number of those had absolutely nothing to do with what we had done before. The lump sum solution was never, ever raised in all the deliberations of the multidisciplinary committee that was advising the deputy minister, and there were a number of these things that were thrown in there that caught us by surprise, but we never got a chance to amend, to debate, to discuss, because it was too far down the road, and so it was simply implemented, but the caveat, which I come back to, was that it is a living document and the minister would be able to work with it.
Over the last years, we have seen one major intervention, which is Bill C-55.
I say “major” because it's the only one in significance as legislation—but it is not major, it's sort of that big to the demand. Even in that, there were elements of the legislation that the minister could have, by convincing his Treasury Board colleagues, implemented without having to go to legislation. But there are a few elements of legislation, which is the second component that I wish to mention about this charter.
We had recommended strongly that this charter has got to give power to the minister to amend the programs, to amend the directives, to not be hamstrung by enormous scales and volumes of regulations that require legislation. The aim was, as a living document, to give that minister, as long as he convinced his buddies at Treasury Board for the financial requirement and it was not offending any other act, the ability to get in there and change things in order to meet in a timely fashion the demands of the troops and their families. This legislation does not give him or her that much leeway. On the contrary, due to the scale of regulations in there, it is quite restrictive on the minister, which makes it very difficult for him or her to be able to bring about some of the changes that many committees have proposed.
You are aware that over five committees subsequently sat and hundreds of recommendations were produced. In fact, your committee, if I'm not mistaken, about a year and a half ago, if not two, looked at PTSD, or the mental health, and punched out a whole whack of these recommendations. These recommendations coming from these committees were essentially single-focused. Very few if any of those recommendations ever made it into the staffing of the bureaucracy, I'm afraid. In fact, the five leads of these committees never got a real response from the department as to their final recommendations as such. It was sort of given and then left there.
All this is to say that I'm trying to give a more strategic perspective to this document—and I am speaking here, I gather you picked up, not on the nuts and bolts of so many of the different programs and projects and directives. My strategic perspective is the fact that we absolutely need this charter amended. Not a new one, and not necessarily the Pension Act, but a charter that meets the requirement, as the requirement has evolved over the years, remembering, ladies and gentlemen, that we're covering now 25 years, 25 years more than since 2005, when it was brought in.... The whole new era of veterans started with the end of the Cold War and with the Gulf War. The Gulf War syndrome, and how we treated those people, is the perfect example of why we need a whole new set of tools as we really did not help those people. There are still walking wounded out there.
We're covering not Afghanistan alone. That's the culminating point of the last 25 years, in which the forces have been in the field, in operational theatres, hoping to come home on occasion to lick their wounds. We need that legislation to cover the full spectrum and to take care now of those forces that are back in garrison and are licking their wounds. In so doing, the scale of demand will continue to increase, not decrease—increase. The veterans of Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Somalia are hitting their 60s and 65s and 70s. There is no long-term care significantly in the new charter, so you've got to cover the full spectrum. The covenant, which we proposed in 2004, said, “We inculcate loyalty into you, that uniform comes off, but that loyalty remains for a lifetime, for we have changed you culturally, and in so doing have a responsibility thereof”.
I have spoken already too long, and I didn't want to get into nuts and bolts, but I'm more than prepared to respond as best I can, Mr. Chair, to whatever questions you may have.