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.