Former Canadian Forces Members Act

An Act respecting former Canadian Forces members

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Tarik Brahmi  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of May 28, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Governor in Council to make regulations under the Department of Veterans Affairs Act to extend the health care benefits authorized by the regulations made under that Act to the former members of the Canadian Forces who meet Military Occupational Classification requirements and have been honourably discharged.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 28, 2014 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

May 16th, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking today in support of this bill, which would provide additional and much-needed support to Canada's veterans.

These men and women risked their lives to serve their country. The pride they feel will last forever, but the psychological and physical scars that many of bear will also last a long time. It is crucial that their government provide them with long-term care.

I am very proud to support Bill C-568 concerning long-term care for veterans. It is the very least we can do to thank them for their sacrifices.

With the end of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, many soldiers came home thinking they could finally put down their weapons and stop fighting. Unfortunately, they now have to fight government officials to get the services and support they deserve.

Veterans who fought in wars that took place before 1953 were given access to the long-term care that was promised to them by the government of the time. They have access to reserved beds, beds in community care facilities and dedicated departmental contract beds.

Veterans who fought in Cyprus, Bosnia, Afghanistan and all the other modern-day veterans are being told by Veterans Affairs Canada that they are not in the right category to benefit from these services. Modern-day veterans have access only to community beds and have no seniority. They have to use the normal selection process.

However, the number of wartime veterans keeps dropping and will drop by half in 2016. What is more, there are empty beds reserved for veterans.

Parkwood Hospital has 37 empty beds, but Vice-President Elaine Gibson says that:

The legislation prevents us from admitting patients that do not meet the criteria. They need to have served in World War One, Two or the Korean War. If the rules were different, we would be there to serve our veterans.

Veterans are victims of bureaucracy and the Conservative government's unwillingness to listen or to help veterans.

Not only have the Conservatives not tried to address this problem and give modern-day veterans access to the beds, but they also decided that the few services these veterans were already receiving were too many.

They did not listen to the NDP and follow the example of the United States, Great Britain and Australia by sparing Veterans Affairs from budget cuts. They cut $226 million and 800 positions from Veterans Affairs Canada.

If we compare that to the fact that the current cost of providing long-term care to 8,500 veterans is $284 million, and the average age of those veterans is 87, then we quickly realize that the current generation of veterans have cause for concern.

While the country was shocked to learn of the wave of suicides among veterans, the Conservatives closed eight Veterans Affairs regional offices that were providing help with mental health problems, responding to crises and helping older veterans live independently.

It is clear that the Conservatives very much like the army, but do not care much about the soldiers.

When a group of veterans who were concerned about the closure of these offices came to Ottawa to meet with the minister, he did not even show up. That is indicative of the government's lack of respect for our veterans.

Let us get back to Bill C-568. If my colleague's bill passes, it will set things right with respect to veterans' health care.

This bill would eliminate the unfair distinction made between pre-1953 and post-1953 veterans. All men and women who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces deserve the same respect and must be entitled to long-term health care funded by the government.

Therefore, it is essential that the Department of Veterans Affairs Act be amended to extend health care benefits, treatment and other benefits to all former members of the Canadian Armed Forces who meet the military occupational classification requirements. What Bill C-568 proposes would remedy one of the main inconsistencies and give modern-day veterans access to reserved beds.

The government must also work with the NDP and veterans' organizations to streamline Veterans Affairs Canada's eligibility criteria. These rules make the process for obtaining veterans' benefits very complicated and sometimes put the benefits out of reach.

The government must reverse its decision to close eight regional Veterans Affairs offices which, as I have already mentioned, provide essential assistance to veterans. It must also abolish the unfair clawback of the pensions of veterans and former RCMP members to comply with the ruling in the Manuge case.

The government must also improve, review and update the new veterans charter, including the lump sum payment to injured members. It must apply the principle of the same standard for all veterans to all federal programs and services.

I firmly believe that the government must expand the veterans independence program to all veterans and RCMP members, their widows and widowers.

Finally, the government has an obligation to provide better support for veterans suffering from post-traumatic conditions or operational stress injuries and their families.

Let us come back to the bill before us today. In his report on long-term care, the Veterans Ombudsman said:

The very existence of so many distinct eligibility categories and the associated challenges entailed in establishing a Veteran's eligibility...has been and remains a source of contention for both clients and...employees of Veterans Affairs Canada.

It is absolutely essential to follow up on the ombudsman's report on veterans' long-term care needs and put an end to these categories, which exclude modern-day veterans. With the rules as they now stand, it is like we are telling them that their sacrifices are not worth as much as those of their parents or grandparents.

Fortunately, Canadians do not see things that way. A total of 83% of Canadians believe it is important to support members of the Canadian Forces after they have completed their service. However, only 34% of Canadians say that they are proud of how our veterans are treated today.

By making cuts to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Conservatives have clearly demonstrated that they are not listening to Canadians.

I would like to close by reiterating that I support the bill. All of our country's veterans served our country with the same courage and distinction, and they all deserve to receive the care and services they need. The NDP believes that they all have the same rights and that they must all have access to long-term care. The amendment proposed in Bill C-568 would ensure that they are given that right by reserving beds for Canadian Forces members who served after 1953.

Branch 185 of the Royal Canadian Legion is located in my riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. When I went to visit and talk to these people, I was able to see first-hand the difficulties they are experiencing as a result of the lack of services available to them.

Today, I am proud to support the bill on behalf of the veterans in my riding, as well as on behalf of thousands of Canadians and veterans in ridings all across the country.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

May 16th, 2014 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to support Bill C-568, introduced by my colleague from Saint-Jean. It is a simple bill, but an important one.

With power comes responsibility. Canada is fortunate to have a military force whose personnel make us proud. Their work within our borders and abroad is one of constant dedication and a continuous source of pride. Canada is recognized as a meaningful contributor to numerous missions abroad, both in peacetime and in times of conflict.

In my riding, I am proud to have a number of Legions whose members remain vigilant in helping our community to commemorate our history. Our history forms a significant part of our collective memory and serves to inform those who have made Canada their home.

Serving as military personnel is a task fraught with many on-the-job risks. Post-traumatic stress disorder is increasingly being recognized as a widespread effect of protracted combat operations. The long-term mental health of Canadian troops is coming to bear as an issue requiring a more in-depth response from the government in much the same way as a loss of a limb or an injury of the flesh.

We here in the House—the government and all members of the House—must take up our responsibilities. When Canadian men and women choose to serve in our Canadian Armed Forces, they do so at the risk of paying the ultimate price. For that reason, they need to know that we are behind them. They need to know that if they are wounded in our service, we are behind them. They need to know that we will provide the care that is needed when it is needed and that we will make sure their particular needs are addressed. It is a part of the social contract, a moral obligation that the state has toward its men and women in military service.

Since the Great War and the Second World War, Canadians have remained active in deployments abroad, most recently in Afghanistan, but surely we remember our contributions to Bosnia, Cyprus, and other missions around the world. Our soldiers go where our leadership tells them, and they bear the scars to prove it—and there are scars. There has been loss of life and limb. There has been injury to body and mind. Their particular roles in these missions are reflected in their particular needs in the health care system when their work is done and they return to Canada, their home. These are Canadian veterans, and we should be treating them as such.

Canada's recent veterans' needs are great. They need a greater priority. They need greater priority access to long-term health care funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The government needs to acknowledge its responsibility.

Those eligible Canadians who served before 1953 have earned their access to long-term medical supervision, contract beds in hospitals for acute care, and nursing services. It is written in the veterans' health care regulations, and so it should be. However, to be a Canadian veteran does not stop as of 1953, so what of those men and women post-1953?

For those Canadians who served after 1953, the health care picture is not so rosy. They can access community beds, but these are part of the general pool of beds available to all Canadians in need of a particular type of medical care, so there are no priorities made. To be fair, in Quebec we do have a federal long-term care institution, but shortly Veterans Affairs will be transferring it to the province, which means those beds will not be available for modern-day veterans.

Our veterans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of when they served our country.

The government must support long-term health care for modern-day veterans, as it has for those who served before 1953. This should be an inherent understanding and obligation on the part of any democratic government that sends young men and women into harm's way for the country's ideals.

The Veterans Ombudsman agrees, so much so that he released a report on the matter. It is called “Veterans' Long-Term Care Needs: a Review of the Support Provided by Veterans Affairs Canada through its Long-Term Care Program”. It is pretty clear, as far as titles go. I hope the government has read it, because it sure has not followed it.

The government should improve support of veterans suffering from PTSD. The government should reverse its decision on the closure of eight Veterans Affairs offices, and the government should extend the veterans independence program to all veterans, to their spouses, and to the members of the RCMP.

Veterans and their families should be cared for so that they have one less thing to think about while they are running their missions. They are Canadian citizens, first and foremost. It is not an issue that they should be moved to the head of the line, but rather should be afforded the care and respect they are due.

They are our veterans. Our veterans deserve more than service reductions. They deserve more than budget cuts. They put their lives on the line for Canadians. The least that Canada's government can do is ensure they did it for a reason.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

May 16th, 2014 / 2 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the arguments that government members made against Bill C-568. I would remind members that one of the objectives of this bill is to give veterans priority access to beds in community facilities, which make up two-thirds of the 9,000 beds currently occupied.

The Conservatives' main concern is that this will create unnecessary red tape. I do not understand this argument, since the government actually would rather avoid paying a bill that it could pass along to the provinces. This bill would not do away with the categories of veterans for all of the regulations. It would only do so for part III of the Veterans Health Care Regulations, which has to do with long-term health care.

Giving veterans priority access to beds will not create red tape. It will certainly cost some more money, but our veterans deserve to have all of us share the costs of the consequences of the missions we sent them on.

We are simply asking the federal government to change its model of classes of veterans and implement a system in which those who served before and after 1953 have access to the same quality care. Today we have to make a decision about access to beds for the veterans we are so proud of.

We know that there are already two problems with beds in community facilities: wait lists and staff turnover, which is directly related to the orderlies' wages. With the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital transfer, the orderlies' salaries will decrease by 15% to 34%. How can we avoid staff turnover with these kinds of wage cuts?

We often talk about two categories of modern veterans: those who served before 1953 and those who served after. In fact, there are two subcategories of modern veterans: those who served before and those who served after the new veterans charter took effect on April 1, 2006.

I would like to talk about how modern veterans are not being given the benefit of the doubt. If a traditional veteran has a service-related injury, there is automatically a presumption that there is a connection between that veteran's service and the need for long-term care. However, modern veterans—even if they received a disability pension before 2006 or a disability award after 2006—have to prove that there is a connection between their service and the need for long-term care. That is impossible, in practical terms.

It is impossible because, at a certain age, it is no longer realistic to be able to make a distinction between the natural consequences of aging and the consequences directly related to military service, even if the needs are legitimately related to the veteran's service. New Zealand veterans were facing the same unfair situation, so the government created a single category for veterans once they turn 75.

The new veterans charter was passed in 2006 with the promise that it would be a living document. During consultations about my bill, I heard veterans complain about some of the new provisions. One of the most striking examples that was brought to my attention was the fact that before the new charter, injured veterans received a disability pension. Now that the new charter has been implemented, they receive a lump sum payment that works out to far less money.

In conclusion, I would like the government and the Conservative members to remember that voting against Bill C-568 will neither address the problem of long-term health care for veterans nor make it go away.

On the contrary, as the Canadian population in general ages over the coming decades, there will be even more pressure on health care systems, which the provinces are responsible for. The shortage of long-term beds for veterans will get even worse, and that is something we will have to talk about again someday.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

moved that Bill C-568, An Act respecting former Canadian Forces members, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak at second reading to present the content of Bill C-568. I am proud to sponsor a bill that is designed to offer long-term care to our veterans who have been honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces. Note as well that this bill pertains only to Canadian Forces members and is not designed to offer benefits to members of their family or to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

When this bill was introduced on January 28, 2014, I commented on the fact that too many of our young heroes, particularly those who served in the hell that was Afghanistan, came home physically and psychologically broken, and too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

While it is true that our military personnel who served in Afghanistan faced the most extreme situations possible for someone who has chosen to serve in the profession of arms, the fact remains that Canadian soldiers who have served in peacekeeping roles since 1953 have put their lives in danger to protect civilians under threat of attack.

Whether in Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Cyprus, the Golan Heights in Syria, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, East Timor, Ethiopia or Eritrea, Canadian soldiers have stepped up to help those who had no one else to protect them from human folly.

It must be understood that this bill does not amend existing legislation such as the Department of Veterans Affairs Act. Instead, it is designed to create a new law that would require the government to amend an existing regulation, namely the Veterans Health Care Regulations, so that former Canadian Forces members who meet the military occupational classification requirements and who have been released from the Canadian Forces with an honourable discharge are entitled to the long-term health care benefits authorized by those regulations.

In the second hour of debate, I will have the opportunity to go into more detail on these regulations. Now, I will simply say that these regulations govern all types of care to which veterans are entitled.

To understand why the NDP thinks we must now reform the Veterans Affairs Canada classification system, I need to give a little history. The federal government decided to stop funding long-term health care after the death of the last Second World War and Korean War veterans, except in special cases. Veterans classified as modern-day veterans, meaning those who served after 1953, are not eligible for the federal health care program, pursuant to the Veterans Health Care Regulations. That is shameful.

The reality today is that the oldest veterans who served just after 1953 were born in the 1930s, and sometimes even in the 1920s, and they are now over 80 years old. Some are starting to require long-term care.

The federal government, through Veterans Affairs Canada, already had about 40 hospital facilities across Canada. However, since Veterans Affairs Canada transferred the last federal hospital, Ste. Anne's Hospital, to the Province of Quebec in 2013, there are no longer any federal facilities dedicated to long-term care for our veterans.

As a result, all of the institutions that provide care to veterans are now under provincial jurisdiction, and veterans are faced with delays and overcrowding, which we can expect to see for years to come.

We are urging the federal government to change its classification system for veterans and to create a system in which those who served after 1953 will have access to the same quality care as their predecessors.

I would like to read from testimony given by Guy Parent during one of his appearances before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding the complexity of health care eligibility criteria. He said:

The complexity currently built into the program's criteria and processes creates an overarching barrier to program accessibility. Over the years, veterans have been categorized by where, when, and how they served, which explains why there are 18 veteran client groups used by Veterans Affairs Canada. Since sailors, soldiers, airmen, and airwomen, as well as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, do not question where and when they must serve, for Veterans Affairs Canada to determine that the level of programs and services provided will be based on the type of service rendered is an injustice of the first order.

That statement is completely logical and irrefutable. Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman added:

Access to benefits should be determined by injuries and illnesses related to service, and should be the same for all veterans, regardless of the nature or the location of their service. Categorization has led to the fact that even within the veterans community there are those who do not consider themselves veterans when compared to our war veterans. My office has chosen to adopt the theme of “one veteran” for the duration of my mandate. We do not provide consideration to veterans based on when and where they served but recognize them based on the fact that they served honourably.

That is what we really need to understand about the spirit of this bill.

As we just heard, the rules for access to long-term care are not easy to understand. Access to three different levels of long-term care—adult residential care, intermediate care and chronic care—and two types of beds—contract beds and community beds—has become so complex for veterans, who have to meet different criteria for eligibility and access, that it is getting harder and harder for them to figure out where they fit.

“Community beds” are beds that are not specifically designated and funded for veterans, and thus there is no priority access to them. Placement in an institution is determined mainly by health care needs, as is the case for any other resident of a province.

One of the objectives of this bill is to give eligible veterans priority access to community beds—which currently represent two-thirds of the 9,000 beds occupied—based on certain criteria, for example, service overseas.

The Conservatives repeatedly say that they are there to support out veterans. However, the reality is that they are also often criticized for their lack of support for veterans. That is the case for the Conservatives; that has also been the case for the Liberals.

With respect to veterans services, if we look back in time, we can say that Jean Chrétien's Liberal government was the first to cut veterans' funeral benefits. In 1995, the Liberals reduced the amount the survivor could deduct from the estate from $24,000 to $12,015. Members will recall that, when the Liberals were in power, they reduced funding for Veterans Affairs for five consecutive years.

This bill is an excellent opportunity for Liberal members to send veterans the positive message that they do not want to repeat the errors of the past and that they are willing to help them, instead.

When a member introduces a private member's bill, we obviously need to talk about how much it will cost to implement that bill. We therefore need to look at how much it will cost to implement a quality long-term care program for all Canadian veterans.

We must consider that the existing program helps approximately 8,500 veterans, whose average age is 87, and costs $284 million a year. The rate of service use is 9% for World War II veterans and 2.74% for Korean War veterans.

If we take into consideration the different rates of service use for the 594,500 modern-day veterans, whose average age is 55, the cost would be $175 million per year for a usage rate of 1%, $350 million per year for a usage rate of 2% and $480 million per year for a usage rate of 2.74%.

In my opinion, this additional cost of approximately $500 million per year is completely reasonable given the enormous sacrifice a great country like Canada asks of its veterans.

In closing, for the various reasons I gave earlier, I am asking all members to support our modern-day veterans by supporting Bill C-568 at second reading so that it can be sent to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for review.

It is time to take care of an issue that is becoming more and more pressing as the Canadian population ages. Ensuring that quality long-term health care is available to all of our veterans—particularly the cohort of 40,000 soldiers who served in Afghanistan and could find themselves in a critical situation in a few years—is part of planning for the future. I will stop there, and I welcome questions from my colleagues.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Brampton—Springdale Ontario

Conservative

Parm Gill ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like thank my colleague on the other side for his very passionate speech and his concerns about veterans. We all care very much about our men and women who have served in uniform, and the freedom that we so dearly enjoy.

I was a bit puzzled listening to his speech. I was trying to figure out what the real intentions are of this particular PMB. I was puzzled because I could not really figure out why the NDP, over the years, has voted against every single initiative we have brought forward to help Canada's veterans, including the latest in this year's economic action plan 2014. Since we took office, we have introduced roughly 10 budgets.

I wonder if the member opposite can explain why the opposition and NDP members have voted against virtually every single initiative we have brought forward to help Canada's veterans.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives keep asking us the same question. They want to know why we voted against some good measures when we vote on a budget.

The parliamentary secretary knows full well that a budget is a set of measures that address a host of different issues. That is especially true when a government systematically introduces omnibus bills that include all manner of things that are absolutely unrelated.

The government makes it impossible for us to accept most of the measures proposed in the budget, so we vote against it. Then the Conservatives only point out that we voted against certain measures that might be worthwhile. It is not right to ask that question.

The NDP has always supported our veterans. To say that we voted against a budget is not a valid argument, since a budget is much more complex than a single measure.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, you have heard members from the NDP and the Liberal Party up several times in the last number of weeks, questioning the minister about the government's real commitment to our veterans.

The member speaks of a social covenant, a sacred obligation inside the House, and yet the government is denying the existence of that covenant or obligation in its defence against a lawsuit brought by veterans through Equitas in British Columbia right now.

I am wondering if the member for Saint-Jean sees the hypocrisy in this, the government's saying one thing, that it feels it has this sacred obligation, this covenant, with our veterans to care for them, and on the other hand doing very little to honour that contract. It takes members' bills like this to fulfill that obligation.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from the Liberal Party.

Indeed, we recently saw the closure of centres that were near veterans. The government claims that the Service Canada offices across the country can handle the veterans' files, but the eight centres that were closed were client-specific. They had staff trained specifically to deal with veterans, for instance when they transition from military life to civilian life.

I do indeed see a pattern with this government that claims to be at the service of veterans, in addition to defending them. In reality, services have been reduced. The closure of the centres proves it.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Brampton—Springdale Ontario

Conservative

Parm Gill ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the chance to speak to private member's Bill C-568. I would like to begin by commending the member for Saint-Jean for his good intentions with this bill. Unfortunately, it is difficult to square Bill C-568 with the circle that is the record on that side of the House.

On June 22, 2011, the member for Saint-Jean and his party, the NDP, voted against $770 million for veterans' health care and $430 million for veterans' disability awards. On June 6, 2012, the anniversary of D-Day, the day of days, the day that so many brave Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice, that member and the NDP voted against $1.6 billion in payments under the Pension Act and nearly $750 million for veterans' health care benefits. This shameful record goes on and on.

Our government is proud to be working hard for Canada's veterans and their families. As the Minister of Veterans Affairs has indicated, our government has already invested almost $4.7 billion in new funding to improve the benefits and services we provide to veterans and their families. This is real money that we have allotted to ensure that veterans and their families have the care and support they need when they need it. We are helping thousands of veterans to get the treatment they need for operational stress injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder; we are providing comprehensive rehabilitation services for those who have suffered physical and mental illness; and we are providing the financial support and health care benefits they need. Whenever a veteran is hurting, wherever a veteran is in need, we are there ready to help.

The numbers bear this out. For example, 70% of all applications for veterans' disability benefits result in a favourable decision on the first try. The system is working. It is ensuring that veterans get the care and support they are eligible for: the treatment benefits, the home care program, and long-term care they have earned.

Bill C-568 would needlessly turn all of this upside down. It would force the government to comprehensively change the federal-provincial jurisdiction for veterans' health care by creating a parallel system. It would also commit the department to creating new bureaucracy that would needlessly cost Canadians hundreds of millions of dollars just to launch and operate. For that reason alone, our government is unable to support the bill. Rewriting the veterans' health care regulations would be a time-consuming and unnecessary process.

Moreover, a closer look at the proposed bill would make members quickly realize that there are other serious flaws with it. Among other things, the bill is based on the faulty premise that we should be creating a duplicate health care provider exclusively for veterans and solely because the member opposite wants to fix eligibility criteria that are not broken.

I will take a moment to explain how those eligibility criteria have evolved over the years. When Canadians volunteered for service in the Second World War and the Korean War, most of them were not professional soldiers. Instead, they put their real careers and lives on hold to serve our country in its hour of need. These civilian soldiers also served at a time when there was no public health care system to take care of them if they returned home wounded or ill. The Government of Canada was their only hope. So Canada continued to build veterans' hospitals and our national government developed treatment programs and provided long-term care.

I do not think I need to convince anyone that things are different today. Not only do we now have one of the best public health care systems in the world, but our men and women in uniform are different too. They are all professional soldiers. Most are career soldiers. They are highly trained. When they are released from the military, they possess the most remarkable skills to start a new career.

As retired Canadian Armed Forces personnel, most of them have enviable retirement pensions and many are able to retire much sooner than most Canadians. No one holds that against them. I think most Canadians would agree that these men and women deserve some generous consideration for their service and sacrifice toward our great nation.

What is more, our research shows that modern-day veterans are much more likely than most Canadians to have supplementary health care plans, such as the Public Service Health Care Plan. These veterans do not need a separate health care system, nor can I imagine that many of them are asking for it. They just want continued access to the provincial health care system already in place when they need it. The eligibility criteria in our veterans' health care regulations reflect this. They are written to ensure that those who need our help the most are able to get it because they have suffered an injury or illness related to their military service. These are the men, women, and families we need to be helping, and we are. Eliminating the eligibility criteria would needlessly shift Veterans Affairs Canada's efforts away from those veterans who need our help the most.

Members should consider this example. Veteran X retired from the military in his late forties before starting a second civilian career. By the time he retired for good, he might have two pensions; a Canadian Armed Forces superannuation pension and a civilian pension. It is a comfortable life. He is happy. Then one day he is injured in a car accident or a mishap on his way home. Should Veterans Affairs Canada really be expected to serve as a second health care provider for that veteran, or could his local hospital and the provincial health care system take care of him just as well? If that is a reasonable exception, where do we really draw the line?

Our government recognizes our responsibility to be there for Canada's most seriously injured veterans. We want to be there for those courageous men and women injured in service to our country. We readily accept this duty with pride and gratitude.

In short, Bill C-568 would only create unnecessary extra red tape and duplicate bureaucracy to provide veterans with the care and support already available to those who need it. For all of these reasons, we cannot support this bill.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today to speak for the first time as the Liberal critic for veterans affairs.

Over the years, as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Guelph branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, I have spent a considerable amount of time speaking with veterans, new and old, listening to their concerns, and I am certainly glad to now have the opportunity to hear from them across the country.

When deliberating legislation that will have an impact on our veterans, I think something the Veterans Ombudsman has written is particularly relevant and necessary for the adequate consideration of any veterans policy. The Veterans Ombudsman has written that he measures fairness of veterans policy in terms of, first, adequacy of the program; second, the sufficiency of resources supporting it; and third, accessibility of a program to those seeking assistance.

I have to say that it takes my breath away to hear the member for Brampton—Springdale stand in the House and fill this room with rhetoric and bluster on how much the government is actually doing for our veterans when he, as a member of the committee, has heard time and time again of the inadequate resources that are given to veterans and the issues that are ailing them.

On its face, Bill C-568 would require the government to create regulations that would extend health care benefits to former members of the Canadian Forces who meet the necessary requirements and have been honourably discharged; so we know who would access these programs. Adequacy of a program to care for these men and women is a difficult metric to meet and so it is a particularly sensitive consideration.

Throughout the generations, we as a Parliament and as Canadians have asked a select number of men and women to go at a moment's notice to places across the world to protect not just ourselves but others. When we make this request, there is the understanding that what we are asking of them is not always fair, it is not ever pleasant, and it will likely have long-lasting and serious repercussions, both physical and emotional, on them and their families. Their service requires members to make an incredibly personal and potentially life-altering commitment to place themselves in harm's way virtually anywhere the nation believes necessary.

What we ask of them is extraordinary. What we owe them is without measure. That said, there are things we must offer to acknowledge the significance of their sacrifice: responsiveness to the health care and financial needs of former Canadian Forces members.

Of late, the Conservative government has not been good about being responsive to the diverse needs of Canadian veterans, not when it shuts down nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices throughout the country, and certainly not when it shows an utter disregard for the social covenant that is owed to veterans by mounting a defence against the lawsuit seeking fairness for former Canadian Forces members in a B.C. court room.

I read an article this week in the Chronicle Herald about the uphill battle being faced by Cape Breton veterans Duncan McKeigan, Terry Collins, Charlie Palmer, Dan McNeil, and Ron Clarke, who are still trying to cope with the closure of the Sydney office. The article states:

There, at the Sydney office, caseworkers knew them by name, they say. Came to their homes to assess what the estimated 4,200 area vets needed. Gave them the kind of one-on-one services and personal support they still need while facing everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to the ailments of age.

Just yesterday at the veterans committee, we heard from Corporal Mark Fuchko who suffered the loss of both legs while in Afghanistan. He, too, suffers the same fate as Duncan, Terry, and Charlie, facing inadequate responses from government staff who have merely directed him to a 1-800 number where he is forced again and again to leave a message and hope someone calls him back.

I am struck, while watching many of these veterans fight for the benefits they deserve, by something I have heard many veterans say to me recently: “You break it; you buy it”. It was the things we asked them to do in the service of their country that broke them. How is it then that we can just turn our heads as if we never saw it happen in the first place and hope someone else comes to clean it up?

Another veteran, in an emotional closed session in Guelph, said it felt as if they went over as heroes and came back as zeroes.

I rose on Monday and asked the government how it could turn its back on a promise made a century ago to honour the sacrifice made by soldiers returning from the First World War. I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs how it was still possible for him to support the defence of the lawsuit brought in that B.C. court room on behalf of veterans, a defence based on the denial of the existence of a social covenant owed to our veterans, when only weeks ago he finally admitted that “Some have called the work done by Veterans Affairs to be a duty, a responsibility, a commitment, a social contract or a sacred obligation”. He also said, “I believe it is all of those things”. How hypocritical.

That is the same social contract that Sir Robert Borden believed it to be in 1914. It is the same covenant that is the very basis upon which these veterans are now before the court seeking justice.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Veterans Affairs Canada continue to argue that the social contract, the sacred obligation we owe, is simply political language used by politicians to get votes, which really confirms that messaging and votes are the only reasons the current Conservative government feigns support for our veterans.

On this side of the House, we believe that the social covenant is real and tangible. In fact, just weeks ago, after extensive consultation at our own policy convention in Montreal, a resolution was passed with overwhelming support resolving that Liberals would uphold the principles of that social covenant in the policies of both the Department of Defence and Veterans Affairs. We will live up to our country's sacred obligation to care for veterans and their families throughout their lives, allowing them to maintain a quality of life that is worthy of their great sacrifice. I believe that the bill before us proposed by the hon. member for Saint-Jean captures this spirit.

Serving members of the Canadian Forces, non-commissioned members and officers alike, have access to a range of health care through Canadian Forces health services. However, once these members have completed their military occupational classification requirements, and then, eventually, their time in the forces and are discharged honourably, these men and women will have access, regardless of being a pensioner or not, to the health services provided under the regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs. One would assume that includes additional benefits beyond those covered under various provincial health care plans. That being said, I am under the impression that most Veterans Affairs clients are already under the public service health care plan, and so this extends primarily to long-term care and dental services.

This leads to a concern I have after reading the bill, that there is very little by way of detail. It is not clear where the responsibility for delivery of care lies or what services are being added to the provision of care for most former Canadian Forces members, although the member for Saint-Jean did give some clarity to these issues during his speech today. I find it worrisome, however, that when dealing with veterans' issues, so much is left up to the legislative discretion of the government, which I already believe to be unable to deal adequately with veterans policy.

With that in mind, in large part I agree that the member for Saint-Jean has sought out the principle of adequacy in his attempt to ensure that the right programs are in place to meet the needs of all of our veterans. I believe it moves to broaden the applicability of health services and duly removes barriers to accessibility, although I think that we need to look more closely at ensuring that the program can be sufficiently resourced.

While I would like to have seen more specifics so that there might be more certainty for applicable former members of the Canadian Forces, it is paramount that we guarantee the health benefits, along with the well-being, of our serving and former Canadian Forces members.

I thank the member for bringing the bill forward and hope that we will have more opportunity to discuss it in greater depth at committee.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-568 today. As other hon. members have already said, we owe a great deal to our brave men and women in uniform, both past and present, who have served our country and sacrificed so much.

That is why I am baffled by the hypocrisy from the Liberals. I lived through the decade of darkness and before and their experiments with trying to make sure it was just a peacekeeping army. They almost destroyed our entire military. It was this government that rebuilt the pride and the combat capability of our forces, and that was the Conservative Party of Canada.

Our men and women in uniform have sacrificed so much for what they have done, and they have made Canada what it is today: a free and democratic nation admired around the world for its values and its great riches. Indeed, Canada's veterans personify so many of the things that we hold most dear: courage, commitment, honour, and service.

That is why our government is so proud to stand with each of them every day, and why we are so proud to recognize their service and honour their sacrifices with the care and support they need. Indeed, that has always been our record.

As the parliamentary secretary has noted, our government has increased Veterans Affairs Canada's annual budget to almost $785 million more this fiscal year than in 2005. In total, our government has invested nearly $5 million in additional funding to enhance veterans' benefits, programs, and services.

Budget 2014 builds on this record of investment by committing $108.2 million over three years to expand eligibility for the funeral and burial program.

Additionally, budget 2014 invests $2.1 million in 2014-15 to enhance our delivery of online services to veterans and their families. It provides veterans with greater access to rewarding jobs in the federal public service and it ensures this country properly recognizes the historical significance of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. In fact, our Prime Minister has declared May 9 the national day of honour for our brave Afghanistan veterans.

As these measures demonstrate, we have made sure, without exception, that programming for Canada's veterans continues to evolve with the needs of the men and women and families we serve. In fact, that is one of the primary purposes of our cutting red tape initiative for veterans. It is about constantly streamlining and simplifying the way Veterans Affairs Canada operates in order to provide veterans and their families with better and faster service in more modern and convenient ways.

The measures implemented through this cutting red tape initiative have reduced wait times, eliminated unnecessary bureaucratic processes, increased transparency, and introduced new technologies that have made it easier for veterans and their families to access benefits and programs.

What has been the result? Turnaround times for processing veterans' disability benefits have been significantly improved and the approval time for access to rehabilitation services has been reduced by nearly half.

Quite simply, our government has been implementing a comprehensive new approach to serving veterans that is responsive, inclusive, and flexible. It is based on a commitment, indeed a pledge, to Canada's veterans that their hard-earned benefits and services will be delivered quickly and efficiently.

The minister has repeatedly said that there is all kinds of room for improvement. There is an initiative on the Veterans Affairs committee to examine all of these issues, and these improvements will continually, constantly be made over time. It does take time to implement some of these changes that are identified as time goes on. This government has responsibility for the changing situations and circumstances of our veterans. Our minister is doing a tremendous job making sure that all of those pieces are falling into place and that this government maintains the initiative and ensures that our veterans get everything they need.

What has been the response by the other side? On March 10, 2013, the NDP voted against $39.1 million in funding for the veterans independence program, and on March 20, 2013, the members opposite, the NDP, voted against $1.1 billion in health care funding for Canadian veterans. However, the parliamentary secretary has already mentioned the opposition's shameful record of support for Canada's veterans by voting against more than $1.5 billion for veterans' pensions on June 6, 2012, the anniversary of D-Day. The irony is certainly not lost on me. It is absolutely shameful that they voted against these tremendous initiatives for our veterans, but this government, our Prime Minister, and our Minister of Veterans Affairs stood up for veterans.

A recent opinion piece in The National Post on February 6, 2014, offered this assessment:

It’s almost pathetic to witness the NDP seeking to capture the military constituency, with their defeated motion to keep those veterans’ affairs offices open, after they have systematically opposed a host of Conservative military spending bills. The same goes for the Liberals, who in the last election proposed to return Canada’s peacekeeping to its Pearsonian glory days, without committing the necessary resources.

I will say it again. The Liberals have had ample opportunity over the decades to do right by our men and women in uniform, and they have failed each and every time.

That is the state of affairs in our country when it comes to veterans and the issues that matter the most to them. We have every reason to be proud of our record, but we have no plans to rest on our laurels. That is why the minister has asked the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to conduct a comprehensive review of the new Veterans Charter. We want to hear what Canadians have to say, particularly regarding care for our country's most seriously injured veterans and what more we should be doing for veterans' families.

As a veteran myself, I have a keen interest in the work of the committee. Members of the committee have heard a wide range of comments and suggestions, and I am proud to continually contribute to this initiative.

There is a robust debate going on, and as a veteran, I personally appreciate the carefully considered opinions that have been rendered.

Bill C-568 is meant sincerely as another way Canada could be there for our nation's veterans, but unfortunately, it really misses the mark. This private member's bill would force the government to completely rewrite its veterans health care regulations, an exercise that, on its own, would be a time-consuming, unnecessary, and potentially expensive proposition. Furthermore, it would entirely change the department's focus from assisting those who most need our help to creating a new health care provider, with a duplicate bureaucracy, which would needlessly cost Canadians millions of dollars. It is a redundancy that is absolutely not needed, and it would force us to intrude into provincial jurisdiction.

Perhaps this would be justified if there were some pressing need to do so, but as colleagues have already demonstrated, the existing eligibility criteria for our veterans' programming are working and do not need to be overhauled.

For example, the new Veterans Charter and related mental health services provide a comprehensive sweep of wellness programs for veterans, a comprehensive approach that helps restore and maintain their health, independence, and quality of life. Thousands of veterans and their families are accessing these programs and are getting the help they need.

We do not need to spend millions of dollars to create a duplicate bureaucracy, as I just said, in an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Simply put, Bill C-568 would only do a disservice to those veterans most in need of help, adding additional bureaucratic red tape, not reducing it, and barriers to the care and support they so richly deserve. For these reasons, I most certainly cannot support Bill C-568.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-568, which was introduced by my colleague from Saint-Jean. I thank him for his excellent initiative.

This bill would ensure that all members of the Canadian Forces who were honourably discharged have access to long-term health care. My colleague has touched on an important topic with this bill.

Before I discuss the bill directly, I want to talk about some of the comments made by our colleagues on the government side. They are attacking the opposition, as did the parliamentary secretary. They said that we had a shameful record when it comes to veterans.

I think the government is projecting because its own record is shameful. The government has a dismal record when it comes to veterans, who do not receive proper treatment. The department's dismal record is a very long list. Not too long ago, departmental officials lashed out at veterans, which shows a complete lack of class. In my opinion, the government and several of its members have been arrogant. The list is very long.

Just recently, my colleague said that the government has invested $5 billion since 2006. That is government propaganda, because only $3.5 billion has been spent. The $5 billion amount was what was budgeted. It takes some nerve to not spend the money on our veterans and to claim that an additional $5 billion was spent, which is not true. The government is trying to balance the budget at the expense of our veterans. That is the government's record and veterans know better.

I would now like to get back to the excellent bill introduced by my colleague from Saint-Jean. As I mentioned, the government is off-loading its responsibilities towards veterans, for example, by wanting to close the last veterans' hospital, Ste. Anne's Hospital. The hospital will be transferred to the Province of Quebec by the end of 2014, provided there are no additional delays. The government is going to close the last hospital dedicated to long-term health care for veterans. That makes absolutely no sense.

Only veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War have access to long-term care. My colleague's bill would lift that restriction and give all veterans access to long-term care, no matter what war they participated in. Their service was no different from that of the veterans who fought in other wars. They deserve the same treatment.

Currently, Canadian Forces members only have access to beds in community facilities. Those beds are not specifically set aside or funded for veterans. Placement in the facility is based on health needs, as is the case for any other individual. Veterans' names are placed on the standard waiting list. Veterans Affairs Canada pays the bill once the veteran is given a spot.

Modern-day veterans have access to that type of bed, which unfortunately does not give them priority. Veterans Affairs Canada also provides reserved beds, but Canadian Forces veterans are not considered eligible, as it stands. My colleague's bill, Bill C-568, is designed to change that.

The government needs to admit that it has a responsibility and moral obligation to our veterans. Despite the fact that the government does not want to own up to that moral obligation, it still exists. The government has a legal obligation to take care of veterans, but the government is denying that obligation, which is completely appalling. That is the government's record. It does not acknowledge that it has a moral obligation to take care of veterans.

In my opinion, the respect that the government has for veterans is measured by the quality of services it provides to them. Our veterans deserve better. They do not deserve budget and service cuts like the ones they have been experiencing since 2012. The government is balancing the budget on the backs of veterans.

That year, government cuts totalled more than $250 million. Our veterans deserve to be treated with dignity. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The government must fund long-term health care for modern-day veterans, as it did for those who served before 1953. It is about time that the government act on the Ombudsman's report entitled “Veterans' Long-Term Care Needs”.

Since 2006, our veterans have suffered the consequences of the Conservative government's lack of action and poor policies. The new veterans charter was passed in 2006 with the promise that it would be a living document and that it would be amended as problems emerged. However, the government has done absolutely nothing on that file.

The new veterans charter was amended only once, in 2011, by means of Bill C-55. Unfortunately, it only fixed a tiny fraction of the problems, which have been pointed out dozens of times in ombudsman reports and committee studies. The government has shirked its responsibilities by not making any changes, which is deplorable. That is part of the government's abysmal record on how it treats veterans. As I mentioned, the parliamentary secretary is projecting his own dismal record.

In 2012, the Conservatives used their majority to initiate a wave of cuts. They cut the Veterans Affairs Canada budget by $200 million thereby eliminating 800 jobs, not including the jobs that will be lost at Ste. Anne's Hospital when it is transferred to the province.

The government said that veterans would not see a reduction in service, which is not true. In fact, veterans are having more and more difficulty accessing the services they are entitled to. In short, the government did away with more than half of the jobs at Veterans Affairs Canada. The closure of nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices on January 31 only adds to this wave of cuts and reduced services for our veterans and, of course, to the government's pathetic track record in this regard.

Our veterans also need support. How can the government think that making $225 million in cuts will not result in reduced services? Veterans do not agree with what the government is doing, as evidenced by a study on the new veterans charter. Veterans want this government to take action. It is shameful that the government is once again turning its back on veterans by opposing this important bill introduced by my colleague from Saint-Jean.

The minister is talking out of both sides of his mouth. We saw this with the class action lawsuit filed by Equitas. He recently—and reluctantly—acknowledged the social pact that exists between the federal government and veterans. Unfortunately, however, he has shown no leadership on this. In the Equitas case, he should have told the prosecutor not to deny the existence of this social contract, but that is not at all what he did. He denied the existence of that social contract a few times, until he finally reluctantly acknowledged it recently. This complete lack of leadership is just one more example of this government's abysmal record in terms of how it treats our veterans.

In his report on veterans' long-term care, the ombudsman stated:

The very existence of so many...eligibility categories and the associated challenges entailed in establishing a veteran's eligibility...has been and remains a source of contention for both clients and...employees of Veterans Affairs Canada.

There is therefore a real need in the area of long-term health care. I am calling on my colleagues in the governing party to vote in favour of this important bill in order to support our modern-day veterans who have a right to access long-term health care.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2014 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of my colleagues for the wisdom that they bring to this particular bill. I am, of course, referring to colleagues on this side of the House. I would like to particularly thank the member for Saint-Jean for introducing this important bill. I am sure members are aware that the intent is to make regulations under the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend health care benefits to former members of the Canadian Forces who meet military occupational classification requirements and have been honourably discharged.

I have to say that despite what we have heard tonight from the government benches, the veterans of this country know that they have been shortchanged and undermined by the government. They know that they have been disrespected. When the government throws around money numbers and rhetoric, the veterans of this country know that it means nothing when it comes from the government. They have been disrespected over and over again, and they will remember. There is an election next year, and the veterans of this country will most certainly remember.

I want to talk about the bill before us.

I believe that it is absolutely the honourable thing for us to do because it would honour those who have sacrificed so much for our country and give honour to our country. The sad truth is, as I have said, that the current government, the Conservatives, and previous Liberal governments, have failed our veterans. Passing and implementing this particular piece of legislation would be a step in the right direction, an important step in the right direction, and would undo some of the terrible wrongs that we have seen over the last years.

I want to reiterate some of what my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant said because I think it bears repeating. Veterans Affairs has been hit with many cuts in recent years. In 2011, the transfer of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital to the province of Quebec marked the loss of the last federally funded and federally run veterans hospital in this country. At the time, job cuts accompanied that closure, and New Democrats were terribly concerned about the negative impact this would have on the standard of care provided to our veterans.

In 2011, the government maintained it could cut those 500 jobs through attrition and better planning, but those job cuts were accompanied by a slashing of $226 million from Veterans Affairs' budget, a reduction of 5% to 10%. Canada was the only country to do this. Everyone else went through austerity, the Brits and the Americans, but they did not cut their veterans' budgets. Only the Conservative government did that, and it is despicable.

Former Canadian Forces Members ActRoutine Proceedings

January 28th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-568, An Act respecting former Canadian Forces members.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to introduce a bill that will allow our veterans to get the best health care, even after they have left the Canadian Forces.

It is important to remember that too many of our young heroes, particularly those who served in the hell that was Afghanistan, came home physically and psychologically broken, and too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

This bill will allow our military personnel to continue receiving the same level of health care after being honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces.

I am encouraged by the fact that the government and Conservative members never miss an opportunity to remind us how much they support our military personnel and their families.

This is a tremendous opportunity for the members of all parties to turn words into actions by supporting a change that would provide justice to those who have made sacrifices for us.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)