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.