Evidence of meeting #106 for Veterans Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was homeless.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

William Webb  As an Individual
Stephen Gregory  Founder, Respect Campaign
Brenda Fewster  National Director, University Outreach and Program Evaluation, Respect Campaign
Ralph Mahar  Executive Officer, RCMP Veterans' Association
Karen Ludwig  New Brunswick Southwest, Lib.

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

I could have served in a different capacity. Maybe not in my specific trade, but I could have moved over to a combat support role easily.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Okay. That's what I was thinking from what you were saying.

This is something that has come up. I have asked a lot of questions of a lot of people for a different studies, but it's one of these common threads that comes through.

We talk about the issue of universality of service in the Canadian Armed Forces. If there were an alteration in that policy and they said you could still serve a very useful role in the armed forces, but that there were certain things you couldn't do and that you couldn't technically meet the universality of service requirement, would that have helped you and perhaps given you an opportunity to continue serving as long as you wished?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

I don't believe I didn't meet the universality of service.

Being put in a temporary category and then being moved to a permanent medical category, I had no opportunity or option to get off the permanent category. Once you're placed on a permanent category, it is impossible to get off it.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

I'm sorry, what do you mean by permanent category? Do you mean permanent restriction on the kinds of duties you could do?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

Permanent category means that you're permanently impaired. To prove that you're not permanently impaired is virtually impossible in the military medical system.

I was provided no opportunity to do so, even though I was having treatment regularly and was meeting my obligations through my work. Once you're on a permanent category, that's the ticking time bomb for your release.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Absolutely, yes.

This is what I'm getting at. If the universality of service did not apply—

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

I could still pick up a rifle.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Yes, I know. But what I mean is, had you been on that permanent medical category somewhere in someone's checklist that would have put you under—not universal...but would you have still been able to serve while still on a permanent category?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

Absolutely.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Okay. Thank you.

That's what I was thinking. That was what I was assuming from what you were saying.

You were stationed in Shilo. I'm from Winnipeg....

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

I get a lot of that.

There was previously a veterans' services office in Brandon that was closed and has been reopened. Had that been open and available at the time you were released, would that have been a helpful resource to you?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

I had more support from a Veterans Affairs case manager at the IPSC in Shilo. She went well beyond her mandate as a case manager to assist me.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Okay. Thank you.

Just switching gears a bit, Mr. Mahar, we had a conversation before. I'm an RCMP brat. My father served 24 years in the RCMP.

5:05 p.m.

Executive Officer, RCMP Veterans' Association

Ralph Mahar

I'm grateful for his service.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Thank you. Yes, so was I, and likewise for yours.

He also dealt with Veterans Affairs due to some orthopaedic injuries and some hearing loss. He trained in the days before they heard about hearing protection when you did firearms training.

We were saying that there is a different demographic, of course, for homeless RCMP veterans. Here's something that I wish more people realized. You've pointed out that there are a lot of veterans' services for which, for some reason that I can't figure out, RCMP veterans are not eligible. We need to remind people that RCMP veterans are indeed veterans and sometimes served in many of the same capacities as armed forces.

We've identified a number of risks that predispose armed forces personnel to becoming homeless, and many of them probably apply to the RCMP. Given the relatively low incidence that you cited, it might not be enough to answer this, but are you aware of any factors that might be unique to RCMP veterans that might predispose them to homelessness?

5:10 p.m.

Executive Officer, RCMP Veterans' Association

Ralph Mahar

I think the way I'd like to respond to that, sir, is to say that when we interpret or consider someone an RCMP veteran, they may have served 35 years with the force, or they may have served two years with the force and gone on to other things.

I think there's a very broad and significant range of factors that contribute to homelessness. Some of it relates to mental health, some of it relates to addictions, some of it relates to marital breakup. Life's a bumpy road. I don't believe that all of those issues necessarily originate.... They certainly can originate with hard service—difficult, traumatic service—and the effect and the impact of that. In those cases that I am most familiar with that we are dealing with presently, there are two sides to it. One side is in the context of serving members. For several of those, it's been a decade or more since they served. The things they are experiencing have transpired afterwards. Some of the experiences they had a member may have contributed to how their lives went off track, but it wouldn't necessarily be exclusive. That's one piece of it.

Another piece of it is the types of financial support that we do provide, and continue to provide, to survivors of members of the RCMP, particularly those who are more aged and whose partner's pension concluded at the time the member died. There were no survivor benefits, so we have widows of RCMP members who had no survivor benefits after their husband died and we do provide assistance to them to help cover the gap. That's on this side.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you very much.

Mr. Shipley, you have five minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

I want to thank you also, Sergeant Webb, as I do Mr. Mahar. It's not a cliché of thanks. For all of us, when we say it, we understand the significance of your duty to our country. Thank you.

I would like to go to Mr. Gregory first. You and Ms. Fewster talked about the amount of research that has been done to help veterans and what should be done.

Can you talk to us a little bit about...? I think you said sometimes—maybe it was Mr. Webb who said it. How do we get the practical part of what these studies say into action? Research is great, the academics of it all are great, but it's where the rubber hits the road that really counts.

I was on the veterans committee when I first got elected a number of years ago. I've learned so much, but one of the things I continue to hear in my riding—I've got 13 Legions there—is that although more is always needed, veterans need help to get what is already there. Give us some thoughts of what you can do through your organizations to bring all of that work into a practical sense, and what can veterans do to make it happen for individuals like Mr. Webb?

5:10 p.m.

Founder, Respect Campaign

Stephen Gregory

I think you can continue to provide the leadership that you're providing and to step it up. I think this is a big deal.

The fact of the matter is that most of the organizations operate in the absence of any understanding that there's someone else doing the same thing in a city in another province. A good example of that is Honour House and Maison Biéler in Montreal. Maison Biéler is sitting on a good chunk of change, and they might reinvent the wheel if they weren't in contact with Honour House.

Number one, keep bringing these people together and support the development of knowledge exchange among them.

The next thing is to get to the sergeant's issue, namely, training. There's no reason why the people in his Legion aren't better trained. It's mind-boggling when in other towns, like Calgary and Edmonton, veterans really get good service when they go to a Legion. This is the patchwork of our country that needs to be sorted out. I think the starting point to the answer is leadership. I'm very grateful that you've given us a little bit of funding, because we're going to try to support that.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

I want to thank you for what you're doing. Then I want to touch on those two things.

One, the disturbing thing, Sergeant, was when you mentioned that your case workers for three months were contract people.

The other part of it is that out of my 13 Legions, we have a benefits coordinator. You have to remember that my large urban area is 14,000 people. It isn't London, Calgary or Vancouver. It's rural. In some of those Legions we have veterans who are very good and go way beyond what their obligation would be under VAC or through the Legion, in carrying through. Some of them don't have that expertise.

I don't think Veterans Affairs can be the be-all and end-all to everything—I really don't. In some of those Legions, they maybe don't know what to do. I'm thinking of two right now who are going to be leaving because their son, who's a veteran, has moved north: they want to be with him. I think the sergeant can relate to that. Now that Legion's going to be left—and they are saying they're not sure who's going to pick this up. My office, all the offices of the MPs, are there, but should more training be done through organizations like yours, Mr. Gregory, or—

5:15 p.m.

Founder, Respect Campaign

Stephen Gregory

This is a huge, multi-faceted issue. Let me give you an example. I'm a gunner, and it makes me very sad to hear that a fellow gunner looks on the association as if it doesn't really do anything. If he were PPCLI, he'd be taken care of differently, more like the RCMP. . We have a patchwork of associations among the military, and it's worse in the reserves. The sergeant was reg force, and God bless him: He's getting a heck of a lot more than any reservist I know would ever get. They're really left on their own.

The Canadian Armed Forces could direct better support among the associations. Jon Vance has said that we really want to be there from birth to death, that sort of thing, but the fact of the matter is that it's not happening. Unfortunately, I've heard many stories like the sergeant's, where they're hurried out of the forces and then left with no support.

CAF is part of the solution. You're part of the solution. I think Ralph said it best: this isn't your problem alone. It's not government's. We can't ask you to solve this problem. You can help us inspire other Canadians to step up. We need more veterans who will band together—just common citizens. It really irks me to think that everybody looks at you as being the saviour. You're not the saviour. It's time for all of us to buck up.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Mr. Johns, you have three minutes.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Sergeant Webb, do you see the problem getting worse? We've seen real estate prices go up about 50% on Vancouver Island, just in the last three years. You've identified three, maybe six, veterans whom you're helping—thank you for your work there. How do you see things moving forward, without some of these solutions you've talked about?

February 4th, 2019 / 5:15 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

Without active, targeted funding from Veterans Affairs to deal with housing, it's going to get worse. Some people always say to talk to the local Legion. You're well aware that we live in a rural area like yours, Mr. Shipley. I have three Legions in three very small communities. Local Legions are protectionist. You mentioned amalgamation or amalgamating resources. They won't have it.

As a contemporary veteran, I can say that the Royal Canadian Legion will cease to exist before I die. It's done. The contemporary veteran doesn't want to be part of it because there are too many civilians. We don't look to the Legion as a resource anymore. They're not a resource.