Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in support of this measure, Bill C-44, an act to compensate military members injured during service. The bill would redress a disparity in the benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces who have been seriously injured while on duty.
Under the Canadian Forces insurance plan currently, members of the Canadian Forces below the rank of colonel are not eligible for a lump sum payment when they suffer severe injury while on duty. Under this same plan, individuals at the rank of colonel and above receive payments of up to $250,000.
The Minister of National Defence first heard of this inequity last August through the efforts of Major Bruce Henwood. Major Henwood was a Canadian peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia. In 1995 he suffered major injuries including the loss of both legs when his vehicle struck an anti-tank mine. Under the insurance plan, Major Henwood was not entitled to a lump sum payment for his injuries because, as I indicated, compensation was only provided to those of the rank of colonel and above.
Major Henwood has since made extraordinary efforts to have coverage extended to all ranks, and on behalf of the Minister of National Defence and, indeed, the members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, I commend him for his dedication to this cause.
When the minister heard of Major Henwood's story, the minister undertook to end this inconsistency in the insurance plan. On February 11 of this year the minister announced that the plan would be expanded to cover all regular and reserve members of the Canadian Forces, regardless of rank, for accidental dismemberment while on active duty.
At the same time, the minister promised to exhaust every avenue in an effort to make sure that a lump sum payment was provided to those who were injured before this new coverage came into effect. With this bill, the Minister of National Defence has met that commitment.
All members of the Canadian Forces, regardless of rank, can expect to receive assignments that may put them in harm's way. We certainly wish the Canadian Forces and the members of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment who are going to Afghanistan the very best, and we certainly wish that each and every one of them comes home safely.
Providing coverage only for senior ranks was, in the minister's view, and I think in the view of all Canadians, unacceptable. In a word, it was unfair. That is why the government changed the insurance plan and that is why the minister has introduced this bill, to help the 200 or so individuals who have found themselves in Major Henwood's position, to help those who have been severely injured in the course of military service but have been unable to claim the benefit because of their rank.
This bill would allow lump sum payments of up to $250,000 for current or former Canadian Forces members who suffered serious injury attributable to military service.
Before I conclude, I wish to thank the opposition parties for supporting this measure. It is heartening to see both sides of the House stand behind our men and women in uniform. They are the people who regularly put themselves in harm's way in the service of our country. With all that they give on our behalf, we must be prepared to give back. They certainly deserve nothing less.