Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the sustaining Canada's economic recovery act.
Before I address economics, I must first pay tribute to the people of Etobicoke North and the community in which I was born and raised and pay tribute to my constituents, many now friends and many now family. I am humbled to serve my constituents each and every day.
I must also honour a new constituency I serve, namely the veterans of Canada. In our country's short history not every generation was called upon to defend our freedom, but every generation that responds does so with courage and conviction. It was 65 years ago that World War II veterans were among the members of a generation that saved the world from tyranny and it was 60 years ago that our veterans were dispatched to Korean waters.
Since then, our veterans have been among members of combat and peacekeeping operations to protect freedom, human rights and justice around the world in places such as Bosnia, Cyprus, Haiti and Iraq.
Our veterans' legacy of bravery and commitment to the leadership is continued by a new generation of Canadians serving tour after tour in Afghanistan. We must therefore invest, protect and defend the rights and legacy of our veterans.
Sadly, the government's 2010 budget failed to take action to really help veterans, including much needed housing and supports for operational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder. To be fair, Veterans Affairs recently announced $52.5 million for temporary housing, wheelchairs and other help for seriously injured soldiers on September 28.
However, Canadians must ask, where is the vision? Where is the budgeting for our veterans? Responding to crisis with piecemeal announcements is no way to run a department. Our veterans deserve better.
Moreover we learned during the summer that the government was considering recommendations to cut spending at Veterans Affairs, even though a report found the number of new veterans was expected to increase. A cut to the Veterans Affairs budget means less support to our veterans once our mission in Afghanistan comes to an end.
Lest we forget Canada's most precious asset is human, our serving men and women, and our defence commitments must include serving the men and women of our armed forces when they return home.
We also learned during the summer that the government would forge ahead with a sole-sourced military aircraft contract worth up to $16 billion, an enormous expenditure once the House of Commons recessed, with no transparency and no guarantee that Canadians would get the best value for their money.
While budget 2010 claims to recognize the significant efforts of veterans who helped build our country and make it strong, it does not ensure that our proud veterans are shown the dignity and respect they deserve. Coming home, for example, should not be the beginning of another battle, a battle for compensation, a battle for support, a battle for treatment.
Budget 2010 offers $1 million per year for the community war memorial program to partner with communities across our country that wish to build memorials to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served our country.
Remembrance is a touchstone of Canada's identity in Canadian society. Canadian veterans, however, want their country to honour the covenant they entered to take care of them when they come home injured and to take care of their families when they do not return and that their government not break a sacred trust with veterans and their families.
Veterans want a change in culture at Veterans Affairs and a change in philosophy from the current insurance policy climate to a return to the social contract of the past. Veterans need real investment, investment that comes in the budget and not in response to criticism. Veterans want action on long-standing problems.
While the United States dramatically increased funding for veterans health care across the board, Canadian Forces members badly wounded in Afghanistan were shortchanged. On September 19, after four years in power, a task force and advocacy by the veterans ombudsman, the government finally took action, boosting aid to soldiers wounded in Afghanistan with more changes promised to come. Unfortunately the package is far from satisfactory and numerous questions remain.
Veteran Paul Franklin, who lost both legs in a 2006 suicide bomb attack in Kandahar, said that the announcement was good but that more needed to be done. He said that the changes were nice but it was not enough. He said that they would support the right decisions if they put vets first and not Treasury Board or budgets.
Franklin suggested boosting payments to the most seriously injured, overhauling the insurance payments to soldiers who lost limbs and making many of the payouts tax-free. He said that those were pretty cheap commitments to take care of people who had laid their lives on the line for Canada in our missions.
When will the government come forward with legislation for compensation for veterans suffering with ALS, which research shows that veterans are more likely to develop the devastating disease? Americans came forward in 2008 with compensation.
At most, injured veterans who are unable to ever work again can claim a lump sum payment of up to $276,000. Few Canadian veterans have ever qualified for the maximum. In the United Kingdom, total disability carries compensation of $850,000.
There are questions regarding the announcement. Will the monthly boost be retroactive? Will the extra $1,000, which is not very much, particularly when added to 75% of a private's pre-injury salary, be available only to the most severely injured and how will that be defined? Is the pension clawback issue being addressed and if not, what are the real dollar figures?
While President Barack Obama is making it easier for about 200,000 Vietnam veterans who might have been exposed to agent orange and who now suffer from three chronic diseases to get the health care and benefits they need, Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran reports that Canada has yet to pay out half of its agent orange claims. Moreover, only those who were still alive on February 6, 2006, the date the Conservative government was sworn into office, are eligible to receive compensation for exposure to agent orange. Widows of those who died prior to this date justifiably feel left out. Additionally, the list of eligible illnesses is much more restrictive in Canada than in the United States and other countries.
The quality of life for our veterans must be a top priority for Canada and we must keep faith with our newest veterans returning from Afghanistan; that is we must offer more of the economic, familial and work supports and counselling needed to transition back to civilian life.
We must offer real support for post-traumatic stress disorder. No one should have to suffer with the hopelessness, the nightmares that keep coming back and the rage that strikes suddenly. Too many of our veterans are taking their own lives. We need investments in awareness, outreach and suicide prevention, hiring more mental health professionals, improving care and treatment. Once veterans have a diagnosis, we need to make it easier to get the support.
We must uphold Canada's pledge to all who serve by pushing for targeted investments to improve the quality of life of our veterans and their families.