Mr. Chair, I want to thank the government for agreeing to hold this debate at the request put forward, because it is an extremely important issue for all Canadians, not just for veterans. All Canadians have an interest and a concern about what is happening to the people who fight for this country, serve this country, risk their lives for this country and come home expecting to be treated with respect and dignity and rely on the Government of Canada to provide those services.
First of all, let me say that I want to thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs who has sat through each and every word of this debate tonight, and that is not always the case, I understand, with debates like this. He is listening carefully to everything that is being said, some of it not so complimentary of his government. However, the fact that he is listening provides some hope that changes will continue to be made.
I want to agree with one thing the previous speaker said, that yes, progress is being made. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Progress is being made in the last couple of years in terms of recognition of the full effects of PTSD resulting from activity in serving overseas, the psychological injuries of service. It is important that these injuries be recognized, understood and in fact given equal weight when it comes to dealing with benefits and recognition for service and the sacrifices that were made.
A good example of what needs to be done comes from the case of Corporal Langridge that was brought before the House last week. This came here out of necessity because he was not properly dealt with and his family was not property dealt with after he returned from Afghanistan and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He ended up, as is known now, committing suicide on the Canadian Forces base in Edmonton, and his family had to go through a very difficult time to try to get some understanding and justice, and they ended up coming here to Ottawa to do that.
I understand that decisions have been made since his mother came here. She met with the minister and with the Chief of the Defence Staff, and some issues are being resolved.
It is important, I think, that we recognize that this individual whose death occurred as a result of his psychological injuries in Afghanistan is a casualty of war just like other individuals who return with injuries that cause their death.
We had a very unfortunate and sad circumstance. Brian Pinksen from Newfoundland and Labrador was injured in Afghanistan and died this summer as a result of his injuries. These sacrifices ought to be honoured in the same way.
We had another comment, and I will not indicate the member who said it because it is an unfortunate comment in relation to a person who has been fighting very hard for veterans since he was appointed. That is Colonel Pat Stogran. It has been suggested that the responses and the things that have happened in the last little while have not been as a result of somebody's press conference. I want to say this about Colonel Pat Stogran and his work as the ombudsman for veterans. He has done remarkable work in drawing to the attention of the Canadian public and the government the deficiencies that exist in the program for veterans in this country.
I do not think anyone in the House or anyone in this country who knows anything about it would say that there are no deficiencies in the way veterans' programs have been delivered in Canada. I think that is a given.
I do not claim to be an expert on veterans affairs, but when I hear the stories I have heard over the last two years, some of them brought to light by Colonel Stogran as the ombudsman, which was his job to do and when I saw the way he was treated by the government in terms of not renewing his work and his appointment so he could continue his work and the unfortunate way he was treated when he appeared before the veterans affairs committee by members of the government, I was shocked.
He was appointed by the government, to its credit, a colonel who had been a commanding officer in Afghanistan. He had served his country for many years. He understood veterans and their needs and drew attention to the problems. He complained he was not given the tools, information and co-operation he needed to do his job. I found The way he was treated with some kind of disdain by the sitting members of the government on that committee was horrendous.
When we hear that veterans are going to food banks in increasing numbers, as my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, pointed out, that is very disturbing.
We have some terrific examples of positive things that are being done. In some cases, they are being done by the veterans themselves, by way of example. I think Master Corporal Jody Mitic's name was mentioned here tonight. I want to also add Corporal Andrew Knisley's name.
These two veterans, who claim to have three arms and one leg between them, having been injured in Afghanistan and suffered amputations, participated in a motor car race in Newfoundland and Labrador this September, called “Targa Newfoundland”. Their manager, retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who has some interest in car racing himself, offered to manage this team. They went to Newfoundland and Labrador and were sponsored by Canada's Acura dealers and Honda Canada.
They participated in this rally, raising money for the Soldier On campaign. They demonstrated, through their actions, their courage, determination and their willingness to soldier on.
It was very interesting and inspiring to hear them talk on the radio in interviews and on television in our province in September about what drove them to do that, why they wanted to keep active and why they felt so strongly about it. It was also about those who had been inspired by their courage and actions to not see themselves as being injured for life, but in fact trying to make a life for themselves despite their injuries. I think it was extremely positive.
A lot of work needs to be done to improve the lot of veterans in the country. We would not be having the demonstration on November 6, this Saturday, if it were not for the concerns that exist across the country. Veterans and supporters of veterans have worked together to organize it. This is unprecedented in our country.
What is happening now is that people are realizing the government, while it prepared for a war in Afghanistan, did not prepare for the consequences of that war. The consequences are far stronger, far larger and much longer lasting than were imagined. These costs were not taken into consideration with the other costs of participating in this war.
Many things need to be done and many improvements need to be made. Much consideration needs to be given to the ideas that have been brought forward by Pat Stogran to the complaints that have been brought forward, legitimately, ones that have to be dealt with, and more improvements have to be made.
I hope I will have a few more minutes in questions and comments to elaborate on some of these issues.