Mr. Chair, it is an honour to take part in what is truly an important debate. I hope that I can clear up some of the misconceptions that still linger around the new veterans charter.
While I would like to discuss the improvements we are making to the new charter, Canadians first deserve the reassurance that our government truly does understand and respects our responsibility to our nation's finest heroes. Being there for these courageous Canadians is not only our duty, but it is our deepest desire. We are proud of what these brave men and women have accomplished for Canada and we are determined to help repay our nation's debt to them.
That is precisely why our government has announced more than $2 billion in new investments to improve the existing support our ill and injured veterans receive from their country. Those were not whipped up on the back of a cigarette carton or a napkin in response to somebody's press conference. Those were measures that had been in the works for many months.
This $2 billion and the other announcements we made over the past several weeks reflect our government's commitment to making sure our Canadian Forces personnel, our veterans and their families have the support they need when they need it.
These new measures also reflect how we are listening to our veterans. We readily acknowledge they have some legitimate concerns and we are responding to them in real and meaningful ways. One of the key features of the new veterans charter is the disability award, or lump sum payment as it is better known. The disability award does not replace any pensions whatsoever.
What is often forgotten is that the disability award is only one part of the financial assistance that we provide to injured and ill Canadian Forces personnel and veterans. In fact, the sole intent of the disability award is to recognize and compensate for the non-economic impact, pain and suffering of an injury or illness suffered in the line of duty.
There is also ongoing or long-term financial support to recognize the economic impact of being wounded in the line of duty. The most common one is the earnings lost benefit. It ensures that veterans receive up to 75% of their pre-release salary.
While I know the names of these other benefits do not mean much to most members, it is important to remember that there are monthly income benefits in the new veterans charter, including the permanent impairment allowance, the Canadian Forces income supplement, as well as a one-time supplementary retirement benefit paid out when a veteran turns 65 years of age. These benefits are in addition to the disability award. Again, it is important to keep that in mind, just as I think it is worth remembering that the first priority of the new veterans charter is to promote wellness for both our veterans and their families. By focusing on the health and well-being of our veterans, by developing rehabilitation programs tailored to their individual needs and by providing similar support to their families, we can really make a difference in their lives. We can help them open new doors. We can help them build a new future full of promise.
That is something a disability pension cannot do. In fact, I have always thought there was something fundamentally wrong with maintaining a system of disability pensions that encouraged our increasingly younger veterans to focus the rest of their lives on being disabled.
The new veterans charter turns all of this around by providing immediate and significant financial help, which is then followed by comprehensive rehabilitation services and ongoing financial support. That is why the disability award is so important. It is easier for injured men and women to focus on their rehabilitation if they do not have to worry about how they are going to make ends meet each month. Some veterans even tell us that the disability award offers a measure of closure so that they can start moving forward emotionally. It helps them begin their transition to civilian life faster and to reach their goals for the best recovery possible.
What we have found after almost five years however is that there are still some gaps in the new charter and we are moving quickly to fill them in. In particular, the $2 billion in funding I mentioned will help relieve the hardships faced by our men and women with catastrophic injuries. It will make sure that ill and injured veterans have an adequate monthly income.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs recently explained how these new measures will work. I would like to repeat a few of his key points because they continue to get lost in some of the sound and fury in this chamber.
First, for veterans who have suffered serious injuries and cannot work, we are going to provide them with an additional $1,000 a month. This will be above and beyond their earnings lost benefit and the permanent impairment allowance that already provides them up to another $1,609 per month.
Furthermore, access to a monthly allowance for seriously injured veterans will be expanded. This should help extend eligibility to more than 3,500 additional veterans over the next five years. As well, the earnings lost benefit will be increased so that every recipient's income is at least $40,000 a year, regardless of what the person was earning in the military. This measure will benefit more than 2,300 low income veterans over the next five years.
If all of these measures are combined together, it means that our most seriously injured and ill veterans will receive a minimum of $58,000 a year for the rest of their lives. That is in addition to, in many cases, more than $500,000 in lump sum payments.
We fully realize that no amount of money can compensate for a life-altering disability. One of the truly remarkable things about our men and women in uniform is that they have always been able to risk everything to serve our country. We as a nation can make sure that we too are prepared to do everything we can to support these men and women when they need us.
The new veterans charter should be a living document. It should be able to adapt to changing conditions. In fact, adapt is what we have done. We have heard many measures tonight. We have adapted in many ways to recognize the new veteran, the young veterans from Afghanistan, with things like doubling the number of mental health professionals, and opening joint personnel support units and operational stress injury clinics. I had the pleasure of helping open one of those in Edmonton recently. We have adapted with things like opening the CAREN systems in Ottawa, and in a couple of months, in Edmonton.
We can never do enough. I acknowledge that and I think everybody acknowledges it. We would all like to do more. We are facing an era of unlimited legitimate demands, but limited resources. It is going to be a matter of priority, and we are putting priority where it matters the most.
Will the glass ever be full in this circumstance? Probably not. This is one of those areas where we are always going to be chasing perfection. Will we ever get there? Probably not, but we will never stop trying, because we care and we have brains on this side of the House and on all sides of the House. We are all in this together. There is no question about that. There is no “this side” or “that side” to the issue.
With over 750,000 veterans, it is an absolutely enormous job that Veterans Affairs does. By and large, they do it very well. With so many clients, some people are going to fall through the cracks. It is regrettable, it should never happen, but the reality is that it does. With that many clients, it is almost inevitable.
The important thing is that if a ball is dropped we try hard to pick it up on the first bounce. Do we always do that? No, but we try very hard, because we have an obligation to these folks. However, we can never get to the level that we would like to.
I am proud of being a veteran. I am not a veteran of a foreign war, but a veteran of 30 years, and I know many veterans, many personal friends of mine, who are extremely well served. I know a couple who do not feel so well served, and we try to help them every day.
I am sure all members of this House have people coming to their constituency offices to tell stories about things that have not worked. I know we all try hard to assist those veterans, those people in need, because that is what we do. That is what any government does. That is what any member of Parliament does and will continue to do.
On November 6, there will be some folks visiting my office. I have talked to them and I will be there waiting for them. They will be singing O Canada and saying a few things outside. I will join them in singing O Canada and then we will go inside, have some coffee and doughnuts, and talk about the issues. We are going to talk about the legitimate complaints and concerns that they have. I will try to explain to them what we have been trying to do.
Are we perfect? No, no government is, but every government on either side of the floor will always try. I know the Liberals tried and I do not deny that. We are trying and they should not deny it.
It is an imperfect world. There are limited resources for everything. We are trying to put the priorities in place where it matters the most. I think we do a pretty good job. We can always do better and we will always try to.
I got to know Master Corporal Paul Franklin very well. He is a veteran who lost both legs above the knee in January 2006. I met him on January 4, 2006. He went through a tremendous rehabilitation process that was extremely difficult. He has been around the world and looked at other countries like Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. He told me, and said publicly many times, that nobody does a better job with injured soldiers than Canada.
Does that mean it is perfect? Absolutely not. Does that mean it can get better? Absolutely, it does. In Paul's words, and he ought to know more about it than just about anybody else, “Canada does a great job”.
We will always try to make a great job even better, because that is our obligation to these people and we will never let them down.