Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill that deeply affects us all because there are important changes to be made. Wars are not what they once were. The situation has changed since the last world war, in 1945.
The soldiers we sent to Afghanistan at the very beginning were supposed to be peacemakers and rebuild the country. Their mission changed along the way. These soldiers were trained to rebuild the country, but now they are engaged in a war without having received any training before leaving. They received another type of training and have had to change their work and adjust to a war in which they did not necessarily decide to participate at the beginning. They have remained in Afghanistan. I would say that these men—and women, as there are now many women in the army—are courageous. We have lost many soldiers since the beginning and that is a sad reality. However, we accepted our responsibilities and will stay there until 2011.
When young people join the army, they tell themselves that it is a job. It is not just a job, it is a commitment. They do not sign up for a 9 to 5 job. They go out into the field and do not know what they will be dealing with. The land is littered with mines and IEDs explode everywhere. They build a school and it is destroyed the next day. There are situations that our soldiers were not necessarily prepared to deal with.
Having said that, we do not oppose the bill, but we would like to make some improvements. When we change a law, let us get it right in the first place so that it respects the rights of military workers who choose to enter the army and risk their lives while doing their work, which is difficult work. It is not a 9 to 5 job. It is a hard job that takes them away from their family for months, sometimes years. They should receive all the help available when they return, in order to lead as normal a life as possible.
What I am really concerned about are soldiers' many physical and psychological needs. I would like to share some statistics. If I were in the government's position, I would be really worried about the way I was treating the men and women who decide to join the army. The armed forced should provide adequate follow-up for soldiers because 4% of the Kandahar veterans develop suicidal tendencies. That is a huge number. They do not just develop suicidal tendencies; several young people have committed suicide.
This is a serious problem. Parents whose children come back after four or five months are not equipped to deal with this kind of situation. They do not know how to react. I am talking about young people who still live with their parents, but there are also young fathers who come back completely transformed. Families have no resources to deal with this situation.
Anyone returning from Kandahar or any other war-torn country experiences shock. Right now, no resources at all are made available to help them. About 4.6% of them have symptoms of severe depression and over 15% have mental health issues. That number is huge. That adds up to 20%.
That is why I believe that the government and society are failing the soldiers who come back from the front, from a war, and it is a war. They need to get help, but they may not have the means to pay for that help.
I believe that should be an integral part of each mission. As soon as soldiers, male or female, return from Kandahar or anywhere else, they should be placed under observation to ensure that they are capable of normal social reintegration. If they are not, we have to make sure that we give them the resources they need to get better. I believe that is critical.
I would like to tell hon. members about a young man who served two tours in Kandahar. Before going on his first mission, this young man really believed that this was a job and that he would go and work over there for six months and see what happened. He was also looking for some discipline, which he got with training when he went on mission. When he returned from his first tour, he did not feel at home anymore. He did not feel he could readjust to society, so he went back for another six months, but when he came home again, he was completely unable to reintegrate and lived on the fringes of society.
His parents, who did not know what to do or how to deal with him anymore, tried to get help. But people need specialized help in such cases. You cannot just ask a psychologist who looks after people with psychological problems caused by a separation or something else to treat this sort of problem. This young man was returning from the war. He had seen his friends die in battle or lose legs or arms. These people need specialized help when they come home. But there is a serious lack of help, and we must find solutions very, very quickly.
In my opinion, when this bill goes to committee, the committee members will have to look closely at this issue, because if we do not act right away, we are going to lose countless people. We are going to lose more people when they come back from the war than we lose in battle. This is disturbing, and it is not very reassuring. It means that we are not doing our jobs in this House and that the government is not doing its job. It means that the government does not care about our soldiers. That should not be the perception, but it is right now.
There are people who are losing children because they commit suicide. There have been a number of cases where men have killed themselves on returning home from the war, and the women with young children they leave behind feel ignored.
In addition, we must take all kinds of things into account in this bill, such as the pension. If a soldier is killed on the battle field, the widow or widower receives only 50% of the pension. Have they not considered that this person gave his life and perhaps spent several years defending a country, protecting it and trying to restore order? It is unacceptable that the soldier's parents, or a mother who is left alone to raise three children, are left with nothing.
I think that we must absolutely ensure that families receive more than half of the pension. They should receive at least three quarters to ensure that they can survive. The family will be going through an extremely difficult time. It will have to rebuild. The mother will have to start her life over to enable her kids to go to school and to provide all of the basic necessities.
I do not think that is too much to ask. When a soldier has spent years at war, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, it is not too much to ask that a spouse would receive more money to get through this mourning period and to start over, which is not easy.
Furthermore, we must ensure that these men and women receive psychological help. Help not only for the soldiers, but also for the families, because they will be scarred for life. Losing a loved one in war is tragic and traumatic. Often, these men and women fall into a depression and are not even able to care for their children. I think it is important to provide immediate support and to offer them assistance. They must have access to specialists, which is not the case right now. They need specialists.
Roméo Dallaire himself has talked about how unbearable life was when he returned and how people are left to fend for themselves when they come home. This measure must be a priority. We have to think about the money we should be giving these families, and also about the emotional support that people need. It is very important. We have to think not only about the families, but also about the parents and other people who are affected, including brothers and sisters. It is important.
When a tragedy occurs at a school for example, psychological support is always provided within 24 hours. Within 24 hours, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialists and social workers arrive at the school to provide support and to comfort the young people who have had a shock, and provide them with the necessary care to get through the crisis.
Why could we not do the same thing for our soldiers? I think it is the least we could do.
I think it is a shame that nothing is being done. I hope that with this bill we will truly focus on this because it is necessary. Mark my words, over the coming months and years, there will be more soldiers committing suicide and being ill after their return than dying on the battlefield, and that is completely unacceptable. In any event, even one person lost in a war is one too many.
These soldiers come home with psychological, psychiatric and physical wounds. It is not easy to go on with life after losing an arm or a leg. It is not easy to find a job after being a soldier for many years either. It is difficult even if it has not been so many years, even if the soldier has only been in the army for five years. It is almost impossible for soldiers to go to work in a 9 to 5 job. They do not work from 9 to 5. They work in the field, always on alert, always on their guard and always protecting the public and protecting their own lives. And yet, after all that, we expect them to fit into any old job.
And that is why employment insurance is such an important issue. We have been saying this forever—we need to increase benefits from 55% to 60% and the number of weeks needs to be increased for military personnel so that when they return home they really have the time to resume a normal life and ensure that they find a job that really suits them.
I doubt that when they come home they wake up the next morning knowing what they want to go into. They have other work to do. They have to exorcize some of the war demons, forget everything they saw and deal with all of the psychological wounds. They have to take some time to get reoriented and they need help with that. They need intervenors—people who will meet with them, who can guide them and tell them what they would be good at. Perhaps soldiers would be excellent intervenors. Or maybe they could work with children. We do not know.
The important thing is that they receive guidance. That is a necessity and it will take time. They must also be able to provide for their families and meet their own needs. That takes money. And that is where employment insurance is very important. They need to have the financial ability and the necessary tools to resume a normal life.
Those who lose a limb—an arm or a leg—or suffer other physical trauma should be compensated. We should not give them a lump sum if they lose an arm. We do not give them a lump sum if they lose a leg. The person loses much more when that happens. First, there is terrible a psychological shock and, second, where will these people work afterwards? What will they do for work?
What does a young person of 25 do after losing an arm or a leg? Small miracles can be done, but we must make sure these people are well compensated and well taken care of, so they can also go on with their lives in another field.
I think a great deal needs to be done and very little has been done so far. I would say that we here in Parliament have done a less than stellar job supporting the troops we send overseas. We are all proud of them. We have Canadian Forces members representing us in Kandahar, but we need to take care of these people when they come home.
Some come home and are very tough, very strong. They will do fine and thank goodness. I am very happy for them, very happy indeed. Perhaps they will pursue a career in the military for the rest of their lives. However, other people come home and have a completely different experience. We must help those people.
We also need to think about parental leave. I will close on this thought, because I think I am almost out of time. Parental leave is important. If they cannot take it while they are overseas—which is understandable, since they may have to stay over there if there is a crisis—they must be able to defer that leave. If they come home to take their parental leave but are called back to duty because of an emergency, that leave must not be lost; instead, it must be deferred. I do not think this is too much to ask. It is the same amount of money, except that, if we send that person back overseas, the parental leave must be granted at a later date. I think this would only be fair, because these people have families, too.
We cannot treat Canadian Forces members like objects. They are human beings like us. The hours these people work are appalling, and they see things that we here in the House might not be able to endure.
Accordingly, I think we must show them some respect and give them all the help they need so that when they come home, they continue making us proud, they continue to feel proud of themselves, and they can continue living balanced, normal, healthy lives.