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House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question.

Veterans Affairs and other presenters have highlighted the need for Canada to do more in terms of tracking. Very little tracking is done. Information is critically important in order to develop and conduct assessments that ultimately allow us to have a better understanding of the depth of the problem. That needs to be dealt with.

When we talk about PTSD and other disorders or injuries, whether they are of a physical or mental nature, we need to get a better assessment of it. There is a great deficiency in the tracking of those issues which has come up at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Elmwood—Transcona indicated, the NDP will be supporting this bill after the very able work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

There are, of course, things that are not in the bill and I would like the member to specifically comment on the situation with agent orange. We know that members of the Canadian Forces at CFB Gagetown were exposed to agent orange in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. There was a very narrow window of opportunity for armed forces personnel to be compensated for that exposure to agent orange and some of the terrible things that happened to their families.

I wonder if the member could comment on whether he thinks it is important that we expand the scope for veterans and their families to receive compensation for exposure to agent orange at CFB Gagetown.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good issue. I suspect all are concerned about issues surrounding agent orange. Members will recall that when I addressed the bill itself, I talked about it being a first step. When I say that, I mean in good part that there is a lot more we could and should be doing.

Let us get this bill to committee and see if some amendments can be brought forward to make it a better bill. Even if we want to keep the amendments within the scope of the legislation itself, we are still not going to be able to do all the things we would like to do in order to adequately and better compensate our veterans in general.

We need to acknowledge going into committee that this is not a perfect bill, but it is a step forward and we should all encourage and support it going forward. If we can make amendments at committee that will make it a better bill we should do that, but let us not lose sight of the idea that we owe more to our veterans than just this particular bill. We should look for additional resources, laws, whatever it takes, to make our veterans that much better and safer.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member from Québec.

I rise today to debate Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. I would first like to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle but, as you will see, there is room for improvement.

I hope that this bill will make people aware of the new concept of veterans. Veterans now include those known as modern-day veterans, those returning from the Afghanistan mission who are between 20 and 40 years old. Men and women who embarked on a mission to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban are returning with physical injuries and are often severely affected psychologically by what they have seen.

Since the beginning of this mission in 2002, 154 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. Statistics provided by the Department of National Defence indicate that a total of 1,580 Canadian soldiers had been injured or killed in Afghanistan as of 2008. In 2009, 505 soldiers were injured, on top of the 1,075 injured as of 2008.

Furthermore, as a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw with my own eyes veterans or their family members who told us about their daily nightmares, what is called post-traumatic stress disorder. These people often have to take very strong medication and undergo rigorous medical follow-up to live and reintegrate into our society.

I wanted to take a few minutes to show you that I am informed about and aware of this type of situation. It should also be noted that the Department of National Defence refuses to disclose the nature and seriousness of injuries. We will have to wait until the end of the current year to obtain the statistics for 2010. The current mission will be over, but other members of the military who have training functions will continue to face the dangers arising from their presence in that country. I am giving the example of the Afghanistan mission as a reminder that the mission of our Canadian military has changed greatly over the past decade.

I would like to point out that we have always been particularly concerned about the well-being of our veterans. As parliamentarians, we may seriously disagree on political decisions or military missions that the public finds controversial. But what is most important is that our veterans should not pay the political price of this debate. They sacrificed much of their safety, their well-being and their health. It goes without saying that injured and disabled veterans deserve nothing but our full gratitude and recognition, and we must give them the support that they need.

Upon reading Bill C-55, we can see that it contains measures that we hope will help veterans. It proposes some important changes: at least $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, those too injured to return to the workforce; a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit; an additional monthly payment of $1,000 for life to help our most seriously wounded veterans who are no longer able to work; and improved access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance, which will include 3,500 more veterans.

A minimum salary of $40,000 is not a lot of money. To receive $58,000 and the additional $1,000 for life, the individual has to be confined to bed and unable to move. He has to be completely incapacitated. Even that is not much money in exchange for one's health.

The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that the Conservative government did not include measures to pay the monthly pensions. The Minister of Veterans Affairs trumpeted the fact that his department was going to invest $2 billion to help veterans. That is an impressive figure, but we believe that it is poorly managed and poorly allocated.

I said before that all of the stakeholders are unanimous: they believe that the government should abandon the idea of lump sum payments and bring back the lifetime monthly pension for those who are entitled to it.

If we are not able to convince the Conservative government here in the House, we would like to hear what veterans have to say about what this government is doing when we study Bill C-55 in committee. After all, they are the ones affected by this legislation.

I would like to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is aware of and sensitive to veterans affairs. Many veterans have had to make significant sacrifices in the defence of liberty and justice. Many veterans experience after-effects and have to live with the physical and emotional injuries they sustained during their years of service. The Bloc Québécois has the utmost respect for military personnel who risk their lives carrying out highly dangerous missions.

This profound respect implies that, since their lives are in danger, we have the responsibility not to expose them to further risk. Once their mission is complete, we have the collective responsibility to offer them all the support they need when they return home.

In its parliamentary work, our party has always been concerned about the support given to veterans and those who proudly wore a uniform. For example, we have always demanded that the government allocate all the resources possible to help soldiers and veterans and meet their health care needs, particularly in the case of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The government will allocate a $1,000 taxable supplement to veterans with permanent disabilities who can no longer return to the labour market. It is expected that 500 veterans will benefit from this measure in the first five years after this bill comes into effect.

We believe that, given the nature of the situation, this $1,000 supplement should be exempt from tax. We are offering this money to veterans who fought and sacrificed their well-being at their government's request. This monthly supplement will be paid to veterans who are unable to hold gainful employment because of their injuries. Not only will they have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives, but they will also never be able to have a normal financial life because of those injuries. Why penalize them further by making the supplement taxable?

When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, the veterans ombudsman invited parliamentarians to reject a system that would give veterans a choice, as Bill C-55 does. He felt that this option would not do any good because most veterans would choose a lump sum payment. With that in mind, the ombudsman urged parliamentarians to take a tough love approach with veterans.

On top of that, we were also disappointed with the amount in question. The Bloc Québécois would have liked the government to increase the maximum level of compensation. At present, the maximum payout for a disability award is $276,000. However, if we went back to a lifetime monthly pension, veterans could receive between 15% and 35% more than they are receiving now. Thus, the $2 billion the government wants to inject simply amounts to payments that it has not made and that it owes our veterans. That money is there for precisely that purpose. The new duties, the new amount and the new money set out in this bill will serve only to pay small amounts and line the government's pockets.

On behalf of our veterans, I cannot help but wonder why the government did not respond to the concerns of veterans regarding the lump sum payment. A study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 31% of veterans were happy with what they received, while the minister promised new improvements to the lump sum payment.

Instead, the government merely divided up the payment differently, for example, as a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years the recipient chooses, or as a single lump sum payment.

In that regard, the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at a maximum of $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. Australian service members receive about $325,000, and British service members receive almost $1 million. The government is trying to save money on the backs of our veterans, as I said earlier. Everywhere else in the world, veterans receive much higher sums and that money is managed much better than in Canada. Here the government is always trying to save a few pennies to put money elsewhere. The government spent $1.2 billion on the G8 and G20 summits, and nothing was achieved in those three days. It could have used that money to help our veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government needs to stop saying that the Bloc Québécois does not support veterans. I have a message for the Conservatives: I am the daughter of a veteran. My father fought in England, as did my uncle and aunt. My father came back with tuberculosis; my uncle, with a leg missing; and my aunt, with only half of her head. It is very important to me that Bill C-55 about veterans be well thought out and well crafted. My father had tuberculosis and received a monthly pension to help him move past the depression, the ordeal and the horror he had gone through in the war.

Why does the government still insist on not providing a monthly pension to those returning from war, those who defend democracy? These are our parents, our brothers, our sisters. I would like to understand why the government is being so stubborn about the monthly disability pension. Why does my colleague think?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government is giving out lump sum payments just to save a few dollars. We met with people from Veterans Affairs and made projections for someone with a disability assessed at 4% and one at 40%. We looked at the two cases separately. The former payment formula paid more. When we take into account the Pension Act, payments were higher before than the current lump sum payment plus the additional payments.

Why am I concerned about veterans who are injured in a theatre of operations? I used to be a union representative for workers hurt on the job. I have empathy for people who come home injured. Those who are injured in a theatre of operations did not ask for it. They should receive the best possible compensation. Canada owes them that much.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the daughter of a World War II veteran, I have a personal interest in speaking today to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. This bill also amends the new veterans charter introduced in November by the Conservative Minister of Veterans Affairs. I was very active on this issue given that I am an MP from Quebec City and the Valcartier military base is in that region.

I will briefly outline the measures proposed in Bill C-55. The lump sum payment remains the same, as my colleague was saying earlier, but injured soldiers could now spread out the payment or opt for a single payment. They will have the choice between a single payment, a monthly payment or a combination of the two. Nonetheless, the maximum amount of the lump sum is not being increased, and that does not really meet the expectations of the veterans who appeared before the committee. Income for veterans who can no longer work has been set at $40,000 before taxes, and monthly benefits can range between $536 and $1,609. As my colleague was saying earlier, $40,000 is not very much, and no consideration is given to the salary the individual was earning before being injured or, in many cases, maimed.

Although the minister decided not to increase the amount of the lump sum payment given to veterans who are seriously injured during combat, the Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill should be studied in more depth in committee. We have asked that the families of witnesses and veterans themselves testify to provide us with their insight on all of the new measures tabled by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Many stakeholders, in particular the Royal Canadian Legion, do not believe that this bill goes far enough. Given the magnitude of the mission in Afghanistan—it is a very high-risk situation in which an increasingly large number of people are being injured—the federal government could have increased its investment. We hope that veterans will be able to come and share their opinions on this bill and testify about their situation.

With regard to the desire of many stakeholders that compensation for injured soldiers be given in the form of a lifetime monthly pension, on October 5, I tabled in the House of Commons a petition signed by 6,000 people asking the federal government to bring back the lump sum payment. That is why I said that I was very interested in this issue and that I had worked on this file. That being said, the impact of the new measures will have to be determined.

I also decided to take some concrete action after meeting with Francine Matteau, a constituent of mine from Quebec City. Her son injured both of his legs in 2007 when he was serving in Afghanistan. He had to have nine surgeries. He has constant pain in his ankles, and one leg is shorter than the other. His ankles are practically immobile. He has lost control, mobility and strength in both of his legs. He has difficulties holding a full-time job and no longer meets the army's requirements. I know that he dreamed of a career outside the military when he returned from Afghanistan.

If he had been wounded before the adoption of the new charter, he would have received $5,400 per month, instead of a lump sum payment of $100,000. Yes, $100,000 is a lot of money, but when you spread that out, for someone who is 20, 21 or 22, who is returning seriously wounded and can no longer work, that is definitely not enough. The family must pick up the slack, and he becomes dependent.

I have other similar examples.

Elphège Renaud, the president of the Association des anciens combattants du Royal 22e Régiment de Valcartier, met 19 soldiers who were severely disabled. Most of them were penniless despite having received compensation.

The former veterans ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, has also spoken out about this situation. He has called for the reinstatement of the monthly pension to prevent injured soldiers and their families from falling below the poverty line.

Moving to a lump sum payment means that Canada refuses to recognize as full veterans the soldiers who return from Afghanistan with injuries. This was reported in La Presse on September 13, 2010. Again according to Mr. Stogran, the adoption of the new veterans charter created two classes of veterans: those who served in the second world war and in the Korean War, and all the rest. What is also left unsaid is that those who were injured in World War II had to prove that their injuries were actually related to the battles that had taken place.

According to Mr. Stogran, the government is clearly failing to fulfill its obligations towards an entire generation of veterans, and the enhanced new veterans charter makes only one thing possible: to save money at the expense of this new generation.

On August 30, an independent study ordered by the veterans ombudsman and submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs was made public. It compares the one-time lump sum payment to the guaranteed lifetime pension. It concludes that soldiers injured in combat, veterans and the families of severely disabled members are the losers with the implementation of the enhanced new veterans charter.

As was said earlier, to be entitled to fair compensation you must be severely disabled, and the compensation is not enough given that a severely disabled person requires more individualized health services. For that reason we are asking if it would be possible, in committee, to amend the bill so that it better meets the expectations of those injured in combat.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs always replies that changes were made to the charter on September 19 in order to improve assistance for veterans. This afternoon, I am telling him that it is not enough. The minister should be much more sensitive to what these young veterans really go through when they return home. They often have fairly serious psychological issues. The minister himself admitted, at a press conference, that the new measures he was announcing would not result in a return to a monthly pension rather than a lump sum payment.

This bill no longer imposes a lump sum payment, which is a step in the right direction. As for the single payment option for a lump sum payment, as I said earlier, that is an in-between solution that will not ensure greater stability or the well-being of our younger veterans in the long term, compared to what a lifetime monthly pension could do.

We can draw a parallel with another issue: water contamination in Shannon. A little earlier, an NDP member raised the whole issue of agent orange and the need for a much more in-depth study. Some soldiers were contaminated by chemicals and, in some cases, even developed cancer. I would like to remind the House about the whole issue of water contamination in Shannon. For years, people drank contaminated water from the groundwater that had been contaminated by National Defence. Many veterans, soldiers and civilians lived in this area neighbouring Valcartier. They were contaminated and had a higher than average rate of cancer. A class action lawsuit has been launched against the Department of National Defence and SNC-Lavalin. The residents needed a great deal of money in order to be heard, since neither government—the Liberals, at the time, and now the Conservatives—acted responsibly.

Acting responsibly would have meant, for example, doing what was done in the United States. They tried tracking down all of the soldiers who worked at Camp Lejeune and drank the water. The same thing happened there. The army had contaminated the groundwater and the people, including young cadets, had drunk the contaminated water.

Thus, we would have liked the federal government to do more to show that it cares. They always talk about how proud they are of our soldiers who go and defend democracy overseas on behalf of the Canadian nation. However, it is shameful and appalling to see how the government takes care of these soldiers when they come back.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, when the lump sum payment first came in, some people said that the rationale was that if they had their money in the beginning they could invest in a small business, a house or something else and that would be better. However, I am not sure it worked out that way.

I wonder if statistics have been kept on the people who took the lump sum payments, where they were actually successful and where they were able to move ahead. Or, do the stats show that for most of them it has expired and they really need the ongoing pension, that it did not really work out as was originally envisioned?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Liberal Party has raised an important issue. Soldiers who returned and received lump sum payments ended up without any money a few years later. Their families had to take them in and support them. We are proposing things to prevent that from ever happening again.

Earlier, an hon. member said that many other countries take better care of their soldiers than Canada does. It is all well and good to give a lump sum payment, but we must also see how the soldiers can carry on in life without living under the poverty line and without putting their families under pressure to support them. When they return home, they need services adapted to their reality. The young man I was talking about earlier, who returned with multiple handicaps and had nine operations on his legs, will never again be physically able to hold down a job.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see a member of the Bloc stand in support of Canada and its military and recognize the great work it does to ensure our safety.

I share the concerns that the member has in regard to how we deal with some of the lump sum payments and other things that are offered and which are clearly presenting problems. Bill C-55 puts forward some solutions and some modifications to the existing plan.

What else would the member like to see? She talked a lot about the concern around the lump sum payment in particular. What would the member's advice be as to what she would like to see done differently?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we should assess the monthly amount that injured soldiers could receive, according to the degree of their injuries. The hon. member said she was pleased to see that members of the Bloc support the troops. I started my speech by saying I am the daughter of a veteran of World War II. Within my family, a number of people have served in the Canadian Forces. I will not take her comment personally, but it makes me laugh because many soldiers from Quebec took part in World War II and returned injured, but that is another debate.

We want the bill to be referred to committee so that we can have a serious discussion not about a lump sum payment, but about a monthly benefit, and determine the best amount to pay in various cases. We could come to an equitable decision and still consider granting a lump sum payment. Earlier it was said that with $100,000 a person could buy a house. Today, $100,000 will not even buy a business. What can a person do with $100,000 or $200,000? It is unrealistic. The maximum payment is $276,000 and for that the person would have to be almost completely physically disabled and confined to bed. If the person lived for 20 or 30 years, that $276,000 would be gone in no time, and that puts pressure on the parents and the family, whom we also have to consider.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the member for Sault Ste. Marie, Poverty.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the movement of this bill to committee. The Liberals have supported this all along and feel very strongly about it.

Veterans have told us over and over that they want to see this legislation move forward, not because it is a perfect bill by any means, but because it is at least a step in the right direction. I do want to know why it took so long. Why did some tragic incidents need to occur, such as the ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, who was vilified when he started to show the flaws in the new veterans charter?

It is a pity that had to happen and that we had to wait so long before we saw some of the changes in the new veterans charter. It has been four years and over those four years many veterans have had a lot of problems accessing some of the benefits that they expected to have. It is a pity that it had to take so long but it is better late than never.

This bill is a move in the right direction. We heard the minister himself say that this is a second step, which leads every one of us to hope and believe that there will be a third and fourth step that will incrementally look at the whole issue of veterans and their needs after they have served their country with such valour and such selflessness. After we encourage them and applaud them as they go out to fight for us, they should know that when they come back they will be in safe hands and that no matter what disability or harm they faced when they were at war, they will be taken care of by their nation for as long as they are in need.

There are some problems within this bill that I hope we can look at in committee. Members heard everyone say that.

I have a lot of veterans in my riding. I have many recent veterans in my riding who were in Afghanistan. I want to talk about them because I have been meeting with them. I go to all of their events. I have heard some things that I want to put on the table that I hope we can fix.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for York West.

I heard about three things that we need to look at during committee stage. One of them is the lump sum payment and the fact that the lump sum payment is capped, as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois said, at $275,000. In order to get that amount, a veteran would need to be severely disabled.

One could say that a physical disability is going to last for x length of time and that person may need assistance with such things as wheelchair accessibility, renovations to his or home, et cetera. However, the disabilities that defy prediction and prognosis are neurological disabilities. Agent orange was referred to earlier in the House. There are many chemical weapons. Neurological damage can occur in a physical disability. We do not know how these neurological damages will play out.

With a lot of young veterans coming out of Afghanistan, how do we limit them to this amount of money. If they live to be 70 years old, what will their needs be? Will their situation get progressively worse or progressively better? It is not a predictable thing. We should not talk too much about limitations. Whatever our veterans need for as long as they need it, whether it be for a lifetime, six years, six months, or whatever, we should not set limitations on how we deal with injured veterans. That is totally unfair to them.

I wanted to speak to the issue of the lump sum payment as a physician and about the unpredictability of what could happen with a disability, especially a neurological one.

That moves me on to another type of disability which is not a new one. It is just one that nobody ever talks about. I remember meeting with a World War II veteran who said that when he was in the army he was told to soldier on because that is what a soldier did. A soldier never complained. He told me that when they come back they were changed men and women. Their spouses did not know who they were. They know now that they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He told me that they were changed and that many times they were not able to deal with their families in the same way. Post-traumatic stress disorder creates isolation, anger and depression, which affects the whole family.

Now that we know about post-traumatic stress disorder and we understand the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder, I think it is a pity that the bill does not actually refer to it as an entity on its own. For instance, there are no programs at the moment to deal with the rehabilitation and the psychiatry that is needed to help persons with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There is one at UBC, but it is paid for by UBC funds and by the poppy fund. The government has not put any money into dealing with the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder when it is something for which there should be a lot of programs and a lot of centres, and the government should put money into dealing with these issues.

I saw a film of the UBC program. I was moved to tears and the veterans in the room were moved to tears. Many of the old veterans from World War II were saying, “Oh, my God, if I had only had access to this at one point in my life”. The men and women who were speaking at this post-traumatic stress disorder clinic were saying, “I feel like a wimp, but my buddy was blown up and the blood was all over me and his brains. I feel if I complain or if it affected me psychologically, that I'm a wimp, that I'm not this macho man”.

We are breaking through that to get them to talk about things. We need solid programs for vets to be attended to. I am hoping that will come up at the committee stage and that we will look at this really important issue.

The third thing that I want to talk about that I think needs to be looked at in committee are the current programs and the current service delivery. I have heard from veterans that, in fact, this is very spotty across the country. Some areas have great programs, great ways of accessing them, and others do not. We need to look at how to make this a seamless kind of delivery of services no matter where people live across the country.

For instance, I have heard from veterans that they wait six to eight or nine months just to get the papers processed while they are in pain, while they have a need for all kinds of early interventions. We all know that, with disabilities, the earlier we intervene, the better the chance of recovery. The longer we wait, the more difficult it is to recover from these disabilities, whether they are physical or mental.

We have heard that people have been waiting for a long time, that when they get there, they sometimes face hostility. They feel like they are begging. They feel that they are often accused of lying or they are often accused of overstressing the problem that they have. They have to provide the burden proof that there is something wrong with them. Many of them have said that their physicians have written notes saying that this is what this person has and this is what this person needs, and then they would be told things, such as, “Oh, well, your physician is just lying to help you out”.

We are traumatizing the people who went out to fight for us. They come back and they have to face this re-victimization. That is really tough for them.

In fact, I have spoken to many World War II veterans who are in their eighties who cannot deal with it. It is something that just makes them so anxious and upset that they have just left themselves disabled; they have not sought the help that they need.

I just want to take a minute to speak about an individual veteran. This veteran talks very much about her service history. She was in Afghanistan. She talked about the fact that in British Columbia, where she lives, there is no rehabilitation centre, there is no one-stop shopping. She has to go and meet case worker A and then she has to go, for a different thing, to case worker B. She wanders all across the province. Then, when she has a problem, she has to go into the provincial health care system and stay in line with others to get physiotherapy, to get a wheelchair, to get various many other things in order to get the help that she needs. There is no veteran service centre, no rehabilitation centre.

We used to have this in Vancouver. It is no longer there. When she needs things, sometimes she has to call back east to get stuff. And if the weather is bad or if the phones are not working, she may not be able to get somebody back east. The time differences often make it difficult for her.

She is suggesting that we look at the delivery of service, make it seamless, make it national, ensure that there are three centres, one in the east, one in the centre of Canada, and one in the west, so that veterans do not have to spend a lot of time and energy trying to get the help they need.

I think we are going to support this bill, obviously. It is a step in the right direction. However, I hope we look at these three issues when we get to committee.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment my colleague. Clearly, her role as a medical doctor and her many meetings with veterans across the country has helped.

I am vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and we are doing a study on suicide in our veterans community. One of the presenters this afternoon was a professor from UBC who talked about a program called “Veterans Transition”. I do not know if the member is aware of it, but he certainly spoke very highly of this wonderful program. It does not receive and has not to date been able to receive federal funding. It is receiving its funding through the Royal Canadian Legion.

I would like to hear some comments from the hon. member. Has she made interventions on behalf of this group, or is she aware of this veterans transition organization?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, actually I did mention the UBC program. I have seen some of the films that were made and have met with some of the doctors there who have been dealing with this program. The member is absolutely right. They get money from UBC and the poppy fund, which is the Legion; but they do not get a penny from the federal government.

This is a very small program and they are not able to expand it. The work they are doing is very labour intensive. It is sometimes literally one-on-one counselling and a one-on-one workshops that they have to do. This is to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

They have pleaded with me to come and speak to this issue here today, bring it to the attention of the veterans committee, and our party, so that we can talk about this very important issue. Speaking as a physician, the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder is a very longstanding and deep-rooted issue that can last a whole lifetime.

We have many young men that have returned from Afghanistan. For example, the unfortunate young man, Trevor Greene from the Seaforth Highlanders, who had an axe in his head. We could look at how to honour this man by setting up a new rehabilitation centre, of which we have none at the moment in B.C., and call it the Trevor Greene centre.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that we can speak of a culture of protecting veterans, particularly in Europe. Some members will probably say that Europeans have seen so much war that they have had time to develop that kind of culture.

I would like to ask my colleague if she thinks that it would be good if the committee, during discussions about Bill C-55, drew on that culture in general. I am not only talking about physical things or regulations or the way in which laws are created. Veterans are cared for differently in Europe than they are here.

We could basically say that this type of culture does not exist here. Here there are people who want to forget them. I would like to hear her thoughts about proposing that to the committee.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is an excellent suggestion made by my colleague. This is what I meant by the system not being a national one of service and programs.

In many provinces, like mine, veterans have to go to the provincial health care system and wait in line. One of the things they talked about was having a culture that recognizes and respects our veterans.

They suggest that in many countries veterans actually work within these rehabilitation centres. Veterans actually work within the system because they know what it is they need to do to manipulate their way through the system. They feel that is a way to use veterans, who have come back, to get them into the system, to create a culture of respect and understanding of the issues veterans face, and the hoops they have to jump through.

I think it is important for us to look at that system and at how we can deal with our veterans in a holistic way.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my 10 minutes to this very important debate today on Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. It is a very long title for an important bill.

Before I continue, I want to take moment and pay special tribute to the thousands of current and former military service people, their families, and most especially to all those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we all enjoy today.

In the words of my colleague from Etobicoke North, the life experiences of our veterans:

--affect me and all Canadians deeply, and remind us that we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. Instead of trying to repay our obligation, we let them down on so many issues. For example, too many injured veterans go without the care they need. Too many veterans do not receive the support they have earned. Too many veterans have nowhere safe to sleep at night.

This must change and we have the power to change it. Bill C-55 is a step in the right direction.

As the vice-chair of the veterans committee and as an elected member, whenever I am called upon to speak or to vote on these matters, I remember the spirit that inspired these brave men and women to serve our country, and I try to conduct myself in accordance with their example.

As someone who grew up on Canada's east coast, I have seen firsthand that spirit, how it lived in the people of our communities and what it felt like each time a ship put out to sea with a crew of our finest young men and women.

I have also witnessed firsthand the challenges that are too often faced by that same crew upon their return home from the horrors of combat. The need for effective rehabilitation, services, and compensation are at the heart of why we are here today and, as we deliberate, I would certainly hope that all members of this House would remember that basic guiding ideal.

Let us right these past wrongs. Let us make Bill C-55 serve the people who need it the most.

We have all heard stories of elderly veterans who can no longer make ends meet. They are forced to give up their possessions, their independence and, ironically enough, they are forced to relinquish their personal freedom, all because they cannot access the appropriate services and supports they might need to truly return home.

We have all heard the terrible stories of young men and women battling marital breakdown, financial ruin, and even criminal implications prompted by battle-induced PTSD. What we do not often admit is that these things are actually avoidable.

National media headlines like “Veterans wanted dead, not alive, ombudsman charges” and “Canada's treatment of war veterans 'a national embarrassment'” tell a story of tragic failure on the part of the government.

Just this past July, the Toronto Star ran the story of John Sheardown. According to the article, Mr. Sheardown is an 85-year-old former bomber pilot. He is suffering from Alzheimer's and recovering from a broken hip.

Despite his distinguished service to Canada, Mr. Sheardon was left to languish in hospital, facing a wait of up to 18 months for a bed in a veterans long-term home in Ottawa. Now I ask, how is that okay? How is this appropriate treatment for a Canadian hero?

Our veterans deserve our help. They heroically stood for Canada and for Canadians, and now we need to stand with them, no exceptions.

What has brought us to this point? How is it that even after the implementation of the new veterans charter in 2006, we still have veterans falling through the cracks?

The Minister of Veterans Affairs tabled Bill C-55, Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act on November 17. The legislation consolidated several smaller announcements the minister made the previous fall, and it would make further minor changes to the new veterans charter, as called for by several veterans organizations including the Royal Canadian Legion.

Bill C-55 also proposes to introduce changes to the administration of the lump sum disability award, something we have heard a lot about at the committee level. Specifically, Bill C-55 would amend parts 1 to 3 of the new veterans charter, as well part IV of the Pension Act.

Despite all of this, on behalf of the veterans and in concert with many of my colleagues on this side of the House, I must ask why the government waited four years to propose any change to the new veterans charter.

Conservatives have suggested that the veterans charter is a living document or, as they call it, a work in progress that would be continually adapted to meet the changing needs of veterans, but I see very little evidence of this. How can they say this with a straight face when so many of our veterans have been left out of the government's plan?

Some on the other side of the House might say that I am being unfair with my criticism and so, as an example, I would ask why Veterans Affairs Canada did not live up to its 2006 commitment to review lump sum awards versus disability pension within two years. It would have saved an enormous amount of anguish for an awful lot of people if that had already been done, as was required in the original charter. I do not think it is an unfair question. It is a fair one that deserves an answer.

The former veterans ombudsman explained to the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs that such examples of lack of timely action undermine the sincerity of the chorus of loyalty to our veterans. With this in mind, Liberals have no intention of holding up this bill. We will work in the best interests of veterans and Canadian Forces members and, most importantly, to ensure that this bill rightfully addresses their needs.

However, to do this effectively, we are going to have to move fast. Canada, unfortunately, is now facing the possibility of an election. Again, when will the government get serious about the passage of Bill C-55 and its extra support for veterans? It will not happen if there is another election.

There is no real doubt that change is needed. A study by the minister's own department found that 31% of veterans are unhappy with what they are currently receiving. Yet, rather than making the necessary changes immediately, the government opted for a lesser approach. It simply divided the payment up differently.

Rather than fix the underlying problem, the government is proposing to permit the recipient to collect a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years or as a single lump payment. This is nothing more than bean counting and does very little to actually address the challenges already being identified by Canada's veterans.

I must point out that the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the overall amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. In Australia, service members receive about $325,000 and service members from the U.K. receive almost $1 million.

On a personal note, I would agree with the legion when it suggests that Canadian veterans have every right to expect at least what their civilian counterparts might expect to receive. I would even go one step further. Perhaps Canadian veterans should expect even more given what they have done for us.

This is but one example of what is lacking with the government. Whether we are talking about the government's lack of action on the agent orange file, the atomic veterans' concerns or the matter of PTSD most recently raised by the committee, the government has consistently failed to take a proactive approach to supporting veterans.

As I have also raised, the government has turned a blind eye to the changing demographics associated with our veterans. Canada's first contingents of regular Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in January 2002. Since then, thousands of our young men and women have served in what has been some of the most horrific and trying battle conditions seen in years.

In addition to the actual loss of life, Canada's newest returning heroes are facing a host of medical and psychological challenges: PTSD, heightened rates of suicide, marital breakdown, homelessness and even, according to some studies, higher rates of diseases such as ALS.

This is the new reality faced by Canadian veterans and as the former critic for Veterans Affairs, as the vice-chair of the veterans committee today and as an MP who thinks our war heroes deserve better, I am here to say that I think the government is simply not doing enough. The government has been quick to deploy and keen to arm, but very slow and lethargic to prepare for the human consequences of its actions and policies.

Liberals will be supporting Bill C-55. We look forward to it going to committee, an opportunity to try to improve a bill that does some things but clearly does not do enough.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to compliment the member as the champion in Parliament for pension reform in the special debate she had on November 23. I want to use my comment time to emphasize the point that for the reservist veterans there is a technical point where they fall through the crack. Whereas other public servants and Canadian Forces people working full time have to work six months to get the pension, reservists very seldom work longer than six months at a shot. They serve for two or three months, then they go back to their job and so they do not get any pensionable time. Most, if not all, reservists are being robbed of pensions that they rightfully should have for their great defence of our country. I hope the member would support me in trying to get that changed, maybe down to two months' service at least, so that reservists could get the pensions that all other service people get.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member as someone who has done an amazing amount of work when it comes to representing his constituents.

When we get into the area of pensions there are many inequities. He raised one particular area when it comes to the reservists that needs to be reviewed and some of these things need to be corrected.

I recently put out a white paper with 27 recommendations on a variety of things that need to change to bring ourselves into the 21st century and to ensure that we are treating people fairly. Reservists give us an awful lot and ask for very little back. The least we should be able to do is ensure that they have access to some pensionable earnings.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I take my hat off to my colleague who has been a champion for so many things, especially with veterans when she was the critic and now that she is on the committee.

Veterans have spoken to me over and over. We have all agreed on the lump sum and we have all talked about post-traumatic stress disorder, but I have heard from veterans that the system, per se, that is supposed to serve them is not working. I am speaking as a British Columbian now and what we have found that the veterans have no call centres in British Columbia. So if they have to phone back east and if there is a weather problem that they cannot get through because lines are down, they do not know what to do. They wait until things are better. They have no facility. The closest facility for rehabilitation is in Alberta. They jump through hoops all the time.

Does the member feel, as suggested earlier by our colleagues from the Bloc, that the system and how it works to serve veterans is something that her committee can look at?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say in the two years that I have been on this committee, we have heard from so many different people about their frustrations, whether it is with the Veterans Appeal Board or whatever, when it comes to getting a chance to have a hearing, how many cases are overturned and how they have difficulty accessing it. We have had the officials from the department before our committee countless times.

Our committee works in a very non-partisan way, which I think is a tribute to the people and to the veterans society. Clearly, the people who work for Veterans Canada have a tremendous interest in actually being able to solve the problems. However, we continue to hear those problems and we continue to have the bureaucracy come before us to answer to us, to listen to the concerns that are raised.

Clearly, in British Columbia, there are probably a lot more issues because of the fact of distance and time, as my hon. colleague mentioned. There is still a lot of work to do.

We have a new group of what we call veterans who are very young, who are looking for service and for help. It is up to us to make improvements so that they get the recognition and support that they clearly deserve.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am most grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate concerning the courageous men and women who serve and have served in the military.

When our country was in danger during World War I, World War II and Korea, or when our country called upon them to be peacekeepers in places far from home, like Somalia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Cypress, East Timor, Suez and now in Afghanistan, when they were sent to serve in NATO, or when our country asked them to help communities jeopardized by floods, earthquakes, ice storms, forest fires, our courageous men and women did not hesitate. They did what they were asked to do. They did their duty in World War I, World War II, Korea and a multitude of deployments since.

In the course of that duty our country made a covenant with them. Canada made promises that the men and women of the armed forces would not be forgotten. Our governments made and continue to make promises assuring these men and women that they would be remembered and honoured by a grateful nation. That is a wonderful sentiment.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that the people of Canada are grateful and that they truly remember and honour our servicemen and women in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. I see it every day from my constituents in London—Fanshawe.

Sadly however, what has become painfully obvious is that the government neither honours our veterans, peacekeepers and those currently serving, nor is it willing to unconditionally provide the services, pensions, programs and special care to which these veterans, the members of the armed forces and their families are entitled.

I am extremely disappointed that after four years the government was unable to incorporate more substantial changes to the veterans charter. The changes proposed in Bill C-55 are merely cosmetic and do not go far enough.

Bill C-55 states that the minister may provide career transition services; may provide rehabilitation services and vocational assistance to veterans' survivors; may on application pay a permanent allowance to a veteran. “May” is not good enough. The word must be “shall”.

Veterans have waited long enough. The Government of Canada has an obligation to ensure that after veterans have put their lives on the line they are treated with dignity, honour and respect.

Sadly, Bill C-55 is a lost opportunity. The act itself is full of equivocations. We have report after report that show the total inadequacies of an overly complex and ineffective Veterans Affairs program.

The government ignored the vast majority of recommendations regarding changes to the veterans charter, the lion's share of which came from the Gerontological Advisory Council as well as the former veterans ombudsman and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, all of whom produced significant studies on the veterans charter.

I would like to highlight some of the problems that this new legislation ignores.

I am sure members know about the pension clawbacks that retired members of the Canadian Forces face when they reach age 65. In 1966, when the CPP was introduced, it was integrated with the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the RCMP Superannuation Act. Members of the Canadian Forces were unaware that there would consequently be reductions to their pensions.

During their working years, CF members face health hazards, long periods of time away from family and frequent moves. The negative impact of these stresses are often felt most acutely in later life. Cancelling the clawback is the best way to acknowledge the commitment and service of veterans. The government has however not been receptive to this imperative.

When a veteran dies, his or her spouse is allowed only 50% of the pension of the deceased. Many of these spouses face real hardship and as a result, legions across the country have tried to make up for what the government takes away. Legion sponsored funds attempt to support widows and widowers and their families as well as possible. The legion has fundraisers with raffles and poppy sales, dinners and hall rentals, but the legion too is falling on hard times. Its members are aging. Its numbers are in decline and it is having difficulty making ends meet.

Legions have recommended that survivor pensions be two-thirds of the original pension. That would be a tremendous help to spouses, many of whom are elderly women.

Unfortunately, the government is not interested in such a change. Even worse, if a veteran marries after age 60, the widow or widower is entitled to nothing. The Canadian Forces Superannuation Act calls them gold diggers and refuses to recognize any entitlement, refusing to recognize the importance of the love and comfort they gave to their partners. It is a sign of disrespect.

Nowhere is such disrespect more evident than in the situation faced by many ex-forces members if injuries sustained during service do not fully manifest themselves until after retirement.

Just this fall I had an extended conversation with a master sergeant. While serving overseas, he sustained injuries from a significant fall in a training exercise. He was hospitalized with a spinal fracture, and after he recovered he returned to active duty. Now some 30 years later, he suffers from neck pain caused by the fracture. He survives on expensive medications not covered by his benefits. When he asked Veterans Affairs for help, he was denied. The reason given was that he had not been injured in combat. In other words, despite medical records showing injuries from a serious accident during his service career, his veracity and the value of his service were called into question and he was refused benefits.

Bill C-55 does not provide a remedy for this injustice. The corporate insurance mentality of those administering the program within Veterans Affairs hurts those who have served their country, and hurts their families too. That mentality has to go.

Did members know there is a homeless shelter for military veterans and a food bank in Calgary set up specifically for veterans?

Last April, the Prime Minister visited that food bank, had a media photo op and talked about how wonderful it was that the community was helping veterans. Well, it was, except that a research study conducted by London based researchers, Susan Ray and Cheryl Forchuk, shows that in southwestern Ontario alone there are dozens of homeless veterans. I wonder if it occurred to the Prime Minister that it is an outrage that the people we pledged to honour and remember are homeless and forced to survive by going to a food bank.

Even with Bill C-55, veterans and retired CF personnel still face reduced pension, may have pension benefits denied and are not entitled to help for non-service-related injuries. The experience of homelessness and hunger among veterans is a common occurrence.

It certainly does not seem like a grateful government or a responsible Department of Veterans Affairs.

Finally, I want to talk about the situation at Parkwood Hospital in my riding. Parkwood was at one time the regional veterans hospital. I can remember visiting my uncles, both veterans of World War II, at Parkwood whenever they were hospitalized. Parkwood was also a long-term care facility for veterans whose injuries were so serious they would never live independently or with their families again.

Back in 1979, Parkwood and veterans hospitals across the country were turned over to the provinces and Veterans Affairs contracted for beds and care for the World War I, World War II and Korean War vets. The agreement entered into with the province contained no provisions for modern day veterans or the estimated 200,000 peacekeepers who have served on missions since Korea. Many of these retired or soon to be retired Canadian Forces members feel they have been overlooked by their country. While there are private care homes available to them, many feel they should receive the same level of care and have the same access to hospitals like Parkwood that previous generations had. Unfortunately, the beds at veterans hospitals will close as World War II and Korean War veterans pass away. Once these beds are gone, they will not re-open.

The Government of Canada should change the mandate of veterans hospitals and allow those coming back from Afghanistan and the aging post-Korean service personnel to have access to federally supported beds. I say this because the care of veterans is a federal responsibility, a part of the covenant that I talked about at the beginning of my remarks.

These veterans have earned their pensions, their benefits, their services and programs and they have earned the right to expect their government to fulfill all of the promises made. It is time for the government to go back to the drawing board. Bill C-55 does not fix the problems with the veterans charter. The bill needs extensive amendments.

Our veterans deserve much better than what they are receiving. Let us honour them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's comments and I found that her judgment was too harsh. We are in the process of making significant changes to support our veterans, particularly our modern-day veterans who may come back from Afghanistan wounded.

We are in the process of implementing three measures that will help them in their lives. If they participate in a rehabilitation program, they will receive $40,000 per year for the duration of the program. In addition, if they are seriously wounded and are unable to return to work, they will receive a minimum of $58,000 per year plus the lump sum payment that, with the new changes, can reach up to $285,000 depending on the extent of the veteran's injuries. They can receive this money in cash or spread it over the desired number of years; they have the choice.

There was a unanimous vote in this regard in 2005. Our soldiers are still in the Canadian army for two or three years after they return from Afghanistan, during which time they receive their full salary. It is only in the past few years that we discovered weaknesses in the system. That is why we are proceeding in this fashion now; we are going to improve things for them.

The Royal Canadian Legion and the other seven veterans organizations that we consulted think that we are on the right path and that we have set the right priorities. Does the hon. member not think that we are doing something really good for veterans?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. minister for his question. I do, however, have to go back to Bill C-55.

I am very disappointed it is so very weak. Clause after clause indicates that the minister “may” provide support, not “shall” but “may”. To me, this equivocation means that veterans are once again going to be put at risk.

The minister is quite right in terms of the living document that appeared in this House four years ago. Unfortunately, I feel that it took far too long for the needed changes to even be proposed.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the announcement made a couple of weeks ago by the Minister of National Defence, in which he talked about five places where veterans could go in order to have the services and support they need. While it is an important step in the right direction, I would suggest that only five centres spread across this huge country are not enough.

A great many of the veterans that I come in contact with are unsure and need support, and they could never manage to get to one of these centres. I am pleased to see that the centres have been brought forward. Establishing them was one of the NDP suggestions that we fought very hard for for a very long time.

Again, however, veterans need more.