Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to address the committee and speak to the need for continued investment in the well-being of Canadian Forces members, their families and our veterans.
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke, I represent one of the busiest bases in the country, CFB Petawawa, the training ground of the warriors.
The women and men of the Canadian Forces do extraordinary work in defending Canada and Canadians at home and abroad, and their operational track record over the past decade is testament to the fact.
However, we all know that delivering this kind of sustained operational excellence does not come easily. It is only possible because of the professionalism, dedication and sense of duty of our military personnel and because they accept hardships, the sacrifices and the stresses that come with serving in uniform.
Of course we do everything we can to ensure the safety of CF members in the performance of their missions but no matter how well trained they are and no matter how well equipped they may be, there will always be risks involved with military personnel. That is why we also have a responsibility to provide them, and the families who support them and depend upon them, with the care and support they need throughout their career and beyond.
I am proud to be part of a government that makes our brave women and men in uniform one of its top priorities. As stated in the Canada first defence strategy unveiled in 2008, personnel are one of the four essential pillars upon which we build our military capabilities.
Since coming to office in 2006, this government has taken steps to improve the care we provide to our personnel, their families and veterans. Our approach is premised on the belief that in order to treat our ill, injured and wounded personnel effectively we must coordinate our efforts, from recovery to rehabilitation and reintegration. For this comprehensive approach to be successful, we need to ensure that our troops, our veterans and their families can easily access services.
That is why we set up the Joint Personnel Support Unit in 2009. The JPSU is a one-stop service for ill and injured military personnel and their families through a network of 24 integrated personnel support centres on bases and wings across Canada. These centres provide much of the needed services to our military families wherever they are located by helping our ill and injured along the path to recovery and providing access to rehabilitation programs to aid in the transition to the next phase of their lives. IPFCs ensure that our troops and their loved ones have access to the same high standard of care and support across Canada.
We also recognize that we need more than infrastructure to care for our personnel and their families.
Our troops, their families and our veterans face situations that are often very complex and unique to military life. They need programs and initiatives that address these specific needs. This is especially true of those who are ill or who have been injured or wounded.
One of the first initiatives to be launched was Soldier On in 2006. Just this past weekend, the Calabogie Peaks resort hosted Ride the Valley for Soldier On. Canadian army veteran motorcycle units from across Ontario participated. This is a great program. It helps in the recovery of our ill and injured CF personnel by providing them with the opportunities to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle through sport.
This past February, the Calabogie ski resort hosted a winter sports clinic, teaching the ill and injured how to ski. In February 2013, it will be doing the same.
In the same vein, we also introduced last year the computer assisted rehabilitation environment system, or CAREN. CAREN is an advanced system that uses virtual reality software to help rehabilitate injured CF members more quickly and effectively.
To offer more comprehensive support not only to our ill and injured Canadian Forces members, but also to the family members who accompany them through their rehabilitation, we launched the legacy of care program in 2010. Legacy of care is designed to facilitate access to a broad range of services, such as adapted accommodation throughout the recovery process, or financial and educational assistance for family members.
Also, to provide better financial assistance to military personnel with disabilities, the Minister of National Defence announced just last month that the government is increasing the funding for the service income security insurance plan, SISIP, long-term disability program by $113 million.
Of course, this government recognizes that mental health is just as important as physical health. That is why we have also set up programs and initiatives specifically designed to address psychological or emotional issues, including operational stress injuries. To improve treatment for our personnel dealing with these problems, over 200 mental health practitioners have been hired in recent years through the Canadian Forces mental health initiative.
The CF also launched “Be the Difference”, a mental health awareness campaign that aims to build a culture of understanding for mental health issues within the Canadian Forces. Because of the great efforts we have made over recent years to address mental health issues, Canada has become a world leader in fighting the stigmatization of post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. I was pleased to learn that CFB Petawawa will soon have two psychologists working on the base providing services to our CF members closer to their homes.
This government recognizes that it is not enough to care for our ill, injured and wounded CF members. We must also care for their families. They courageously accept the risks, the burdens and the sacrifices that come with the service. We can never repay extraordinary service and any sacrifice our military families make, but we can work to improve their well-being. That is what this government has done since taking office.
In 2007 we set up the military families fund. This wonderful initiative provides our military families in need with short-term or long-term support, such as emergency financial assistance or educational opportunities. We have also introduced various resources, family liaison officers, the familyforce.ca website, and the family information line to easily link the families of our women and men in uniform with the information and services they need.
Of course, we have not and cannot forget about the families of the fallen. For them we introduced the shoulder to shoulder initiative in 2011. This program helps the families of our fallen deal with the tragedy of their loss by providing them with the services of counsellors and therapists, and by connecting them with volunteers who have lived through similar experiences.
After a decade of high operational tempo, the CF is now shifting its focus toward building the force of tomorrow, a force capable of meeting the challenges of an evolving and unpredictable security environment. We always remember that the foundation upon which we build this future force is our women and men in uniform and their families. They are without a doubt our most precious asset. That is why our approach to care is comprehensive, starting with the service and extending to the military families, the military life, and life after the service.
We have outlined this integrated approach in a newly released publication called, “Caring for Our Own”.
In the minister's opening remarks, he referenced the great work done by the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian army.
The 1990s represented a particularly dark time for the Canadian Forces as they were put in difficult circumstances, were ill-equipped and ill-prepared, which undoubtedly had an impact on troop morale.
Since forming government in 2006, we have not only invested in the Canadian Forces through equipment and training, but have also implemented initiatives that seek to reconnect them with their proud history.
Could the Minister of National Defence inform the committee of the whole of the initiatives his department has undertaken to reconnect our Canadian Forces with their proud history and traditions?