Madam Chair, I thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake for his leadership as chair of the defence committee and the very good news he shared with us tonight that we will have the opportunity to delve in detail to deal with the issues around health care and mental health care for the Canadian Forces.
He is absolutely right when he talks about the broad array of services that are provided by the members of the Canadian Forces. They truly do stand on guard for thee. As we sit here tonight, we have members who are at the ready to respond to search and rescue, who are at sea, who continue to do important work in preparation of missions that await. We have to be there for them. There is no higher priority, I would suggest, no higher obligation for a government, for a minister of defence, than to ensure that we care for the ill and injured, and that is exactly what we do.
It is more than just money. We have seen an overall increase of $100 million into the issues around health and mental health since we took office in 2006. This is in addition to the ongoing capital of $439.6 million for the Canadian Forces health care.
We have a strong network across the country of programs, of infrastructure, that includes what the hon. member mentioned at 17 Wing in his province, a $3.9 million investment in infrastructure.
To ensure the ill and injured have first-class health care so they can get the care that they need and rightly deserve, we have opened 24 integrated personal support centres, one stop shopping for the ill and the injured that will allow our personnel, our veterans, our family members to go to those locations across the country and get the help they need.
We created the “Soldier On” program to give ill and injured soldiers and members and veterans the opportunity to stay physically fit. I commend people like Master Corporal Jody Mitic and others who have shown great leadership in this program and continue to support these efforts across the country.
We have also targeted more resources in the area of mental health. There has been discussion about this. We are continuing, and in fact increasing, our support for those in need of mental health counselling. I want to say a word about the tremendous contribution made in this regard by Canadian Forces chaplains, and that includes imams and rabbis. Non-denominational support is there for the members when they need it, in addition to the professional psychologists and psychiatrists who are there as well.
We have committed to doubling the number of mental health professionals. We continue to make investments in that regard in great strides. However, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has said, there is an acute shortage across the country, so we continue to reach out to those professional associations to work with us to ensure, in particular, that reservists, who do not necessarily live on base or near base, are also able to access those important services.
On some rotations in Afghanistan, we had up to 25% participation for reservists. Therefore, this issue is not escaping our watchful eye and we continue to make these important efforts. We know that issues around mental health and suicide are of particular attention and focus. We have to ensure those who are in need of that support receive it and that they realize there is no shame in asking for that support.
Most often it is a friend, a battle buddy or a family member who pushes and encourages the member to come forward. We want to bring these issues out into the light, out into the discussion, in the public, to ensure that no stigma, no adverse inference whatsoever is applied to those who seek this important help.
I again want to commend the Chief of the Defence Staff for his personal leadership in this regard, which was recognized by the Canadian Mental Health Association with an award two years ago to the Canadian Forces.
On the physical injuries side, which my friend rightly pointed out, those with physical injuries are also being addressed. We have made important investments in cutting edge technology. The CAREN system, the computer assisted rehabilitation environment system, is now available in Edmonton and in Ottawa.
I want to thank my colleague from Edmonton Centre who pushed very hard to see that this cutting edge technology would be made available to members of the forces. He himself, a former member, a former fighter pilot in the Canadian Forces, has shown tremendous leadership during our term in office.
All of these investments and more, investments in health technology, information systems, infrastructure across the country at bases and wings, is a testament to our commitment each and every day.
Can we do more? Yes. Will we do more? Absolutely. There is no higher priority and we are committed to serving the needs of our ill and injured as quickly and with as much diligence as possible.