Mr. Speaker, before I start I want to answer the question from the Conservative MP. If he honestly believes that a new budgetary framework will come in for Veterans Affairs, then it should be introduced in a government bill like it was with Bill C-55, which we fully supported. In lumping this into an overall budget with thousands of other spending items and cuts and everything else, we would have to express confidence in the government. I can assure members it will be a long day before we in the NDP ever express confidence in the government.
Today we heard him talk about a very important motion brought in by my colleague. It is an honour, and at the same time there is a bit of sadness, that we bring this to the floor of the House of Commons. Veterans should not have to fight and struggle to get the benefits they so rightly deserve. They have already fought for this country. It is their country, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of government or opposition, that owes them the ultimate and unlimited responsibility, because they have the unlimited liability. The military, the RCMP, and their families deserve no less.
Let us go over a bit of the track record of the current government. The reality is that it took a five-year lawsuit to settle the SISIP clawback, the insurance payment clawback that was being deducted from disabled veterans. It took a ruling from Judge Barnes. It forced the government into an $888 million lawsuit. If the Conservatives had listened to us many years ago, it would have been settled; there would have been less angst among the members of the veterans community, and it would have saved the government and the taxpayer a lot of money. However, they did not.
Now what happens? They are now taking RCMP disabled veterans to court on the exact same type of issue. There are over 1,200 people in a class action lawsuit against the government right now. They have been asked by the RCMP and their families, by the Royal Canadian Legion, and by us repeatedly, to stop the court proceedings, work with the legal team and the RCMP veterans and give them the respect, dignity and payment they so rightly deserve. Their answer is that they are going to go to the courts.
There is another lawsuit going on, with Equitas, against the government, over certain aspects of the new veterans charter. What did the crown attorneys presenting the case for the government say in that lawsuit? These are smart lawyers. They get their directions directly from the government. They indicated that there is no fiduciary or social moral responsibility for the veterans community; that only applies to the aboriginal community. I am paraphrasing.
The members of the veterans community were outraged when they heard this. I have asked the minister and the government on six separate occasions whether they do or do not have a moral, legal, social and fiduciary responsibility to care for those they put in harm's way. What do we get? Absolute silence.
We should not have been too surprised when we saw what happened the other day. I know the minister, deep down, probably regrets what happened. I am sure that he does. However, the reality is that it happened. This type of conduct has happened with veterans across the country for sixteen and a half years, through ten different ministers and from two different parties. What I witnessed the other day was the lowest of the low. That is why we had no choice. They brought in the so-called Veterans Bill of Rights, which we knew was toothless because there is no punishment. If they break a certain element of the Veterans Bill of Rights, they just say they are sorry and they move on. However, every single day of the year our veterans, RCMP, and their families, deserve the utmost respect, dignity and courtesy.
It is our job, whether in government or in opposition, to listen to their concerns. We may not like what they are telling us. We may not like the manner in which they are telling us. However, we get paid very well, and ministers get paid even better, to listen to those concerns. It is our responsibility. We could not sit here if it were not for the sacrifice of the men and women who put on the uniform, and their families, and that of the RCMP who serve us in Canada.
Veterans have unlimited liability. That means they are willing to risk their lives so that you and I can be here, Mr. Speaker. We, again, have the ultimate responsibility for their needs and that of their families, all the way to and including their headstones.
A while back the government presented a budget and said it was going to spend millions more dollars on the Last Post Fund. However, it did not change the litmus test of who could qualify for that fund. Service members who make $12,000 or less may qualify for proper burials, but those who make over that limit do not qualify. Even though the government put more money into it, two-thirds of the applicants are still denied and the Conservatives refuse to correct that.
On the issue of the closure of offices, I want to tell the people of Canada and the Conservatives right now that when they are kicked out of office in the next election, we in the NDP will reopen those offices and make them better, so they provide better services to the men and women who serve our country.
There is something else the government is doing, and many people are unaware of this. When the last Korean overseas veteran passes away, all of the contract service beds across this country will be finished, aside from rare exceptions. Right now the Perley, Camp Hill, the Belcher and other hospitals across the country that service veterans are subsidized by the federal government. When the last Korean veteran dies, the modern-day veterans from 1954 onward will no longer have access to those beds paid for by the federal government.
The federal government is downloading this responsibility onto the backs of the provinces. The previous Minister of Veterans Affairs said that health care was a provincial responsibility. I remind the government that the care and treatment of veterans, RCMP members and their families is a federal responsibility, and to download that to the provinces is unacceptable. In Nova Scotia alone, a $41 million download will happen in the near future. It is unacceptable when we see floors of hospitals being closed for veterans and being transferred over to provincial uses.
The men and women who serve our country deserve no less. They deserve to have the best treatment. As Rick Mercer once said, when we take them from heaven on earth, which is Canada, and send them over to hell on earth, we should give them a gold card and make sure we give them platinum service when they come back.
There are many veterans I deal with who are getting very good service from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is true, and I compliment the workers of the department who are providing that service. However, the problem is that many others are not getting that service. There are approximately 700,000 men and women who retired from the military who have dependant spouses and the DVA has a client base of just over 200,000, so more than two-thirds of that base is not being serviced now. Many of them do not require the services, but they may one day, and many more veterans are coming online.
I want to highlight two of my constituents, Kim and Blair Davis. They have given me permission to do this. The minister's office knows this file very well, because a few months ago I held an open press conference with the Davises. He had a serious brain injury from a LAV rollover accident and explosion that killed a few of his buddies. He has had major operations and is suffering severely from psychological problems, including PTSD and others. He has not asked for the government to give him a Rolex watch or a trip to Florida, but for basic rehabilitation services. He has asked for things like VIP service to help him, his wife and his family.
Several months went by and I got an email from him yesterday saying, “I am at my wit's end with this government. I simply do not know where to turn. Please, please help me and my family”. When a press conference is held, the government says it is going to look after the family and do all sorts of things, and two and a half months later I get an email saying it has not done anything yet. This is indicative of a government that simply is not listening.
In my final words, I will implore the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of National Defence to please stop the cuts to these departments and hire the mental health workers that are required. The government can pump money in, but if there is a bureaucracy delaying the hiring of these mental health workers, it is simply not working. I implore these two fine men to please get off their chairs and do something in a rational, speedy manner so that the men and women who serve our country in the RCMP and the military and their families will get the respect and dignity they so rightfully deserve.