Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke Centre.
I am proud to be a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I actually asked to be on this committee because I care very much about the well-being of our Canadian Armed Forces, and I care because I am an air force brat, travelling the world with my parents and siblings for 17 years, my father having had a distinguished 37-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Both of my sisters and brother-in-law also served their country very well, again, in the Royal Canadian Air Force. My immediately family has over 100 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am the only one who did not have military service, so as a member of the veterans affairs committee, this is my way of giving back to armed forces and veterans to the very best of my ability. As a committee, we have recommended substantial improvements, many of which the government has adopted.
Canadians recently marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, as we call it. I know a number of our colleagues had the opportunity to be there and experience that. We all saw Canada's veterans being welcomed with open arms by grateful Dutch citizens. We saw friendships rekindled and happy reunions, along with very moving ceremonies.
We also know that things did not simply go back to normal for many of our brave Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen and women when they returned home after the war was over.
Certainly for Canadian Armed Forces members today, a homecoming may not be the easy return to the routine one might expect. Rather, for some, they return to a different world. A loving home, one hopes, but a jarring new reality shaped by severe and perhaps permanent injury or illness. Home may now be a place of stress, of uncertainty, of what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. That is as true for family members as it is for the full-time armed forces member, the reservist or the veteran.
This was painfully clear last week, as I attended the second annual Sam Sharpe breakfast, held in his honour to recognize the struggle of Canadian servicemen and women who suffer from operational stress injuries and to highlight individuals and organization dedicated to assisting Canadian Forces members, their families and veterans.
Many may not be aware, but Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Sharpe was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908 as the sitting member for Ontario North at the start of World War I. After suffering mental injuries on the front, he returned to Canada and took his own life on May 25, 1918, at a Montreal hospital.
During the breakfast, we heard two very emotional stories of how PTSD impacted the lives of two of our veterans and how, with the help of services provided through Veterans Affairs, they were managing their PTSD, although, and this message was very clear, they would never be the same.
The people in the Government of Canada have a duty to such brave men and women in need of immediate and perhaps lifelong assistance. They must know that we are here for them. They must never doubt the intensity or sincerity of our care, compassion and respect.
I know I speak for all members in this place when I say that while politics may differ or approaches, ultimately every member of Parliament, from the government and the opposition benches, supports our veterans and expects the highest level of assistance to those in need.
That said, I am concerned with the political undertones of the NDP motion. I am troubled that the New Democrats have proposed this language a month after our government tabled the largest improvement to veterans benefits and supports since forming government. While I agree with the spirit of the motion and the vast majority of what is said in it, I am disappointed with the New Democrats for their continued political manoeuvring, using the noble cause of supporting Canada's veterans.
Perhaps many know, last week our government tabled economic action plan 2015 act. In particular, there is a section that proposes a series of new benefits for veterans and families affected by injury and illness sustained during service to Canada.
This bill also presents a welcome statement of purpose for the new veterans charter, one that goes far beyond the motion being debated here today and that would be formally legislated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. It reads:
The purpose of this Act is to recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. This obligation includes providing services, assistance and compensation to members and veterans who have been injured or have died as a result of military service and extends to their spouses or common-law partners or survivors and orphans. This Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled.
I was proud to have played a part in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. So many of the recommendations have been adopted by the government, including adding a new retirement benefit so that veterans have stable, reliable monthly income after age 65.
I want to make something very clear in this debate. Our government has a tremendous obligation to provide assistance to members and veterans of our forces who have been injured as a result of military service. We have an obligation as well to the families of those injured while in service.
I would like to take a few moments to highlight the new retirement income security benefit, which is arguably the largest of the new benefits we have introduced as a government over the past few months. The new retirement income security benefit would directly address this issue for moderately to severely disabled veterans and survivors. Beginning at age 65, eligible veterans would continue to receive monthly benefits totalling at least 70% of Veterans Affairs Canada's financial benefits received before the age of 65. This benefit would be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account other sources of income beyond the age of 65.
The key word here is “security”. As per our government's veteran-centred approach, potential recipients in receipt of financial benefits administered by Veterans Affairs would be contacted before they reached the age of 65 to ensure a smooth transition to that security. For disabled Canadian Armed Forces veterans nearing 65, that would mean being better able to save for retirement and anticipate future earnings. Further, when that veteran passed on, his or her survivor would continue to receive approximately 50% of this lifelong monthly payment.
This was one of the key recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and I am so pleased that the government acted swiftly to include it. I look forward to the recommendations being put forward and passed by the government.
Lest we forget.