Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to Bill C-378, a bill to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.
The welfare of veterans and their families is an important issue to me and to our government. It takes more than recognizing sacrifice on Remembrance Day. It is our duty to take care of those who have served and protected our great nation.
The government launched consultations on issues affecting veterans, which has helped us gain a better understanding of their needs and those of their families.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs also created advisory groups made up of veterans, veterans groups, and experts, including the Royal Canadian Legion; Brian Forbes, who has advocated for veterans as the chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada; retired General Joe Sharpe; and veterans who served in Afghanistan, such as Aaron Bedard, Mark Campbell, and Willy MacDonald. The six ministerial advisory groups focus on the following government priorities: policy, service excellence, mental health, families, care and support, and commemoration.
As part of the electoral platform in 2015, the government has been hard at work to uphold its promises made to veterans and their families.
To provide better support, the government has introduced the program pension for life. This monthly tax-free payment will allow more financial liberty to ill and injured veterans and their families. This benefit could be the difference between being able to pay rent and homelessness, and a financial safety net for a veteran who is transitioning to life after service.
The pension for life includes three different component programs. The pain and suffering compensation will be available to veterans who suffer because of an illness or an injury resulting from their service. The additional pain and suffering compensation is another benefit for veterans who experience obstacles in their reintegration due to a severe and permanent service-related disability. The income replacement benefit streamlines existing benefits, such as earnings loss benefits, supplementary retirement benefits, and retirement income security. It offers income to veterans who face hardship on their road to re-establishment due to health-related issues.
The government has also introduced the new education and training benefit, which comes into effect this April. I am proud to say that this program allows veterans who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces for six years or more to pursue post-secondary education. The government will spend a total of $133 million over a period of six years to support the continuing education of our Canadian veterans.
Furthermore, the government has made considerable investments to enhance the following services addressing veterans and their families, including the disability award, the career impact allowance, the career transition services, the veteran emergency fund, and, lastly, removing limits for eligible spouses and survivors so they can access the rehabilitation and vocational assistance program when and if they need it.
Our government also recognizes that helping veterans and their families goes beyond monetary assistance. It is equally important to provide mental health and caregiver support. As such, we have increased funding for the veterans family programs in all 32 military family resource centres, and the veteran community now has access to free mental health first aid training.
Moreover, the 2017 budget included services and benefits such as a monthly tax-free payment of $1,000 to family caregivers who assist veterans. The government has also formed a partnership with organizations like VETS Canada to address the issue of affordable housing and homelessness.
Additionally, our government has reopened nine veterans affairs offices, a new office in British Colombia, and has extended outreach efforts to veterans in the territories.
All of the initiatives undertaken by our government are based on respect and our recognition of the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.
Amidst the conflicting priorities and limited resources of any government, we have made it a top priority to work hard for veterans and their families. We also recognize that this file is an ongoing process and that the well-being of veterans must and will remain a top priority for this government.
I had the honour this summer of attending the Invictus Games, which are the games put on by Prince Harry for veterans who were injured. The Invictus Games are based on a poem called, Invictus, and there is a line in there which I truly think is wonderful. It says:
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
My grandfather, Frank Baylis, who I am named after, fought in the First World War and was buried alive. He fought in the trenches and when the trenches collapsed, he just had his hand out. Luckily for him, his comrades in arms saw his hand and dug him up. He was obviously hospitalized, but he had an unconquerable soul. I thank my grandfather for his unconquerable soul. I stand here today because of it.
I also stand here today because of the unconquerable soul of many men and women who have fought in the armed forces. Our freedom of speech, our values, our very way of life has been defended and protected by our veterans and people actively serving in the armed forces today. I thank all of them for their unconquerable soul. We owe them a debt of respect, which goes without saying, and we owe them our deepest gratitude.
I thank all our veterans and all the men and women who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.