Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.
I am thankful for the chance to once again speak about veterans and our Canadian Armed Forces personnel. It was an honour to serve as NDP critic for Veterans Affairs, and I am truly grateful for the dedication to veterans by the current critic, the member for Courtenay—Alberni.
In my several years as critic and deputy critic, I learned that veterans were motivated by a deep love for Canada, loyalty to the service they considered a profound privilege, their families and a deep sense of justice. Veterans understand justice. It is part of their DNA. They want it for the civilian population they serve in war and in peace. They want it for those trampled by violence, aggression and dictatorial governments. They want it for themselves and their families.
In all the years I have been in this place, there has been a constant and recurring theme regarding how our veterans have been left behind and forgotten by the current and previous governments.
The covenant between the Canadian government and its veterans is considered an unlimited liability rather than providing comfort and care for the sacrifice of life in protecting our country. Veterans have been forced to take the current and previous governments to court to defend and maintain lifetime pensions. This is the result of Veterans Affairs Canada's failure to provide prompt service and benefits. When a dispute arises, Veterans Affairs systematically leaves veterans to the morass of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
In my own tenure as critic, I became aware of the heart-wrenching case of one young man whose mother contacted my office. Her son suffers from PTSD as a result of his service in the Canadian Armed Forces and over the past several months he has presented as a suicide risk. His medical release has been held up for months by VAC, despite his desperate situation. The young man in question has just under 10 years of service. He feels that VAC is delaying help to get rid of him. Less than 10 years of service significantly affects his pension. I cannot help but be reminded of the service personnel being pushed out just before they were entitled to a pension.
The case is further complicated by the impacts this young man experienced as a result of the cocktail of drugs he was prescribed. The drugs caused him to experience sleeplessness, stress, disorientation, lethargy and depression. Because he is still in the military, the health plan does not cover the cost of his medical marijuana prescription. He has undergone 29 medication changes since his initial diagnosis and reports that each of the high-powered drugs has been worse than the last. The medical marijuana has helped him immensely. He reports that he has finally slept fully for the first time in three years.
However, there is, as I previously mentioned, a catch because the military health plan does not cover the cost of medical marijuana. VAC will cover the cost once he is medically released, so he is not being released.
His reassessment went back to VAC on May 3, and still remains at level one. This young man is in panic mode. He and many others on the base believe VAC is delaying claims so it does not have to make payouts up front. However, this individual is fortunate. He has family advocating for him. Not every abandoned serviceman or woman has such advocacy. He is lucky to have a forceful mother.
Veterans Affairs Canada has not provided this young man the help he needs, either in the past when my office contacted it or now months later. This is the same mother who confronted the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the legion convention in Winnipeg last August to plead for her son. The minister announced then that he had empowered his front-line workers to get the job done. The job is not getting done by the government. Veterans, CF personnel and their families continue to suffer. We demand better.
It is important to view this through the lens of the Prime Minister's mandate letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. It states:
Veterans and their families have earned our respect and gratitude. Veterans should not have to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned. As Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, your overarching goal will be to ensure that our government lives up to our sacred obligation to Veterans and their families. I expect you to ensure that Veterans receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve. You will ensure that we honour the service of our Veterans and provide new career opportunities, make it easier for Veterans to access services--including mental health services--and do more to support the families of Canada’s Veterans.
That is a lovely letter and it expresses a lovely sentiment. However, pretty words and flowery promises mean nothing when they are not supported by action, real and substantive change that results in better access to services for our miliary personnel and veterans who have given themselves in service and have every right to expect the government to live up to its side of the covenant.
Therefore, let us look at the Liberal promises to veterans and the reality that exist, despite those promises.
The Liberals promised an education in training benefits of up to $80,000 in funding to further education, to begin a new track or to be used for career or personal development courses in order to give veterans purpose and help them feel satisfied with their main post-military job or activity. In reality, the program is so insufficiently staffed and wretchedly underfunded that it cannot provide any substantive or lasting benefits to veterans trying to access it.
The government promised to reopen Veterans Affairs service offices that had been closed by the previous Conservative government. It was reported by Global News, on September 20:
After nearly three years in power, the Liberals have not followed through with a pledge to ensure there is an adequate number of caseworkers to help veterans make the transition to civilian life
The Prime Minister promised the government would provide one case worker for every 25 veterans. However, the ratio remains too high at 33:1. In some regions of the country it is 1:42, in cities like Kingston, Thunder Bay and Calgary. That is unacceptable.
With their term running out next year, the Liberals are only halfway to meeting their goals. They promised to reestablish lifelong pensions as an option for veterans. Instead, as eloquently outlined by veteran Sean Bruyea in his January piece for the CBC, “the government merely resurrected ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodelled and repackaged programs that already exist.” Upon the death of a veteran, the spouse receives nothing. If what had been delivered were a real pension, the spouse would receive a benefit.
The Liberals promised to eliminate the clawback of benefits for veterans who married after the age of 60, which is the infamous “gold diggers clause”. That has not happened, The elderly spouses in the country, some of whom have loved and cared for a veteran for 20 or 25 years, are terrified of the poverty they will face because the Liberals failed them too.
The government promised to deliver a high standard of service and care for veterans requiring medical assistance. 1 wish I could tell my colleagues that the situation I described earlier of a mother contacting my office in desperate need of help for her son is not an isolated one. However, it is not.
While the Liberals recycle their promises, the blunt truth is that they have left $372 million unspent, which was money earmarked for veterans and their families. As a result, we see veterans and their families suffering, without access to medical care and resources, in fear that their family might be the next to lose a loved one to suicide as a result of negligence on the part of the government.
Therefore, we have the Conservative motion before the House about a truly tragic and heartbreaking murder and the unimaginable pain suffered by the victim's family. By all means, the perpetrator needs mental health care from Correction Service of Canada, not Veterans Affairs.
We must not forget, and veterans will never forget, the harm they and their families have suffered under the Liberal government as well as the previous Conservative government. Those same Conservative members who have brought forward this motion cut Veterans Affairs in their mandate. lt was a cut of 5% right across the board. Apparently, like the Prime Minister, they too felt they did not have enough money to support veterans. They did have money for fake lakes, CEO tax breaks, enough to take veterans to court, enough to ship the former prime minister's limo to India, to the tune of a $1 million, and enough to leave $1.1 billion allocated for veterans unspent. However, there was no money for veterans services, no money for case workers and no money for the spouses and children left without real help.
Let us all remember the conduct and the failures of both these parties. Let us remember it, let us take them to task, and let us determine how best and honourably we can serve veterans.