Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.
Veterans and their families are being left behind by the Liberal government. When they rise in the House on this issue, representatives of the government are quick to state that they have made historic investments and done more than any government has done to invest in veterans. With the greatest of respect, they seem to have convinced themselves that by throwing money at the problem they have dealt with it fully and that, while there is more work to do, most of the issues have been addressed.
Unfortunately, I would like to talk about where we are today, not where we were a few years ago and not where we were in 2015. Currently, there is a backlog of 30,000 disability benefit claims on the books at Veterans Canada. The current average wait time for a processed claim is 40 weeks. Unfortunately, the average is skewed because some cases, the simple ones, are solved quickly. If they have complex cases, veterans who were prepared to lay down their lives for this country are waiting as long as two years. They are waiting two years for hearing aids that somebody desperately needs, or waiting two years for funding for physiotherapy related to injuries.
This is what the government considers good enough. Let us not forget that it was the Prime Minister who said “veterans are asking for more than we can give”. The government has known about this problem for years. We have had reports from the Veterans Affairs committee, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Veterans Ombudsman all giving concrete recommendations on how to fix this. Why has the problem not been solved yet? I simply do not know.
Is there a political will to solve this crisis? It has been a constant passing of the buck from one Liberal to the next, not seeing fit to address anything more than the status quo. What worries me most is that the government is going to cut over 300 disability benefit adjudicators in March. These are people who were hired to address the very backlog that prompts me to rise in the House today.
In an Order Paper question, I asked the government what would happen to the backlog of claims from April, 2022, to January, 2023, if these cuts happen. These are the numbers the Liberals provided of an estimated backlog. It would be 26,600 on April 1, 2022. On July 1, 2022, that would rise to 29,900. On October 1, 2022, it would rise to 33,200, and on January 1, 2023, it would rise to 36,500.
If these cuts happen, the backlog will get worse. The minister knows that and the government knows that, yet they are still failing to act.
I have one simple question for the government. Will it commit, here and now, to extending the 300 staff past March, yes or no?