Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.
I feel it is absolutely critical to start this speech by recognizing Afghan veterans for their tremendous service. It is a very hard process to go through. I think it is also important to recognize their families, because the truth is that when it comes to the military, it is not only the members who serve but also their families. I just want to recognize them and thank them for their service today.
As the member of Parliament who represents the 19 Wing in Comox, I also want to take an opportunity to thank its members for their tremendous service. They have done a lot of incredible things for our region for many years. When they are needed, they show up to work.
I remember spending time with some of the search and rescue service members, and I talked to one woman in particular about her ability to deal with situations like jumping into the water and how she does that when it seems so terrifying to me. She said they train so that when they are called, they just do the work that needs to be done. That outlines the reality that people who serve this country work hard, practise hard and prepare themselves to do things that the majority of us could never imagine doing.
Here we are having this discussion today about a monument and the process that unfolded to have that monument. I know that so many have been waiting for this monument. People want a place in this country where they can go to acknowledge history, acknowledge their service, acknowledge those who never came home and acknowledge the loved ones who were left behind.
What is very clear is that the process has been unclear. We heard from the minister that there was not a clear awareness or understanding of how to connect to veterans directly. Of all the situations, that is the one that concerns me the most. We need the voices of veterans who served in Afghanistan and their loved ones' voices to be clear.
We keep hearing from the government that this is what it is doing and this is about focusing on the people who served. However, as we know, the process that unfolded was not clear. We know there was no verification process to ensure that the people who were giving their opinions were in fact veterans and their loved ones. This provides the perception that it was not done correctly, and that is very concerning to me.
I think when we look at how processes unfold, it is important that a connection is made with veterans. As we have heard again and again from veterans, this is something the department is not doing effectively. For example, when rehabilitation services for veterans moved to the PCVRS, many veterans did not know that was happening. They saw changes to their services and they did not understand why. The intake process was long and they were often retraumatized by having to share their stories again. We heard from folks who were providing rehabilitation services, in some cases for 40 years, who were excluded from the process.
Again, it was not clear, and part of the problem was that the method was not explained to service people, to veterans and to their families, which is very concerning. This is not how it should be for veterans. They should be getting the services they need.
What I have talked about repeatedly at the veterans affairs committee is that we need to see veteran-centric services. We hear about things like sanctuary trauma, and I think that is something we need to be taking seriously. The veterans who are trying to access supports and services from Veterans Affairs feel like they are being retraumatized instead of being provided with the services they desperately need. Those things need to be addressed, and a lot of the training that people are doing at Veterans Affairs, good people trying hard to do the work, is not as effective as it could be in making sure there is an understanding of what people need, what veterans need and what their families need when they call.
We talked to the minister several times in our committee, and one thing I brought up to the minister, over the last four years that I have served in that role, was that there was no direct contact with letters, phone calls and follow-ups.
If this were a department that, I would hope, focused on service delivery, then those things would be happening. If that were the case, then we would not be having this debate right now. There would be a clear process that would show that Afghan veterans and their loved ones had given the feedback and that a decision had been made that respected their rights, but we do not have that information.
We know Leger came out, very clearly, and said this is not a method that is clear and that it is not consistent. It becomes this thing where we are going back and forth, and the ones who are really hurting through this process are the members who served and their loved ones. That concerns me greatly.
Here we are, again, looking at this reality. We know, in the last Conservative government, that veterans really struggled. They were really frustrated. Their offices were shut down, and access to services became a bigger and bigger concern. I heard, then, about sanctuary trauma. I heard from veterans that they were frustrated. They kept trying to get support, and they could not. It just seems that what we are hearing in the House today is the Liberals and Conservatives fighting about who was worse, and we are not talking about what needs to change for veterans so that debate does not continue to happen.
This brings me back to what I keep hearing in my office from survivors of veterans. They are mostly women who are mostly in their late seventies to early nineties. They are calling my office and talking to me about the survivors benefit. They are asking me about the announcement the Liberal government made in 2019 of $150 million that it would give out to those, mostly women, who were rejected for survivors benefits because they married their spouses after age 60. Even though they cared for them, in some cases for 20 to 30 years, they got absolutely nothing when their partners passed away.
That $150 million was allocated and was supposed to get out the door to start supporting those women in order to respect the veterans who served our country and to respect the women who cared for them as they aged. We still have not seen a single cent of that go out to those survivors. That was four years ago, and I am still getting phone calls from those ladies who are struggling every day to make ends meet. They are seniors. They are going to their MPs and asking for help. They are asking when that money is coming out the door, and they do not know.
What do I hear from Veterans Affairs? I hear that it has not figured out the process. Those women, who cared for senior veterans and helped them to the very end of their lives, are getting zero dollars, even though they sacrificed in support of the sacrifice their partners made.
The challenge is that here we are again, and we see, again and again, the repeat of unclear process and not very good communication with veterans and their families. We see a department that may have good intentions but somehow is missing the mark, and we need to see better. We see sanctuary trauma, where veterans are coming forward talking about being traumatized while trying to access a service they need.
It also reminds me that, right now in committee, we are doing the largest study that committee has ever done, and it is the first study it has ever done on women veterans. What we are hearing from women veterans is horrifying, and it repeats this pattern of their being left out, of not being able to access the services they need and of not being acknowledged as having health and mental health challenges while they served. When they get to Veterans Affairs, they have to prove the things they went through. There is no acceptance of the fact that when the military, the army, the air force and the navy, opened up, they did not have the processes in place to support women. We need to do better by veterans. They definitely deserve it because they served us so well.