Mr. Chair, from November 5 to 11, people will be celebrating Veterans' Week. It is very important to commemorate, as all parties in the House are doing today, the courage and bravery of the men and women who have worn the uniform and who have put their lives at risk to complete their mission.
In addition to remembering their courage, we must not forget that all of us, especially those of us who are parliamentarians, have an important collective responsibility with regard to our veterans.
After their service, after they have completed often courageous and difficult missions, it is our duty to ensure their well-being and to provide them with good living conditions when they leave military service. We must admit that our government does not always meet all of their needs.
The new veterans charter has improved certain services. The charter was originally implemented by the Liberals, as the minister just said, and then continued by the Conservatives. There are still a lot of improvements to be made, as we have discussed many times in the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I will come back to that.
The current government keeps talking about the Canadian Forces' involvement in various military operations. It is a fact. The government does not hesitate to spend significant amounts of money to procure military equipment. The Canadian army goes to high schools to recruit new soldiers and send them to sometimes difficult and dangerous missions. But what are its responsibilities? The government has to meet the needs of soldiers returning from a mission damaged, disabled and injured.
Soon our soldiers will be returning from Afghanistan. A number of them will have gone through dangerous situations and will unfortunately be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some are already returning disabled or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also the families who have had to cope with the suicide of one of these soldiers. Is the government up for this new challenge? Will it respond appropriately to the needs of our veterans? Those are some of the questions being asked in our committee. We believe that the government is not responding appropriately and that it has to make a number of improvements.
The government has to be as dynamic when the time comes to take care of veterans as when it recruits people for military missions. There needs to be greater investment when these people return injured or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Statistics show that one person in six experiences some kind of post-traumatic stress. The government has to invest in research. The government has to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and invest in research to reduce the negative impact on soldiers who participate in military missions.
The prevailing culture among Veterans Affairs Canada decision-makers has been the subject of much criticism. Critics, including the veterans ombudsman, say that the culture is based on institutional obstructionism and inaction. For a long time, the system has denied veterans the services to which they are entitled. Their files get lost in unbelievable tangles of red tape. That is the truth, as we have seen in committee.
The ombudsman raised these issues and submitted a report. I hope that the Minister of Veterans Affairs will read it.
It contains some important elements. I have repeatedly raised the issue of the right to privacy. This scandal emerged over the past few weeks, months and years. Since 2005-06, veterans' files have been made public and available to just about anyone working for Veterans Affairs Canada, including the minister—not the current minister but the former one. Anyone could look at those files. There is a lot of work to be done in Veterans Affairs Canada and, as I said, a lot of research.
Another area that needs improvement is service delivery times. It takes far too long to assess cases and give people the compensation to which they are entitled. It takes too long. These are lengthy delays lasting three months, six months, even a year. People have to wait. Veterans have to fight to obtain services. They get discouraged. That is not right.
I spent several years as a social worker in a CLSC. People called for services, and our response time was 48 hours. At the time, we had 48 hours to respond to people's requests. There should be benchmarks for responding to veterans' compensation claims. They should not have to fight Veterans Affairs Canada.
Of course, the lump sum payment is a very important issue. The Bloc Québécois is calling for changes in that respect. The hon. member for Québec circulated a petition that was signed by over 6,000 Quebeckers. Based on certain reports, it seems that the lump sum payment was not enough for some young people. Of course, for people 30 or 40 years older, it could be worthwhile, but for a young person who receives the maximum amount of $280,000 at 22 or 23 years old, it is not enough. The same is not true for a colonel who receives it at age 40 or 45. That is not the same reality. Unfortunately, when the lump sum is paid and the individual spends it all, it is usually the family that ends up paying for that individual's education, rehabilitation or living expenses. We heard this from witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. For instance, one woman told us that her son had unfortunately spent almost all of his lump sum payment. Thus, it is important to restore the monthly payments that existed before.
The minister said we were against the veterans charter. We are not against it, but this is one part of the veterans charter. In fact, the new veterans charter, as we have seen, provides better local services for veterans, services for caregivers and many other services that are truly improved. However, the issue of the lump sum payment instead of monthly payments still needs to be addressed.
Lastly, to conclude, I would like to talk about the ombudsman's independence. As we know, the ombudsman held his position for three years and tabled one report. In my opinion, in order to be effective, an ombudsman must be in that position for a longer period. People always say that an ombudsman should be critical of the government in order to further the cause of veterans, but that can sometimes displease the government. I would propose, as the Bloc Québécois has in the past, that the ombudsman be independent and not come under the department.