Mr. Speaker, you were sitting in the chair yesterday when there was an exchange between this side of the House and the government side about medical records that have gone missing.
I understand the parliamentary secretary has said something to the effect that after looking into it, there could be some people whose files could be missing.
I want to quote from an article that appeared today in The Globe and Mail on page A4. It is headed “Veteran continues to search for missing medical files”, and it reads as follows:
Former infantry corporal Kenneth Young tried for years to obtain the medical records related to his treatment at a now-closed veterans’ hospital only to learn they had been destroyed in 2009, along with more than 27,000 boxes of other veterans’ medical files.
That is 27,381 medical boxes of files to be exact.
The article continues:
He kept pestering the bureaucrats to find them “and it got to the point where they said ‘don’t write us any more. If you have any other problems or questions, contact the Privacy Commissioner.’ Which I did,” he said. “A few months later [the Privacy Commissioner] called me up and said ‘well, your files were destroyed.’” The Privacy Commissioner’s office sent Mr. Young an e-mail from 2009 in which Valerie Stewart, the supervisor of national information holdings for Veterans Affairs, explained to department staff that Library and Archives Canada had “reviewed the hospital patient files and determined that they do not have archival value.” Ms. Stewart went on to say that officials at the Veterans Affairs department had “determined there is no potential research value in these files,” and urged that “we proceed with the destruction of these files ASAP.”
The article goes on to quote the parliamentary secretary, mentioning him by name, which I shall not do because I know we cannot in this House, who said, “Indeed, no active, living veteran's file was involved in this process.”
There we have it. I know I am not supposed to show this to the House, but here is the picture of the veteran. He is alive. He is 65 years old, yet the department had him as dead.
There are many other such veterans whose files have gone missing, have been “plucked”, if I may use that word, as a lot of veterans are saying. There are even orderlies coming forward saying that they were ordered to cleanse the files and encouraged to pull stuff out of the files.
I accept my hon. friend's view of his mistake, and I hope we both wish Mr. Young to live to be a very old man.
That said, in the spirit of friendliness, allow me to speak to Bill C-11 and say that we will be supporting it.
However, I will start off by proposing a change straight off the bat. Maybe the minister will take this as an offer that we on this side of the House would like to work with him.
I could be mistaken, but in looking carefully at this bill, I did not see any funds allocated in order to provide a bridge for the veterans so that they can learn the job they are applying for or to give them training for the job they are applying for.
A lot of the veterans were in the army. We taught them one skill: to kill or be killed, to survive in order to be able to kill tomorrow, if I can put it bluntly. From the stories they have been telling us, not only have they learned how to do a lot of things, but many have said that they were trained to provide us the democracy we have here today.
I am sure that the minister, in his previous life as an officer, was also trained in some of these very skills. However, we also have to provide the necessary tools to apply those skills in new jobs that have supposedly been opened in the department.
That said, I hope the minister will take this as an offer and say that the government will provide the training and the money that are needed. Since this is a bill from the government, with changes that require money, this is something the minister can certainly look into.
There are two small problems. Placing injured veterans at the head of the hiring line is an empty pledge unless money for readjusting and retraining comes with it, especially in an era when the federal government is laying off government workers and there is a hiring freeze. On one hand, we are saying that we are going to give veterans the right to be at the front of the line, and on the other, we have hiring freezes. I still have a little bit of difficulty comprehending that.
Bill C-11 should not replace the government's obligation to help Canadian Forces members stay in the forces, if that is their wish. I keep referring to Corporal Dave Hawkins and Corporal Glen Kirkland. I will get to them in a few seconds.
Soldiers wounded in Afghanistan are coming forward about being discharged from the military against their will and before qualifying for their pensions. This breaks a Conservative government promise that service members injured in the line of duty should serve as long as they want in the Canadian Forces.
According to the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, soldier support centres have been left acutely understaffed and unable to provide for troops dealing with physical and psychological injuries. The purpose of the centres is to help injured soldiers and members of the forces return to active duty and transition to civilian life.
This brings me to the issue of the nine centres the minister is so bent on closing. I would invite the minister, if he wishes, to take a trip. As a matter of fact, I will go with him to see the veterans. I am sure that the NDP and everybody here would go and meet the veterans.
Look at Ron Clarke, who for years has been a Conservative member. If I were to repeat in the House what he said about the minister in that part of the world, I would probably get kicked out. He says, “my royal...” whatever. It is unparliamentary so I will not repeat it. Maybe I will let the member or somebody tune into YouTube to see it.
I will say, though, that they want to close nine centres. That is 26,788 veterans who will have to drive. Veterans will have to drive from Windsor, Ontario, to London, Ontario. That is a two-hour drive. Veterans will have to drive from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. If it is winter, and they have to go over Kellys Mountain, it is not a pleasant drive. It can take a veteran five or six hours to get across. If some of the veterans are 80 years old, are we asking them to do that drive? Is that what this country is asking a veteran to do? The veterans fought to put us in front of the line. These are the veterans who fought for us to have the democracy we have in the House. I am sure that is not what the minister wants.
Here is an opportunity for the minister to say that yes, he might have made a mistake. Yes, we are going to wait another 15 years until the Second World War veterans and the Korean War veterans, who are the primary people using the centres, have left us behind. We are not going to ask an 80-year-old man or woman to fill in a form with somebody on the line at the 1-800 number. We are not going to ask a veteran to be at the back of the line at a government services office, when he or she fought to keep us in front of the line.
I am sure that the minister, being a veteran of the Toronto, London, and Markham forces and the OPP force, knows for a fact that not only veterans have fought to protect this country. Police officers who risk their lives in duty on an everyday basis need to be respected and in front of the line.
Maybe the minister wants to reconsider the judgment made. Maybe it was made before he got there. Maybe he wants to consider that having the veterans go through all those hoops is not the Canadian way. When the minister swore an oath to protect some of us who live in Toronto, London, or York Region, and the majority of the members of Parliament in this House who live in Ontario, we needed to respect what he did for us.
Why, in the same breath, are we disrespecting the thousands of veterans who were not hesitant for 30 seconds to give up their lives for us in World War II, Korea, the United Nations, NATO, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Croatia? The list goes on and on.
The minister might have a change of heart and when he goes home tonight will say that we will keep those nine centres open for the next couple of years, especially for World War II and Korean War veterans.
In the past year, the Canadian Armed Forces has been forcing personnel with service-related injuries to leave the Canadian Armed Forces before they qualify for their pensions. Corporal Glen Kirkland, who suffers from physical and emotional wounds as a result of a Taliban bomb that killed three comrades, was being forced to leave the CAF because he did not meet the military universality of service requirements.
Last June, the Minister of National Defence said in the House of Commons that any Afghan vet injured in combat would not be released as a result of these injuries.
Recently, Corporal David Hawkins, a reservist from St. Thomas, Ontario, with post-traumatic stress, was forced out a year before he was able to collect a fully indexed pension. On October 30, 2013, the Minister of National Defence said in this House of Commons, “...we want to thank Corporal Hawkins...”. That is a great opening. He continued, “...for his service and sacrifice for Canada”. That is outstanding. He continued, “Before being released, members of the Canadian Armed Forces work with the military on a transition plan. Ill and injured Canadian Forces members are provided with physical, mental and occupational therapy services for their eventual transition to civilian life. Members are not released until they are prepared”. Well, Corporal Hawkins was released before he was well prepared.
If Corporal Hawkins were to apply to get a job with any department, he might have to get a bit of training. He might need a couple of bucks to get retrained in order to apply. Maybe some money will have to be allocated in the department so that this injured vet, suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, is able to qualify to do that job. Corporal David Hawkins was not prepared to be released.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs is trying to find a way to show that the Conservative government is caring for injured veterans while not coming clean on a lot of these issues.
I will continue. The Veterans Ombudsman stated in a press release, when he made the following observations on Bill C-11:
...under the new legislation, the system will have to adjudicate an individual's file to determine if the medical release is related to service or not. This could add additional red tape to the release process and potentially delay the ability to access priority hiring upon release. ...it will create separate classes of Veterans for federal priority hiring...all medically releasing [sic] Canadian Armed Forces members should be treated the same way, because there is an inherent service relationship for every Canadian Armed Forces member who is medically released because the individual can no longer serve in uniform. ...losing one's career as a result of a medical condition is unique to service in the military.
Other questions were raised by the Veterans Ombudsman. Maybe the minister might want to stand up and answer them during question and answer.
Which department will do the adjudication? What documentation will be used in the adjudication process? Will benefit of the doubt criteria be established? How long will the process take? How much visibility will the member have in the process? Will there be an appeal process? If a definition is made that a medical release is not service related, will it affect the decision-making for another benefit program, such as the disability award?
I can say what is in the media. This is from November 8:
Sensing the lousy optics of unhappy vets during Remembrance Week, the government has pledged to give discharged soldiers first crack at civil service jobs. Given that the feds are cutting staff, this is an empty promise. And it’s doubtful many of those scarce jobs could actually be filled by soldiers unfit for military duty.
Here is another one from the National Post. “Ottawa fails veterans with cynical displays of show over substance”. Barbara Kay writes:
Recently the government proudly announced two new initiatives. The first pledges to give priority to veterans seeking civil service jobs. But Mr. Parent points out that thousands of veterans are incapable of working due to injuries suffered during their service. And since hiring freezes are in place over most of the federal departments,“priority” consideration for frozen jobs is not of much use. The other initiative increases funding for vocational rehabilitation programs to $75,800 per veteran. But the fine print belies the seeming generosity. The money is allocated at $2 million over five years, spread over 1,300 veterans. That comes to $1,500 each, unless 40-some veterans get all of it.
I hope that the Minister of Veterans Affairs has paid attention and will have the generosity today to accept the amendment from this side of the House that money be allocated for veterans to be retrained and that there be a sum for each veteran. Second, I hope that the minister stands up, after my pleading with him, and says that they will keep these nine centres open, which affect 26,788 veterans, for the next 10 or 15 years. If he gets up and says anything about the 600 points and “da de da de da and we're going to their houses”, the veterans are watching. They know that it is totally bellowing. We will leave it at that.