Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his speech and for his family's combined service of over 100 years. Serving alongside him on the veterans affairs committee is an honour, because I know the member is seized with veterans, as many in the House are.
I would like to point out members in Veteran Affairs who are veterans, starting with our minister, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; our parliamentary secretary, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; and our deputy minister, who is an RMC grad, a veteran, and the former CDS. I myself am a former infanteer. We have a fighter pilot, and of course, there are members, like the member for Sault Ste. Marie, with a long family tradition. I am delighted to be serving along their side.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the motion. I am pleased to also lend my support to it, though I do share some concerns about the political undertones of the motion from the opposite side.
Our government places the highest priority on the health and well-being of all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. There are many veterans in the House, and as I said, some with recent service, me included. We are seized with ensuring that our veterans get the care and services they so rightly deserve from a grateful Canada. From the day they enrol, through basic training and their progression through the ranks, through deployments at home and abroad, through to when their service ends and they are back into civilian life, we want to ensure that our men and women in uniform, as well as their families, have everything they need.
We ask a great deal of those Canadians who serve in Canada's Armed Forces, both regular and reserve forces, those members who are so highly dedicated and serve concurrently with civilian occupations. We often forget that reservists make up 25% of Canada's missions abroad.
As part of the rigours of military life, they face a number of unique challenges unfamiliar to most of us. Military service and the needs of the nation require them to deploy when needed to locations near and far, as they are presently, as part of domestic and overseas missions.
While visiting Canadian Armed Forces members stationed in Kuwait last week, our Prime Minister said:
Your courage, like the courage of generations of service personnel before you, is the currency in which our freedom, our lifestyles, have been bought and paid.
For that, the Canadian people offer you our deepest admiration and our eternal gratitude.
These are words we can never forget, in particular as we have just observed the 70th anniversary of VE Day in which Canada played a major role in the Second World War.
Present day Canadian Armed Forces personnel often move their residence frequently throughout their careers as part of their service both inside and outside the country. This process is generally disruptive to family life. It means new neighbours, friends, schools, sports teams, and so many normal family-related activities that many of us who are settled take for granted. Their families are constantly moved. As the member for Sault Ste. Marie pointed out, for 17 years his family moved around the world.
They often work irregular hours and complete difficult tasks. Their job to defend and protect Canada's interests is inherently stressful, and of course, they may face great physical danger as part of the job. Sometimes they are in life-threatening situations.
Our Canadian Armed Forces members never fail to respond when they are needed, and we hear from around the world over and over the high regard our service members are held in for their professionalism and their skills. Because we demand so much from them, we have a moral imperative to ensure that there is a strong system to care for them when they become physically or mentally ill or injured.
Allow me to take a few moments to outline some of our existing services in several areas. In my time of service, I personally relied on the military health care system for many of my own injuries. It is a great system.
There are also our compensation and support services, our comprehensive mental health services, and our ongoing support to military families. Because of the comprehensiveness of our health care system, the vast majority of our military personnel are very well and very healthy indeed. However, for those who require ongoing physical and mental health care, we are committed to continuously improving the system.
The old maxim, “prevention is better than a cure”, is still a guide for military health care. In fact, prevention is a top priority, particularly when it comes to operational stress injuries. We address operational stress injuries through regular screening but also through fitness and safety programs. In addition, personnel are medically evaluated when they enrol and when they are taken on strength in the military.
They are medically evaluated before and after deployments, and they are medically evaluated on a routine basis throughout their careers. This is something that I have personally experienced.
Our military health care system is both comprehensive and collaborative. It supports our men and women in uniform in a wide variety of ways and through many different mechanisms, and it is highly adaptive.
As serving members' needs evolve mission to mission, our medical expertise has evolved, and we have responded by renewing and modernizing our services. For example, following an increase in the number of severe musculoskeletal and other combat injuries during our engagement in Afghanistan and indeed throughout a service career in terms of training, we established a Canadian Armed Forces physical rehabilitation program, creating seven centres of rehabilitation excellence across the country by partnering military health service units with pre-eminent civilian institutions.
Until recently, this has not had the attention that it really deserved. Weight, quite frankly, is weight, and in the past we have had load-bearing systems that were inadequate, which over time provided a lot of damage to bodies, backs, knees, ankles and to all kinds of things, especially for those people in the infantry who had to carry their homes, houses and all of their kit on their back. Nowadays, although the kit and equipment is much better, it is recognized much more through a study in science. It is being addressed and is no longer just anecdotal stories about injuries that soldiers sustained while on the job. We have also enhanced our post-deployment screening to ensure that any physical or psychological problems are quickly identified for early intervention.
The Canadian Armed Forces health care system is truly world class, and is committed to constant modernization and adaptation to best practice. It is far superior to anything that was provided decades ago, because it has been informed by modern medicine and disability management.
In partnership with Veterans Affairs, our presently serving members, veterans and all of their families benefit from a comprehensive system of support. However, more can and must be done to ensure that process, that seam that currently exists between these two huge entities, the military and Veterans Affairs, is as close together as we can make it in order to stop transitioning personnel from falling through the cracks. This work is occurring in earnest, and regular and constant improvements are being realized within this process.
We have strengthened and expanded our member and family supports in other areas. For example, financial assistance, often critical in times of illness or injury, is offered to military personnel and their families through the service income security insurance plan, which is commonly known as SISIP. This delivers life and disability insurance, vocational assistance and financial counselling through 18 offices across Canada.
In 2011, we introduced a new suite of benefits designed specifically to help severely injured personnel, by providing for home and vehicle accessibility modifications and monetary support to their spouses and caregivers. We also make on-base employment opportunities available to Canadian Armed Forces spouses and dependants throughout Canada and Europe, helping to improve the financial situation of our military families.
Indeed, whenever we reflect on the health of our military personnel, we know family support is absolutely vital to their well-being. In recognition of the fundamental role played by military families, we have worked hard to renew the military family services program by increasing its funding and expanding its services, especially through our 32 military family resource centres, which provide youth programs and activities; parenting support; daily emergency and respite child care; counselling and referral services; deployment and separation support; and education, training and employment assistance.
I wish that the NDP members were focused like us on delivering results rather than the games they have been playing in Parliament and elsewhere that only serves to confuse and misinform. Veterans should know that every MP on all sides of this House supports them. The political rhetoric that has been applied should become obsolete, because it is inaccurate and unfortunately it does mislead.
In that bipartisan light, I am pleased we are supporting this motion, largely because it was virtually copied from the text of our support for veterans and their families act, but also because I believe no one in this place should use our veterans as political talking points, as the other side does. I believe we should be striving to improve, because it is the right thing to do for all of our veterans, past, present and future. I hope that ultimately this is the case for the politically charged NDP motion.