Care for Veterans

Mr. Speaker, it is my distinct honour to stand today to speak to this important motion, M-532, which really touches on a number of things our government has already been moving forward in terms of improving and removing unnecessary bureaucracy from veterans care.

My colleague’s proposal really is to develop a continuum of care, something that recognizes that care will evolve and that there is an important handover for our veterans, which I will speak to in my remarks.

I thank my friend and colleague, the MP for Edmonton Centre. Often in dialogue across the country we hear, can a single MP get much done? Pierre Trudeau’s famous quote about MPs being nobodies 30 metres from Parliament Hill is a fallacy. If people are members of this House and they care about an issue, they can advance it remarkably. One does not have to be the leader of a party. One does not have to be a minister. One just has to be a passionate advocate.

That is what we have in my friend, the MP from Edmonton Centre, a passionate advocate for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, and a passionate advocate with decades of experience working with veterans.

He noted in his remarks to this House that he is just one of the 600,000 to 700,000 veterans in Canada, but his is an important voice, because he is here in Parliament. I consider myself his understudy in many ways. We represent the Royal Canadian Air Force caucus here in the House of Commons. We are a pilot and a navigator who are aircrew who fly and tease each other relentlessly. We are here working on issues of mutual concern, namely our men and women who serve this country.

What has been discussed a little bit in this House but has never been thoroughly explored in the way it should be is how we can serve veterans within this continuum of care my friend from Edmonton Centre has suggested in a way that recognizes that those 600,000 to 700,000 Canadians are vastly different.

We heard my friend from Guelph talk about the offices and things like that again. Veterans are not a unified force who all access services the same way. We have in Canada right now war veterans in their 20s from the Afghanistan conflict. We also have veterans in their 90s. In fact, my colleague from Edmonton Centre and I met a 101-year-old veteran in Normandy who travelled with the Canadian contingent to recognize the anniversary in France. The 101-year-old veteran parked his walker and walked down to Juno Beach. It was remarkable. Does the 101-year-old veteran access services the same way the 25-year-old veteran does? No, he does not.

Veterans Affairs has tried to realize that, apart from some of the dialogue we hear in Ottawa from so-called advocates who do not even understand how veterans are served, there are 15,000 veterans in their 20s who have signed up for what is called the My VAC account. They can manage their own accounts online. They want to. People from that generation have never had banking chequebooks that they have taken into a branch. Veterans Affairs has worked on apps and on online accounts, because we have thousands of veterans who want to access and learn about their benefits that way.

We also still have veterans in their 80s and 90s who need assistance, and the vast majority of those do not go to stand-alone bricks and mortar Veterans Affairs offices. For decades they have been helped by veterans service officers at Legions, a fact that a Liberal critic did not even appear to know when we were talking about how veterans access services. The Legion was empowered by an act of Parliament in 1925 to help veterans access their services. That is part of its mandate.

My veterans service officer for Branch 178, which I belong to, has personally helped over 500 veterans or their partners access benefits. Service officers are not paid, but their training and expenses are paid for by the poppy fund. A lot of MPs in this House did not appear to know what the poppy fund went to. That is where it goes, directly.

In a few weeks, Canadians will start wearing their poppies with pride. They know that the vast majority of those funds go directly to veterans support.

Of the 600,000 to 700,000 veterans in Canada, 130,000 have case files of some sort at Veterans Affairs. Of that, only 7,500 have an assigned case manager. A case manager is assigned based on an assessment of a variety of needs, including the complexity of the case, the services or support the veteran has or does not have at home, and ongoing illnesses or addiction issues. All of these things are assessed, and a case manager is assigned.

Our most complex cases number in the 7,500 to 8,000 range. We are providing in-home support for some of these veterans. A case manager can visit these veterans in their homes. Thanks to our changes, veterans can now visit up to 700 Service Canada and related offices, including joint personnel support units and mental health centres, to access the same level of service they can also get from a veterans services officer. They can also use the phone and the My VAC online account. We need to serve our veterans in a variety of ways, and we do.

Too often there is discussion about money and it is said that we can never do enough for our veterans. I agree, but let us speak about those numbers for a moment. Today $4.7 billion more is being spent on veterans than when we came into office. The vast majority of that relates to direct benefits for soldiers who were injured in the Afghanistan conflict. We have made sure that they are constantly reviewed and improved. A supplement has been introduced for the permanent impairment class so that those veterans who will have a very difficult time transitioning out of uniform into civilian employment are being provided for with additional payments.

The veterans affairs committee, in a good show of solidarity and of removing politics, came up with 14 recommendations on how to improve the new veterans charter. Many of those recommendations have already been acted on. Most important of these is the fact that a veteran will first stabilize and be assigned a proper VAC file manager before being released from the Canadian Forces. That is an important improvement. Another improvement is that certain benefits, particularly related to mental health, will be extended to families. In the coming weeks and months, more of those 14 recommendations will be acted on. I hope that all members of the committee, including a couple who spoke in the House before me, try to keep the politics removed from this.

Interestingly, the new veterans charter was created by the last Liberal government but was implemented by the Conservative government. It needs to be a living document that is improved upon. It was improved a few years ago with the permanent impairment allowance supplement. Now it is being improved to address some of the shortcomings of the new veterans charter.

My friend from Edmonton Centre talked about the concept of a continuum of care. He would like to one day see all of these services housed under one administrative department. I agree wholeheartedly with him. This is not a partisan issue. Retired Senator Dallaire, the lieutenant-general my colleague from Guelph spoke about, supports this same approach, in principle.

I will tell the House why it makes sense, and hopefully it is not a bridge too far. I enrolled in the Canadian Forces at 18. I was recruited. There is a department in the forces for recruiting. When I left, I was transferred to a different department. I left the uniform, and suddenly I was no longer part of the DND or Canadian Forces bureaucracy. I was transferred to a new one. That is not how they do it in the United Kingdom, where veterans services are part of defence services under the Ministry of Defence.

In giving speeches across the country I have met veterans from the Devil’s Brigade, World War II, and Korea who have complained about problems that were caused when they left the uniform and their records were transferred to Veterans Affairs. That gap needs to be closed. People should not fall through the cracks.

I hope that the motion today about a continuum of care, brought forward by my friend from Edmonton Centre, starts this dialogue so that we can reduce the number of people who may be falling through the cracks now. Hopefully, in the future, we will see all of this in one ministry so that from enrolment and recruitment to retirement and becoming a veteran it is all in one family.

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