An Honour to Serve our Veterans

A lot can change in two weeks. Since the time of my last column, we have welcomed a new year and we are finally starting to see the winter that did not show up for Christmas.  Last week, I was also given the tremendous honour and responsibility of serving in cabinet as the Minister of Veterans Affairs.  The Prime Minister has asked me to take on this portfolio for two central reasons.  First, he knows that I served in the Canadian Armed Forces and that after I hung up my uniform I dedicated myself to supporting military families and our veterans.  I have worked locally with the Legion in Bowmanville and appreciate the tremendous work of all of our Legion branches supporting veterans in Durham.  I have also worked on veteran issues nationally with other tremendous groups like True Patriot Love, Wounded Warriors and Treble Victor.  The second reason that the Prime Minister gave me this opportunity to serve is the need to establish a more respectful and informed dialogue on the important and evolving issues related to the care of the men and women who serve Canada.  I hope to draw on my experience and my track record of working with many groups to help improve the level of discourse in this important area.

One thing that will not change is my commitment to the riding of Durham and to my constituents. Since the moment I was elected as your Member of Parliament in 2012, I have worked hard to listen and advocate for issues of importance to the communities of Scugog, Clarington and Uxbridge.  I have been able to speak in Ottawa on issues impacting life in our area and in the riding we have tried to find solutions or clarity for constituents with issues impacting their family.  This riding is my community and it will remain a top priority. In the last few days I have had the opportunity to have a long meeting with the new Mayor of Scugog, Tom Rowett.  On Monday evening I appeared before Clarington Council to provide an annual federal update.  And last Friday I had the distinct honour of presenting a Bomber Command Bar and two World War II Victory pins to veterans at Wilmot Creek in Clarington.  These presentations had been scheduled for over a month, but they took on special meaning because my first official presentations as the Minister of Veterans Affairs ended up being to veterans in my home community.

Presenting the Bomber Command Bar to Harvey

Presenting the Bomber Command Bar to Harvey

I invite you to watch issues related to our veterans in the coming months.  I am already working hard on a few areas that I believe I can make some progress on.  I have reached out to many different groups to introduce myself and to listen.  Many things are done very well by Veterans Affairs Canada, but there are some challenges that we need to address.  Mental health is one of those areas.  We have dedicated a lot of time and resources to this challenging issue and must continue to find ways to help those who bear the mental injuries from service.  Another central challenge that Veterans Affairs faces is the fact that the needs of veterans vary depending on age, service and injury.  The department that for decades was accustomed to dealing with large groups of World War II and Korean War veterans now has to adapt to the needs of veterans seriously injured in Afghanistan.  Younger veterans tend to access services and information differently than older veterans.  We need to build in flexibility to the service of our veterans and constantly evolve to ensure we are meeting rising new areas of need.  We also must realize that the veteran’s family is often impacted as a result of a service injury, so family support is another area that our government has been trying to do more of.

The Prime Minister shares my passion in this area and we had a very good discussion of the issues right after he gave me the privilege to serve in this important capacity for our veterans. I will continue to be a strong voice for the communities here in Durham and will work very hard in this important new assignment.  I want to thank my family, my team and the community for your support and for the many kind wishes that were received in the last week.

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