We Can Do More to Improve the Lives Veterans and their Families
We Can Do More to Improve the Lives of Veterans and their Families Peter Stoffer New Democrat Veterans Affairs Critic Remembrance Day, 2009 Words: 570 On Remembrance Day, Canadians will pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our veterans and currently serving Canadian Forces (CF) and RCMP personnel. We will honour the living and remember the fallen. But recalling the great sacrifices and contributions of these men and women also carries with it a great responsibility. As a nation, we must ensure that CF and RCMP veterans, along with their families, are well cared for – from the moment they sign up to serve our country to the moment they pass away. In recent years, we have seen improvements to a number of veteran’s benefits, including Operational Stress Injury Social Support Centres, wellness and transition programs under the new Veterans Charter, and assistance for allied veterans now living in Canada. Although these programs are certainly a step in the right direction, there is much more we can do to improve the lives of veterans and their families. That is why New Democrats continue to press this Conservative government to implement key reforms for programs and services for veterans and their families. Some of these reforms include unfulfilled Conservative promises. The Harper Conservatives committed to resolving the clawback of Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) pensions for disabled veterans, extending the home care (VIP) program for all widows and veterans as well as fully compensating all victims of Agent Orange and holding a public inquiry into its use. Despite promising significant reform, the Conservatives have not stopped the practice of appointing their friends to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Unfortunately, the government’s lack of action on SISIP and full compensation for Agent Orange victims from 1950-1984 has led veterans to launch class action lawsuits in hopes of forcing a government response. Beyond their broken commitments, the government needs to improve the New Veterans Charter for modern day veterans to better support those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, bring an end to the unjust clawback of CF and RCMP service and CPP Disability pensions at age 65, increase the survivor’s pensions from 50 percent to 66 percent, and eliminate the gold-digger clause (marriage after 60) that prevents widows and widowers from receiving pension and health benefits. New Democrats have also advocated for equal access to veterans’ hospitals and pavilions throughout the country. Currently, as some families have recently discovered, veterans are not eligible for a bed at the local veterans’ hospital or pavilion if they did not actively serve in WWII or Korea. In one case, a veteran was not eligible for admission because he did not serve in a “theatre of war” during WWII or the Korean War even though he had a long and distinguished military career. In a similar story, a veteran was turned away because he served in Cyprus. We argue that the federal government should make these services available for all veterans, open up discussions about the future of the facilities, and develop Health Care Centres of Excellence for modern day veterans, RCMP, and their families. These specialized centres could provide a unique model of care to better assist veterans with specific physical and psychological injuries and needs. Veterans and their families deserve our deepest gratitude for their contributions to our country and for protecting the freedoms we hold so dear. For these brave men and women, Remembrance Day is every day. The least we can do is make sure they receive the support they have earned. Lest we forget.