Lo­cal MP takes side of Vet­er­ans

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Spe­cial Col­lab­o­ra­tion Ot­tawa, Sher­brooke

Inthe days lead­ing up to Re­mem­brance Day, our na­tions’ thoughts will turn to the con­tri­bu­tions of the men and women who served our coun­try and gave their lives in times of war, armed con­flicts, and peace. Mil­lions of Cana­di­ans will gather at ceno­taphs, com­mu­nity cen­tres, Le­gion and Army, Navy and Air­force Vet­er­ans halls to hon­our the liv­ing, re­mem­ber the fallen and thank cur­rently serv­ing Cana­dian Forces (CF) and RCMP per­son­nel.

But rewind to Novem­ber 5th when vet­er­ans across the coun­try joined to­gether for a National Day of Protest. This is the sec­ond year vet­er­ans have or­ga­nized a protest against the fed­eral govern­ment to fight for bet­ter dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits and more sup­port.

What has hap­pened so that vet­er­ans’ must take to the streets to de­mand bet­ter fed­eral govern­ment pro­grams and ser­vices? Why in re­cent years have vet­er­ans launched four sep­a­rate class ac­tion law­suits against the fed­eral govern­ment to try to get their is­sues re­solved? It boils down to this – the fed­eral govern­ment’s pro­grams and ser­vices for vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies’ falls woe­fully short of meet­ing their needs. Even though some im­prove­ments have been made in re­cent years, our fed­eral govern­ment has not done enough. When in Op­po­si­tion, the Con­ser­va­tives promised they would make sig­nif­i­cant vet­er­ans’ re­forms in­clud­ing re­solv­ing the un­fair re­duc­tion of vet­er­ans’ dis­abil­ity in­sur­ance pay­ments called SISIP, ex­tend­ing the Vet­er­ans In­de­pen­dence Pro­gram for all wi­d­ows, and hold­ing a pub­lic in­quiry and fully com­pen­sat­ing all vic­tims of Agent Orange. The Con­ser­va­tives also promised to stop ap­point­ing their friends to the Vet­er­ans’ Re­view and Ap­peal Board and re­place the Board with qual­i­fied mem­bers with a med­i­cal or mil­i­tary back­ground. “Vet­er­ans of Comp­ton-stanstead and across Canada are still wait­ing for con­crete ac­tions on all of these prom­ises” says MP Jean Rousseau “it is un­ac­cept­able to con­tinue let­ting them live in a state of pro­found poverty con­sid­er­ing the sac­ri­fices they have made for this coun­try.”

The fed­eral govern­ment is now propos­ing to cut an es­ti­mated $226 mil­lion or more from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada (VAC) and elim­i­nate 500 em­ploy­ees. I am very con­cerned with how these cuts may im­pact on vet­er­ans’ health care pro­grams and ser­vices es­pe­cially since re­cent data shows de­mand for ser­vices is rapidly in­creas­ing for younger CF and RCMP vet­er­ans. Calls by the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion and National Coun­cil of Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion to ex­empt the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs from these cuts, like Pres­i­dent Obama has done in the United States, have gone ig­nored.

As the Of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion critic for Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, I have many ex­am­ples of how the sys­tem of car­ing for our vet­er­ans is bro­ken; the ex-sol­dier who suf­fers from Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) and was de­nied ac­cess to his psy­chol­o­gist be­cause the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs would not cover the hour long travel costs for the ap­point­ment. Or the World War II vet­er­ans de­nied re­im­burse­ment for stair lifts to ac­cess the up­per and lower lev­els of their homes as they are not con­sid­ered es­sen­tial liv­ing spa­ces. And the vet­er­ans who are de­nied care at a vet­er­ans’ hos­pi­tal be­cause only those who served over­seas in World War I, II, and Korea are el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply.

We are also very trou­bled by sto­ries of vet­er­ans go­ing on hunger strikes to get bet­ter care from the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and the wi­d­ows of soldiers killed in Afghanistan be­ing de­nied help at home un­der the Vet­er­ans In­de­pen­dence Pro­gram.

Vet­er­ans’ home­less­ness is also on the rise and more vet­er­ans are us­ing food banks. In the Prime Min­is­ter’s own city of Cal­gary, vol­un­teers have or­ga­nized a food bank specif­i­cally for vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. In 2005, it served 58 vet­er­ans and in 2010 it served over 200.

New Democrats have a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove ser­vices in­clud­ing the de­vel­op­ment of new Vet­er­ans’ Health Care Cen­tres of Ex­cel­lence and more ac­cess to vet­er­ans’ hos­pi­tals, re­forms to the New Vet­er­ans Char­ter, an in­crease for funeral ex­penses, ac­tion on vet­er­ans’ home­less­ness and a pub­lic in­quiry into the Depart­ment’s breach of pri­vacy with vet­er­ans’ med­i­cal records. We con­tinue to ask the govern­ment to end the claw­back of re­tired and dis­abled CF and RCMP ser­vice pen­sions, ex­tend the Vet­er­ans In­de­pen­dence Pro­gram to RCMP vet­er­ans, grant ‘mar­riage af­ter 60’ pen­sion and health ben­e­fits, pro­vide bet­ter care for those suf­fer­ing from PTSD, shorten wait-times for dis­abil­ity ap­pli­ca­tions, ex­tend va­ca­tion fair­ness for re­tired CF mem­bers, and elim­i­nate or re­form the Vet­er­ans Re­view and Ap­peal Board. The NDP have many more ideas to im­prove vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits and we ad­vo­cate for a sys­tem that would evolve with the chang­ing health care needs of vet­er­ans and ex­pand ac­cess to pro­grams and ser­vices.

The fed­eral govern­ment must do much more to pro­vide bet­ter pro­grams and ser­vices for vet­er­ans, RCMP mem­bers, and their fam­i­lies and en­sure they are prop­erly cared for from the mo­ment they sign up to the mo­ment they pass away. For these brave men and women, Re­mem­brance Day is ev­ery day. Lest we for­get.

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