Veterans Affairs Benefits and Services for Veterans

Statements

Senator Statement Senator Jane Cordy November 7th, 2013

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, Monday is November 11, Remembrance Day, the day we as Canadians set aside each year to recognize and reflect on the sacrifices made by Canadian men and women defending our country and protecting our freedoms.

From Vimy Ridge, to Dieppe, to Juno Beach, to Korea and Afghanistan, our brave men and women of the Armed Forces continue to deploy at a moment's notice to defend our way of life and secure freedoms for those less fortunate in countries in turmoil around the globe.

Canadians are united in our respect, our gratitude for and our pride in the men and women in uniform who have served and sacrificed so much and continue to serve in Canada's Armed Forces.

That is why it is so disheartening to read the reports of restrictive government policies excluding many of our veterans' families to qualify for funeral financial assistance. Government officials boast of increasing the Last Post Fund's budget, but if the policies don't change, the veterans' families' access to these increased funds is equally elusive. You can increase the budget all you want, but if you don't spend the money, the veterans are not being helped.

It is disheartening to hear of the government practice of involuntarily discharging injured Canadian Afghanistan veterans, including those servicemen and women who suffer from post- traumatic stress disorder, before they can reach 10 years of service, when they can qualify for a military pension. This practice of releasing injured military personnel before they are eligible for a pension is still taking place even after former Defence Minister Peter MacKay promised in June of this year that, "Any Afghan vet injured in combat will not be released as a result of those injuries."

In addition, veterans in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, are being dealt another blow by the Conservative government as their local Veterans Affairs office will be closed. Unfortunately, this office is one of nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada scheduled to close in the new year.

The Sydney office serves approximately 4,200 military and RCMP veterans and their family members. This is 4,200 people who will now have to make arrangements to travel to Halifax to meet with a Veterans Affairs client service representative in person. Most of our elderly veterans, and in fact most Canadians, prefer to deal with officials face to face — real people, real faces.

Is this too much to ask for those who have served our country? Forcing them to travel to Halifax is a burden many elderly or in fact any Cape Breton veteran should not have to endure and is a burden they should not have to undertake.

The government has made grand announcements regarding improved access to Veterans Affairs services through a toll-free phone number, website and a smartphone app.

Honourable senators, the average age of our World War II and Korean veterans is 88. To take away the access to the Veterans Affairs office and tell them to download the government's Veterans Affairs app to their smartphones for service is unrealistic. To tell our World War II and Korean veterans to use a smartphone app to deal with their Veterans Affairs issues is insulting.

This government is simply out of touch with our Canadian veterans and their needs. These changes are all in the name of government cost-cutting and efficiency, but what it comes down to is that the needs of our veterans are being ignored. That is shameful.

These unnecessary, callous government cuts are made at the expense of the most valuable segment of our population, our veterans.

Honourable senators, we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude and they deserve our respect. They have fought for our freedom and the preservation of peace and security around the world. It is only right that when they return home we provide them with the resources they need for their health, their well-being and their dignity.