Veterans Affairs Length of Service—Pensions and Benefits

Question Period

Senator Jane Cordy November 4th, 2013

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, it was recently reported that many of our injured Armed Forces personnel are being discharged before they can qualify for an indexed pension. Ten years of service is required before a member can qualify for an indexed pension in the Canadian military.

These are men and women who have been hurt in the line of duty, protecting Canadians and those less fortunate around the world. Therefore I ask: Why did this Conservative government break their promise, made in June 2013, that wounded military men and women could serve as long as they want in the Canadian military?

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): As promised, we are honouring the veterans' benefits that were in Budget 2012. We are honouring our commitment to serve veterans as well and as quickly as possible. We have also implemented a program that is greatly appreciated by veterans: the Hire a Veteran Program. We believe that these types of measures can best help veterans reintegrate into active society when they return home from a mission.

Senator Cordy: You have not kept your commitment made in June 2013 that Canadian men and women who were hurt in battle, either physically or with post-traumatic stress disorder, could stay in the military as long as they could. That commitment has not been kept. We know that men and women are being asked to leave the military before their 10 years have been served so that they are not eligible for a pension.

The practice of early medical discharge in the case of Corporal Glen Kirkland was stopped last year when then Defence Minister Peter MacKay intervened, but this was a special case made for someone only after his case was made public.

Corporal Kirkland has since voluntarily resigned when he discovered that this special treatment was reserved only for him and not extended to his fellow injured servicemen and women. At the time Corporal Kirkland said:

I joined as a member of a team, as a family.... So, when I was offered an opportunity when no one else was, it just goes against everything I joined for.

We now find that Corporal David Hawkins, who is one year short of being eligible for an indexed pension, has been released from the military because his post-traumatic stress disorder means that he is not able to deploy overseas.

Corporal Hawkins is not eligible to receive a military pension.

That is shameful. These are the men and women who have gone to the front line for us, and now we're letting them go with one year remaining before they are eligible to collect a pension.

Can you tell me why this Harper government is treating our veterans, those who have gone to the front lines for Canadians, in such a callous way?

Senator Carignan: Senator Cordy, I must once again correct your statements regarding how veterans are treated. Our government is among those that pay the most attention to their veterans. With respect to injured soldiers, need I remind you that, before they are released, Canadian Forces members try to agree on a transition plan with the army?

Soldiers are only released when the time is right for them and their families and when they are ready to enter the private sector. Our government promised to provide the best possible health care for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. That is why we increased investments in mental health services and doubled the number of mental health professionals in the Armed Forces. Compared to our NATO allies, the Canadian Forces have the highest ratio of mental health professionals to soldiers.

We have invested in 24 Integrated Personnel Support Centres across Canada in order to bring together important services offered by Veterans Affairs Canada and the Armed Forces. We have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure and new technology in order to better support and care for sick and injured soldiers. We have made great progress in treating military personnel suffering from mental health problems caused by their deployment. The treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder is based on best practices, in particular early detection and evidence- based health care. The Armed Forces have a complete pre- and post-deployment program to help soldiers deal with the challenges of a deployment.

Senator Cordy: Good speaking points, senator, but I'm wondering: Why was Corporal Hawkins dismissed after nine years in the military because he has post-traumatic stress disorder and therefore he cannot be deployed overseas, so he was let go; will Corporal Hawkins receive an indexed pension?

Senator Carignan: I am not sure whether that was a question, but I can reaffirm our government's commitment to the soldiers who fought for and defended Canadian values around the world. I would reiterate that our government is committed to ensuring that members of the Canadian Armed Forces have access to the best health care possible.

Senator Cordy: You're absolutely right. These men and women have defended Canadian values around the world, so I think that we owe them more than dismissing them from the military after nine years, with one year remaining before they are eligible to collect a pension.

Senators and members of Parliament receive a pension after six years. Should our military not at least be allowed to collect a pension? Why would this government kick military members out who have served for nine years and who cannot be deployed because they were injured while serving Canadians?

Senator Carignan: As I explained, Senator Cordy, before being released, members of the Armed Forces work with the military on a transition plan. Soldiers are released only when the time is right both for them and for their families and they are ready to move on to the private sector.