Veteran’s can’t be allowed to fall through the cracks

This Remembrance Day millions of Canadians will gather at cenotaphs, community centres, Legions and Veterans halls to honour the living, remember the fallen and thank currently serving Canadian Forces (CF) and RCMP personnel.

But on November 5th , for the second year in a row, veterans organized a protest against the federal government to fight for better disability benefits and more support.  This is a response to the way that the federal government’s programs and services for veterans and their families’ fall woefully short of meeting their needs.  

Despite incremental improvements in recent years, our federal government has not done enough.  In opposition, the Conservatives promised action to resolve 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.  Veterans are still waiting on these.

Incredibly, the federal government is now proposing to cut an estimated $226 million from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and to eliminate 500 employees.  These cuts could impact veterans’ health care programs and services at the same time as demand is rapidly increasing for younger CF and RCMP veterans.

Now, veterans are taking political action like going on hunger strikes to get better care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the widows of soldiers killed in Afghanistan are 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 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 made concrete 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.