The Parliamentary Review of the New Veterans Charter
Ottawa – March 6, 2014
There has been much media coverage over the past several months about how Veterans are supported by the Government of Canada. Considering the plethora of opinions, conjecture and “facts and figures”, it is no wonder that Canadians may be confused about what the really important issues are. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case in these often emotional debates and public sparring matches, it can become difficult to separate reality from myth.
The simple reality is that the system of support, benefits and services provided to Veterans – under what is commonly known as the New Veterans Charter – has some shortcomings. Yes, there are good programs available to Veterans under the Charter, but there are also program areas that need improvement. Veterans know this and Government officials know this, too. There is no myth here.
We need to keep things in perspective. Almost 85 percent of Veterans are not clients of Veterans Affairs Canada – they have settled into civilian life after serving their country in uniform and they continue to be valuable contributors to society. Of the Veterans who are Veterans Affairs Canada’s clients, many have also settled into a new life and do not need much support. But, there are other Veterans who do need help.
Since April of last year, I have published two reviews and two reports that pinpoint exactly where the current suite of New Veterans Charter benefits are failing some Veterans today, and will continue to fail more tomorrow unless changes are made. They are: Improving the New Veterans Charter: the Report; Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Actuarial Analysis; Improving the New Veterans Charter: the Parliamentary Review; and Investing in Veterans’ Vocational Training. These reports zero in on specific New Veterans Charter program areas that need to be addressed. No myths and no spin – just simple facts about New Veterans Charter deficiencies based on evidence and reality. If you have not read the documents, I encourage you to read or download them from the Veterans Ombudsman website.
One of the main goals of publishing these documents was to provide parliamentarians with the facts and figures they would need to review the New Veterans Charter in its entirety. So, I was very encouraged when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs took up this work to review the whole of the New Veterans Charter, following the Minister of Veterans Affairs’ recommendation to do so last fall. The Committee had previously published, in June 2010, a report entitled, A Timely Tune-up for the Living New Veterans Charter, which accurately identified some of the shortfalls of the New Veterans Charter. My New Veterans Charter reports built on the Committee’s report and other previous reports to provide the evidence-based facts to allow parliamentarians to very quickly focus in on the gaps and sensible solutions needed to improve the New Veterans Charter.
After all, we now have almost eight years of study and testimony concerning the changes needed to the New Veterans Charter with numerous published reports with recommendations. This information has been widely disseminated and distributed throughout the Veterans’ community, so where are we now?
After 15 meetings in this Session of Parliament, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs is continuing its study of the New Veterans Charter by consulting widely with Veterans, Veterans’ organizations and departmental personnel. In and of itself, this is a good thing, but given all of the evidence that is available and all of the work that has been done before, I would suggest that it’s time for the Committee to focus singularly and squarely on the solutions to New Veterans Charter problems.
For example, on Tuesday, February 25th, the Committee heard testimony from Ron Griffiths, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, and Tim Laidler, Veterans Transition Network. Ron highlighted the changes to the New Veterans Charter that his Association feels need to be given priority. These proposed changes have all been stated in previous testimony, but since there has been no action to address them, they are as relevant today as when first presented. Tim provided an update on the excellent work his organization’s program is achieving, clearly demonstrating that grassroots initiatives, if provided proper funding, can achieve excellent national results. However, of the approximately 40 questions asked by Committee Members, only one-third were directly related to the review of the New Veterans Charter. This is very disappointing because the focus of these hearings is supposed to be the New Veterans Charter.
This week the Committee heard from Medric Cousineau who talked about his experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how his service dog has made a huge difference in his quality of life. The Committee also heard from Barry Yhard who provided information about the excellent work being done by Veterans Emergency Transition Services to help Veterans at risk of homelessness and homeless Veterans. Although the Committee was focussed on the New Veterans Charter this time, the majority of questions directed to the witnesses were about the Disability Award lump sum payment, with a few questions on mental health services and support to families. Did we learn anything new from the exchange?
The testimony reinforced the outstanding work and dedication of individuals, such as Medric and Barry, and the tremendous difference that it can make in the lives of Veterans. Just as a great Veterans Affairs Canada case manager changed Medric’s life, Veterans Affairs Canada’s departmental staff and Veterans’ organization volunteers make a difference everyday for Veterans and their families. The testimony also reaffirmed the issues and gaps with the New Veterans Charter concerning the problems of inadequate financial, transition and family support.
While it is still difficult to identify whether the Committee is following a structured approach to its review of the New Veterans Charter, I was pleased when at the end of last Tuesday’s hearings the Chair, Mr. Greg Kerr, stated that the Committee would be looking at where it is going in the future. I applaud this because it is very important for Veterans and their families and Veterans organizations to be able to discern clearly the focal point(s) of the hearings, the Committee’s framework for change, and its go-forward timeline.
What is disappointing, however, is the prevalence of party politics around the Committee table. As I have said before and will continue to say again and again, Veterans’ issues are one area that should be above politics.
I cannot emphasize enough that each passing day that the problems I have identified with the New Veterans Charter are not remedied means another day that Veterans and families struggle with the stresses of transitioning from military to civilian life or living their final years without adequate support. We have all the information needed to make the necessary substantive changes. We just need to act.
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