I have always maintained that whether we agree with a particular military mission or not, it is our duty to look after members of our Armed Forces when they return home. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case under the current Conservative government.
Last month, Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent identified serious shortcoming in the supports available to injured veterans and their families. In his words: “We either deal with these issues now or we are going to have to deal with the cost later.”
That is why it was disappointing to hear Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino say that with respect to meeting the needs of veterans and their families, his government “is also being mindful of our responsibility to the Canadian taxpayer.”
This statement is not consistent with reality. This government wasted $50 million on a G8 slush fund in Tony Clement’s riding, spent over $25 million on Economic Action Plan advertisements, and continues to fund an outdated, undemocratic Senate rife with spending scandals at a cost of $100 million per year.
It also spent $35 million on legal fees and six years fighting Dennis Manuge and injured veterans in court over an unjust clawback to their disability pensions. The federal government is now fighting veterans in two more court battles – injured RCMP veterans over disability clawbacks and injured Afghanistan veterans over the level of financial support under the New Veterans Charter.
As a further affront to veterans, the Harper government plans to close nine Veterans Affairs offices in smaller communities by 2015 as a cost-cutting measure. This will force veterans to travel long-distances to other cities for service or rely on impersonal website, phone apps, and call centres. This type of impersonal service is a huge barrier for many who are disabled.
This government must start paying more than lip service to show their support for veterans and their families. The men and women who join the Canadian Forces (CF) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have accepted unlimited liability, knowing they may be called upon to risk their lives on behalf of Canada.
In turn, the government and people of Canada have an obligation to care for and support those who risk their lives in service to our country – from the moment they sign up to the moment they pass away, including a dignified funeral and burial.
Reference to this sacred obligation or social contract is found in most legislation that defines the benefits and services available to our veterans.
It is time to restore our obligation to veterans and their families and make immediate improvements in benefits and support.