“Let me just say that government of Canada puts as you know a very high priority on care for our veterans. This government has made enormous, billions of dollars worth of investments in programs particularly for the most needy veterans,” Harper told reporters at a news conference with the Philippine president Benigno Aquino.
“Obviously those programs are under constant review and we will continue to assess their suitability going forward.”
Yesterday on West Block, Tom Clark asked Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney about the treatment of veterans, including the Last Post Fund. Here’s the transcript.
Tom Clark: Well let’s talk about the people that are being honoured today and you know I go to the comments of the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk, and the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General of Canada have all said the same thing, that we are not doing enough when it comes to mental health for our veterans. Why aren’t we?
Steven Blaney: Well we sure are doing and we can always do more. And that’s why I’m very proud today to stand by our Canadian Armed Forces and Minister MacKay, who have done tremendous [outreach] in reaching out to our soldiers who need it the most, especially those returning from Afghanistan and peacekeeping mission by having…
Tom Clark: But Minister, these are the very people though that the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the Auditor General and the Veterans Ombudsman say are not getting the help that they need.
Steven Blaney: Well they do get a lot of help through our Operational Stress Injury clinics. Did you know, that we have at this very moment, injured soldiers who have been through post traumatic stress, who are working within the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada? And they are able to deal with soldiers to soldiers and say, I can help you, I know where you’ve been through, let’s work it out together and see how can our government, our department, and our specialists… You know we’ve just hired more doctors, more nurses, and more psychiatrists so we can get some help to those that need it the most, whether physically or mentally.
Tom Clark: So when it comes to burial for veterans who have fallen on hard times, 67.4 percent of the applicants for the money for burials are turned down. Why is it that somebody who fought for this country has to fight for a decent burial?
Steven Blaney: Well this program is, the Funeral and Burial program, is for our injured veterans in need. This is an important program because our veterans deserve to be well treated and at their very last day they deserve to be buried properly…
Tom Clark: Are they getting enough money?
Steven Blaney: Since they put their life at risk…
Tom Clark: Right but 67 percent are being rejected in terms of coming (Blaney – yes) up for money. The cap has not been raised for 10 years (Blaney – it’s true) on this program.
Steven Blaney: Well you know we certainly can work every day to improve the quality of the service we are providing to veterans and that’s why with this particular program, more than 10,000 veterans have benefited from it since 2006, and when we include the funeral and the burial assistance it can go up to twice or three times as much as what you’ve just referred to. But what is most important is every day we need to strive and as a government and as a country to improve the quality of services we are delivering to our veterans and that’s why we are investing large amounts, but we are investing ourselves in what we call the New Veterans Charter.
Tom Clark: You were cutting your budget by $36 million dollars by 2014, are you going to put any more money into the funeral program? Are you going to put any more money into health care, mental health care as has been called for by some of the top people in the military? Are you going to basically say, anybody who fought for this country does not have to fight at the end of their lives for decent burial, decent care, a roof over their heads or a job?
Steven Blaney: Tom, every week, every month, every day, we are improving the service to our veterans. And we are investing more than $3 billion dollars in our veterans’ health and we are also doing one thing; we are into cutting into red tape. And who has asked me for that, veterans. They say Steven, we are fed up by filling those forms, like what we call… this is a program… you would get fed up to send me a bill every time you have to take care to wash your window or do some house cleaning in your house. This is over now. We have moved to upfront payments. We have eliminated millions of transactions; routine administrative tasks, wait that’s over. And now our veterans get upfront payment. Yesterday a veteran came to see me and say Steven; this is the right way to go. Cut the red tape and maintain and improve the benefits. You know what, that’s exactly what we are doing and we will strive to do because that’s what they deserve.