Illnesses, accidents, emergencies together with impairment of physical capacities due to ageing, will all tend to increase the demands upon the facilities and services of this department. Therefore the $1 million reduction in this year's estimates is not likely to be repeated in the estimates of future years.
As a member of the committee on veterans affairs I was impressed, as I am sure all hon. members were, with the general efficiency of the department and the high quality and capability of the various departmental officials. In this respect I want to pay tribute not only to the officials of the department here in Ottawa but also to those in the regional office in my province.
We were told, I think by the deputy minister, that although there had not been any basic change in departmental administration there had been a measure of reorganization carried out which had resulted in a reduction in the administrative staff of about 33 persons. That, I take it, accounts for the fact that the vote for departmental administration this year is approximately the same as that of last year. We were very pleased to learn that those 33 persons were not turned loose on the world to fend for themselves but had been absorbed in other branches of the department, and are mainly in the treatment services division, which apparently has a shortage of staff.
I am sure hon. members were gratified, as I was, to learn of the measure of success which has been achieved in integrating the personnel and duties of the staff of the Veterans' Land Act administration with that of the administration of the farm credit council. I was also pleased to learn in the committee that the new division on methods and inspection had been organized, and that as a result there had been improvement in the methods of handling various cases.
I am also very grateful to learn from the minister about the special effort that is being made to get in touch with veterans who still have unused rehabilitation credits. As a result of this effort every veteran should now be informed of the cut-off date for eligibility for this credit, which I think is in 1962, and the possibility of using those rehabilitation credits as payment on life insurance policies. I was very interested in the figure which the minister gave us of $114 million now in force in life insurance protection, and particularly of the 2,320 new policies which had resulted, I think, in an additional $8.5 million of life insurance in the current fiscal year. The vote for rehabilitation credits I understand reflects an increase of $900,000 which it is expected will be needed this year owing to this special effort to provide veterans with this particular information.
I was glad also to see the increase of $450,000 in the assistance fund which is used for monthly supplementation to recipients of war veterans allowance who have reached the maximum under the War Veterans Allowance Act. This little extra assistance is based on need, and I have personal knowledge that it has been very helpful in many instances and has meant all the difference between hardship and a measure of enjoyment of the small amenities of life.
I was very sorry to see the reduction of $2.5 million in the vote for disability pensions. I am sure all hon. members are disappointed that the Pension Act has not been revised this session to bring about an increase in basic pensions, which is very badly needed in some cases and which has been requested by practically all veterans organizations. As far as I am concerned personally, it was a double disappointment that this amendment to the Pension Act was not carried out, because it means a prolongation of the delay in the recognition and confirmation of the status of Newfoundland veterans.
The minister has explained to us that this decrease is due to the fact that deaths of world war I pensioners have more than offset the increased eligibility of world war II veterans in the past year. The evidence brought before the committee showed that the pensioners of world war I had decreased to 185,536 in 1959 as against 195,635 in 1950. This indicates a reduction of approximately
10,000 in nine years, and that is in line with the figures which I believe the minister gave a few minutes ago, indicating a decrease of 1,686 in the last fiscal year. If anything, that last figure the minister supplied indicates that the rate of decrease in world war I pensioners is being accelerated as the years go by.
We learned also in the committee that world war II pensioners had increased from 88,235 in 1947 to 123,296 in 1959, and that their dependent children had increased from 54,759 to 176,409. This indicates that while there has been a reduction in expenditure there has been an increase in the paper work of the department and in the number of cases handled. In view of the fact that the staff has decreased from 540 to 404, I feel that this reflects the great measure of efficiency with which this work is being carried out.
I should like to express the hope that the war veterans legislation will be amended at the next session of parliament; not only that the Pension Act will be amended to permit increases in the basic pensions and to confirm and regularize the status of Newfoundland veterans, but that other veterans legislation will be amended so that the Newfoundland
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Supply-Veterans Affairs forestry units of world war II, the merchant navy and the members of the rescue tug service can all be brought under the veterans charter.
I should like also to see a policy adopted of extending for one year the pensions of deceased pensioners to the widows in cases where the pension is over 50 per cent. I believe this measure had the approval of all members of the committee, and I recommend it to the minister and the government for their consideration. I think it would be a fine thing, also, if the pensions of deceased pensioners who were receiving less than 50 per cent disability could also be continued to their widows.
Now, Mr. Chairman, there are many other things I might say on this occasion, but there will be other opportunities to speak on the various items. I should like to close by expressing my support for the representations made by the Canadian Legion and by other veterans organizations in connection with the suggestions I have just made.