Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture), CPC)
moved that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important day, because from now on our veterans will receive a positive response from a government that wants to help them.
We believe it is important to protect our modern-day veterans, for example, those who are returning wounded from Afghanistan. We must ensure that they and their families do not have any financial difficulties if they have the misfortune of being wounded during a mission, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world.
It is also an important time for me because just over a year ago, I was named Minister of Veterans Affairs and I had no idea of the magnitude of the task ahead of me. Why am I bringing this up? When I started to listen to our veterans, our modern-day veterans, and realized the difficulties they were experiencing, I understood that we would have to make some changes and do so quickly.
What actually happened? Why, all of a sudden, did our modern-day veterans start publicly talking about and sharing their suffering, pain and financial difficulties?
Here in the House, in 2005, parliamentarians voted unanimously to create the new veterans charter. We said it would be a living charter that would reflect today's reality. When our modern-day veterans, who often are 20, 25 or 30 years old, come back injured, they do not wish to go home and wait and see what will happen. They want to return to their communities and be active members of society. They want to go on with their lives. Naturally, if they have any disability whatsoever, we must help them return to civilian life.
The new veterans charter is entirely focused on rehabilitation. When veterans are in a rehabilitation program, we must ensure that, financially, we do the right thing so that they are able to support their families and get through this difficult stage.
We realized that the new veterans charter had some shortcomings. So, we listened to the interested parties. We went to Valcartier and other military bases. We met with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and representatives of the seven associations. We attended their national convention and consulted them in order to identify the priorities we should emphasize to support our modern-day veterans. Almost everyone agreed that we had to take action on three fronts.
This is the first. If soldiers return injured, from Afghanistan for example, and go into a rehabilitation program, from now on, for the duration of the rehabilitation—whether it takes two, three, five or eight years—they will receive a minimum of 75% of their salary, or at least $40,000.
The second change concerns those who cannot return to work, those whose injuries are too serious. Once Bill C-55 has been passed by the Senate, they will receive a minimum of $58,000 a year. That is the minimum that a member of our military will receive if he or she is unable to return to work.
In addition, when our veterans are injured, they will also receive what is known as a permanent monthly allowance. This allowance—which is similar to the measure in the old system—is paid to them each month for life. The amount can vary from $543 to $1,631 per month for life. Bill C-55 also provides for an additional $1,000, which means that someone who cannot return to work will receive at least $58,000 per year.
There will be a third change to the new veterans charter. Essentially, Bill C-55 has added a whole new chapter to the new veterans charter that was passed in the House in 2005.
The other constant criticism that we have been getting is about offering a lump sum payment as compensation for pain and suffering.
This lump sum payment could be as much as $285,000. After having done some research, we found that the problem was that many of the people who suffered from psychological wounds, mental health issues or PTSD, for example, spent their money inappropriately.
It is our responsibility to protect those who could encounter difficulties. Through Bill C-55, people will be able to receive a cash payment or spread the payment over a certain number of years, be it 10, 15 or 20 years, depending on what they choose. They can also choose a combination of the two, meaning that they could receive part of it in cash and part of it spread out over time.
That means that each individual will need to talk to his or her spouse or family to determine the best decision for their particular situation.
There are three interconnected elements. There is rehabilitation, for which they will receive $40,000 per year, in addition to the lump sum payment. If they cannot return to work, they will receive $58,000 per year, in addition to the lump sum payment. On top of that, of course, there is a permanent monthly allowance of between $543 and $1,631 per month for life.
We cannot put a price on the cost of losing one or more limbs. There is nothing we can do when that happens. However, we can financially support those who are injured, in order to ensure that they and their immediate families do not experience financial difficulties. That is why the changes we are proposing are a step in that direction. We must help our modern-day veterans who, unfortunately, may come back wounded from a mission.
Earlier, I said we consulted soldiers. I even went to Afghanistan to hear what our soldiers there had to say. I am pleased to share with the House what the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Patricia Varga, said:
This bill, as a first step, makes great strides in improving the New Veterans Charter and encompasses many of the recommendations made by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
I would like to thank parliamentarians for their support. We know there are rumours of an election in the air, but we must vote on this bill before the upcoming budget. We hope to have as much co-operation as possible from the Senate to ensure that any of our soldiers who unfortunately face such a situation are properly protected. We must also ensure that these corrective measures come into force as soon as possible and avoid delaying everything for another year.
I would also like to tell the members of this House that I am the only minister who, in an economic recession, managed to get $2 billion from the government in order to correct the shortcomings in the new veterans charter. Who will benefit from that $2 billion? Our veterans, their families and modern-day veterans who have particular needs because of the work they do to protect our values and our country and to defend oppressed nations.
I truly believe that this is a step in the right direction. It is our responsibility to support our soldiers, the people who defend our values. Thus, I would like to thank all parliamentarians for supporting our desire to help those in need.
Subtopic: Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act