By Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson-THE HILL TIMES-January 28, 2008
Re: “Veterans Affairs Canada: well-oiled machine or department in crisis?” (The Hill Times, Jan. 21, p. 34.) Some people just can’t take yes for an answer. Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol are two such people. In their doomsday article last week about Veterans Affairs Canada, your two writers missed the mark so many times that it makes one wonder what the true aim of their piece was.
Allow me to point out just a few very obvious facts missing from their story.
First, veterans had believed for years that they were being neglected by successive federal governments, that they were only an afterthought in political Ottawa. That has all changed under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With our government, veterans and their families are now a national priority. They are front-and-centre, where they belong.
Here is some of the proof. Since taking office two years ago, we have increased annual federal spending on our veterans by $523-million. That’s half a billion dollars more every year. And, we’ve allotted another $150-million over five years to deal with our veterans’ other outstanding priorities. This is all good news; we are saying “yes” to our veterans.
But our work hasn’t stopped there. For years, our leading veterans organizations had been working to help develop a better and more modern approach to providing services and benefits to new Canadian Forces Veterans. Within two months of taking office, we implemented that new approach. It’s called the New Veterans Charter, the most sweeping changes to the way we care for our veterans in 60 years. And we’ve continued to work with our veterans to make sure the New Veterans Charter is achieving our shared goals.
What’s more, veterans had been pleading for decades for a Veterans Bill of Rights and a Veterans Ombudsman. Guess what. We’ve delivered on both.
In short, we’ve overhauled the way we care for our Veterans. We’ve put the money in place to make sure this modern approach works. We’ve introduced a Bill of Rights to guarantee our veterans get this proper care and respect. And we’ve appointed a veterans ombudsman to keep an eye on all of this for our veterans. Do departments in crisis act with that kind of confidence?
Finally, your article also miscalculates Veterans Affairs Canada’s overhead costs as a percentage of the department’s actual expenditures. Your writers claim it is 30 per cent; the real figure is 11.4 per cent. That’s a significant difference.
Let me be very clear, however. I do not think Veterans Affairs Canada or any other federal department is perfect. We know there is still plenty of work to be done.
That’s why, for example, we have budgeted $9 million to double the number of Operational Stress Injury clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. We have men and women suffering very real and serious psychological harm while they are serving our country. And their numbers are growing. Quickly. We have to be there for them¬≠¬≠¬≠–just as they have been here for us. And we are.
We also know we are losing too many of our aging war-service Veterans. And too soon. We have to make sure they enjoy the highest quality of life possible in their twilight years. The Prime Minister understands that. I understand that. We may be the last government with the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in their lives, and we are determined to deliver.
In closing, we know that all Canadians are very proud of our veterans. They want these courageous men and women treated with respect and dignity, and to have access to world-class programs and services. We agree. We are saying “Yes.” And we are getting it done.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson represents New Brunswick Southwest, N.B.
The Hill Times