As the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I have had the honour to hear countless inspiring stories from veterans about their personal experiences in serving our great nation. The ways in which these proud men and women can recount the details of both the good and the bad moments, their trials, sacrifices and victories, shows all of us how meaningful and important wearing Canada’s uniform is to those who have made the choice to protect our collective rights of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The level of detail these stories provide simply baffles the mind considering their memories are dating back, in some instances, over 75 years. Our Veterans, both historical and present day have accomplished so much, and our country and our Government stands proudly and firmly behind them.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to welcome home the last contingent of Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan, joined by Canadian Veterans of Peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and beyond. Watching different generations of those who served come together, all of who made great personal sacrifices during difficult conflicts spanning the globe, was one of many highlights for me in 2014. What a fitting year that our Government rededicated the National War Memorial with the inscription of the dates of the war in Afghanistan and In Service To Canada. For the first time, all Canadian Veterans, from those who fought in the Great War to today’s modern Veterans, are commemorated at our National Memorial exactly as they should be.
Also among the highlights was the opportunity to make two trips abroad to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Second World War Veterans. Visiting Normandy with Ernest Côté and over 100 Veterans who served on D-Day as well as taking part in the Canadian delegation to Italy with 28 Veterans who fought during the Italian Campaign allowed our Veterans to hear directly from those who remember Canadian soldiers fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today, and heard our collective appreciation of their accomplishments, bravery and sacrifice. The gratitude expressed to me by the Veterans who could make these journeys back to where they fought for their country was incredible. Never have I been so humbled to hear this, when they are the ones that deserve our most heartfelt thanks and gratitude.
The event that reached the most prominence of the year, and possibly the most touching of my life was how Canadians paid tribute to our Veterans this Remembrance Day following the shocking and cowardly terrorist attacks that occurred on Canadian soil. According to the Legion, over 2 million additional poppies were given to Canadians this year over last year. Millions of Canadians reached out to the families of the soldiers, who until then had been complete strangers, and welcomed them into their family. Emerging from those dark days was a renewed sense of family in our country, one that had not been displayed in such an overwhelming way in a long time.
As 2014 draws to a close I want to thank, first and foremost, the brave men and women in uniform for their service, both past and present, as well as the dedicated Veterans stakeholders, many of whom partnered with the Government this year to advance mental health treatment and reduce bureaucratic red tape. Your ideas have prompted new legislation to move qualified, injured Veterans to the front of the line for Federal Government jobs; new training and learning opportunities; reduced the number of pages it takes a Veteran to apply for benefits; set up outreach capabilities so we can serve Veterans in need immediately; and helped to bring together Canada’s academic community to focus on the issues facing Veterans and their families.
I must also thank the members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for their report on moving forward with the New Veterans Charter. As a direct result of our hard work, our Government has implemented measures to close the gap between National Defence and Veterans Affairs; opened 7 Military Family Resource Centres to medically releasing Veterans and their families; more than doubled the number of counseling sessions for family members; and invested in front-line mental health clinics in 8 communities with more to come in 2015.
Our job at Veterans Affairs is not done. The job will never be done, so long as we continue to serve hundreds of thousands of Veterans, Veterans widows and family members from across Canada. Canadians, but more importantly Veterans and their family members, need to know that we will never rest and will always look to make improvements on how they are served by their Government. I am pleased at the progress we have made over the past year and am fully committed to seeing further progress and improvements as we move into 2015. We will continue to build on our solid record by identifying and addressing any gaps that exist for Veterans and their families in service delivery, continue to invest directly into benefits, and bolster front-line services while reducing needless bureaucratic processes. More work needs to be done and will be done by our Government to ensure that Canadian Veterans and their families have every support that they need.
Lest we forget.
Julian Fantino, PC., MP
Minister of Veterans Affairs