Recently I have heard from folks around the constituency reacting to news reports from Ottawa concerning the treatment of our veterans. I am proud to know that my constituents support our veterans and want to make sure that our government is doing all they can to support those who bravely fought for the freedoms we have today.
Unfortunately, some of the information that has been reported is incorrect or missing altogether. I would like to take this opportunity to clear the air on the closure of eight Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offices.
First, let me say that I have always held our veterans in the highest regard and my office has always stood by ready to help any veteran that may be having issues dealing with Veterans Affairs Canada. I can only imagine that every Member of Parliament in Canada does the same — that is 308 offices across Canada that are ready to assist veterans.
In addition to MP offices and existing Veterans Affairs Canada offices, there are also 1,461 Legions across Canada where veterans are helping veterans. To improve access, our government has now opened veteran services at 600 Service Canada locations. That is a new increase of 592 service locations across Canada.
In those instances that a veteran is infirm or otherwise unable to present themselves at one of these locations comfortably, our government has made the commitment that a representative will go directly to a veteran’s home to provide the needed assistance.
With respect to the eight office closures it should be noted these locations were underutilized, they saw fewer than 10 visits per day and most of those were just dropping off forms; in five of the eight closure locations a Service Canada office is in the same building. While locations have been amalgamated, the services previously received at a VAC office will still be delivered by a VAC-trained staff member.
Furthermore, I have been proud to vote for budget after budget that improves services for veterans. Before 2006, the annual veterans’ budget was approximately $2.8 billion. Today that budget is over $3.64 billion per year, an on-going investment of over $5 billion in total. Over 90 per cent of this funding goes directly towards programs and services for veterans and their families.
At a time when the government was asking for a 10 per cent budget reduction from all departments, Veterans Affairs took the lowest reduction at 1.9 per cent and those cuts were aimed at inefficiencies not at programs and services.
Veterans Affairs Canada has also done many things to improve services for veterans, such as directly providing cash to veterans for such things as snow removal, lawn mowing and household chores through the Veterans Independence Program.
The Permanent Impairment Assistance Program provides Canadian Armed Forces’ most injured members with lifelong compensation for economic losses due to severe impairment and financial assistance is available while Veterans are receiving rehabilitative care through Veterans Affairs Canada so that our injured veterans can concentrate on what matters most, their families and their wellness.
As well, all veterans now have access to career transition services which assist eligible veterans seeking to obtain civilian employment by paying for or reimbursing them for career training.
So what is really going on? PSAC, or the Public Service Alliance of Canada, is a major union representing thousands of public servants across Canada. It is this group that admitted they flew veterans to Ottawa for the purposes of confronting the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Currently, Treasury Board is bringing changes that would align the public sector compensation with that of the private sector. These changes are saving Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars and are unpopular with this union.
While it is illegal for unions and corporations to contribute directly to political parties, unions are okay with using union dues to indirectly get involved in the political process. The real question is, is PSAC really looking after the interests of our veterans or simply exploiting an opportunity to push their own agenda?