HALIFAX — The country's "disrespected" military veterans would see more health-care support under an NDP government, including funding to help them deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, Tom Mulcair announced Monday.
Mulcair offered $454 million over four years to treat veterans suffering from PTSD as well as improve long-term care services and the Veterans Independence Program, which provides housekeeping and other support to elderly and disabled former military personnel.
"I will ensure our government honours the sacrifices of our veterans and provides the services and benefits they've earned," Mulcair said at a Legion hall in Halifax, a city with deep military roots.
While many of the veterans gathered at the hall applauded the announcement, some were skeptical, saying they want more details before passing judgment.
When questioned about how he would pay for his promise, Mulcair said it was incorporated in his party's fully costed policy document, which has been criticized by his opponents as being overly optimistic and based on flawed numbers from the federal government's spring budget.
Mulcair accused the Conservative government of letting veterans down.
"Ask our veterans and they will tell you about nine years of disrespect they've seen from Stephen Harper," he said.
The Harper government announced improvements to veterans benefits last spring, incorporating the changes in its omnibus budget bill.
The measures included a new retirement benefit for severely disabled soldiers, a separate $70,000 injury award and a proposed $7,238 caregivers benefit.
But, at the time, the NDP said the changes didn't go far enough and introduced a motion calling on Ottawa to recognize its social obligation to veterans.
The politically important veterans community has voiced outrage over a series of issues, including gaps in the benefits system and the closing of nine regional Veterans Affairs offices.
Revelations that the department was unable to spend $1.13 billion of the money allocated to it also created an uproar.
Mulcair repeated a pledge he made even before the campaign, that an NDP government would re-open the regional offices to better serve veterans.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has also vowed to re-open the offices, and has promised to spend $300-million a year to top-up existing veterans' programs, but hasn't said how he would pay for the pledges.
The top-up announcement was made at a time when the Liberals were still committed to balancing the federal books.
The Liberal plan includes $100 million a year to expand family and caregiver support, $80 million to cover four years of university or college for returning soldiers and the hiring of an additional 400 veterans case workers to restore positions cut by successive Conservative budgets.
An NDP government would also apologize and "make amends" to former servicemen and women who were forced out of the military over their sexual orientation, Mulcair said, calling the move that he's promised before a matter of fairness long overdue.
He also promised to launch a public inquiry into the spraying of Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
The herbicide was sprayed at the army base in 1966 and 1967 by the U.S. military, with permission from Canada. It's now known that exposure can lead to skin disorders, liver problems and certain types of cancers.
The federal government set aside nearly $100 million in 2007 for Canadians harmed by Agent Orange and other chemicals used at the base.
Mulcair made the announcements as his election campaign continued its tour through Atlantic Canada. After departing Halifax, the NDP leader spent the rest of Monday in Charlottetown, where he attended a rally at a local craft brewery and visited a popular lobster restaurant.
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