Recent events have shown all Canadians just how poorly our wounded veterans are being treated by the Harper government. From the $1.13 billion in lapsed funds, to the recent Auditor General's damning report, it seems Canadian veterans are continuing to be short-changed, neglected, and disrespected.
How else can you explain the promise to invest $200 million into mental health benefits for veterans on the eve of the AG's report? The government says that over the next six years, the money will go much neglected veterans mental health services. Let's hope the Minster will not let this money lapse. Clearly, one would hope that the new announcement is simply a message being sent to the Canadian people that Veterans Affairs is taking mental health seriously. The 200 million will actually be spent with an "immediate" investment of $19.1-million in the OSI clinics would be spread over the next six years. And, they said, the remaining $140.1-million would be paid out as needed until the last veteran who is currently in an operational stress-injury program no longer needs funding. Because some veterans of Afghanistan are in their early 20s, they said the last of the $200-million may not be spent for 50 years."
Yet, if taking veterans mental health services was such a priority now, where in the world was Minister Fantino? Instead of being in the House of Commons to answer questions about the AG's scathing indictment of his own department, our Minister skipped town to lay a wreath in Italy.
Maybe he didn't get the memo, but he scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) conference held in Toronto on the 24-26 of November. If he'd been there, he would have been exposed to the amazing work CIMVHR does for our veterans. Its mission statement says it all, "to enhance the lives of Canadian military personnel, Veterans and their families? He would have learned of the innovative research the organization does, that it serves as a focal point for a network of diverse academics from across Canada dedicated to addressing the health research needs of the Canadian military, veterans, and their families. It also serves as a conduit between academic communities, government organizations, such as DND and Veterans Affairs, industry and similar international organizations.
For the Minister to forego meeting with some of the preeminent experts on mental health in the country gathered over three days discussing the very topic his department was deservedly admonished for is truly regrettable. There is a mental health crisis ravaging our veterans and the Minister needs to show more leadership in solving it. Over the past decade, 128 members of the regular forces and 32 members of the reserve have taken their own lives. Sadly, more soldiers have taken their lives than those killed in Afghanistan.
Where are the minister's priorities? Why is a wreath ceremony so much more important than doing his duty in the House of Commons or keeping his CIMVHR commitment?
After all, Minister Fantino doesn't have the greatest history of respectful wreath laying, which puts the importance of fleeing Ottawa to travel to Italy in question. To give you an idea on how much importance commemorating past wars the current Minister has for veterans, I feel I should share with you what I witnessed during D-Day ceremonies in France on June 6, 2013.
Not bothering to attend himself, he sent his parliamentary secretary Eve Adams as the Canadian representative to the ceremony. Bad idea! Not only did it show a lack of leadership at not bothering to attend, Ms. Adams imperial behaviour exacerbated already frayed feelings of disrespect. It certainly didn't help that she was horribly late for her first official ceremony. Over a dozen of 90+-year-old veterans, General Hillier, and other dignitaries languished in simmering rancour. Her speech was also poorly written and failed to honour our French hosts. And to top it off, it seemed she didn't really care. Certainly, it puts into perspective the canned rhetoric the Harper government spews about respecting our veterans.
The status quo cannot be allowed to stand. Our veterans have had enough of the short-changing, neglect, and disrespect shown by Minister Fantino. His chief of staff saw the writing on the wall and resigned. The veteran community have become politically engaged, and have lost all confidence in him. His words now only bring skepticism and disrepute.
While I applaud the announcement of former CDS Natynczyk as the new Deputy Minister, I'm afraid it's too little, too late. We'll continue to see court battles around the Equtais lawsuit, government lawyers inanely arguing there is no moral obligation to assist our maimed heroes or homeless and mentally ill veterans relying on charities like True Patriot Love and Wounded Warriors. Imagine what the lapsed $1.13 billion dollars could have done (that much funding could have kept the Veteran's Affairs offices open for the next 226 years) to assist our veterans in healing their wounds, building their lives and curing their minds.
It's patently obvious Minister Fantino has lost his moral authority to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need someone who actually gives a damn about the lives of our country's veterans. It's time for him to resign!
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