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Stephen Harper's Conservatives Have Made Veterans a Priority

09/15/2015 12:16 EDT | Updated 09/15/2016 05:12 EDT
Steve Russell via Getty Images
AJAX, ON- AUGUST 3 - Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers remarks at the Deer Run Golf Club as his campaign hits the GTA as he kicks off his election campaign in Ajax. August 3, 2015. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Toronto Star published an op-ed by Tom Beaver and Ron Clarke, the leaders of the so-called Anybody But Conservative (or "ABC Veterans") Facebook, on Aug. 31, 2015.

On Sept. 2, 2015, I respectfully asked for equal space and submitted the following op-ed in response. Nearly two weeks have passed and the Toronto Star has declined to give me equal space to respond to the anti-Conservative group's misleading and inaccurate article.

I invite you to read below what the Toronto Star refuses to publish.

Thank you,

Erin O'Toole

***

I write this article as much as Erin O'Toole, the Veteran, as I do in my capacity as Minister of Veterans Affairs. This is important to note because the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who serve and become veterans are not a monolithic group that shares the same view on issues. Messrs. Clarke and Beaver do not speak for all veterans any more than I speak for all veterans. Their views, however, are not representative of the thousands of veterans I have met since I first met Mr. Clarke when he spoke at an event organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in 2013. His group with Mr. Beaver emerged from this public-sector, union-driven campaign. Accordingly, I am never sure where the PSAC campaign ends and the "ABC" campaign begins.

There are two key issues that most veterans tend to be passionate about. First, they are keenly interested in the readiness of the Canadian Armed Forces. Second, they want effective veteran benefits and modern supports to be there for anyone injured or killed in the line of duty.

Most veterans joined the Forces between the ages of 18 and 22 and serve a large portion of their adult lives in uniform. When they leave the military, they are leaving behind comrades who continue to serve Canada, so it is a priority for them to see that the military has the equipment and support it needs. Probably the largest reason why many veterans support the Conservative Party is because they have seen both the equipment and morale improve dramatically under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The last Liberal government hollowed out the military during the "Decade of Darkness." From used submarines to the dated green uniforms for Afghanistan, the Liberals did not make a properly equipped military a priority. As a navigator on the infamous Sea King helicopter, I saw this neglect first-hand when the Liberals used the much-needed Sea King replacement as an election gimmick.

The vast majority of veterans leave the military without a serious physical or mental injury from service, but all veterans want to know that anyone who is injured is provided with the best healthcare, rehabilitation and financial supports available. For someone who is moderately injured, the best support is often through re-training and re-education alongside recovery. For someone who is seriously injured, the best support is through recovery and lifetime financial support for the veteran and their family. Our government has tried to get the balance right to serve the unique needs of each injured veteran.

This is why spending is going up in the Department of Veterans Affairs by an average of 35 per cent per veteran, why we are increasing the number of mental health support offices across the country and why we passed new legislation in the last session to fix the gaps in the New Veterans Charter. We have provided lifetime financial security for our injured through enhanced impairment allowances and the new Retirement Income Security Benefit. The new Critical Injury Benefit and new Family Caregiver Benefit offer additional supports for our most seriously injured. Furthermore, we have provided all reservists the same access to the Earnings Loss Benefit and rehabilitation if they are injured serving Canada.

Better service for all veterans is also why we are modernizing the department to meet the new and rising needs of today's veterans. We offer more flexibility for veterans to access services in their home, by phone, online, in person, or through automatic payment or qualification for benefits. We have reduced the number of forms veterans have to fill out from 22 down to nine, which eliminates thousands of stressful forms families have to fill out. As well, there are more Operational Stress Injury clinics across the country to serve those with mental injuries from service.

I believe that leadership is not simply doing things the way they were done in the 1950s. Leadership means we must strive to tackle mental health challenges, provide more support for families and innovate with new forms of medical treatment and service delivery based on the needs today. When our client could be a 29-year-old in rural Canada or a 100-year-old in an urban center, the needs can be very different -- but our singular focus must continue to be striving for excellence to support those who have served us.

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