West Nova MP Greg Kerr
Unfortunately, there has been some unrest in the veteran community lately that I have to address. There was quite a bit of emotion in Ottawa recently and the Minister of Veterans Affairs apologized for any problem he may have caused. We obviously have some fence mending to do and must focus carefully on the communication so that the veterans know exactly what is going on.
There will always be challenges and problems when you are dealing with thousands of veterans with many different needs spread across a huge country like Canada. There are constant changes and updates as the staff work to make the delivery system more efficient. There is never a deliberate effort to reduce services for our veterans, even if there are some glitches when changes take place.
The focus of the recent unrest centered on office closures. The matter could have been handled better but the suggestion that veterans are being cut off from services is false. The professionals that provide the services are still available even if some of the contacts will be different. It is imperative that the Department of Veterans Affairs officials stay in close contact to provide all information and answer all questions that the veterans might have.
It is very important to point out that many areas do not have veterans’ offices and veterans are still provided a full range of programs and services. West Nova doesn’t have such an office but the veterans in Western Nova Scotia do not receive less support than places that had offices. The focus must be on the people and the service and not the building. Our rural population has to travel for certain health appointments and that will probably never change.
In 2005, all political parties in Parliament voted to bring in the New Veterans Charter. This came about after much consultation and input from veterans’ groups. This bold initiative substantially changed how business would be done. This new thrust concentrates on rehabilitation, training and adjusting back to civilian life as well as financial support. There were 19 services under the old system and there are 39 services under the New Veterans Charter. This direction is particularly important to younger veterans and their families.
The Charter is a living document which recognizes that adjustments and improvements will be a continuing process. That was recognized when the Charter came into law. There has been some discontent that changes haven’t come more quickly. The fact is that a full review is underway right now by the Veterans Affairs Committee of Parliament. Members of all three major parties are on the committee and all take this review very seriously.
A variety of witnesses have already appeared before the committee and many more will appear in the weeks ahead. These witnesses are veterans, support groups, professionals and others who want to make the Charter even better. I look forward to hearing suggestions on how services to Veterans can be improved.
In the meantime, it is important to point out what a valuable service our Legions provide particularly in rural areas like Western Nova Scotia. Often the point of contact is a service officer who is a Legion member. These people tend to know best what options are available, how to fill out the paper work and where the professional help can be found. They are also known and trusted by the veteran who understands these people are there to help.
I am hoping I can work with the Legions in West Nova in the coming months to have information sessions for our Veterans and others who want to learn more about the services available. It is important that we communicate clearly what is available for our veterans.