Veterans and their families deserve our unwavering gratitude and support for their sacrifice and service to our country.
As Members of Parliament who represent constituencies with many veterans and military families, we know our communities appreciate dearly their many contributions to Canada.
We, too, remain committed to providing a strong voice for veterans and their families in Ottawa.
As a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, as volunteers with “Boots on the Ground” in support of homeless veterans in Fredericton, and through numerous open houses, town halls, and conversations with veterans, we are actively listening to veterans to better understand the issues that affect them.
The personal stories shared by veterans, of the challenges they face, and of the ways in which government can better support them and their families, makes it clear that investing in the health and wellbeing of veterans must remain a priority.
The Trudeau Government was elected on a platform to strengthen supports for veterans and their families, and we are pleased to see that progress is being made.
In Budget 2016, our government delivered on six mandate commitments to Veterans, including: an increase to the Disability Award; an increase to the Earnings Loss Benefit to provide greater financial support for veterans undergoing rehabilitation; and expansion of the Permanent Impairment Allowance to ensure Veterans are appropriately compensated for the impact of service-related impairments.
Also, we began the important process to reopen the nine Veterans Affairs offices closed by the previous government, and hire over 300 additional full-time employees to improve service to veterans.
These were important first steps. However, we are aware that more work is needed.
We are pleased to see measures in Budget 2017 that will have a significant impact on the long-term wellbeing and financial security of veterans and their families.
We understand that family members often serve as informal caregivers to ill and injured veterans.
To recognize the sacrifice made by family members, and to provide them with stability and financial security, Budget 2017 creates the Caregiver Recognition Benefit. This benefit will provide $1,000 per month directly to caregivers of ill and injured Veterans.
We have heard that transition out of military life can be difficult for women and men who serve. Often, a transitioning soldier requires further education to pursue a post-service career.
Budget 2017 will do more for Veterans in their post-military life with the introduction of the Veteran’s Education and Training Benefit. This new benefit will cover up to $40,000 in tuition and other educational costs for members who serve six years and up to $80,000 for members who serve 12 years. This funding will be available to veterans for ten years after their release.
Whether it is further education, job coaching or help applying for jobs, greater flexibility in the way veterans access such benefits will allow them to make choices that best suit their family’s situation.
A story that we hear regularly from medically-released soldiers is how they and their families are only at the beginning of a long journey of healing. Many local families tell us that they care for a soldier who brought the war home with them, and that the whole family is impacted by their trauma.
To help address these challenges, Budget 2017 commits to expanding access to Military Family Resource Centres for families of veterans that have been medically released from service. This change comes from extensive consultations, including those held in Oromocto and Hampton.
The mental health of veterans is a priority for our government. We know that veterans deserve the best treatment for mental illnesses including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A new Centre of Excellence for treatment of PTSD will provide the best information and research to health professionals and veterans, to ensure they have the highest quality of care.
Those who serve in uniform do so with bravery, honour, and dignity—protecting the values we cherish most, and doing so with their lives. We are committed to ensure that veterans get the dignified level of support and care that they deserve.
Progress is being made, but we know there is still work to do. We will continue to tirelessly advocate for veterans and their families.
Alaina Lockhart is the Member of Parliament for Fundy Royal, and is a Member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Matt DeCourcey is the Member of Parliament for Fredericton, representing the communities of Fredericton, Oromocto, New Maryland, and the Grand Lake region.