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Lending a helping hand to the military and mounties

I am writing today on the subject of bringing veterans’ health care benefits up to standard.

Our party, the NDP, believes that it is time our federal policies reflected the debt we owe our men and women in uniform. Thanks to the efforts of our New Democrat critic for Veterans Affairs, Peter Stoffer, we have a comprehensive proposal that will go a long way towards fixing the current problems with veterans’ health care services.

Existing federal programs for the men and women of our Armed Forces, who have suffered great harm on our behalf in Afghanistan and other modern theatres of action, are far less than adequate. At my office, we have heard many stories of a patchwork of services, inadequate benefits and allowances, and insufficient help to both veterans and their spouses. A recent article in the National Post reads:

“It is not enough to support the troops only while they are in uniform. Our veterans deserve the best in medical care, life-long support for their unique mental and physical health needs, and, at the very least, a warm bed to sleep in at night. It is a sad irony that many of the men and women who defend our way of life should find themselves on our society’s margins when their service to the country is done.” (National Post editorial board: Yet more proof that veterans deserve better – Jan. 4, 2011)

Clearly, the Conservative government is failing the Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans. New Democrats are asking for a public inquiry to figure out what is preventing this department from improving services and programs for veterans and why confidential medical information of several veterans’ advocates was shared with bureaucrats, cabinet ministers and their staff.

From the time they sign up to serve our country in the Canadian Forces or the RCMP, these members are at risk of losing life and limb – it is the very nature of that work. We must undertake to live up to our responsibility to them in return. Federal New Democrats are proposing legislation that would provide veterans with accessible health care options through the creation of Veterans Centres of Excellence, to be set up across the country.

The aim and objective of these centres will be to provide veterans with a one-stop service centre designed to give back a little of what they have so freely given. This would ensure that the basic needs of veterans and their spouses are noticed and responded to in a timely fashion, while also ensuring that appropriate medical treatment is available to them. This plan would put a stop to armed service personnel being pushed to the margins through poverty, aging or ill-health.

We would also extend the right to adequate health care to the spouses of veterans and members of the RCMP. These men and women serve and support all of us by their willingness to support their partners, to move as the military directs them to, and in many cases, to manage on meagre salaries often in small communities with limited services. Many spouses have, over time, given up their careers completely or have lost opportunities within it due to the demands of military life.

It is disheartening to know that veterans often have to turn to charities in order to keep body and soul together.

As my colleague Peter says, “I cannot help but think that the men and women who served our country should not have to turn to food banks and shelters. The care of veterans and their families is the responsibility of the federal government and they are clearly failing in this regard. No one should be falling through the cracks.”

I couldn’t agree more and will continue working closely with him in an effort to bring public attention to the issue, in an effort for change.

Alex Atamanenko is a member of the NDP party and the MP for B.C. Southern Interior