The federal government isn’t doing enough to support traumatized war veterans as they struggle to get services, says Rachel Blaney, NDP MP for the North Island-Powell River riding.
Her comments follow a unanimous vote in Ottawa on Tuesday calling for the federal government to carry forward unspent money earmarked for Veterans Affairs to the next fiscal year, instead of allowing it to lapse.
That money should be spent on improved services for veterans, Blaney said.
“What we hear from people is they’re calling and calling, trying to get services, trying to get support, and they have a hard time actually getting someone on the phone,” Blaney said.
Veterans also face a constantly changing set of caseworkers, she said. That means they have to relive trauma as they repeat sensitive information each time.
“You call in to try and talk to that same person, having told your story and shared that information, only to be told that person is gone and now you have a new caseworker,” she said.
“I think it’s very important that we remember the trauma, the experiences that they’ve had, and that we don’t re-traumatize people by making them tell their story in some cases several times.”
She said that veterans sometimes have to raise funds privately for healing services, which are particularly hard to access for people who live in remote and rural communities.
“It’s just shameful that resources aren’t there the way they need it,” she said.
Asked about the kinds of services she wanted to see for veterans, she pointed to special service dogs that are trained to notice emotional cues among people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Little financial support exists for this service, which costs thousands of dollars, she said.
“What we do have is a bit of a tax break that allows them to claim it, but it doesn’t cover that immense cost,” she said.
In one case, a veteran told Blaney that a service dog allows him to leave the house without experiencing flashbacks, she said.
“These are really core functions of just living your life,” Blaney said.
She added that a high rate of suicide among members of the Canadian Forces returning from Afghanistan underlines the importance of services for veterans.
In Ottawa, issues relating to veterans have come to the fore ahead of Remembrance Day.
During a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, New Democrats said the federal government had allowed $372 million in spending lapse over the course of three years.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the Liberal Party’s record, saying his government invested more in Veterans Affairs that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party government.
An NDP motion calling on the government to carry forward lapsed funding automatically “for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans,” was supported by all 301 of the MPs sitting on Tuesday.
The vote follows news that the federal government shortchanged 270,000 disabled veterans, RCMP members and their survivors between 2003 and 2010.
Veterans Affairs reportedly miscalculated disability pension adjustments, an error that’s expected to cost the government $165 million in payments to veterans.
Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan said that everyone would be compensated, but payments aren’t expected to begin for another two years due to the high number of Canadians affected.