The brief encounter encapsulated the relationship between the federal government and Canada’s veterans: Then-Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino walked away from the spouse of a Canadian Forces sergeant as she chased after him following a House of Commons committee hearing.
But if it was emblematic, the incident was hardly isolated.
There was also the 2014 auditor general’s report that one in five former soldiers seeking mental health care had to wait up to eight months for their application to be reviewed.
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Or the closure that year of nine regional offices that served veterans.
The Liberals promised in last month’s election to change that.
Newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said he looks forward to the changing the dialogue between vets and the federal government.
The department is considering adding an additional 400 staffers to help manage veterans files, he said.
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“We are going to strike a different tone of care, respect and dignity. Allowing veterans the services they deserve and are entitled to and to assist in moving their lives forward whether they are young veterans or old veterans,” Hehr told Global News.
“Obviously when a man or a woman has returned from their tour of duty or peacekeeping mission they are going to be affected in various ways. … The family is also in the crossfire.”
The Calgary-Centre MP knows what that’s like.
He was a 22-year-old student planning to become a teacher when he was shot while riding in a friend’s car. The shooting left him a quadriplegic.
“I know from personal experience … how important my family was to assisting me along the way. I also know the stress, the fear and the discomfort that many family members feel when a tragedy has occurred or a loved one is not able to contribute to their abilities.”
Advocacy groups hope the new Liberal government will help soldiers in a smoother transition from serving in the military to civilian life.
“We want to see a veterans-centric approach to Veteran Affairs Canada,” said Scott Maxwell, the executive director of the Wounded Warriors charity.
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Maxwell hopes Hehr’s appointment as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Defence is indicative of how the two ministries will be working together.
“That’s a statement about wanting to ensure there’s a seamless transition between a serving member who’s being medically released and then falls into the hands of veterans affairs,” he said. “These are major steps that need to be addressed.”
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Wounded Warriors helps soldiers learn to live with catastrophic injuries and deal with the sometime debilitating post-traumatic stress that can accompany them. Maxwell says he hopes the new Trudeau government will also work more closely with groups like his.
Guy Parent, Canada’s ombudsman for Veterans’ Affairs, said he is “optimistic” about the incoming government but his mission remains the same.
“I’m not a politician. My position doesn’t change because of government: The issues are the same and the direction is the same,” he said.
“Certainly, a lot of the [Liberals’] platform issues lined up with some of our recommendations that we’d made to the previous government.
Trudeau’s election promises include $1.2 Billion over the next four years to re-establish mental health facilities, restoring the lifetime pension for injured veterans and reopeniong the nine closed veteran’s service centres.
“If they do open those nine offices I hope they are not just the administrative type offices of the past. Maybe they can look at making them operational stress injury clinics at the same time,” said Erin O’Toole, who replaced Fantino in the Veterans file and was re-elected in his riding of Durham, Ont.
*With a file from Mike Le Couteur