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View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you to the committee members for the invitation to appear before the committee today to discuss supplementary estimates (B) for my department, Veterans Affairs Canada.
I appreciate and welcome these appearances concerning supplementary estimates, as they allow us to make sure Canada’s veterans are being served and supported as efficiently as possible.
As you know, more than 90% of the Veterans Affairs Canada, or VAC, budget represents payments to veterans, for supports and services that were hard-earned by those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, and the family members who sustained them at home.
Our government cares deeply about Canada’s veterans and their families, Mr. Chair, and continues to make investments that aim to maximize their overall well-being in post-service life.
Just last month, I announced that we made an investment of $164.4 million so that we can continue to improve the services that veterans and their families count on by retaining more than 600 Veterans Affairs employees for an additional two-year period.
To date, federal investments have supported the hiring of additional case managers and support staff to lower the caseload of frontline service delivery employees and to reduce the volume of disability applications currently in the queue.
This investment builds on the $156.7 million investment outlined in budget 2023, bringing the funding up to a total of $321.1 million over five years, plus $14.4 million ongoing to support services to veterans and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP.
It is no secret, Mr. Chair, that the timely and efficient delivery of these services is the top priority for our veterans and an ongoing challenge that we are continually working to address. It’s why the estimates include $15 million to modernize information technology, or IT, infrastructure, digitalize paper files, and implement digital technologies to support faster processing times—all of which will make the delivery of services more efficient for our veterans.
The estimates also plan for a $6.9-million increase in the budget for the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to continue its efforts to address their backlog.
Our estimates also include $5 million for VAC’s campaign on mental health and remembrance. For the mental health campaign, funding will be used to promote and create awareness among the veteran community of services and supports available to them immediately. Through the remembrance campaign, we will honour the Canadians who served our country during times of war, military conflict and peace. The campaign will also play a pivotal role in engaging Canadians in acts of remembrance and recognition of past and present sacrifices.
As growing numbers of veterans continue to approach the department for support and services, we are seeing a significant increase in demand for the income replacement benefit and the rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program. The $3.6 million in the estimates will be used to help meet these needs among the veteran community.
Demand for legal counsel from the bureau of pension advocates has also risen in the past few years. This has led to a backlog and longer wait times for veterans to receive the support they need.
Overall, the investments in these estimates reflect the priorities identified by veterans themselves and will ensure that we are able to meet their needs. Specifically, the supplementary estimates (B) add a total of $42.2 million to the Veterans Affairs Canada budget. I can assure you that this additional funding represents an important and necessary investment in the health and well-being of our veterans and their families.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the committee today.
My department officials and I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you for your question, Mr. Richards.
We take the situations that veterans in your riding have told you about very seriously. We are always looking to improve the programs and services we provide to veterans. That is why I think it is so important for the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to examine issues and conduct studies to hear from people who are dealing with situations that are often unacceptable.
As the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I will do my part to make sure that we are constantly improving our programs for veterans. As the minister in charge, I want to make sure that we are always able to deliver better services to our veterans. That is a top priority for me and my department.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Richards, once again what I'll say to that is that we certainly recognize that the cost of living is impacting Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and our veterans are certainly not excluded from that.
Just last week, the government had an opportunity, however, to help support veterans, when it comes to housing with rent supports and wraparound services. Unfortunately, your party voted against those supports.
Again, I ask you.... It is really important that our veterans, yes, are a priority, but we have to work together—
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Again, I think it is really important that we want to better support our veterans, but we have to work together. When we see a party that is voting against providing additional services, support services, when it comes to housing—rent supports and wraparound services—to make sure we set up our veterans for success, I would be a bit ashamed, I guess, if I were the member opposite with respect to that decision that was made.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you so much for that.
I was just going to respond a bit to Mr. Richards' comment with respect to the differences, perhaps, of the services that we have provided to veterans over the past eight years.
We have to take a road down history. If we remember, the previous Conservative government actually slashed 1,000 jobs from Veterans Affairs Canada. We can't forget that. Those were direct jobs that provided direct services to our veterans. That's a fact.
We also can't forget that the previous government closed nine Veterans Affairs offices across this country, offices that, again, provided crucial services to our veterans—I believe even in Surrey. We reopened that office. It is quite rich that the party opposite is trying to say that we are not providing additional services to veterans. We can always do better, and I think that, as parliamentarians, we do always want to do better when it comes to our veterans. However, we have no lessons to take from the Conservative Party of Canada.
The other thing, as well, that I am going to add is that, since we formed government, we have added an additional $11 billion in direct supports to veterans in the past eight years. That's a significant amount of money. Again, our veterans deserve all the services that we've put in place. We've listened to them, and we want to make sure that they have access to those services. We will continue to be there to support our veterans.
However, again, if we look at the differences that both governments have made, then I think we see that this government has made significant investments in our veterans, and again, they deserve every investment that we've made.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Once again, thank you for that question.
Last week, I think we saw 120 votes that happened in the House of Commons. I was disappointed when I saw the votes when it came to the funding and investments we're making for Veterans Affairs Canada. Again, these are estimates; these are monies that have been budgeted to make sure we can provide help and support to veterans and those who are in need.
When we look at voting against investments to help on the housing front, just as Mr. Richards indicated, we certainly recognize that many individuals are dealing with affordability challenges. As a government, we're moving forward with programs. We want to make sure we're able to be there to help them with rent subsidies, but also, importantly, wraparound services, to be able to set up our veterans for success. We want to make sure they receive services—whether it be for mental health, substance use and addictions, whatever the case may be—and that not only are they going to have housing, but they're going to have access to the supports they need.
I was disappointed when I saw that.
When we look at VRAB as well, the appeal board, we certainly recognize that they're dealing with a backlog. They've asked us for more funding to make sure they can get through that appeal process more quickly.
Again, these are valuable and important services for our veterans, and we want to be there for them.
You asked how I felt. I was disappointed when I saw the results of that vote last week.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
That's a very good question.
We still have work to do, but I have to say that we have made progress. Last month, we announced some $163 million so we could continue to hire people to process claims.
We realize we still have a ways to go to hit our magic number, so we have to keep making sure we have capacity on the ground to deal with the backlog.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
We'll have to come back to that one, for sure.
I can tell you I've been following the work that the committee has been doing with respect to women veterans, and there are a lot of stories and testimonies that are very disturbing. We certainly recognize that a lot of work needs to be done to make sure we can properly address the needs of our women veterans.
Again, I'm hoping that we'll have an opportunity to continue with this response, because it's—
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Again, Mr. Desilets, it is important to recognize that the decision regarding the monument was made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, as I've said numerous times.
We did inform the PMO that a decision had been made.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
First of all, the decision was made by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As you know, we may not have followed the planned process exactly. We wanted to make sure the PMO was aware of the decision the department had made.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Desilets, the Department of Veterans Affairs made the decision regarding the design and construction of the monument, but the Department of Canadian Heritage was consulted on the decision.
The final decision was made by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Again, Mr. Desilets, the process included surveying veterans to find out their thoughts on the monument, which is very important.
Their position was very clear. They chose the Team Stimson design.
They felt it reflected the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who served in the mission.
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