Alistair MacGregor column: NDP motion to restore lapsed funding for veterans passed unanimously

Alistair MacGregor column: NDP motion to restore lapsed funding for veterans passed unanimously

In 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs underspent $80.9 million in funding for veterans.

By Alistair MacGregor

In early November, the House of Commons unanimously adopted the NDP Opposition Day Motion introduced by my colleague, Gord Johns (MP for Courtenay-Alberni, and NDP Critic for Veterans Affairs), calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry forward all annual lapsed spending to the next fiscal year, for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans. The motion reads as follows:

“That, in the opinion of the House, the government should automatically carry forward all annual lapsed spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the next fiscal year, for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans, until the Department meets or exceeds its 24 self-identified service standards.”

In the 2016 budget year, the Department of Veterans Affairs underspent $80.9 million in funding for veterans. In 2017, the figure increased to $143 million in unspent funding, and again in 2018 to $148.6 million in unused funding for veterans’ services. That means the Liberal government has now left $372 million unspent, even as service levels deteriorate. The preceding nine years under the Harper government left more than $1.1 billion of funding for veterans approved by Parliament left unspent; they also closed nine regional offices across the country.

The above motion references the department’s 24 self-identified service standards. One of the most important ones is the department’s case management ratio for caseworkers to veterans. While their target is 25 veterans to one caseworker, their 2016-17 result was 33:1, with the ratio being as high as 39:1 in some regions. At present, the Department of Veterans Affairs employs 2,609 full-time employees. Had the current government spent that $372 million earmarked thus far by the current Parliament, more than 5,000 new full-time caseworkers could have been hired to provide support services to Canadian veterans, instead of the mere 260 they’ve hired to this point in time. This could have had a significant impact on the longer and longer wait times being experienced by veterans waiting to qualify for benefits for suffering physical and emotional traumas.

Hiring more caseworkers and clearing the backlog will mean shorter wait times for long-term care applications, for rehabilitation programs, for career transition programs, for earning-loss benefit applications and for the war veterans allowance program. It will mean that if veterans or their families are unhappy with the department’s decision to deny them benefits, they will be able to appeal those decisions and receive a resolution quickly.

Veterans have helped shape the history of our country, solidifying our reputation around the world today as a nation that upholds human rights, and stands steadfastly to protect the most vulnerable. We are failing in our duty to them without ensuring veterans and their families are well cared for and receive all the services and supports they are entitled to when they return home. The responsibility now lies with the Liberal government to implement these changes unanimously adopted by Parliament.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and the NDP’s Critic for Agriculture and Agri-food.