OTTAWA – Despite a recent change in leadership, some Canadian veterans remain critical of the Conservative government.
Mike Blais, president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says the government has “abandoned” veterans and demanded more action for the wounded and mentally ill.
“We have expectations of equality… I do not believe that someone suffering should wait eight months for Veterans Affairs Canada to set up a mental health appointment,” he said.
“There’s no dignity to that. They are isolated…they are abandoned. They are dealing with these wounds by themselves and this needs to stop.”
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Blais said veterans are upset with the closures of nine Veterans Affairs offices across the country in the past year and the class-action lawsuit filed by war veteran Maj. Mark Campbell and others.
Blais wants Campbell’s lawsuit dropped. Recently released figures show the government is spending $700,000 dollars to fight the lawsuit filed by wounded Afghan veterans.
While leaving caucus meetings Tuesday, newly-appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole responded to a question about whether the lawsuit is still worth it.
“Well, I don’t want to comment in too much detail on something that’s before the courts, but I will just say this, that it’s the first matter that I looked into as minister,” he said.
Blais said veterans are also unhappy with the new Veterans Charter and Pension Act, which includes measures such as the Disability Award, or lump sum payments that veterans believe do not equate to their lifelong pension.
Blais wants the government to stop talking and start listening to the needs of veterans.
“I’m not seeing the fulfillment of the ‘sacred obligation’ the government has to veterans that (former Veterans Affairs Minister Julian) Fantino was talking about, but I am seeing wounded men and women still suffering,” he said.
“I want the government to recognize every proposal that the stakeholder groups have provided and implement them. We’re tired of talk… It’s time for action.”
The first action Blais wants to see is the inclusion of the Veterans Bill of Rights in the new Veterans Charter.
“Enshrining the Veterans Bill of Rights in the Constitution or within the new Veterans Charter is an essential step forward. Our men and women deserve dignity; dignity that the Bill of Rights provides,” he said.
Nova Scotia veterans advocate Ron Clarke says he has spoken to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who guaranteed the lawsuit would be dropped if he came to power.
Clarke is predicting a similar response in his upcoming meeting with Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.
Blais said he has yet to speak with O’Toole other than receiving a phone message, but believes his group has already been dismissed as “just a Facebook site.”
“When we mobilize, you will see our true impact.”
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