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The Hill Times: On the New Veterans Charter Bill

As a Canadian Forces veteran, I am more than pleased to see that the Government of Canada is introducing a new social contract between the people of Canada and the new generation of veterans of the Canadian Forces, a New Veterans Charter.

Over the last 15 years, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Canada has participated in many complex humanitarian relief and support operations, inside and out of the UN. I have learned, through very difficult personal experience, that both the scale of human destruction and the impact of witnessing such large-scale atrocities have taken its toll on Canada's new generation of veterans and their families.

I have also learned that families, historically far removed from the plight of their serving loved ones, are now living the stress and debilitating effect of missions with their spouses in uniform through the continuous and often saturating flow of the media coverage of operations.

As Canada strengthens its commitment to advance humanity and human rights around the world, it is evident that we will also increase demands on individual Canadian Forces members and their families. The New Veterans Charter is the people side of our national commitment to a troubled world.

I am pleased that the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Albina Guarnieri, has tabled a New Veterans Charter in the House of Commons. I believe the charter provides the best opportunity for CF veterans and their families to have healthy, productive and independent lives after military service and continue to make a contribution to Canada as private citizens.

Why the charter is needed

The needs of modern CF veterans are very different from those of traditional wartime veterans.The average age of releasing CF members is 36, an age where they, and their families, need assurance of a secure future. CF veterans suffer significantly higher levels of chronic pain, permanent disability, and operational stress injury when compared to the general population. Many grapple with employment, income and disability support issues as they move from a structured CF environment to an unfamiliar civilian life.

As a result of their highly-specialized careers, many CF veterans have obstacles such as inappropriate education, limited transferable skills, poor job prospects, family stress, and low income as they reintegrate into civilian life. Re-entry to civilian life is a major adjustment for the whole family, which means that support for the whole family is needed.

The solution

The New Veterans Charter offers a modern package of services and programs to better help them and their families flourish within the realities of a modern Canadian society. Passive support is being replaced by the active measures focussed on wellness and independence. Long-time veterans can rest assured that their disability pensions and other services will not be affected. If I had to describe the proposed New Veterans Charter in a few words, I would call it a "Wellness Package."

Rehabilitation services will help disabled veterans participate to the best of their ability at home, work and in the community. Health benefits will ensure that veterans and their families receive the health services they require and deserve. A job placement service will offer job search and transition training as well as job placement assistance to ensure all releasing CF members have the best possible opportunity for a quality job. Economic loss support will protect CF veterans' standard of living and their ability to support their families for those undergoing rehabilitation and longer-term support for those who can no longer work. And, finally, the disability award program will compensate CF veterans for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. Coordinated case management will offer one-stop shopping for help and access to services through a dedicated VAC case manager working on behalf of the veteran. As well they are significant benefits for their families as they make the transition to civilian life.

CF veterans have proven themselves and bring to Canadian society much needed leadership skills and experience. We can enable them to continue to make a valuable contribution to Canada by offering the right kind of support.

In supporting this new social contract between the Canadian Forces members, their families and their fellow citizens of Canada, we are not only resolving a pressing need to meet continued effectiveness of our forces in operations around the world, we are also facing head on, the responsibilities that we have to those who risk their lives for the advancement of peace, security and human rights in our name in far off lands.The New Veterans Charter will meet the needs of our new generation of veterans now and for many years to come.

I am proud to be part of this historic and timely decision by our government in support of Canada's veterans. I believe the New Veterans Charter is essential for the morale of our Canadian Forces and I look forward to it being enacted.

Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire served in the Canadian Forces for 35 years and was the Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Forces in Rwanda. He received the Order of Canada in 2002 and recently won the Pearson Peace Medal. He is a Liberal Senator for Gulf, Que.