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Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and his wife Jill walk on the beach after making a campaign stop in Canoe Cove, P.E.I. on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promised supports for veterans Sunday, attempting to set the stage for a new relationship with former service members, after moves by both the previous Liberal and Tory governments have angered them.

Scheer said as prime minister he would clear a backlog of veterans’ benefit applications within two years and create a reliable pension system.

“To every veteran who has struggled and who has continued to struggle without the support and benefits you have earned through your service, my message is this: You have been betrayed, but you deserve better,” he said.

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Scheer said erasing the growing backlog of nearly 40,000 veterans waiting to hear whether their financial assistance would be approved will require a new investment. The parliamentary budget officer has pegged it at $50 million over two years.

The federal Liberals promised during the last election campaign to reduce the ratio of veterans to assigned to each case manager from a high of 40-to-1 under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to 25-to-1 by hiring more staff.

While the staff were hired through a one-time, $42-million cash injection in last year’s federal budget to specifically address the backlog, they have only recently been deemed ready to start making a dent in the problem.

The case manager-to-veteran ratio remains around 33-to-1, partly thanks to a large influx of former service members requiring such services in recent years.

Many advocates as well as the union representing Veterans Affairs workers have long demanded the government hire more staff for the department, which was hit with deep cuts and layoffs under the Harper government.

When asked how veterans could be assured that a relationship with a new Conservative government would be better than the previous one, Scheer did not directly acknowledge the issues they faced under his Tory predecessor.

“As leader of the Conservative party, we have a new opportunity to make these types of commitments,” Scheer said. “This is my personal commitment to them as leader of this party: As prime minister I will take a personal interest in ensuring the commitments we made today are followed through on.”

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Scheer is also promising to strengthen post-service transition supports, help more veterans get service dogs, enshrine in legislation a guarantee that every veteran is treated with respect and gets services in a timely manner, and support commemoration projects such as the National Memorial for Canada’s War in Afghanistan.

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