The Harper government's religious conversion on the veterans' affairs file continues apace.
To wit, the government agrees with every recommendation the Auditor-General has made regarding the improvement of mental-health services to veterans, most of which have to do with speeding up and streamlining the application process for benefits. As well, Ottawa announced this week it will spend $200-million on mental-health services and facilities for veterans and personnel, and another $5-million on research into the mental health of Canadian Forces members.
The emphasis on mental health has grown out of the tragic suicides of 160 servicemen and women between 2004 and 2014. It is also the result of society's greater awareness of mental illnesses, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts so many personnel and veterans, especially those who fought in Afghanistan. The government, prodded by the Auditor-General, is taking the right steps to address a terrible problem.
But this shouldn't distract from the government's multiple confrontations with veterans over the past eight years. Those include lump-sum disability payments for wounded modern-era vets that Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent says are inadequate and will leave hundreds in poverty when they reach 65; accusations of discharging wounded personnel just months before they become eligible for a pension, in order to save money; and a nasty videotaped exchange beween Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and a group of veterans who went to Parliament to meet with him.
The lowest point came in 2013 when government lawyers argued in court that Ottawa has no particular moral obligation to veterans. In an effort to cut costs, the Harper government was willing to depreciate a sacred duty. Now, faced with outrage from injured and suffering Afghan war vets, it has suddenly seen the light regarding mental-health issues. Good. But no one should mistake this for salvation. There's still more the government can and should be doing for wounded vets.