By MPP Toby Barrett
Last year I was asked by our area’s 69th Field Battery Association – of which I am a member – to see if Ontario’s Soldiers’ Aid Commission could do more for our veterans.
I looked in to the matter and was happy to report that the government was considering expanding the mandate of the commission. My enquiry with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services received the following reply: “The Agency Review Task Force, as part of its work, reviewed the Solders Aid Commission. They recommended that our ministry explore opportunities to offer services to a broader group of veterans and build partnerships with other ministries to improve government supports for veterans.”
This year, on September 18, Military Family Appreciation Day, the Ontario Government announced legislation to ensure veterans of all ages and their families will be eligible to apply for financial assistance.
The Ontario Soldiers’ Aid Commission predates federal government benefit programs, as well as the establishment of Veterans Affairs Canada. To date, it provides financial assistance to veterans and their spouses and dependents of WWI, WWII and the Korean War.
When the First World War began, there was no department to look after veterans, or pensions to support those who were coming home ill or disabled. Disabled people were considered a family responsibility or one that the community would support through charities.
The Canada of 1915 had no universal health care. There were no pension plans or employment insurance. We had no support for those needing housing or a job or help for assistive devices. But Ontario did have the Soldiers’ Aid Commission at that time.
There would have been members in the Ontario Legislature, back in 1915, with the foresight to create the Commission – the foresight to help people adjust to the rapidly changing economy, helping the injured get the training for new careers after debilitating injuries that they sustained, taking care of children without parents.
Today, programs such as Ontario Works or Employment Ontario, the Ontario Disability Support Program and our children’s aid societies largely fill these roles. But there remains a need for an agency with a focus on veterans in financial need.
The more than $1.5 million in annual funding that will be provided by the commission will continue to support veterans who are unable to pay for health-related items such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, glasses, home-related items such as accessibility modifications and repair costs, and personal items and support services such as clothing and counselling.
Regardless of when and where they served, our veterans face many challenges. This includes everything from post-traumatic stress disorder, physical injury, challenges finding employment and even at times homelessness — while trying to navigate a complex support system.
It is a sad reality that with each passing year, the number of living veterans who served in wars decreases. While we will never forget their bravery and sacrifice it is time we honour a new generation of service men and women. Hence the reason we are modernizing the Soldiers’ Aid Commission and extending that support to all Ontario veterans.
To our veterans, their families and current service personnel, on behalf of all Ontarians, we say thank you.
Now it’s our turn to support them – our vets and future vet as they build new and successful post-service lives in communities across Ontario.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk