98 The Beach

98 The Beach

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

MP Alex Ruff Now On Federal Veterans Affairs Committee

Grey Bruce | by Claire McCormack  

A veteran himself, Ruff now sits on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs

Bruce Grey Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff now has an additional role in Ottawa.

He has been asked to be on the House of Commons' Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

"I am a veteran so it's not a big stretch for me to try to offer my background and my experience to make sure that the Canadian Government is properly supporting and taking care of our veterans," says Ruff who hopes to first address a backlog of veterans' applications for benefits and programs.

Ruff is a Colonel who retired in early 2019 from a 25 year career in the Canadian Armed Forces. His deployments included Quebec during the 1998 ice storm, twice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, twice in Afghanistan and most recently, in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Ruff received the US Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Baghdad as part of CJTF-OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) which was tasked with eliminating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The standing committee looks at everything relating to the Department of Veterans Affairs and any matters the House Of Commons refers to it. It can also review any programs for veterans.

Ruff says there are at least two things he'd like to work on while on the committee,
"First and foremost, the biggest issue is the backlog for veterans. There's supposed to be a 16 week standard. Since the Liberals have come in, the backlog has gotten worse."

That backlog has to do with applications and claims for things like disability benefits, healthcare or transition benefits, as well as income support, long term care, mental health care and other programs.

"The backlog is way past the national standard that's been established and it's getting worse, so we've got to figure out a way to improve that," says Ruff who explains it can be particularly distressing for those who are dealing with an operational stress injury or post traumatic stress or addiction issues.

Numbers from Veterans Affairs say as of September 2019, there were over 44,000 pending disability applications. Veterans Affairs says there are roughly 23,000 complete applications in the backlog right now that have been sitting longer than the standard time.

While some blame the Harper Government for firing frontline staff in that department a few years ago, Ruff says "I'm not a big believer in ever blaming the people before. It's my job to solve problems. You can't solve them overnight in some cases but the bottom line is, we need to fix it."

Ruff notes, four years of the Trudeau Liberals hasn't solved the problem either, "It's gotten worse, not better so whatever they're doing is not working," says Ruff.

On its website, Veterans Affairs says it's been hiring more frontline staff, and trying to simplify the decision making process. The department says there are more applicants than before, complex cases and new programs that are slowing the process down.

Another issue Ruff wants to address is to come up with a national standard for service dogs, "I think that's something that is a very simple fix. It's non partisan in nature. I think that we can come up with a national standard,"

Ruff notes it will make traveling with service dogs easier, and protect both the dogs and people using them, "That's applicable not just to our military or our veterans but to our police to our emergency services."

"You want a dog that is going to be there for the individual, and it's not going to be biting people or doing something it's not supposed to be doing," says Ruff.

Since the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs was created in 2006, it has tabled reports on mental health and suicide prevention, the barriers to transition to civilian life, indigenous veterans, homeless veterans, the use of medicinal cannabis and a report on the use of the drug mefloquine which is used by the Canadian Forces to prevent and treat malaria and is linked to some serious neurological side effects including depression and suicide.

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