Kent Hehr gets personal as he outlines plan to revamp Veterans Affairs
Calgary MP, minister in charge of veterans services relates own struggles after he was shot in 1991
Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr related his own experience with needing help, feeling like a burden and transitioning from one stage of life to another as he laid out his vision for revamping the way Canada treats its former service men and women.
"Although I am not a veteran myself and I still have much to learn, I know and understand how important it is to find help when you need it," Hehr told an audience gathered for a "stakeholders summit" on veterans issues that was held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa this week.
"And, more importantly, I know how difficult finding help can be."
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Hehr was 22 years old when a bullet struck him in the neck during a drive-by shooting outside a popular nightclub strip in Calgary in 1991.
The injury left the young hockey star, who had plans to become a physical education teacher, a C5 quadriplegic — paralyzed from the chest down.
"Like many Canadian veterans, my life changed in an instant and also, like many veterans, my transition was not easy," Hehr said.
"I spent almost a year and half in hospital and when I was finally released, I needed help and support. Sometimes I found it, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes, I'm still looking.
"My sister was an enormous help, but it took a drastic toll on her. I know first-hand what families deal with and how important outside support is."
Mandate from PM, and Hehr's father
The Liberal Calgary Centre MP reiterated his government's promises to restore lifelong pensions as an option to injured veterans, reopen shuttered Veterans Affairs offices, hire more front-line staff, improve career transition support and "advance and enhance" mental health services.
He also said he feels the weight of the responsibility handed down to him in his mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in addition to the verbal mandate handed down to him from his own father.
"I've got to digress about what my dad said to me a couple of weeks ago," Hehr told the crowd.
"He said, 'Son, you got elected — a Liberal from Calgary. That's kind of like a unicorn. You're a member of a national government that wasn't foreseen a while ago. And you end up being a minister of the Crown. Well, son, your butt's landed in butter now. Don't screw it up!'"
"If we implement this mandate letter," Hehr continued, "I won't have screwed it up."