The Royal Canadian Legion has responded to my direct query about their stand on veterans’ national protest to support Ombudsman Pat Strogan. The Legion clears up misunderstandings that interfere and muddy the efforts of both younger and older vets trying to achieve better outcomes for all ages of returning vets, either in battle or on peacekeeping missions in the national protest planned for Saturday, November 6, 2010, at 1100 hours. Please read the full reply. BONNIE
The Royal Canadian Legion appreciates the efforts that Pat Stogran and his team have made over the past three years to establish the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman. The office has brought forward issues that are pertinent to all of Canada’s veterans. The same issues have been at the forefront of Legion advocacy as mandated by the delegates at the Legion’s Dominion Convention. The Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion Command does not get involved with political appointments made by the federal government and looks forward to a continued cooperation with whoever occupies the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman.
On other issues to do with the New Veterans Charter, The Royal Canadian Legion, as well as other veterans’ organizations, was behind the New Veterans Charter in the beginning because they were told that it was a “living charter,” which would be amended as flaws or gaps were identified. At least 13 of these flaws, or gaps, were identified by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, of which the Legion and other veterans’ groups are members, in October 2009. To date none have been enacted by the government despite the Legion’s and other veterans’ groups frequent appearances in front of federal government Committees and letter writing to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is interesting to note that the Parliamentary Committee on Veterans Affairs also reaffirmed many of those same issues as brought forward by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. We, in the Legion, will continue our advocacy on these critical issues as mandated by our members and delegates at our Dominion Convention, the ruling body of The Royal Canadian Legion.
The 13 flaws or gaps have been identified in three areas. They are Family Support Services, Financial Security and Rehabilitation Services. They include:
■Mental Health support for families in their own right;
■Greater access to vocational assistance for spouses, including post-secondary education (university/college). Children already have this benefit;
■Improved access to skilled heath care providers;
■Improved support to family members caring for critically injured veterans;
■Increased support for survivors and families of the fallen;
■An end to the insurance-based approach to economic benefits;
■Improvement to the Earnings Loss Benefit to 100%;
■Increased access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance;
■Increase the Disability Award and provide an option for a structured settlement;
■Modernize the Rehabilitation Program;
■Improve Case Management for veterans and families;
■Improve access to VAC rehabilitation services; and
■Repair damaged relationship with health-care providers (precipitated by long delays in dealing with Treatment Authorization Centres, lengthy forms and lack of respect by case managers who challenge treatment options).
The Royal Canadian Legion has been involved in the care of Canada’s veterans for the last 86 years and continues to be at the forefront for those who serve today.
Issue # 1: End the New Veterans Charter (NVC) lump sum payment and restore the lifetime pain and suffering pension to the Veterans from Afghanistan.
Legion position: As a member of the NVC Advisory Group, the Legion has put forward some recommendations that address gaps in the NVC, including the lump sum. These recommendations are fully detailed in a report (The Living Charter in Action) that was presented to VAC in October 2009. These recommendations included improvements to family support services, financial security (improve Earnings Loss Benefits, increase access to Permanent Impairment Allowance, increase Disability Award and provide a structured settlement option) and rehabilitation services.
These recommendations were supported by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) which tabled its own report (A timely tune-up for the Living New Veterans Charter) in June 2010. Much of ACVA’s report deals with the lump sum payment made for disability. The committee tasked VAC to present a plan this fall to allow individualized options for payments in recognition of pain and suffering. This would be a combination of lump sum payments, annuities or structured settlements that take into account the severity and nature of the disability as well as the age and circumstances of the individual. All the above recommendations are consistent with the Resolutions that were approved by delegates at the last Dominion Convention in Winnipeg. The Legion advocates for benefits for all Veterans, not only Afghanistan Veterans. What the Legion is saying is that it is time for VAC to move forward and correct the gaps in the NVC that have been identified by its own Committee (the NVC Advisory Group) but also by ACVA.
Issue # 2: End the Maritime Life Claw Back on all Veterans pensions. It is fundamentally un-Canadian to claw back a pension on the older generation when the newer generation is, for this very reason, exempt from the claw back.
Legion Position: The Legion has strongly supported an end to the offset (claw back) of Pension Act benefits, and even provided moral support to the class-action suit. Our website has had a posting on this issue for at least four years and it is a recurring theme that The Legion addresses every time we appear at the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) and the Senate Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We reaffirmed our position on the SISIP offset in 2008 through the following position paper, which states:
“The Service Income Security Insurance Plan Long Term Disability (SISIP LTD) is an insurance plan administered by the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency which provides monthly income replacement benefits to retiring Canadian Forces members who are medically released.
“The SISIP LTD plan guarantees Canadian Forces members 75 per cent of their previous salaries for up to two years if they are released, because of a service-related disability. Payments can continue to age 65 if the member remains disabled. However, SISIP LTD does not necessarily pay the whole 75 per cent. In fact, any other source of income a former member receives is taken into account and offset from the amount SISIP LTD pays directly.
“Veterans Affairs Canada disability pensions, even though they are not considered income but disability benefits to compensate for pain and suffering related to injuries suffered in the line of duty, are considered a source of income by SISIP. There is a further contradiction in that still serving members can receive a VAC disability pension, while still collecting their full salary.
“Furthermore, with the introduction of the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, this inequity has been corrected; however, the provisions of this new legislation were not retroactive. Those collecting VAC benefits under the Pension Act continue to have their SISIP benefits reduced, notwithstanding the efforts of two Canadian Forces Ombudsman, Mr. Marin and Mr. Coté, who both strongly recommended appropriate corrective action.
“There is an inherent unfairness in the present SISIP LTD benefits that needs to be corrected. VAC disability pension benefits are not income. This reality is recognized in the Canadian Forces Member and Veterans Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, often called the new Veterans Charter (NVC), which provides a non-taxable lump sum to compensate for pain and sufferance.
“The Legion has repeatedly asked that the Department of National Defence and SISIP correct this inequity, in concert with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). As fundamentally, with VAC now providing a statutory Rehabilitation program under the NVC, there is no reason for SISIP to perpetuate their Long term Disability Rehabilitation Program for which CF members must subscribe a monthly payment.”
This is not an issue of older generation versus younger generation. This is an unfortunate but avoidable outcome of introducing SISIP benefits in April 1982.
Issue # 3: End the widow’s tax.
Legion position: Not necessarily clear what this issue is about? Disability Awards are not taxable. Earning Loss Benefits (ELB) is a taxable benefit; however, the NVC Advisory Group and ACVA have recommended changes to the ELB. ACVA’s recommendations specifies that the ELB become a non-taxable benefit representing the equivalent of 100% of a Veterans’ income at the time of release. The NVC AG recommendation was structured differently in that it recommended that ELB be paid at 100% (taxable) of release salary but that the salary base be consistent with normal rank progression and probable earnings model.
The Legion would accept either proposal but still favors the normal rank progression and probable earnings model.
Issue # 4: End the repeal of Veterans military pensions at age sixty-five.
Legion Position: Again, this issue is not that clear. Military pensions do not terminate at age 65. However, Earning Loss Benefits are paid until age 65 at which time VAC may pay a Supplementary Retirement Benefit (SRB) in a single lump sum corresponding to 2% of ELB. (a single maximum payment of approx. $40,000.00). The Legion has consistently advocated for a better SRB package, even before the New Veterans Charter (NVC) was adopted. We have consistently stressed to ACVA and the Senate Committee that this was a flaw in the design of the NVC and we fully support Recommendation # 12 of ACVA that the SRB undergo a thorough review to permit regular and sufficient contributions to a pension plan, particularly for veterans with a total and permanent incapacity.
Issue # 5: Address the concerns of the Agent Orange victims and other Veterans who are suffering from a variety of physical and psychological issues.
Legion Position: We are proud of our strong advocacy in support of all Veterans and their families. For example, in 1996, the Legion organized the first symposium on Post Traumatic Stress Disability (PTSD) in Charlottetown where we assembled medical experts from the US, Australia and Canada, plus VAC and DND staff. As a result of this conference and our continuing advocacy, VAC finally recognized PTSD as a disability in 2000. We have advocated strongly for Agent Orange compensation either through the ex-gratia payment or through the disability benefits route.
One needs only to visit the Legion’s website, read the transcripts of Parliamentary or Senate Committees, or read the Legion magazine to understand the scope of our advocacy on behalf of Veterans and their families. This includes the provision of representational services at all levels of the disability benefit process, including Legion representation at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB). Results achieved on behalf of Veterans are second to none. This also includes benevolent assistance to Veterans and their families through our Legion Poppy Fund and other funds where we act as agents and trustees. Similarly, we have been looking after homeless Veterans since 1980 and recently introduced a new program (Cockrell House) for Homeless Veterans in B.C. The Legion is actively engaged in some of the following activities in support of Veterans and their families:
■Provision of Affordable and Assisted Living Housing
■Provision of Furnishings in Long Term Care Facilities
■Meals on Wheels
■Medical Transportation and Hospital Visiting
■Enabling Independent Living
■Veterans Transition Program
■Support to Military Family Resource Centers
■Support for the Troops Morale Fund
■Long-Term Care Surveyor Program to ensure quality of care