The Toronto Star has just posted an article written by the Dominion President of the Canadian Legion, Patricia Varga, who takes the government to task for failing to keep its word to the Legion when the new Veterans Charter was first introduced.
by Patricia Varga, Dominion President of The Royal Canadian Legion
Recent reports on the restructuring of Veterans Affairs Canada and the departure of its ombudsman lead one to ask: What is the current status of the New Veterans Charter?
The Royal Canadian Legion was behind the New Veterans Charter because we were told it was a “living charter” that would be amended as flaws or gaps were identified.
At least 13 such flaws were identified by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, of which the Legion is a member, in October 2009. To date, none has been fixed. This is not to blame the staff at veterans affairs, whose dedication to their jobs is well known.
But the political will to make improvements for veterans and their families is not there. These include five changes to family support services, four improvements for the financial security of veterans and four recommendations to improve rehabilitation services for wounded veterans. Among the four improvements concerning financial security is an option to receive disability awards in a structured settlement versus a lump-sum payment.
While it is not possible to simply compare Veterans Affairs Canada with its counterparts in other countries, we can look at specific benefits and ask why they do not exist in Canada.
For example, in Australia and the United Kingdom, more is paid out in lump sums for injuries, and an injured veteran in Australia has the option of taking a lump-sum payment or having it spread out over a period of time. Why does that option not exist here when it has been recommended to the government?
Parliament’s own standing committee on veterans affairs has written a report comparing systems in the Commonwealth and G8 countries. Both the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the committee agree with the Australian approach of giving veterans the option of how they collect sums allocated for a disability.
As well, it is interesting to note that the committee report referred to the “covenant” between military personnel and their country. This is the understanding that military personnel and their families will be taken care of by their country should they become disabled.
And care is what they need, including family support services, financial security and rehabilitation services for those who have returned and will return in the future. These are all laid out in the report of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. The Royal Canadian Legion, through its advocacy efforts, has said this for 86 years and will continue to say it until the government listens.
For instance, why does veterans affairs not fund veterans’ health-care research issues as its American counterpart does? And why has no consideration been given to the increase in cost of health services as our veterans grow older? This is a fact of life to which any health-care provider can attest.
What the Legion needs, and what the people of this country need, is action to ensure that the care required for our veterans and their families is in place.
I do not see the transparency promised to veterans, nor do I see the consultation processes promised to veterans’ organizations. What I do see is an erosion of the benefits promised to our most cherished assets, the people who join our armed forces. It is caused by a lack of political will to take care of our veterans and their families by not taking action on what veterans groups have said for many years is needed.
The Legion and other veterans organizations can look after the remembrance and commemoration of those who have sacrificed their lives for Canada.
But what we need right now is a department and the budget to care for those who return wounded — visibly and invisibly — and their families. Canada’s responsibility to our service people is at risk. It is time for the federal government to act to eliminate that risk.