Veterans have been airing their concerns, but in fairness to the new veterans ombudsman, we need to consider his position, which is presented here. BONNIE
By Guy Parent, Citizen Special November 27, 2010 6:05 AM
The announcement made by the Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn on Nov. 17 regarding proposed legislation to improve the New Veterans Charter provides some optimism that there is a new willingness to address long-standing issues identified by veterans. It is a beginning, a good first step but, as we all know, the devil is in the details.
The most important question that we need to ask ourselves when considering the proposed changes is: Do they help veterans?
To me, the answer is a cautious yes. The announcement, totalling $2 billion, is recognition by Canada’s federal government that all is not right with the current veterans’ benefits system. It represents a willingness to begin a much needed ongoing change process.
That in itself is a step forward. Will the proposed changes address all the issues that have been raised? No, they won’t, and until we know all of the details, many questions will remain.
On the positive side, the improvements to the Permanent Impairment Allowance are welcome as the changes appear to address the unforeseen gap created when a veteran was receiving benefits under both the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter.
With more than 3,500 veterans becoming eligible for this over the next five years, this is a step forward. As well, raising the minimum pre-tax income to $40,000 per year is a major improvement and will have an immediate effect for more than 2,000 of our most financially vulnerable veterans. In addition, the $1,000 per month for life for seriously injured veterans unable to work again is good news.
However, other details need to be addressed:
Lump sum payment The decision to offer flexible choices to a veteran as to whether to receive the lump sum disability award for pain and suffering as a single payment or as payments spread out over time is progress. Whether the intent of this initiative will be effective depends on how the interest rate is to be calculated and applied, and the type of financial counselling provided to the recipient. Without serious thought on these details, the intent may not be achieved.
In addition, veterans who choose to receive payments spread out over time must realize that they are giving the government of Canada legal authority to manage their money.
Finally, the question remains: Is the lump sum payment — with its maximum payout of $276,000 and average payout of $40,000 — enough when considered in combination with the other proposed changes? This needs to be addressed because veterans are concerned that currently those who fall under the New Veterans Charter receive less than veterans who fall under the old Pension Act. Detailed analysis is needed to accurately answer this question.
Inequality of earnings loss benefit application
It would appear that eligibility for this benefit will include full-time Canadian Forces (CF) members, i.e. veterans with the CF Regular Force, Reserve Class C and long-term Class B service. However, it appears also that part-time CF members, i.e. Class A and short-term Class B service Veterans, will receive a minimum salary that is significantly less than $40,000 per year.
This flies in the face of the equality principle of “one veteran,” whereby all veterans are to be treated equally. Why is this group of service members being singled out, especially when part-time CF members can actually be impacted more significantly than their full-time colleagues because not only does an injury or sickness stop the part-time members from doing their military duties, it often results in the loss of their full-time civilian job or the stoppage of their education, in the case of a student.
As well, reservists build their skills and experience through part-time service that eventually allows them to meet and fill full-time military requirements. Part-time service is an accepted and necessary part of the process in maintaining the Canadian Forces readiness.
Earnings loss benefit and permanent impairment allowance ‘for life’
Clarification is needed here. Much is being said in the media about how the most seriously injured and sick veterans can have peace of mind as they will be receiving a minimum of $58,000 per year, which is a combination of the $40,000 Earnings Loss Benefit plus the improvements to the Permanent Impairment Allowance.
There is some confusion, however, as to whether this $58,000 is for life, although some parliamentarians have stated that “for life” is the intent. Based on the current legislation the Earnings Loss Benefit stops at age 65, so only $18,000 of the $58,000 will continue for life. This needs public clarification so everyone understands the exact intent trying to be achieved, especially since long-term financial stability is the key to having veterans support the New Veterans Charter.
In conclusion, despite not being perfect, the proposed changes represent the beginning of a much-needed process to work through the problem areas that have been identified by veterans and their families with diligence and vigour. However, there is risk that, by not addressing needed changes in a more comprehensive, holistic way, the proposed individual adjustments will not be sufficient for veterans and their families to truly come to embrace the New Veterans Charter as a positive step forward.
Guy Parent is Canada’s veterans ombudsman.
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