by Walter Callaghan
Regarding the attached PDF, being your response to the correspondence I initiated between Aug-Dec 2010, I want to thank you for finally getting around to acknowledging said correspondence. That being said, a three -age document full of political rhetoric that fails to directly answer any of the numerous questions or concerns that I raised in my earlier letters does nothing but leave a bad taste in my mouth and question how seriously you are taking concerns raised by individual veterans.
One thing that I find particularly interesting in recent media releases and commentary provided by yourself and other members of your department is the statement that “the needs of today’s Canadian Forces members and modern-day Veterans are very different from those of Veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War.”
Really? I personally don’t see how my needs are any different from those of my grandfather (who served in both of those wars) or my great-grandfather (who served in the Boer War and the World War One); other than that those needs are not being met, and if anything, actively refused by Veterans Affairs Canada thanks to the restrictive revisions made and enacted under the New Veterans Charter.
The only other real difference in “needs” between my generation of disabled veterans and those of our forebearers is a wider level of social awareness and acceptance of operational stress injuries (including PTSD), largely thanks to the sacrifices made by those who fought and suffered before me. VAC can certainly take absolutely NO credit for that societal change, especially given the track record of VAC refusing benefit of the doubt on OSI (and most other) cases as well as trying to refused benefits by blaming the veteran’s pensionable condition on symptoms of the OSI being suffered.
You mentioned in your correspondence that one of the programs made available under the New Veterans Charter was “practical help in finding employment.” It should be noted that career transition services existed before the NVC, so this, as with almost every other program or benefit available from VAC, can not be claimed as something new under the NVC. Again, all that has been done is that the program name has been changed, the benefit wording has been modified, and as with almost every other benefit, the application requirements have been made more restrictive.
I ask you this: if VAC was actually interested in assisting us in finding employment, why is VAC not actively using the Priority Hiring List that all disabled veterans are eligible to be placed on within the first five years after medical release from the CF?
While all federal departments are supposed to be required to use this program, the only department that seems to actually utilize it is the Department of National Defence. Following on this, why is the eligibility for this program limited to only a two-year window that must be initiated within the first five years post-release?
Understanding that operational stress injuries, being extremely complex, may (and usually do) require more than that period of time to adjust and “stabilize”, and that the possibility of relapse is extremely high, why is VAC limiting a benefit in such a way that it would be of minimal benefit even if the departments were actually using it (or even aware of it)? To better assist disabled veterans return to work, would it not be better to have eligibility and access to this program be open-ended and repeatable so that it could be utilized in its intended manner at the times when the veteran could actually benefit from it?
In regards to Bill C-55, aspects of which you referred to multiple times in your letter to me, I have several grave concerns and comments. I am using the full text of the First Reading of the Bill for reference, available at: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Docid=4785281&file=4
1) While modifying the PIA/EIA so that eligibility will be based on the combined assessment levels granted under both the Pension Act (monthly disability) and the New Veterans Charter (lump-sum), there still exists a discrepancy between what constitutes a permanent or exceptional disability (defined in the text of C-55, para 38(1), as “one or more physical or mental health problems that are creating a permanent and severe impairment”), and the actual eligibility based on the assessment model, which requires “the aggregate of all of the veteran’s disability assessments and deemed disability assessments exceeds 100%” [c-55, para 38(1.b.i)]. Essentially, what this means is that while the definition of a permanent or exceptional disability covers a wide scope of ailments within its legislative definition, the approval of this benefit will still require a much greater degree of disability through the aggregated assessments than what is included in the definition, which will result in relatively few disabled veterans actually receiving this benefit. Further, while the definition of permanent/exceptional impairment does include conditions collectively referred to as operational stress injuries, the assessment model used by VAC (which does not follow or adhere to the accepted international standards of psychiatric conditions set out in DSM-IVr) downplays the impact and/or level of disability of operational stress injuries to the degree that it is highly unlikely that any soldier or veteran suffering from a debilitating mental health condition will ever reach the assessment standards (100% or greater) required to be approved for PIA/EIA.
2) While the increase in the Earnings Loss Benefit to a minimum of $40k per year is a welcome increase, there are several problems in the way this benefit has been promoted to various stakeholders (media, the public, the House of Commons, and to veterans themselves).
a. First, this benefit increase is not actually listed in Bill C-55. I believe that this is because such increases do not actually require legislative approval to be enacted, but instead could be enacted through a simple bureaucratic or administrative order, and as such, could have come into effect some time ago. This begs the question of why this increase has been enacted, or is the delay in doing so an active attempt on the part of the current government use veterans as political pawns to force other members of the House to accept this Bill?
b. Will this increase to the ELB also be applied to disabled veterans of the Reserves? As I stated before, the ELB granted to those who served in the Reserves is not the same as that granted to members of the Regular Force. While our ELB is technically calculated as 75% of our pre-release salary, the salary used for this calculation has been arbitrarily determined to be no more than $2000/month, regardless of actual rank, time-in, or true pay-scale at time-of-release. In other words, and to use myself as a descriptive example, where my pre-release pay was ~$3600/month (net ~$2400/month), my ELB is calculated to $1500/month (net $1100/month). This is nowhere near 75% of my pre-release pay. In short, what increase to ELB is planned for those of us who served in the Reserves?
c. Finally, there is also the question of whether this ELB increase will only apply to the ELB granted through VAC, or will it also apply to the ELB granted under SISIP. This is extremely important for the following reason: the ELB that a disabled soldier receives is provided through SISIP for the first two years after medical release, at which point the determination is made whether or not the soldier is: (1) permanently disabled and unable to return to work; or (2) is able to continue to participate in rehabilitation services and/or a vocational rehabilitation program and is transferred to long-term care under VAC. If the former, the ELB is maintained under SISIP. Since it is also laid out in C-55 that the ELB provided by VAC is dependent on the veteran participating in a rehabilitation program prescribed by VAC (which raises other concerns), if the disabled veteran is already deemed to be permanently incapacitated under the SISIP program, will they still be eligible for the ELB increase described? Also, since the first two years are covered under SISIP before the veteran becomes eligible for ELB under VAC, will the increase be applied to SISIP, or will we be forced to accept the continued sub-standard level of income under that program?
3) Regarding the Lump Sum Disability Award:
a. Understanding that this is an award made in compensation for the pain and suffering associated with a disability, much as the previous lifelong monthly pension was, and is not to be confused with an economic-loss award (which is handled by the ELB program, again as was the case with the previous monthly pension), I still question the legitimacy of comments put forward by yourself and VAC that this program is of greater benefit to disabled soldiers. Under the old monthly pension, the social contract between Canada and her soldiers was upheld through a monthly benefit provided in compensation for our ongoing suffering. While the amount was never that large, it was not meant to be a source of income, but rather to provide some measure of ongoing care and long-term acceptance by Canada that we had been injured in the line of duty. The old system also provided additional compensation for immediate family members (spouse and offspring), understanding that disabilities did not just affect the quality-of-life of the individual veteran, but also had a profound effect on those in daily contact with them. The Lump Sum award granted under the NVC fails on both counts (it does not even include the pain and suffering of the immediate family unit in its calculation), and still stinks of an attempt to limit the financial liability of Canada towards her disabled patriots through an insurance-company-minded scheme.
b. Much reference has been made to the maximum amount awarded under the Lump Sum scheme. It should be noted that the average award is less than $30k, with only a handful of disabled soldiers having been granted the maximum amount. To constantly refer to the amount provided as if all disabled veterans are receiving the maximum amount is an act of purposefully misleading the public and the members of the House. This is of further importance in the context of the change in payment schedule provided within Bill C-55. While giving the option of a structured payment schedule may be of benefit to those veterans receiving awards closer to the maximum amount payable (an extreme rarity), to try and spread out the average amount awarded over several years will be of absolutely no benefit to the disabled veteran. Since, unfortunately and directly because of the denial-by-design standard operating procedures of VAC, the disabled veteran is all too often required by necessity to use the amount provided under the Lump Sum provision to make ends meet while struggling through the byzantine processes of a VAC application for additional benefits (including the ELB), any such change to a structured system of payments will be of little assistance to those who received the average amount.
c. Despite my prior admonitions towards you for using data collected from a VAC survey out of context in reference to acceptance and approval ratings amongst veterans of the Lump Sum Award, you continued to do so, including a statement made on Second Reading of Bill C-55, when you stated, once again: “According to critics, people were not able to properly manage the $276 that they received as compensation for their injuries. We checked, and 69% of veterans were satisfied, but 31% were not and would prefer to receive a different form of compensation” (40th Parliament, 3rd Session, Edited Hansard, Number 125, for Monday, 7 February 2011, available at: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=hansard&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4932009&File=0#SOB-3722079).
I have repeatedly pointed out the error in your using these figures, as the question that was actually asked in the survey conducted by VAC can not back up such a statement since the actual question asked was not if the veteran would prefer the lump-sum award or the old monthly disability pension, but was: : Q4 – If you had a choice, would you prefer to receive your lump sum payment with the same dollar amount as a single payment or as payments over time? (source: VAC website, 14 March 2011, http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/sub.cfm?source=pro_research/publications/reports/review-disaward-jun2010).
Once again, you CANNOT state that 69% of veterans prefer the lump sum payment, and any attempt to do so demeans your character and devalues any other comments made as it brings into question the validity of any other statements or comments.
4) In response to your (in)action on the issue of the breaches of privacy committed by public servants at VAC, you have now demonstrated a complete betrayal of veterans for fear of reprimand by the bureaucracy. We faced physical harm and death, and many of us have suffered serious physical and/or psychological injuries, in the line of duty upholding our end of the contract we made for democracy and the very nature of what makes Canada great. You have backed down in the face of a possible court action from the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/story/2010/11/10/pei-dva-employee-suspensions-union.html), and have instead handed out three-day “vacations” as reprimands for the serious criminal offences committed against my colleague, Sean Bruyea , as well as many other veterans who have dared to speak out. As I and others have mentioned before, had a soldier committed such a criminal offence, not only would we be charged, but we would in all likelihood be dishonourably discharged from the military. Even within the public health care sector, such breaches of privacy are punished more severely, frequently leading to termination of employment. This slap-on-the-wrist that was delivered to the public service miscreants was nothing more than a cowardly betrayal of those of us who have served. SHAME!
As always, I am willing to sit down and discuss these issues, and many others that I have brought to your attention in the past, should you actually want the input of a disabled veteran like you constantly claim. It should also be noted that the Legion does NOT speak on my behalf and I do not feel that they represent my interests or needs (as is the case for many (most?) of us in the current generation of veterans).
Walter Callaghan, Disabled Veteran