Veterans issues are finally being recognized as an election issue and veterans are gathering to back the one leader who has come forward to defend their rights for better treatment, NDP Leader Jack Layton. Below excerpts from a CBC News release explains the programs he proposes to remedy problems affecting veterans. BONNIE
CBC News April 2, 2011
NDP Leader Jack Layton addresses supporters as he attends a campaign rally in Dartmouth, N.S. on Saturday, April 2, 2011. The federal election will be held on May 2. Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
NDP Leader Jack Layton unveiled his plans for retired and disabled veterans’ benefits at a rally in Nova Scotia Saturday, saying it’s time to “fix” the system in Ottawa.
Speaking at a campaign event in Dartmouth, N.S., Layton said veterans are essentially forced to “fend for themselves” under Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government.
“He promised to stand up for our veterans, and instead he’s shamefully turned his back on those that bravely served their country.” Layton said.
The NDP leader said he would introduce a $103-million package of improved benefits, including:
- Ending a pension reduction that affects some disabled Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans
- Restoring a private insurance plan for retired and disabled veterans
- Overhauling the veteran review and appeal board
- Taking action on the “reasonable demand” of veterans’ organizations, spouses, and widows calling for an immediate public inquiry into toxic chemical spraying at CFB Gagetown in the 1960s and 70s
Col. Pat Stogran, a former veterans ombudsman, joined Layton at Saturday’s event and called Harper’s tenure in government a “very bleak period” for Canadian veterans.
Layton also said he would introduce a program that would help veterans get jobs in construction and shipbuilding.
The Conservatives announced in last month’s federal budget that they would create a Helmets-to-Hardhats initiative to help veterans find work in Canada’s construction industry as they transition back into civilian life. The initiative was to be modelled after a similar program in the United States.
During his speech, Layton pointed to the case of Sean Bruyea, a veteran’s advocate who sought and received an apology from the federal government after bureaucrats improperly shared his medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment information.
After the budget was released, Bruyea said that the Helmets-to-Hardhats program might have “limited relevance” in Canada because many healthy Canadian Forces members spend their entire career in the military. He also noted that physically demanding construction work might not be appropriate for people who were released from the military because of a disability.
When asked by reporters about Bruyea’s criticism of the program, Layton said he was open to further measures to help more veterans transition into careers after the military.
“I am just thrilled by the turnout that we had here, especially by the veterans who came out to support our policies.”
He said the party’s goal of the campaign was to present the NDP as a “real alternative” to what he called Harper’s “very divisive” style of leadership.
One of the biggest complaints about the system relates to the New Veterans Charter, which in 2006 overhauled the system of benefits. It replaced lifetime, guaranteed pensions with a sliding scale of lump-sum payments and other benefits for disabilities.
The $285,000 top-end payment is far less generous than what other allied nations give their wounded soldiers. Independent actuarial reports have stated that the lowest-paid and most critically injured soldiers were the ones shortchanged by the revised system.