During his current visit to Calgary, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, Kent Hehr, is speaking to local community leaders about how Budget 2016 will provide for enhanced support to veterans and their families.
“The Government of Canada is taking historic steps to ensure Canadian Veterans and their families are treated with care, compassion and respect. Budget 2016 reaffirmed our intent to give back to Veterans and deliver on our promises to restore critical access to services and improve the long-term financial security and independence of disabled Veterans and their families,” said Hehr.
Amongst the Government’s list of recent changes is an increase to the Disability Award to a maximum of $360,000; an increase in the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 per cent of a veteran’s pre-release salary; and an expansion to the Permanent Impairment Allowance by introducing “Individualized assessment to ensure veterans are more appropriately compensated for the impact of a service related impairment on their career.”
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is also planning on re-opening nine offices across the country and hiring additional case managers who will serve no more than 25 veterans. A new office will also be opened in Surrey, BC.
Other changes include projects to build new community war memorials, the Have Your Say tool for community feedback and an increase to the estate exemption from $12,015 to $35,279 and make it easier for veterans’ families to access Funeral and Burial Program for a dignified funeral.
Overall, according to VAC, the 2016 Budget delivers $5.6 billion in additional benefits.
However, according to veteran and lead plaintiff in a current case against the federal government, Aaron Bedard, many of these changes sound better on paper than in reality.
Bedard and the other plaintiffs, fighting on behalf of veterans, are specifically in court to end the lump sum payout through the Disability Award.
“We are in court to return the pension. Topping up the lump sum is the opposite of that. The lump sum if administered to those with PTSD, who are more than likely self-medicating and self-destructive is a bad thing,” said Bedard.
Bedard explains that the increase to the Earnings Loss Benefit (ELB) is also misleading because the threshold, or income limit, was lowered from the pay of Corporal 4 when the ELB was at 75 per cent to Private 3 with the ELB at 90 per cent, essentially lowering the pay three grades below the Cpl. 4.
“The ministry always splits hairs in the devil’s details. So to be clear 90 per cent of soldiers injured in Afghanistan are corporals and privates. This adjustment for the majority of those eligible will be a modest jump of three to five per cent which is misleading, for public appearance, that reminds our lowest rank veterans that they aren’t being showed fair, equitable respect,” stated Bedard.
Same goes for the changes to the Permanent Impairment Allowance.
“This was done already by Erin O’Toole and we are yet to see how this is actually going to be further widened. At this time, I don’t believe they can further widen this more than what was just done. But what I do know is that Paul Franklin, a double amputee, has gotten huge media attention on the issue of having to continually prove his legs are gone. So, what they specifically have done is changed the name of the benefit to the CIA (career impact allowance), as it was argued that you shouldn’t be classified permanent if it’s constantly reviewed,” explained Bedard.
In addition, Bedard, who is well connected in the veteran community, says many of those involved with his case do not support reopening VAC offices.
“The young veterans that have been negatively impacted by the NVC [New Veterans Charter] use cell phones and the Internet to get services. We would never support a union-funded campaign that created a commitment that didn’t directly commit funding to the key priorities of pension, education, caregiver ELB, PTSD inpatient facilities, education. Yes, hire more people on the other end of the phone and more managers who can be on the road to reach the remote locations of our vast country. But location specific offices opening only will serve a fraction of clients and frankly, yes, Service Canada offices are already everywhere in the country. And legions with their service officers,” said Bedard.
Featured image: Kent Hehr shakes hands with local community leaders in Calgary on May 25, 2016. Credit to Facebook page of Kent Hehr.