In a recently released statement, the Veterans Ombudsman, Guy Parent, acknowledged that with the change of government there was a need to inform parliamentarians and veterans alike on challenges that veterans face and the work the Ombudsman is carrying out to solve them. The key areas in which he plans to brief or has briefed government officials, including Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Kent Hehr, include Permanent Impairment Allowance, fair compensation for pain and suffering, transition and family support.
“It is a new year and a new government. It is time to set our sights and aim at targets that will bring improvements to the way our Veterans and their families are treated,” said Parent.
One of the most crucial areas Ombudsman Parent hopes to shed light on is Permanent Impairment Allowance (PIA) and its grading levels.
The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (OVO) released a study in 2014 showing that 91 per cent of recipients of the PIA receive the lowest grade, confirming that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) was determining grade levels based on disability and not the economic impact. More recent studies suggest that the number has increased to 92 per cent.
“How PIA is currently administered results in veterans not being compensated fairly and being financially disadvantaged. Changes are needed to the criteria used to determine the grade levels of PIA to provide better financial security for life for those who need it the most.
This is a policy change that could be implemented very quickly with immediate positive results for the most financially vulnerable veterans,“ stated Parent.
Another key point Parent hopes to drive home in the coming months is lifetime financial security and fair compensation for pain and suffering, such as PIA and Earnings Loss Benefit. Stating that the two are often lumped together, Parent believes the separation of the two categories can prevent veterans from being shortchanged. Currently, the OVO is measuring and assessing the economic benefits introduced by the previous government to see how they measure up to fairness principles of adequacy, sufficiency, and accessibility. At the same time, the Office is looking into revitalizing the assessment of pain and suffering benefits under the New Veterans Charter.
Aside from benefits offered by the Veterans Affairs, Parent also hopes to educate officials on military and veteran lifestyle, realizing that transition is an important step in the lifestyle of military members. In his statement, Parent discussed the study the OVO is currently conducting to determine what factors contribute to successful transition from military to civilian life. They are also currently working on Joint Transition Project with the DND and CAF Ombudsman.
Other areas vital to the work the OVO carries out are improving support to families and guaranteeing a veteran’s “right to know.” Parent laid emphasis on the government needing to support families with benefits like counselling, training and directing financial compensation directly to family members who become primary caregivers of veterans that are permanently impaired. He also stressed the importance of a veteran’s right to know of their compensation cases.
“Veterans have a right to know what information is used to make a disability decision in their cases; how decisions are arrived at; and, what impact those decisions will have on their cases. To move this forward, I will continue my engagement with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and VAC on my follow-up report on procedural fairness that was released on December 1, 2015,” said Parent.
On all these areas important to veterans and their families, Parent hopes to work positively alongside Hehr.
“Many Veterans’ organizations and advocates saw him [Hehr] in action at the Veterans Summit, where we had an opportunity to witness his enthusiasm and willingness to move forward on Veterans’ issues. His support of me is appreciated, and although we may disagree on some points in the future, I look forward to advising him on achieving his mandate goals,” stated Parent.
Parent also noted that the OVO Annual Report is with the Minister’s office, and he intends to table it in Parliament in February 2016.