26 Mar Despite progress in federal budget, lifetime pensions in flux for veterans
Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr thinks he had a good week.
The federal budget on Wednesday promised more than $725-million over five years in additional funds to help veterans and addressed long-standing grievances voiced by many of those who were injured during military service.
But the as-yet-unfulfilled Liberal campaign commitment to reinstate the choice of a lifetime pension for veterans who retired after 2006 and were instead given a lump-sum payment under the New Veterans Charter threatens to overshadow the goodwill that Mr. Hehr is spreading.
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“All options are on the table for a pension-for-life option,” the minister said Friday in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We’ve done a lot of work over the last 18 months to get more clarification on the issue.”
In fact, the lifetime pensions were the first issue addressed in the section of the budget that outlined the Canadian government’s new commitments to veterans.
But rather than immediately giving injured New Veterans Charter vets the pension that is paid to those who retired before 2006, the government promised only to announce its plan for doing so before the end of the year. And, even then, it’s not what some veterans say they expected.
The budget document says “this will provide an option for injured veterans to receive their Disability Award though a monthly payment for life, rather than a one-time payment.”
Veterans point out that the Conservative government said in 2010 that veterans could spread the lump-sum payment over a number of years. Two years later, the Equitas lawsuit was launched in British Columbia on behalf of six severely injured vets who were demanding the same benefits as veterans covered by the old Pension Act.
One of the plaintiffs in that case is Aaron Bedard. “We heard this rumour about them dividing up the lump-sum payment and calling that the monthly life-long pension,” said Mr. Bedard. “They can’t play games like that. They know exactly what the promise was and they need to make good on it.”
David MacLeod, who was medically discharged from the Forces in 2010 after 27 years of service, agrees. Spreading a lump-sum payment over a long period of time is “just a very sad joke,” said Mr. MacLeod. “What was promised was a lifelong pension in accordance with the Pensions Act. Veterans and their families require financial stability.”
Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, is not so sure.
“All of these benefits that have been introduced by the last government, last year by this government, and the ones right now by this government have significantly improved the New Veterans Charter and I think people need to understand that there’s a whole lot of other benefits besides the lump-sum award,” Mr. Parent told The Globe.
He said his office is about to release an analysis that shows that the New Veterans Charter “is more generous than people think.”
The Ombudsman is also pleased that the government decided in this year’s budget to act on three of his long-standing recommendations including the elimination of the time limit for spouses and survivors to access vocational rehabilitation, expanding the access to the Military Family Resource Centres, and providing a benefit for caregivers, including spouses and other family members.
Those are the investments that Mr. Hehr wants to talk about.
“We listened to our stakeholders,” the minister says of the new benefits for caregivers. “They identified this as being something that they wanted that would make their lives better, that would add to their family’s ability to deal with an ill or injured soldier.”
Mr. Hehr is also pleased about a new centre for excellence on post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health conditions that was committed in the budget and which, he says, “will allow us to have research, best practices, develop a holistic groundwork of spending …”
The promise of the lifetime pensions will be met “and I am proud of the fact that the Prime Minister put a time limit on this,” Mr. Hehr said. But veterans and other stakeholders “have also told us to get this right, not rushed. So we will deliver on this mandate letter item.”