It's Time to Resolve Veterans' Funeral and Burial Expenses
Ottawa – February 1, 2013
Over the years, I have heard many stories of families who struggle when they approach Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance with funeral and burial expenses for a low income Veteran, and are told that the estate exemption for funeral and burial assistance from the Last Post Fund (which administers the Department's Funeral and Burial Program) is $12,015.
Is that right? I don't think so. Neither do most Veterans and Veterans' organizations. Low income Canadian Veterans who were ready to lay down their lives for our country deserve to be treated a lot better than that. They deserve our enduring respect and they deserve a dignified departure.
This is not a new issue for me nor is it for Veterans and Veterans' organizations, such as the Royal Canadian Legion and the Last Post Fund, that have been calling for change for almost 20 years. The major concerns are summed up in the report that was prepared by the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, entitled Serve with Honour, Depart with Dignity - An Administrative Review of the Funeral and Burial Assistance Program for Veterans Affairs Canada. Since becoming Veterans Ombudsman in November 2010, I have actively pursued the February 2009 published report's recommendations with both the former and current Minister of Veterans Affairs, but to date only one of the seven recommendations has been implemented: the recommendation concerning communicating the program better to Veterans. During the same period, more than 60,000 Veterans passed away.
Up until 1993, the funding for the Funeral and Burial Program was approximately $22 million. In 1994, however, it was reduced to approximately $12 million as a result of a government-wide program review, which effectively restrained the ability of the Last Post Fund to meet its mandate by reducing the estate exemption from $24,030 to $12,015 (considerably less than the poverty level) and by setting low maximum rates for funeral and burial expenses well below the customary fees. This means that a Veteran's estate if valued at more than $12,015 is not eligible for support for a dignified and respectful funeral.
The average cost of a funeral in Canada today is between $7,000 and $10,000, yet Veterans Affairs Canada provides only $3,600 for funeral-related services, an amount that has not changed since 2001, while the Department of National Defence and the RCMP currently provide up to $12,700 in the event of the death of a serving member. Over the past five years, the Last Post Fund has provided funeral and burial assistance to 5,500 families with an average disbursement of $5,000, an amount well below the average cost of a funeral and burial. Only four families have received significantly more than $5,000 due to exceptional needs. As I have stated before: “It is unconscionable that Veterans Affairs Canada continues to stall. Veterans Affairs Canada has stated that over 1,500 older Veterans pass away every month. Will they wait until the whole generation has passed away before they act?” Moreover, is it conscionable for Canadian funeral directors to be obliged to routinely subsidize these costs for our most impoverished Veterans because Veterans Affairs Canada pays so little for the service?
I understand the frustration behind yesterday's action by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Last Post Fund, and the Funeral Service Association of Canada announcing the launch of a national letter writing campaign for improvements to the Funeral and Burial Benefits Program for Veterans.
This issue is not going to go away. It needs to be resolved quickly.
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