Supporting Families through the Veterans Independence Program
Ottawa - March 6, 2013
It has been my position that families are a key cornerstone for the support and well-being of our men and women serving in uniform. The Canadian Forces recognizes how critical families are to their operational success by ensuring that there are programs and services to support the home front. The support families provide continues well after the Canadian Forces member has removed the uniform, especially for the ones that have incurred injuries while serving. For that reason, all efforts should be made to afford families services that address their needs and honour their commitment to Veterans. So when I see elements within a program that marginalize the support to families, it gets my attention.
Recently, there was a report in the media about a widow who was eligible for one service under the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) but was denied access to another. The Veterans Independence Program (VIP) is a national home care program provided by Veterans Affairs Canada. It was established in 1981 to assist low-income clients to remain in their homes or communities and was designed to complement other federal, provincial or municipal programs. Numerous regulatory amendments have been made over the years to expand the eligibility to the program. In February 2008, grounds maintenance and housekeeping services provided under the Veterans Independence Program were extended to primary caregivers who were not in receipt of these services when the Veteran passed away. But again this new access was further limited to primary caregivers of Veterans of the Second World War and Korean War who were in receipt of the guaranteed income supplement under the Old Age Security Act. (VIP defines 'primary caregivers' as eligible spouses, common-law partners or adult individuals who were residing and caring for Veterans without remuneration.)
Let me explain why I have a problem with this benefit that only targets low-income Veterans of the Second World War and Korean War with a service-related medical condition.
- If a Veteran and a caregiver, in this case the spouse, received both housekeeping and grounds maintenance services, the caregiver will keep both services when the Veteran dies.
- If the same Veteran did not receive housekeeping and grounds maintenance services, then the low-income caregiver can apply and receive both services after the Veteran’s death.
- However, if the same Veteran and caregiver received one of the two services, then the low-income caregiver can only keep the service that was in place at the time of death of the Veteran. The caregiver can never receive the second service even if there is a need for it.
First of all, it makes no sense for a caregiver receiving one VIP service at the time of the Veteran's death to be denied access to the other service when a caregiver who had none of the services can apply and receive both services after the Veteran's death. Secondly, why is this expanded eligibility only targeting Veterans of the Second World War and Korean War?
Access to VIP services should be based solely on needs, not on the nature of Veterans' military service and whether or not they were in receipt of housekeeping or grounds maintenance services prior to their death. This is the least we can do to acknowledge the service of our Veterans and the families that have supported them.
Since 2009, my Office has raised this issue on several occasions with Veterans Affairs Canada, but there has been no change. A position paper was published in March 2010, and on June 16, 2011, I appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance and explained this unfair situation. Three Ministers have been apprised of this situation and so far there hasn't been any extension of benefits to these low-income caregivers.
Over the coming months, the Office will publish a series of reports that will examine the benefits provided to ill or injured Veterans to enable them to live independently at home and the benefits to support them when they can no longer do so.
If the Department is serious about getting rid of red tape and complexity, it should do away with convoluted eligibility criteria that create unfair barriers to accessibility. Access to VIP housekeeping and grounds maintenance services should be based solely on caregivers' needs. At the very least, the eligibility criteria for the Veterans Independence Program should be changed to enable low-income caregivers in receipt of one VIP service to receive both services.
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