Improving the New Veterans Charter
Ottawa – July 29, 2013
I believe that the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces willingly accept the risks to their health and life that are inherent to military service. If they are injured or become ill and can no longer serve in uniform, the Government of Canada has an unwavering obligation to help them rebuild their lives and restore, to the greatest extent possible, their health, financial independence, and quality of personal and family life. This is a national obligation—a sacred trust between the people of Canada and those who place their lives on the line to protect its interests.
For generations, this was a proud part of the national fabric of our country. In fact, prior to the New Veterans Charter, all previous legislation pertaining to Veterans (e.g. the Pension Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, etc.) recognized and confirmed in their preambles this obligation. Unfortunately, this was not included in the New Veterans Charter, probably because of the speed of its unanimous passage in Parliament in May 2005. This needs to be rectified. Otherwise, the moral obligation understood by Canadians, on the part of their government to their Veterans, does not have proper legal authority.
In addition, while there is broad support among parliamentarians, many Veterans' organizations and others for the approach of the New Veterans Charter with its focus on wellness, transition to civilian life, economic financial support and its more holistic approach to addressing the needs of Veterans and their families—as opposed to the Pension Act, which focused on compensation—seven years after its coming into force, there are also profound concerns about the effectiveness of some its programs. I believe that there is an urgent need today for action to address the above-mentioned and other Charter shortcomings that affect Canadian Forces Veterans and their families.
This was brought home to me once again last week when arguments were heard in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on the attempt by six Veterans of the Afghanistan War to launch a class action suit against the Government of Canada concerning perceived inadequacies of the New Veterans Charter. I can understand the frustration of these Veterans. The basis of that frustration is one of the reasons that my office last year began a comprehensive examination of the New Veterans Charter in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary committee hearings this fall on the 2011 enhancements to the Charter.
The first result was the April 2013 release of Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Parliamentary Review. Its purpose is twofold: to focus discussion for this fall’s parliamentary committee review of the enhancements to the New Veterans Charter that resulted from the coming into force of the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act on October 3, 2011; and to act as a catalyst to broaden the review of the New Veterans Charter.
The report focuses on three key transition issues: financial instability and decreased standard of living caused by reduced post-release income and insufficient financial support after age 65; limitations in vocational rehabilitation and assistance support, which can affect second career aspirations and employment options; and difficult family environment situations due to insufficient family support.
I placed focus on these issues because after analyzing over 200 recommendations for improvements to the New Veterans Charter proposed in various reports since 2006; I found that 145 of them concentrated on these three key transition issues. I believe that they need to be addressed urgently because they affect a Veteran throughout his or her life.
The recommendations needed to address these issues are now being finalized by my office. They will appear in an upcoming report to be released at the end of the summer. At that time, the issue of the adequacy of the Disability Award will be addressed. As with all my reports and recommendations, it will be evidenced-based and, for the first time, accompanied by an actuarial analysis that will highlight shortcomings of the New Veterans Charter in meeting the financial needs of Veterans.
There is still much to do to improve the lives of many of our Veterans. I appreciate your continued support and guidance and always welcome your comments and suggestions.
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