Veterans’ Expectations are High (Part 2)
Ottawa – May 28, 2014
Over the past seven months of testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, numerous witnesses have suggested how to improve the New Veterans Charter. Most have positively reflected the 20 recommendations that I put forward in my Report on the New Veterans Charter.
The main source of discontent is inadequate financial support. Sufficient financial support is a key enabler to many intended outcomes for Veterans, such as: successful transition to a new civilian career; reasonable standard of living and quality of life; and, best possible physical and mental health.
The successful transition to a new life after a military career that has suddenly and unexpectedly come to an end because of injury or illness is often a question of mindset. Financial security helps to shape that mindset. Those who embark on this transition journey with a positive outlook and hope for the future should transition successfully. However, transition is more difficult when insufficient financial means is a constant pre-occupation. I believe that Veterans should be able to look forward to the future and with a sense of purpose rather than feeling overwhelmed with the present and longing for a past that is no longer possible.
In my appearances before the Committee, I spoke about five main deficiencies with the financial support provided under the New Veterans Charter. One of the deficiencies that generated particular discussion was the inadequate financial support that some totally and permanently incapacitated Veterans may face after the age of 65. I was encouraged when the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs stated in her recent appearance before the Senate Sub-Committee on Veterans Affairs that “the ombudsman is onto something here” concerning inadequate financial support after age 65. This is clearly one of the substantive problems with the New Veterans Charter that I am expecting a strong recommendation in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs’ forthcoming report.
I also expect that the other economic financial support deficiencies that I have identified will be addressed by the Committee because they too are important enablers to a successful transition for Veterans. I have made the following recommendations to address these deficiencies:
- Increase the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 percent of pre-release salary;
- Provide the same Earnings Loss Benefit to former part-time Reserve Force members whose injury or illness is related to service;
- Calculate the annual cost of living adjustment to the Earnings Loss Benefit based on actual annual increases in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index; and
- Provide the Permanent Impairment Allowance and Permanent Impairment Allowance Supplement benefits to all totally and permanently incapacitated Veterans who are in receipt of a Disability Award and an approved rehabilitation plan for the condition that is causing the total and permanent incapacity.
In addition, I will be looking for action concerning my recommendations on non-economic compensation provided to Veterans by:
- Increasing the maximum amount of the Disability Award to the maximum judicial cap for non-pecuniary damages awarded by Canadian courts;
- Conducting a comprehensive review, including consultations with Veterans’ stakeholders, to determine what the appropriate maximum amount should be to fairly compensate Canadian Forces members and Veterans for pain and suffering resulting from an injury or illness in service to Canada; and
- Reviewing the adequacy of the $500 provided for financial counselling.
Finally, while correcting the financial support deficiencies are key to successful transition, it is also imperative that the shortcomings that I identified in relation to vocational rehabilitation and assistance, as well as support to families, be addressed. Vocational rehabilitation and assistance must become more flexible to better prepare Veterans to realize their full potential. In addition, families live the transition process with the Veteran and a properly supported family is unquestionably another key enabler to the successful transition of an injured or ill Veteran from military to civilian life.
In short, my position has been, and continues to be, a simple one: if the Government fixes the problems that I and others have repeatedly identified with financial support, vocational rehabilitation and support to families, then the New Veterans Charter will be viewed much more positively by injured or ill Veterans. It will better meet their needs by helping them to re-integrate successfully into civilian life and by helping them to achieve what every Canadian strives for: a good job, financial independence, a reasonable quality of personal and family life, along with best possible health. Importantly, if their medical condition does not allow them to return to work, then these Veterans will be confident that they will receive the support they need to live their lives with financial security and dignity.
At the March 26, 2014 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Minister Fantino assured Committee Members that “we are committed to moving things forward and doing what can be done and should be done. There will probably be things we can do right away with the stroke of a pen, things that will require a little bit more work, and things we cannot do now but can put on the radar screen for the future. This is an exercise in getting things done”.
As a result, Veterans are expecting the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to publish a report that will get things done and lead directly to timely action that will make a substantive difference for Veterans and their families. As I wrote in a previous blog, it’s time for a heroic moment. The Committee has the opportunity to be the catalyst for meaningful improvements to the New Veterans Charter. I trust it will not disappoint. Veterans’ expectations are high.
It’s time for action!
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