Myth Busting - Why the New Veterans Charter Came Into Effect
Ottawa, ON - January 19, 2015
“The New Veterans Charter was implemented without consultation and only for cost-cutting reasons.”
Q: True or False?
Support for Canada’s injured and ill Veterans has struck a chord with many Canadians. Hardly a day goes by without someone commenting in the media about problems with how Veterans are supported under the New Veterans Charter (NVC).
Critics of the NVC criticize its deficiencies, while supporters point out the lack of understanding about the benefits and services available to injured and ill Veterans and their families. Sometimes the facts fall victim to emotion, misunderstanding and misinformation. Such is often the case in the discussion of why the NVC replaced the Pension Act in 2006 as the system for Veterans’ benefits and services.
Some have claimed that the NVC came into effect because the Government wanted to cut the cost of supporting Veterans. Those who agree believe that because the payment of a disability pension for life under the Pension Act was too expensive, bureaucrats devised a new way of compensating Veterans for an injury or illness related to service – the one-time lump sum disability award. While cost containment was a consideration, it was not the only reason the NVC came into effect.
What is not always understood or acknowledged is that the Pension Act did not meet the needs of many injured and ill Veterans. For many Veterans eligible for a disability pension, the amount of the pension was not sufficient to provide the basic necessities of living. Veterans who were unable to work and were not eligible for other benefits such as the Canada Pension Plan disability pension, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) pension or the Canadian Forces SISIP Long-Term Disability plan income replacement benefit faced significant financial challenges. For Veterans who were able to work, the Pension Act could not help them with retraining or the transition to a civilian job.
How the NVC came to be
The March 2004 Veterans Affairs Canada – Canadian Forces Advisory Council discussion paper Honouring Canada’s Commitment: Opportunity with Security for Canadian Forces Veterans and Their Families in the 21st Century provides insight into why the NVC was implemented. The Advisory Council conducted extensive fact-finding research with regard to the support of injured and ill CAF members and Veterans. It also visited a number of CAF bases and heard from senior commanders, officers and non-commissioned members, Veterans and their families. The conclusion from this extensive research and outreach was that VAC did not have the tools to provide the type of assistance required by a growing number of injured and ill Veterans and families. A new approach was needed.
The 1998 joint federal, provincial and territorial report, In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues, appears to have influenced some of the Advisory Council’s thinking on how to better support injured and ill Veterans. It advocated for better access to educational and training opportunities to improve the participation of persons with disabilities in the economic and social mainstream. As well, the report proposed new approaches for dealing with persons with disabilities, such as independence versus dependence, active measures to promote employment versus passive income support, among others. With these ideas in mind, it became clear to the Advisory Council that bringing the existing benefits under the Pension Act in line with these new approaches would require a major reform of the Veterans’ benefit system. This was apparent to VAC also. In September 2003, it stood up a departmental Services and Program Modernization Task Force to develop a suite of programs and services to facilitate the successful transition of CAF members and families to civilian life.
In March 2004, the Advisory Council published its “...Opportunity with Security...” paper, the culmination of almost four years of research and consultation on the support of CAF members, Veterans and their families. The paper proposed a comprehensive overhaul of Veterans benefits and services, including improved transition and retraining support, enhanced civilian employment opportunities for disabled members, and the thorough overhaul of the way CAF members and Veterans were compensated for injury. The NVC was the result. It came into effect in 2006 and adopted many of the principles and recommendations proposed by the Advisory Council.
The NVC – a work in progress
To state that implementing the NVC was only about cutting costs fails to recognize the significant amount of research and thought that went into its development. While some criticize the NVC, in many ways it offers better support to Veterans and their families than does the Pension Act. That said, better support does not necessarily mean sufficient support.
Many reports have been published since 2006 that make it clear that the NVC has major deficiencies that need to be addressed. I have written often about the changes required to the NVC – here are the top five priorities:
- Improved financial security after age 65
- Better access to allowances for those with the greatest need
- Income support equity for Veterans who served as reservists
- Better support to families
- Improved income support during rehabilitation and transition
The bottom line is that neither the NVC nor the Pension Act is perfect. Our focus going forward must be on addressing the deficiencies within the Charter so that injured and ill Veterans and their families receive the help they need to successfully transition to a new life.
In its response to the 2014 Report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, the Government indicated that it is well aware of these deficiencies. Action is needed now!
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