A national fund that helps defray the costs of funerals for veterans is under-funded by Ottawa and its criteria for eligibility are out of date. Under the current rules, two-thirds of applications for assistance are routinely being denied. For a federal government that has spent millions on the restoration of war memorials and millions more to celebrate the War of 1812, this is amounts to a failure to prioritize its responsibilities toward the men and women who serve the country.
The Last Post Fund is a non-profit organization that administers Veterans Affairs Canada’s Funeral and Burial Program. It has a simple goal: “to ensure that no veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial due to lack of sufficient funds.” Looking at the numbers, no such thing is being ensured. According to figures provided to Parliament, 67.4 per cent of applicants are rejected because the deceased veteran in question did not fight in eligible wars, or had an annual income of more than the startlingly low amount of $12,010 per year.
In short, the Last Post Fund is failing in its mission. The failure, though, lies not with the fund but with Veteran Affairs. To date, it has not heeded the fund’s calls for more money and for changes to arbitrary rules that exclude men and women who served during the Cold War and in Afghanistan but who aren’t receiving a disability or income-loss benefit from Veteran Affairs. (A World War or Korean War veteran is automatically eligible regardless of other benefits he or she is receiving.)
Among the cases the Last Post Fund is currently considering but technically must deny is that of a modern-era vet who died homeless on the streets of Calgary. It is beyond senseless for such a person to be denied burial without the assistance of the country he served. It is even more frustrating that the Last Post Fund says it can fulfill its mission with an additional $5-million to $7-million per year. Even in an era of cutbacks, Ottawa can make this mission a priority and find the relatively small amount of money required to properly honour all of our veterans.