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Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, attends a Commons veterans committee in Ottawa, Thursday May 29, 2014. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, attends a Commons veterans committee in Ottawa, Thursday May 29, 2014. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Fantino defends spending millions on ad campaign to counter veterans’ complaints Add to ...

The federal Conservative government is spending millions of dollars on advertising to counter complaints from veterans that their sacrifices are not being adequately compensated.

When Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino appeared at a Commons committee on Thursday to explain his department’s planned spending for the next year, opposition members wanted to know why a $4-million advertising budget had been created.

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And they wanted to know why a recent round of television ads included a phone number for a line that is not always being answered.

“I have received a fair number of complaints regarding the recent advertising on television,” NDP MP Peter Stoffer told the minister.

“When you call the 1-800 number of the television there is no response.”

The line rings through to a voice message, but the Veterans Affairs office to which it connects is not staffed in the evenings when the ads have been aired, including during the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs.

Meanwhile, Frank Valeriote, the Liberal critic for veterans’ affairs, said many of the people who have seen the ads “are expressing their anger at the fact that the government is spending money on promoting itself” instead of putting that cash into programs for veterans.

Mr. Fantino said the ads are necessary because there is a huge amount of “misinformation, miscommunication, confusion,” even on the part of veterans themselves about what benefits are available.

The minister denied that the ads were created to promote the government. “It’s just trying to reach those who we are committed and dedicated to serve and to help.”

Disabled veterans say they are being cheated by the New Veterans Charter, introduced in 2006, which replaced lifetime pain-and-suffering payments with a lump-sum award that can be as high as $300,000, depending on the extent of the disability. A number of them turned out to the meeting in the hope of confronting the minister with their grievances.

Mr. Fantino has asked the Commons committee to review the charter – a report that is nearly complete – and said Thursday the government will “do what we can” to act on its recommendations.

But he pointed out that there are other payments, besides the lump-sum award, that are available to disabled veterans. “In some cases, a veteran can receive over $10,000 a month in financial compensation,” Mr. Fantino said.

Some monthly payments paid on the basis of disability can add up to $2,700. But veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea said he believes just one person out of the 42,000 people covered by the New Veterans Charter has been awarded the maximum monthly payment.

In addition, veterans can receive 75 per cent of their monthly salary while they participate in rehabilitation programs which typically last between two and seven years. But only a high-ranking officer would have been making the kind of income that would push the combined monthly benefits into the $10,000-a-month range, Mr. Bruyea said.

So “there is only one person who could potentially get that amount, and that person must have been a senior colonel,” said Mr. Bruyea. “And it’s unlikely that that person actually exists.”

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