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Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 29, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 29, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tories back down on lump-sum payment for injured veterans Add to ...

The Harper government is caving in to pressure from military groups and will allow injured veterans to spread out the payment of up to $276,000 that they receive after returning from combat.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been scrambling in recent weeks to contain a series of controversies that have been fed by outgoing ombudsman Pat Stogran, as well as various military groups and the opposition.

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One lingering problem was the lump-sum payment offered to injured veterans - which was introduced in the Veterans Charter in 2005 - replacing a monthly payment for life. Some of the recipients of the fund have mismanaged the money and would have been better served by more traditional monthly payments, critics charge.

While the government will not return to the old stipend for life, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said he is set to offer more flexibility to injured veterans. He refused to provide details in an interview, but left no doubt that the money will be available over a longer-term period, and that the amount will continue to be indexed.

"I am looking to offer options, which will take into consideration the complaints that we were getting," Mr. Blackburn said. "I'm there to meet the expectations of our veterans, and if for them different terms are more accommodating, why not?"

Still, the government will continue to face criticism if it doesn't boost the amount that it offers to injured veterans. In an interview, NDP MP Peter Stoffer said that British veterans get four times more money than their Canadian counterparts, and that simply allowing recipients to spread out the money "is not good enough."

The announcement on changes to the lump-sum payment was initially scheduled for Friday, but has been pushed back to next week because of the swearing-in of the new Governor-General, David Johnston.

Veterans Affairs has other problems on its plate, particularly surrounding revelations that medical information of some veterans was shared among hundreds of people within the department.

"To say that the Department of Veterans Affairs is in a mess would be an understatement," Mr. Stoffer said during Question Period. "Will [the minister]now stand in this House and ask for a full public inquiry into the practices and policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs?"

Mr. Blackburn said he has been in contact with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which will conduct a full investigation within his department. He added that he is willing to impose stiffer penalties against anyone who misuses the personal information of veterans.

Overall, Mr. Blackburn said he will ensure that Veterans Affairs gets a major shakeup.

"It's a department that maybe hasn't aged well, in the sense that it hasn't modernized itself to keep up with the arrival of modern-era veterans. We have much change to put in place," Mr. Blackburn said.

The government has announced a series of measures worth $2-billion for veterans in recent days, including $200-million over the next five years for those who can't go back to work because of their injuries.

Mr. Blackburn said he wants to make it clear that the government takes care of injured veterans, and that the services go well beyond the payment of up to $276,000 for a serious injury.

"We have to show that our veterans, when they are seriously injured, don't simply receive the payment and are then left to fend for themselves," he said. "There is a rehabilitation program, during which they receive 75 per cent of their salary, and if they are so seriously injured that they will no longer be able to work, they will receive 75 per cent of their salary until the age of 65."

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