The most seriously injured members of the Canadian Forces will receive increased compensation under measures announced in the new federal budget, as the Liberals seek better relations with a group whose anger created headaches for the previous Conservative government.
"They are going after some of the important items that they can address really quickly," said Scott Maxwell, the executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada. "It looks as if they are going after the most-injured population in terms of the people who are incapable of making a successful skills transition" to civilian life, he said.
The section of the budget devoted to veterans is primarily aimed at improving the New Veterans Charter, which came into effect in 2006 and replaced a system in which disabled vets received lifetime pensions with one that relies largely on lump-sum payments. Newer veterans, including many of those who served in Afghanistan, say the new system provides them with less than was offered to their predecessors.
The government says the new measures will cost an additional $3.7-billion over the lifetime of veterans who are currently in the system. Over the next five years, those payments will add up to about $1.6-billion.
The government is increasing three types of awards available to disabled former soldiers.
- The maximum amount of the disability award, which is paid to all veterans who have suffered a serious illness or injury related to their service, will rise to $360,000 from $310,000, starting in 2017, and will be indexed to inflation. Any veteran who has received the disability award since 2006 will get a retroactive top-up.
- More veterans will become eligible for higher payments under the Permanent Impairment Allowance, which compensates those whose careers have been limited by an illness or injury, according to the severity of their disability. The Veterans Ombudsman has complained that numerous veterans who have been assessed as totally and permanently incapacitated are not receiving the the full allowance.
- The Earnings Loss Benefit, which replaces the income of injured veterans while they are participating in a vocational or rehabilitation program run by Veterans Affairs Canada, will be increased to 90 per cent from 75 per cent of their prerelease salary. That benefit will also be indexed to inflation.
The Liberal government did not meet a campaign commitment to offer lifetime pensions as an option to injured veterans. But veterans groups say they did not expect that to be included in this year's budget.
"There was not enough time," Michael Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy said. "We don't want them to rush into a program that is bereft because they were trying to rush it into this budget."
In addition to the help for disabled vets, nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada that were closed by the former Conservative government – prompting an outcry from veterans groups and civil service unions – will be reopened, and a 10th office will be created in Surrey, B.C. There will also be more case managers hired to reduce wait times for service.
And more lower-income military families will qualify for payments under the Last Post Fund, which covers the cost of burials and funerals for deceased veterans.