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Veterans advocates say changes to charter would cut benefits

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn speaks as members of the Commons veterans affairs committee hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 3, 2014., to release the conclusions of the statutory review it undertook in November 2013 of the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act.


Veterans' advocates say unanimous recommendations contained in an all-party review of the charter that spells out how veterans will be compensated would leave severely disabled vets earning less money than they do now.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino requested the Commons veterans affairs committee last fall to conduct a review of the New Veterans Charter, which has been the target of complaints by disabled veterans since it was brought into effect in 2006.

That committee, made up of Conservatives, New Democrats and a Liberal, responded with a document that was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

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It says, among other things, that seriously disabled veterans should receive financial benefits for life, and that a portion of those payments should be transferable to their spouse in the event of their death. That had been previously recommended by Veterans' Ombudsman Guy Parent.

But the report of the Commons committee also says that the so-called "earnings loss benefit" that is paid to disabled veterans should be set at 85 per cent of their net income, up to a net income threshold of $70,000.

Veterans' advocate Sean Bruyea said the current benefit provides 75 per cent of the veterans' gross income, which is more than 85 per cent of net income – and there is currently no threshold.

"So this would in fact lower the pay, the [reimbursed] income loss, to soldiers and their families," Mr. Bruyea said.

While the current benefit is taxable and the committee recommends that it be made non-taxable, Mr. Bruyea said disabled veterans already pay few taxes because of the credits they receive.

Among the most contentious aspects of the New Veterans Charter was the replacement of lifetime payments to disabled veterans for pain and suffering with lump-sum awards of up to about $300,000, depending on the extent of their injury.

The committee said the Veterans Affairs department should conduct a comprehensive review of the amount of the lump-sum awards to ensure that they more adequately reflect awards in civil liberties cases.

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"They took six months to review the lump sum and recommended that the department review the lump sum," said Mr. Bruyea. "This is nothing but delaying tactics by government and it's nothing but a disappointment for veterans who need help now."

Michael Blais, the founder of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said veterans were promised a comprehensive review of the New Veterans Charter. "And yet what we have been provided today is not comprehensive in any way shape or form," Mr. Blais said.

Mr. Parent, on the other hand, said in a statement he believes the recommendations of the committee are an important first step in resolving many of the problems of the New Veterans Charter and he urged the government to move quickly on their implementation.

Mr. Fantino has said he will review the report carefully and provide a response early in the fall.

Committee chairman Greg Kerr, a Conservative MP from Nova Scotia, said it is difficult to find agreement across veterans groups about what should be done to fix gaps in the charter.

"There are some veterans, I know, that are going to find issue regardless of what goes on," Mr. Kerr said. "The fact is, we think we've presented a balanced approach, picked recommendations that we felt would move forward, and we think it's a good start."

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Mr. Bruyea and Mr. Blais, neither of whom stand to benefit personally from changes to the New Veterans Charter, said only a small segment of all veterans were disabled during their military service. "But," Mr. Blais said, "we have a sacred obligation to those who are wounded."

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