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Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole will be at a naval reserve facility in Vancouver on Tuesday to announce improvements to the allowance for those veterans who are permanently impaired, as well as a benefit for caregivers.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government is attempting to fill two more gaps in the support offered to Canada's most injured military personnel with better compensation for severely disabled veterans and financial assistance for the family members who care for them.

Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole will be at a naval reserve facility in Vancouver on Tuesday to announce improvements to the allowance for those veterans who are permanently impaired, as well as a benefit for caregivers.

The deficiencies in the permanent impairment allowance – a taxable monthly benefit paid to the most severely disabled veterans who fall under the New Veterans Charter, which became law in 2006 – have been discussed for years.

So, too, has support for caregivers, though it was unclear Monday whether the government would offer them a benefit or a tax credit. A tax credit would be of little help to some spouses of disabled veterans whose family income is low.

The changes expected Tuesday address key complaints voiced by veterans. The caregivers' grievance was highlighted last spring when then-veterans minister Julian Fantino was chased out of a Commons Veterans Affairs committee by the wife of a veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The television cameras were rolling as Jenny Migneault shouted: "What about us? The spouses, the caregivers, the ones who live 24 hours a day with their heroes? Nothing for us?"

Mr. O'Toole's modifications to the veterans' compensation package come a little more than two months after he was appointed to replace Mr. Fantino, a former police chief who was demoted over his handling of the portfolio and the deteriorating relationship between the Conservative government and former soldiers.

Last week, Mr. O'Toole proposed a retirement benefit to lift some disabled veterans out of poverty and said he will increase payments to part-time reservists who are so injured they can no longer work.

But critics question why the government has waited so long to act when many of the improvements being announced by Mr. O'Toole have been, according to the government's own estimates, relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. The retirement benefit announced last week, for instance, is expected to cost about $2-million annually in its initial phases.

"Why did it take so long?" asked Sean Bruyea, a retired Air Force captain and veterans' advocate. "If the government cared now enough to do this, does that mean they did not care enough before?"

The problems being addressed by Mr. O'Toole are largely related to the provisions of the New Veterans Charter, which replaced a system of lifetime pensions with one that was based on lump-sum payments and other awards, including the permanent impairment allowance.

The spate of improvements being offered by the Conservative government in the months before a federal election is also indicative of the many ways that the system for compensating veterans – especially those who served in more recent conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan – is lacking.

Scott Maxwell, the executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, credits the government for appointing Mr. O'Toole, who once served as a navigator on Navy helicopters, to clean up the troubled file. The improved benefits for disabled veterans help the government plug its biggest hole and improve relations with a core constituency, he said.

In June of last year, Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, issued a report that said problems with how the allowance for permanently impaired veterans is awarded meant too many were not receiving the benefits or were receiving them at a grade level that is too low. "This is unfair and needs to be corrected," he said.

Mr. Parent found that, when determining the amount to be awarded, the disability adjudicators in the department of Veterans Affairs were taking no account of the effects of a disability on a veteran's employment and career-progression opportunities. And, he said, the list of impairments that qualify for the benefits is too narrow.

As Ottawa attempts to address the gaps in the charter, there are fears that some veterans may lose out.

Older veterans whose disability predates the Veterans Charter said they were worried the government would deduct the amount of their lifetime pensions from any monies they might be able to receive from the new Retirement Income Security Benefit, announced last week.

The Veterans Affairs department did not last week respond to requests from The Globe and Mail to clarify if that was the case. But, on Monday, an official said in an e-mail that the lifetime disability pension will not affect the retirement benefit.

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