Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole will increase compensation for part-time reservists who are seriously hurt in the line of duty, a change he announced at the end of a week that began with a proposal for a new benefit to lift some senior disabled veterans out of poverty.
Veterans' advocates say more announcements are coming as the Conservative government tries to plug gaps in the New Veterans Charter – the document that dictates how former members of the military are compensated for injuries – and to deflect criticism of its handling of the sensitive file before they head into a general election.
On Friday, the minister took the podium at a naval reserve unit in Halifax to stress over and over again the government's respect for the military.
Starting in April, he said, the government will ensure that part-time reservists who are severely injured will receive a minimum annual income of $42,426 while participating in a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program or until they are able to return to work. That is nearly double the amount to which they are currently entitled, and puts them on par with full-time members of the Forces.
"All of Canada's veterans, not just some, deserve the right to be treated with care, compassion and respect," Mr. O'Toole said.
Later in the day, Defence Minister Jason Kenney made the same announcement at a Legion in Calgary. Both Mr. O'Toole and Mr. Kenney stressed the contribution of reservists in Afghanistan, where they made up about one-quarter of the Canadian Forces.
In fact, Veterans Affairs officials explained, the new benefit will not apply to reservists who are injured overseas, as those soldiers already receive the same supports as regular, full-time members of the military.
Rather, they said, it covers part-time reservists who suffer debilitating accidents in Canada, perhaps at their own armoury. The new benefits rate will begin in April for about 200 former reservists, they said, a number the government predicted will grow to 290 by 2020, but did not explain why.
The government officials said the increased benefits for reservists are predicted to cost about $24-million over the next five years, and the increase will not be retroactive.
For soldiers who die while doing their military job, the earning-loss benefit will transfer to their survivors.
The problem facing reservists was highlighted last fall when the government scrambled to top up the benefits to the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a reservist who was killed in a terrorist attack at the War Memorial in Ottawa. Initially, they were less than those paid to the family of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was killed in a similar attack in Quebec.
"In that case, we made an exception for obvious reasons," Mr. Kenney said. "But we shouldn't have to make an exception. That support should have been automatic."
Tom Eagles, the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, praised the initiative for reservists. "When I heard the news today, I said well, it's about time," Mr. Eagles said.
This week's announcements by Mr. O'Toole are the government's attempts to meet two long-standing demands of veterans' advocates.
The fact that many disabled veterans were without adequate resources at 65, when an earnings-loss benefit came to an end, was raised by the Veterans Ombudsman in 2013 and echoed repeatedly since by opposition members and military retirees.
The disparity between the benefits offered to injured part-time reservists and those for full-time members of the Canadian Forces has been pointed out to the government by groups including the Legion almost every year since 2006, when the charter came into effect.
But even as the government solves some problems, it has created others.
Some veterans complain that the retirement benefit proposed by the government on Monday will disadvantage those injured before the veterans charter took effect by clawing back their lifetime payments for pain and suffering.