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Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole is preparing to announce additional money for Canada’s most seriously disabled veterans.


Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole is preparing to announce additional money for Canada's most seriously disabled veterans.

The government will table legislation on Monday that will top up the lump sum disability benefit, or create an entirely new benefit, for those vets who are most seriously incapacitated.

Several veterans advocates said Sunday they have been told that Mr. O'Toole will offer an additional $70,000 on top of the $306,698 that is the maximum amount currently available under the one-time, non-taxable benefit.

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But there was much concern that the criteria for receiving the new award would be so narrow that the number of veterans who qualify will be small.

If the new award is limited to just a small number of vets with serious injuries, some veterans argue it would create an even more unequal system of compensation than now exists between those vets that predate the New Veterans Charter (which came into effect in 2006), those who fall under it but have a moderate to mild disability, and those who fall under it and are in the worst shape.

"This is a significant step forward. Those who have been critically injured will be accorded respite," said Mike Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. "However, the needs of the few do not outweigh the needs of the many; there must be equality in recognition of national sacrifice, not exclusion of a vast majority of the wounded through restrictive criteria."

About 1,600 veterans are considered to be totally and permanently impaired as a result of an injury received in the line of duty. Of those who fall under the New Veterans Charter, only 186 received the maximum lump sum award, the amount of which is determined by the extent of the disability.

The Conservative government is making a series of announcements aimed at easing tensions with veterans in the leadup to a fall election. Specifically, it is changing problematic sections of the New Veterans Charter, which critics say inadequately compensates newer vets, including those from Afghanistan, who are injured in the line of duty.

Veterans advocates, including the Royal Canadian Legion, have been arguing for years that the size of the payments should more adequately reflect the amounts in civil liability cases for personal injuries. That was also a recommendation of a Commons committee last year which reviewed the New Veterans Charter and said the process for setting the award should be more clear and transparent.

Meanwhile, the amount spent by Canada's Veterans Affairs department on the research that could help former military men and women cope better with the traumas of war has averaged less than $200,000 a year since the Conservatives first took power in 2006.

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When the government announced in December that Veterans Affairs would commit an additional $6.98-million over the next six years for research into operational stress injuries, one scientist said the money was "very meagre" given the scope of the problem. But that announcement, which averaged out to about $1.1-million a year in new spending, apparently marked a significant increase in the department's research budget.

Veterans Affairs officials refused tell The Globe and Mail how much money the department was devoting to the scientific studies that could improve the lives of those injured in the line of duty.

But in response to a question from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the government said last week that the total amount spent on "research conducted or funded" by the department between 2006-2007 and 2014-2015 was $1.744-million.

The government said in its response to Mr. Trudeau's question that in 2011-2012, the Veterans Affairs department spent $5,000 on research. It said it spent nothing in 2007-2008.

Mr. O'Toole said in an e-mail that the mental health research that benefits veterans is funded by several departments and agencies in addition to his own, including National Defence and Health Canada.

For instance, the government has spent $480-million on mental health research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research since 2006, with specific projects within that investment for operational stress injuries or PTSD, he said. Plus, said Mr. O'Toole, the government created the Mental Health Commission of Canada and has helped fund university research aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental injuries from service.

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In 2014-2015, the government says the department will spend a total of $98,000 which will pay for three studies related to service dogs, operation stress, and the relationship between veterans' income and employment.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, by comparison, plans to spend more than $1-billion for medical and prosthetic research this year.

The United States is a much larger country, and American researchers are paid in different ways to those in Canada. So a direct comparison is not entirely fair.

But when it comes to helping veterans, "there are many things that we just don't know," said Tony Battista, the executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations. "The fact of the matter is that we don't have all the research and the information that can help them with whatever ailment or problems that are afflicting them."

And when young Canadians who are considering a career in defence see that some veterans are not being well cared for, "not because no one wants to care for them, but because we don't have all the scientific and medical research done to look after them, how would they view their own motivation about getting involved?" asked Mr. Battista.

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