The federal Conservative government has trumpeted a new commitment of $200-million to help veterans deal with their mental-health issues, but it has been less vocal about the fact that the money will be paid out over the next half a century.
Veterans advocates and opposition politicians accuse the government of deliberately misleading Canadians about the scope of the new investment, which was announced just before the release of a report critical of its treatment of former military personnel.
"It is deceptively caustic to the trust and the well-being of the veterans because they are waiting for services now," said Sean Bruyea, a retired military captain who is a defender of veterans' interests. "For them to say to veterans, 'You've already given your sacrifice to Canada, but we are going to delay your payment for that sacrifice for another 50 years' – how absurd."
The announcement of new and expanded mental-health initiatives for veterans, military members and their families was made by three federal cabinet ministers last Sunday morning in Halifax. It came two days before Auditor-General Michael Ferguson released a gloomy report saying many vets are waiting months – and in some cases years – to access mental-health disability benefits.
In response to that audit, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who is travelling on official business in Italy this week, released a statement saying the government's action plan "supported by our $200-million investment will further improve an already strong continuum of mental health supports and services."
Most of that money – $159.2-million – is designated to pay for the creation and ongoing operation of an Operational Stress Injury (OSI) clinic in Halifax and nine other "satellite" clinics in different locations across the country.
But the documents released by the government to explain their investments in those clinics were less than specific about the timeline of the payout. They said only that there would be "an immediate investment of $19.1-million and the remainder will be provided over the life of the program."
Because the documents said other parcels of cash included in the $200-million announcement would be spent over five or six years, the news media, including The Globe and Mail, wrote that all of the money would be handed out within that time frame.
But staff in Mr. Fantino's office confirmed to The Globe this week that the "immediate" investment of $19.1-million in the OSI clinics would be spread over the next six years. And, they said, the remaining $140.1-million would be paid out as needed until the last veteran who is currently in an operational stress-injury program no longer needs funding. Because some veterans of Afghanistan are in their early 20s, they said the last of the $200-million may not be spent for 50 years.
Repeated attempts to get Mr. Fantino's staff to say that on the record were ignored.
Peter Stoffer, the veterans affairs critic for the New Democrats, said spreading the money over decades is "absolutely asinine," and the government will have to go back to the drawing table. "Why did they deliberately mislead Canadians once again?" he asked.
Frank Valeriote, the Liberal critic, said "it's really more hoodwinking and another display of their contempt for our veterans and their well-being."
The government says it is merely using cost accrual accounting demanded by the Auditor-General. A similar situation arose in 2011 when it was revealed that the $2-billion the government had committed a year earlier to enhance the New Veterans Charter was to be doled out in annual amounts of $40-million over 50 years.
As for this week's announcement, Michael Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he was shocked to learn that it could take 50 years for veterans to see the last of the $200-million. "This is disingenuous," Mr. Blais said. "They come out and mislead Canadians and make me think, and everyone else think, that this is being spread out over six years and now it's over 50? That's ludicrous."