A Library of Parliament analysis has found that veterans' advocate Sean Bruyea is correct in saying disabled vets who qualify for the government’s new pension program will get less compensation than those who fall under the old Pension Act, despite Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan’s angry rebuttal to the contrary.
Conservatives are demanding that Mr. O’Regan apologize for going on the offensive in print and in court after Mr. Bruyea disparaged the Liberals’ planned Pensions for Life program in an Ottawa newspaper in early February.
Mr. Bruyea argued that the new Pensions For Life, which take effect next year and will go to veterans who applied for benefits in 2006 or later, will fall short of what is given to veterans such as him, who applied before 2006 and fall under the old Pension Act.
Even though VAC bureaucrats told Mr. O’Regan’s office that Mr. Bruyea’s numbers were largely correct, the Minister fired back two weeks later with a column of his own accusing Mr. Bruyea of “stating mistruths,” making “numerous other errors” and writing to suit his “own agenda.”
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, a former veterans affairs minister, told Mr. O’Regan during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday that during his time in government, he did not always agree with Mr. Bruyea but he always showed him respect “and I always knew that he knew his stuff.”
Mr. O’Toole said Mr. O’Regan must apologize for attacking Mr. Bruyea in public and for sending two government lawyers and an intern to fight the disabled veteran in small-claims court when he launched a suit – subsequently dismissed by a judge – that accused the Minister of defaming him.
But Mr. O’Regan did not apologize.
“Ensuring that veterans and their families know about the benefits and programs available to them is essential to my job as Minister of Veterans Affairs,” he told the Commons. “It’s why we are working so hard to explain Pensions for Life as clearly as we can.”
When the Library of Parliament was asked earlier this year by Independent Liberal Senator Percy Downe to compare the benefits that will be received by newer veterans under the Pensions for Life with those of the Pension Act veterans, the Library found that Mr. Bruyea’s facts were accurate and his argument was legitimate.
The Library analyzed an example provided on the Veterans Affairs website of a corporal named Lauren, who was medically released at the age of 25 after being declared 100 per cent disabled and who is projected to die at the age of 83.
It found that if Lauren applied for benefits in 2006 or later, she would receive a lifetime payout under the Pensions for Life of $4,714,554.43. But she would receive $6,264,625.99 if she had applied before 2006 and fell under the old Pension Act.
The Minister’s office said Thursday that the methodology and scenarios used by the Library of Parliament are different than what was presented online by the Veterans Affairs department, which could lead to different outcomes, and that all of department’s assumptions and calculations were accurate.
In his column responding to Mr. Bruyea, the Minister criticized him for not taking into account the Income Replacement Benefit (IRB), which will pay 90 per cent of the prerelease salaries of veterans who are unable to work as a result of service-related injuries, when he calculated how much disabled veterans would receive under the new Pensions for Life.
Mr. Bruyea said he specifically excluded the IRB in his calculation because they are available at the same rates to all disabled veterans, even those like him who fall under the old Pension Act. What is different about the old plan and the new one, he said, is that Pension Act veterans will receive significantly more money for pain and suffering. The Library of Parliament analysis agrees with Mr. Bruyea.
When Mr. Bruyea took the matter to small-claims court in May seeking $25,000 for the damages he said the Minister’s rebuttal did to his reputation, government lawyers convinced a judge to throw out the case on the basis of Ontario’s Protection of Public Participation Act. The act is an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law created to discourage the use of litigation to stifle debate in the public interest. Mr. Bruyea plans to appeal.