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Politics Ottawa commits $165-million to compensate 270,000 shortchanged veterans

Repaying hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans and their survivors for a calculating error that deprived them of some of their pensions for seven years will cost $165-million, the federal government says.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan revealed the error and compensation package Monday, on the eve of Remembrance Day, even as the federal NDP called on the government to ensure all money earmarked for veterans’ benefits is actually spent.

Veterans Affairs Canada miscalculated adjustments to the disability pensions of 270,000 veterans, RCMP members and their survivors between 2003 and 2010 because it didn’t properly account for a change in personal tax exemptions, O’Regan said.

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Most of the affected veterans were shortchanged several hundred dollars, though some lost thousands of dollars because of the error, which O’Regan said was only recently flagged to the government by veterans’ ombudsman Guy Parent.

While the minister promised that all veterans would be compensated, payments aren’t expected to begin until 2020, which O’Regan blamed on the sheer number of Canadians affected by the problem.

Complicating matters is the fact as many as 120,000 of the affected veterans, notably those who served in the Second World War and in Korea, have died. O’Regan’s spokesman, Alex Wellstead, said their survivors and estates will still be eligible.

News of the error and compensation came as the New Democrats tabled a motion on Monday designed to pressure the Liberals to spend $372 million that was earmarked for veterans’ benefits in recent years but wasn’t spent.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said veterans have received inadequate assistance and faced barriers when it comes to accessing services and support for far too long because money approved by Parliament ends up going unused and being returned to the treasury.

The routine of letting money “lapse” needs to end, Singh said, which is why the NDP decided to use a rare opposition day to introduce a non-binding motion calling on the government to roll unspent money into budgets for the next year.

Members of Parliament were scheduled to debate the motion into the evening on Monday and vote on it Tuesday.

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Successive governments have defended their inability to spend all the money set aside for veterans, saying they often ask Parliament for too much money to ensure there isn’t a shortfall when former service members need assistance.

O’Regan was to make the same point in the House of Commons on Monday night, saying in prepared remarks: “Whether 10 veterans come forward or 10,000, no veteran who is eligible for a benefit will be turned away because we do not have the funds.

“If a veteran is eligible for a benefit, they get it. When that pendulum swings the other way and there are fewer veterans seeking a particular benefit; the money stays in the consolidated revenue.”

Critics, however, have blamed the lapses on long wait times and other barriers that make it difficult for veterans to access services, and said the unspent money could be used to help veterans in a variety of other ways.

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