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Politics Parliamentary Budget Officer says the government saved tens of billions by abandoning old Pensions Act for disabled veterans

The federal government put itself on track to save tens of billions of dollars over the lifetimes of disabled veterans – and significantly reduce benefits it pays them – when it replaced the old Pension Act with the New Veterans Charter in 2006, says a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

In addition, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux says, while most disabled veterans will get a small increase in their lifetime benefits when the government’s new Pensions For Life program takes effect on April 1, the most severely disabled vets will get less than they would have if the benefits remained unchanged. About 3 per cent of veterans will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each between the day they retire and the day they die.

Veterans with the most severe impairments “will be the main losers of the transition to the Pension For Life regime,” Mr. Giroux told reporters after the release of the report on Thursday morning. That’s because the government will remove the Career Impact Allowance Supplement that pays $1,145.36 every month to highly impaired vets with diminished earning capacity.

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Veterans have been saying since 2006, when the New Veterans Charter took effect, that the plan paid disabled former soldiers much less than the tax-free monthly payments awarded under the old Pension Act.

The aim of the Charter, which relied heavily on lump-sum payments to compensate for disabilities, was to move to an approach based more on rehabilitation than monetary compensation. But it left less money in the pockets of veterans who applied for benefits after April 1, 2006.

Six severely disabled veterans of Afghanistan took the government to court in 2012 demanding that they receive compensation equal to that paid to veterans who applied for benefits before the Charter became law. Justin Trudeau campaigned with them in 2015 and promised to bring back the lifetime pensions should his Liberals win power.

But the veterans – who lost their case last year when it went to the Supreme Court – say the Pensions for Life that were introduced by the Liberal government in late 2017 do not come close to meeting what is given to Pension Act vets. And the PBO report proves them right.

Had the Pension Act remained in place, the PBO says the government would have spent $50-billion over the lifetimes of veterans who are currently in the system and of those who will apply for benefits over the next five years. The introduction of the New Veterans Charter – now called the Veterans Well-being Act – cut that figure to $29-billion, the PBO says.

The Pensions For Life will increase it slightly to $32-billion.

Harjit Sajjan, who is now both Defence and Veterans Affairs Minister after the resignation from cabinet last week of former veterans minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said the new program will look at all of the potential needs of veterans.

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“When it comes to our veterans, our government is absolutely committed to making sure that we look after them. We need to make sure that we went through a very thorough assessment, talked to veterans’ groups, talk to veterans to make sure that we’re meeting their needs,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters. “We knew that the Pension Act itself didn’t look at the totality of the current veterans. So that’s one of the reasons we had to look at the uniqueness to each veteran. And that’s why the Pensions For Life is so important.”

One of the people who has been the most critical, both of the New Veterans Charter and of the planned Pensions For Life, is veterans advocate Sean Bruyea.

He has launched a defamation suit against Seamus O’Regan, the Indigenous Services Minister who had the veterans’ portfolio prior to Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Mr. O’Regan accused him of “stating mistruths,” and making “numerous other errors” after Mr. Bruyea wrote a column last year saying the Pensions For Life will pay some veterans less than those who are already in the system – and much less than what is given to veterans such as him who fall under the old Pension Act.

Mr. Bruyea said he felt vindicated after the release of the PBO report.

“On average, there’s a small increase for the vast majority of veterans," Mr. Bruyea said, “but those are not the ones that have the most needs. The ones that have the most needs, the most severely injured veterans, will be worse off under this Pensions for Life.”

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