Veterans advocates say the government’s Pensions for Life program will create three different classes of veterans as some new applicants will receive less benefits than those who applied over the past 12 years and substantially less than those who applied earlier than that.
The Liberal government came to power in 2015 pledging to correct the unfairness that veterans say resulted with the adoption of the New Veterans Charter of 2006. But veterans advocates say the lifetime pensions, which were introduced last December, have not met that goal and have actually injected more inequality into an already unequal system.
The government is promising no veteran who is currently receiving benefits will see their compensation reduced as a result of the Pensions For Life program. But those who enter the system on or after April 1, 2019, when the new lifetime pensions take effect, will not be eligible for some benefits that are now available.
“They have taken away a benefit called the Career Impact Allowance Supplement, which is $12,000 a year,” said Brian Forbes, the chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations. “And yes, they are going to grandfather that benefit for current recipients. But, if I am a new applicant as of April 1, 2019, I don’t get access to it.”
Disabled veterans who applied for benefits prior to 2006, under the old Pension Act, receive regular pension payments. The New Veterans Charter replaced those pensions with a system based, in large part, on lump-sum payments. Those payments now reach a maximum of $365,400, which vets say is far less than the cumulative value of pension payments for pre-2006 veterans.
The government says the lifetime pensions that start next year will pay newer veterans who choose them over lump-sum payments as much or more than was offered through the old Pension Act.
But veterans advocates, including Sean Bruyea, have done calculations to show that the Pension Act still pays more – and a Library of Parliament analysis has confirmed that is the case.
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, when asked about some veterans getting less under the new program, said in an e-mail on Tuesday that the government is addressing complex needs of a large group of individuals.
“Veterans asked us for tailored programming to fit their individual needs and that’s what we’re working on so that we don’t continue down the road of a one size fits all system because we know that doesn’t work,” Mr. O’Regan said. “With our investments, veterans are better off now than when we formed government, and will be considerably better off after April 1, 2019 when Pension for Life comes into effect.”
The lifetime pensions are just one of several controversial issues confronting the minister.
On Tuesday, an NDP motion calling on the Liberal government to reallocate the hundreds of millions of dollars in lapsed funding to improve services and benefits for Canadian veterans, passed the House of Commons with all-party support. And Veterans Affairs said it will repay 270,000 former military members a combined amount of at least $165-million over the next two years after an accounting error was discovered by the Veterans Ombudsman.
Mr. Bruyea is also taking Mr. O’Regan to court for the damage he says a newspaper column written by Mr. O’Regan has done to his reputation. Mr. O’Regan accused Mr. Bruyea earlier this year of “stating mistruths,” making “numerous other errors” in Mr. Bruyea’s analysis of how vets would be worse off under the new program, despite bureaucrats with Veterans Affairs saying Mr. Bruyea’s figures are largely correct.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons on Tuesday to defend his government’s treatment of veterans. “In three years we increased financial supports by over $10-billion, putting more money in veterans’ pockets, increasing mental-health supports,” Mr. Trudeau said.
That $10-billion includes $3.6-billion that the government says it will pay for the Pensions For Life – money that represents the long-term incremental difference between what disabled vets will collectively receive through the monthly pensions over the course of their lifetimes, and what they would have been given through the lump-sum payments.
But little new money, if any, will be paid for the pensions over the next decade to the point Veterans Affairs did not have to complete a cost-benefit analysis for the Treasury Board that is required for programs anticipated to cost at least a million dollars annually. And the government will save money from the Pensions For Life program for the foreseeable future because it will not have to pay as many lump-sum awards.
Gord Johns, the NDP critic for veterans affairs, said the Liberal government is using the program for lifetime pensions as a tool to save money. “They misled veterans with their Pensions For Life,” Mr. Johns said. “We learn that it is less generous, and it creates unfairness with its tiered system.”