The umbrella organization for Canada’s veterans groups maintains former military personnel are angry that the federal government’s new lifetime pensions will not meet what they thought was a Liberal campaign promise to bring compensation for Canada’s newer disabled vets in line with what is paid to those who claimed benefits before 2006.
Brian Forbes, the chair of the National Council of Veteran Associations, has conducted an analysis of the Liberal government’s proposed Pension for Life program, which will be available starting next year to veterans who applied for benefits in 2006 or later. The report of that assessment will be released at a veterans' summit in late October.
It concurs with the findings of veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea, who says disabled veterans, such as him, who applied for benefits prior to 2006 and fall under the old Pension Act will get more than those who qualify for the Pension for Life. Mr. Forbes calls the new program a “betrayal of the commitment to Canada’s veterans’ community.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan has held more than 40 town halls with veterans to extol the merits of the proposed pension plan. He also engaged in a public fight, both in print and in the court, with Mr. Bruyea after Mr. Bruyea wrote a column in the Hill Times, an Ottawa newspaper, in February that disparaged the new program.
The minister “has been touring the country trying to market his Pension for Life concept and it’s caused a great deal of anger in many circles of the veterans community because he’s trying to sell something that is not truly correct,” Mr. Forbes said in a telephone interview last week. “And what it comes down to is the government is going to try to suggest to veterans at the summit coming up that they have somehow satisfied an election commitment of 2015, and we just don’t agree.”
In advance of the last federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that, if the Liberals won, the lifetime pensions for disabled vets, which disappeared in 2006 when the New Veterans Charter became law, would be re-established.
Mr. Forbes says in his analysis that “it was clearly understood that this commitment would specifically address the basic discrimination” that exists between what is provided under the Pension Act and what will be provided under the program that replaced it.
John Embury, a spokesman for the minister, said Friday that the objective of the new plan is to move away from the Pension Act in which “the government cuts you a cheque and says good luck. There were shortcomings in what was offered under the Pension Act that our new programs and supports have addressed.”
The new plan offers better career transition assistance, better education and training, and increased investments in veterans' mental health, Mr. Embury said.
But Mr. Forbes says in his analysis that “financial security remains a fundamental necessity to the successful implementation of any wellness or rehabilitation strategy.”
He looked at two scenarios, one in which a veteran suffers a severe and permanent impairment, and one in which he or she is moderately impaired.
In the case of the severe impairment, he says, a veteran who qualified for the Pension for Life will get $3,650 a month, but the Pension Act veteran who has no spouse or children will get $6,118 a month. And those Pension Act vets who are married and have kids will get even more.
In the case of a veteran who is determined to be just 35-per-cent disabled, according to the Forbes analysis, the Pension for Life veteran will get $402.50 monthly, while the single Pension Act vet will get $977.20.
Opposition members stood in the House of Commons on Thursday and Friday last week to demand Mr. O’Regan apologize for his treatment of Mr. Bruyea.
Even though the Veterans Affairs Department said the numbers used by the veterans' advocate in his February column were largely correct, the minister fired back with a column of his own accusing Mr. Bruyea of “stating mistruths” and writing to suit his “own agenda.”
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 persuaded 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.