Veterans and their supporters are accusing the federal Liberals of falling far short of a campaign commitment to provide all Canadians who have served in uniform with a university or college education.
The complaint that the new Education and Training Benefit does not match what was promised in the days before the 2015 election comes as veterans groups say the “pensions for life” that were also part of the Liberal platform pay much less than what was offered under the old Pension Act to military personnel who retired before 2006 .
“Politicians need to stop expecting veterans will swoon at empty political promises,” Sean Bruyea, a veterans’ advocate, told a news conference on Tuesday.
“Our veterans deserve equal partnership at the democratic and policy table,” he said. Veterans deserve “universal programs for education, tuition and family support as well as a reinstatement of the lifelong Pension Act monthly payments, not scraps and crumbs from capricious campaign promises.”
While trying to muster support for his Liberal Party before the most recent federal vote, Justin Trudeau said he would restore the lifelong pensions that were scrapped when the New Veterans Charter came into effect in 2006. At the same time, Mr. Trudeau said: “We’ll also help them secure a bright future. We’ll cover the cost of four years of postsecondary education for every veteran who wants one.”
The Liberal campaign platform made the same promise, saying that “to help veterans re-enter the workforce and to help expand Canada’s skilled labour force, we will invest $80-million every year to create a new Veterans Education Benefit. This benefit will provide full support for the costs of up to four years of college, university, or technical education for Canadian Forces veterans after completion of service.”
But the Veterans’ Education and Training Benefit, which was announced in the 2017 budget, promised just $133.9-million over six years – an average of a little over $22-million a year. It is not available to all veterans as Mr. Trudeau promised, only those who left the military after April, 2006.
And the amount paid depends on how long the person has been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Those with less than six years of service will not qualify, and the maximum for those with less than 12 years will be $40,000.
Although about 5,000 members retire from the armed forces every year, the government predicts fewer than 140 new vets will receive the education benefit annually once a backlog of about 1,000 has been processed.
Questions about the benefit that were put to the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan and the Veterans Affairs department on Tuesday received no response by late afternoon.
Meanwhile, Brian Forbes, the chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada, has conducted an analysis of the pensions for life that Mr. O’Regan announced for New Veterans Charter vets in December and found that they pay far less than what was offered under the Pension Act.
According to Mr. Forbes, the new pensions for life will pay a maximum of $3,650 a month to the most severely disabled vets, while the Pension Act pays as much as $7,444 a month to qualified disabled vets who retired before 2006.
Mr. O’Regan has said there is little disparity between the two programs, but Mr. Forbes says the numbers prove that the minister is misinformed.
The commitment to restore the pensions for life has been the subject of veterans’ expectations for the past three years, Mr. Forbes said.
But the pensions announced by the Liberal government “didn’t come close to closing the gap,” he said. “We take the view that that commitment has basically been unfulfilled.”