Canadians are hearing more and more about the deep gaps in care and benefits for Veterans. At the forefront of discussion is the New Veterans Charter, a set of benefits adopted in 2006 without clause-by-clause review in Parliamentary Committee and in the Senate because of a perceived view that the Pension Act did not meet the modern needs of many injured and ill Veterans. For many, the Disability Pension did not provide enough for the basic necessities, and the Pension Act did not adequately look after ill and injured Veterans and their families or facilitate their transition to civilian life.
When the New Veterans Charter (NVC) was established, replacing the Pension Act, it brought a holistic approach to Veterans’ care and benefits. The NVC offered a number of benefits that the Pension Act did not provide including additional financial benefits, disability benefits, rehabilitation services, health services, education assistance, and job placement assistance to address not only financial support, but also continuing care and quality of life. However, the NVC did not come without its faults.
When the NVC was introduced, the Legion, as part of a multidisciplinary group which included representatives from other Veterans’ organizations, medical specialists, government, the Canadian Armed Forces and others was invited to participate in the New Veterans Charter working group. The Legion was behind the New Veterans Charter because it was promised that the charter would be a “living charter” which could be amended as flaws or gaps were identified. Once the Charter was adopted, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group was formed to help identify issues and make recommendations to the Senate and Parliamentary Committee on gaps in care and benefits. Recommendations for change were identified early on, yet, despite assurances the Charter would be amended as gaps were identified, the government left it neglected for five years before making the first amendment. Progress has been excruciatingly slow since, and now we see the massive holes left as our Veterans return from conflicts in dire need of support.
The men and women who serve our country sign up voluntarily, knowing the risks and dangers of the job. The government has an obligation to ensure all who served, and their families, are cared for. There are significant and critical faults in the NVC that must be addressed for Canada’s Veterans. Of particular concern is the need for lifelong financial security for ill and injured Veterans. Some Veterans have been calling to abolish the New Veterans Charter all together, and reinstate the Pension Act with its Disability Pension. While some argue the Pension Act and the Disability Pension provided more financial compensation and stability than the New Veterans Charter, the Legion disagrees.
It is the Legion’s position that there are significant benefits in the New Veterans Charter
that focus on quality of life that were not provided through the Pension Act,
and that there are better options for life-long financial security
than simply re-instating the Disability Pension.
Comparing the Pension Act with the New Veterans Charter
Comparisons continue to be made between the Disability Award (sometimes referred to as the lump sum payment) paid out under the New Veterans Charter and the monthly Disability Pension paid out under the Pension Act. At the core of the comparison, the old Disability Pension appears to provide greater compensation and more lifelong financial stability to ill and injured Veterans. What is often missed in the comparison between the NVC Disability Award benefits and the Pension Act Disability Pension are the additional lifelong and short term financial benefits awarded through the NVC, as well as the non-financial benefits the NVC offers in addressing care and quality of life. The NVC provides a new approach to Veteran care that focuses not only on providing financial stability, but also supports wellness and quality of life.
Comparing Financial Compensation
While there are significant additional benefits in the New Veterans Charter, there are critical faults and inequalities between the two systems that must be addressed, and that is what the Legion has been advocating for. Below we look at the benefits and gaps in compensation for ill and injured Veterans.
Life-long Financial Security for Seriously Ill and Injured Veterans
Proponents for the Disability Pension argue that the Pension Act provided a secure, fixed monthly payment for life, while the New Veterans Charter provides a lump sum payment that may be spent all at once, leaving the Veteran with nothing afterwards. In addition, proponents argue the Disability Pension gave eligible ill or injured Veterans a monthly payment for life that is greater than the one-time Disability Award received through the NVC.
For the most seriously ill and injured Veterans, those who are unable to work again and whose quality of life has been drastically impacted, their ability to lead a financially secure life and to reintegrate into civilian life has been dramatically affected. It is these Veterans are who are suffering the greatest under the NVC, and the Legion has long been advocating to ensure they have access to lifelong financial security. While on the surface, returning to the Pension Act may appear to be the best choice, it is the Legion’s position that the benefits offered under the NVC, along with the recommendations we are advocating for to strengthen the Charter, can actually pay out more in lifelong benefits for the most seriously ill and injured Veterans and their families.
As a start, through the New Veterans Charter, if the Veteran is taking part in VAC rehabilitation services, they may qualify for the Earnings Loss Benefit (ELB), a taxable, monthly benefit provided up until age 65 that ensures total income will be at least 90% minimum of the gross pre-release military salary. The Legion is advocating both to increase the ELB benefit to provide 100% of pre-release income and also to continue this benefit for life. In essence, this will provide an income for life for seriously ill and injured Veterans, and guarantee their future financial security.
The NVC offers the Permanent Impairment Allowance (PIA), to be renamed the Career Impact Allowance (CIA) in April 2017. The PIA provides a taxable, monthly benefit, payable for life for those whose career options have been limited because of a service-related illness or injury.
Financial Compensation for Ill and Injured Veterans
Proponents for the Disability Pension argue that the Pension Act provided greater financial compensation over the NVC, thereby better compensating them for their injury. However, when looking at compensation for injured Veterans, it is important to look not only at financial compensation, but also quality of life. The Charter provides additional benefits that, in terms of achieving optimal health and quality of life for the Veteran, exceeds that which the Pension Act provided. In the case of Veterans whose illness or injury is not incapacitating, these additional benefits help Veterans transition to civilian life, manage or overcome their injury or illness, and live healthy and well.
The Pension Act did not provide the supports or programs to help an ill or injured Veteran achieve their optimal health and wellbeing, meaning they could function well in society, transition to civilian life and return to work. The payment awarded under the old Pension Act was a fixed monthly payment that was determined by the type of injury the Veteran sustained, and did not take into consideration the full extent of the disability. For example, if a Veteran lost a leg, they received X amount each month. If a Veteran injured their back, they received Y amount each month. The disability was not assessed in terms of the ‘impact’ that injury may have on the individual’s life. It did not look at whether the individual would have difficulty returning to work. It did not consider whether the individual may require expensive rehabilitation services.
Under the NVC, in addition to the ELB and PIA, the programs outlined below provide additional financial stability and supports to achieve quality of life. These programs, along with the recommendations the Legion is advocating for, will ensure ill and injured Veterans can achieve financial security, as well as career, social and emotional wellbeing.
- Canadian Forces Income Support
- Supplementary Retirement Benefit for Veterans and families
- Retirement Income Security Benefits for Veterans and families
- Critical Injury Benefit
- Death Benefit
- Rehabilitation services for medical, psycho-social and vocational needs
- Financial assistance to help Veterans remain independent and self-sufficient in their home and their community
- Monthly income to replace lost wages while participating in a rehabilitation program
- Operational Stress Injury support and mental health services for Veterans and families
- Long term care
- Access to group health insurance for Veterans and families
- Career counselling, education, training and job-search support for Veterans and families
- Educational grants for children
- Family caregiver relief benefit for respite services for families
In addition to the benefits listed above, the Legion continues to advocate for further support and benefits for ill and injured Veterans.
The Legion Continues to Advocate for Change
While the Legion supports the concept of the New Veterans Charter, we continue to advocate for a full review of the Charter and press the government for changes. As it stands, the Charter is not sufficient to meet the needs of today’s Veterans and their families.
There is still financial inequality in standard of living when comparing the two systems, and the NVC does not adequately compensate the most seriously ill and injured Veterans in the long term. It is this group of Veterans and their families who must be financially compensated for their inability to work again. And it is this group that desperately needs financial support to help the Veteran and their family manage and live with the injury or illness.
The financial compensation and quality of life benefits outlined above, along with the recommendations the Legion is advocating for below, will address the financial disparity for those with incapacitating injuries or illness and will give the most seriously ill and injured Veterans lifelong financial security and care support that exceeds what was offered through the Pension Act. For Veterans whose illness or injury is not incapacitating, the programs above, along with the recommendations below, will ensure they will be financially secure and have the ability to achieve a high quality of life.
The Legion is currently focusing on advocating to improve the following deficiencies:
- Increase the Earnings Loss Benefit (ELB) to provide 100% of pre-release income and provide ELB for life (not terminated at 65, as is currently the case). The projected career earnings of a CF Member should determine the minimum ELB.
- Conduct essential academic research in the areas of Veteran physical and mental health to ensure an integrated approach to establishing Veterans Affairs Canada Entitlement Eligibility Guidelines. Research will guide the development of comprehensive support for ill and injured Veterans.
- Provide financial compensation, support, education, and training to enable a family member to become a primary caregiver.
- Provide recognition and a family identification card for spouses and dependents of serving members and Veterans.
- Expand the Military/Veteran Family Services Pilot Program to all Military Family Resource Centres and make available to all Veterans and their families.
- Streamline access to long term disability process and vocational rehabilitation programs to ensure all Veterans have easy access to rehabilitation and income support.
Through the Legion’s advocacy efforts and the efforts of others, our recommendations combined with the supports and services already available through the NVC will ensure that all Veterans and their families will have lifelong financial security, and the resources and support to live healthy and well.
For those who served to protect the very rights and freedoms we enjoy today, we owe our Veterans our commitment to work on their behalf. We stand committed, working to ensure the care and benefits of Canada’s Veterans are the best they can possibly be and that all governments honour their obligations to the men and women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.