Robbing veterans of their rights

by Sean Bruyea and Tom Hoppe-THE NATIONAL POST-April 3, 2006-pg. A.14

An open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Sixty years ago, our fathers and grandfathers returned from war. In recognition of their service, they were provided with comprehensive veteran benefits. As the years passed, Canadian Forces (CF) members may have received less than Second World War veterans. But still, they were given the dignity of a lifelong pension if disabled, as well as rehabilitation and income support for their disabilities.

But the new veterans bill, C-45, which came into effect on April 1, will give less to the disabled soldier returning from Afghanistan than his father and grandfather received at the end of the two World Wars or Korea.

Under this new legislation, disabled veterans, including those returning from Afghanistan, will not be entitled to a pension, but instead will receive a lump-sum payment. The lump sum is something the veteran community opposes. It is nothing more than a callous cost-saving measure by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, the new veterans bill no longer provides a lifetime disability award payable to widows of disabled veterans.

The new bill also removes all income support for disabled veterans and their survivors after age 65. What income support is available in the new legislation pays out less than $1,200 a month and claws back other income. Since CF veterans qualify for CPP after 65, this program is an empty decoration.

Moreover, the Canadian Forces veteran will, under this new legislation, no longer have access to government-subsidized university education. Furthermore, the new bill does not address issues such as disabled veterans’ ability to qualify for mortgage and insurance benefits that average Canadians regard as essential. Previous generations of veterans were provided such assistance for reintegration into civilian life merely because they were veterans – - they did not have to be disabled. Surely CF members who serve in the hostile environments of the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and were wounded, are equally deserving of such support.

The new legislation essentially ends nine decades of social conscious in caring for disabled veterans and their families for life.

Veterans, like most Canadians, realize the means of government are not endless. But one must question why the Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan will receive dramatically less than previous generations while suffering the same disabilities. We may have changed the name for war by calling it peacekeeping, but bullets and bombs cause the same damage in Afghanistan as they did on Vimy Ridge or in Normandy.

There is a critical link between the care of veterans and the ongoing operations of the Canadian Forces. CF personnel are not naive; and many know they can no longer trust the government to care for them should they become disabled.

We ask you not to implement the bill until a detailed consultation with those most directly affected by the legislation has taken place.

Sean Bruyea, Nepean, Ont.; Tom Hoppe, Kingston, Ont.