The New Veterans Charter: setting limits for vets


by Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol-ESPRIT DE CORPS-Jan 2007-pg. 12

Over the last year we have seen the funerals of far too many Canadian soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, over 200 soldiers were wounded in Operation Athena. These newly-disabled soldiers will join the ranks of the over 150,000 serving and former Canadian Forces members who are dealing with physical and mental disabilities resulting from their military service. But those who may become disabled as a result of their service in Afghanistan will, on average, receive far less from the Canadian government than older generations of veterans.

Last year the Conservative government implemented the New Veterans Charter, which was tabled by the previous Liberal government. This new legislation is unique in that it represents the biggest single reversal by any Canadian government in caring for disabled veterans and their families.

Today, instead of a lifelong tax-free disability pension paid to disabled veterans before April 1, 2006, the Canadian soldier limping back from Afghanistan will receive a one-time lump sum payment of up to $250,000, an amount sure to widen most eyes. However, this maximum payout only applies to the soldier who is 100 per cent disabled, meaning he or she has likely lost the capacity for self-care. In Orwellian absurdity, bureaucrats have actually planned for the level of disability to be suffered by those wounded at around 14.2 per cent, which equates to a not-so-golden handshake of $35,598.

Also terminated under this new legislation is the lifetime monthly tax-free disability award paid to widows of disabled veterans. Furthermore, today’s newly-disabled veteran will no longer be entitled to income support for themselves and their survivors after they have reached age 65. Indeed, what income support is available after age 65 in the new legislation pays out less than $1,200 a month and claws back all other income including investment and interest income from what little the veteran or survivor may have saved from the modest lump-sum payment.

Since most people and all Canadian Forces veterans also qualify for CPP after 65, the program post-65 is nothing more than a facade. In the new charter, all income support is tied to participating in a government-controlled work rehabilitation plan that does not provide free university, unlike previous veterans’ programs. Veterans and their families must continue to abide by such demeaning intrusions into their dignity until age 65. It is no surprise that this part of the new legislation has earned the well-deserved nickname “CF Workfare.”

So how could the veteran community have stood by and allowed the government to pass such draconian legislation? The answer is simple; like most of the Canadian public, the veteran community was not a party to the details of the charter. In a gross distortion of Parliamentary custom and convention, the new veterans bill was fast-tracked through the House of Commons with absolutely no debate. Moreover, the previous government refused to put the veterans’ legislation before a House of Commons committee where its potential impact could have been examined in detail.

Had this happened, veterans, their families, and the health care professionals who treat them would have had a chance to address the shortcomings of the bill.

Veterans Affairs is quick to claim that the veteran community was properly consulted. In reality, a carefully selected representative from each of only six veterans organizations was provided with an abbreviated version of the bill, essentially a press release, after which they were sworn to secrecy and were not able to discuss their knowledge of the new legislation with their membership. Is this consultation?

Most likely these disabled soldiers and their families will not be begging in the streets. However, should Canadians quietly accept that the sacrifices of the men and women in Afghanistan mean less financially than the sacrifices of those who fought in the battles of World War II and the peacekeeping missions which followed? Is a veteran disabled or killed before the new charter came into effect on April 1, 2006 worth more than a veteran disabled or killed on or after April 2, 2006?

Granted, providing adequate and fair lifetime financial and healthcare assistance to young, disabled soldiers and their families is not cheap nor are the public purses bottomless. But a just and compassionate society that truly values its democratic principles must be ready to care for those who are ordered to defend those very same values and principles. Otherwise, we should think twice before we send the next contingent of troops to fight overseas.

Sean Bruyea, a disabled veteran, served 14 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He currently works as an advocate for other disabled veterans. Robert Smol served over 20 years as an officer with the CF. He is currently a teacher and freelance writer in Toronto.

COPYRIGHT 2007 S.R. Taylor Publishing