Veterans charter needs overhaul; pension clawbacks should end, Liberals told

THE CANADIAN PRESS Jan 28, 2010 16:18:00 PM

OTTAWA – The country’s recently revised system of veterans benefits needs an overhaul, Canada’s walking wounded have told Liberal MPs.

Former soldiers and police officers, speaking Thursday at a forum sponsored by the Opposition on Parliament Hill, outlined their grievances over the 2006 Veterans Charter.

Sean Bruyea, a former military intelligence officer and long-time veterans advocate, said the charter penalizes veterans.

In many cases, it replaces long-term disability pensions with lump-sum payments.

Bruyea said that was done because the bureaucracy wanted to protect the country from the “alarming future liability” of soldier’s pensions.

“That is, to save money,” Bruyea said. “It is indeed tragic that the bureaucracy sees us all here as liabilities.”

However, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said vets can receive 75 per cent of their military wages as long as they’re in a rehabilitation program – in addition to the lump-sum payment.

“They not only receive one lump-sum payment and we leave them there. Oh no,” he said in an interview. 

Blackburn pointed out that all parties gave unanimous approval to the veterans’ charter and that it has resulted in an extra $500 million a year being devoted to returning soldiers.

Retired general Romeo Dallaire, now a Liberal senator, said National Defence is much improved when it comes to recognizing and assessing soldiers who suffer from trauma, but the veterans affairs system still has a long way to go in treatment.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party will be “watching very carefully” to make sure the March 4 budget includes “necessary investments” for veterans. He did not put a price tag on his expectations.

 Ignatieff also pledged to revise the veterans’ charter, enhance its protections and make sure that veterans get “every conceivable help” for post-traumatic stress and physical injuries.

 “If you serve Canada, you deserve the best that Canada can provide when you come home,” he said.

 Blackburn said the charter is already under revision. He expects it to be completed by the end of the year.