Sean Bruyea: Veterans under attack

| October 28, 2013 | Last Updated: Oct 24 2:51 PM ET

Julian Fantino has has no idea if the needs of those who have sacrificed for our country are being met.

Veterans are in an uproar after Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino fanned the growing blaze of discontent amongst our former service men and women by penning an op-ed in which he claims there is a “tangle of misinformation regarding how Canada treats” its veterans, and that “a majority of Canada’s veterans receive the support and care they need.”

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), the department mandated to care for our veterans and their families, provides economic benefits to a mere 11% of the almost 700,000 Canadian Forces veterans. It is impossible for Mr. Fantino to know whether the remaining 89% are having their needs met, since no effort is being made to track this population.

Canada is one of the few Western countries that does not provide identification cards to veterans. And VAC has consistently refused to track veteran suicides. By contrast, Australia provides economic benefits to approximately 80% of its veterans.

The Minister focused his comments on legislation enacted in 2006, which replaced lifelong monthly disability payments with one-time, lump sum payments for injured veterans. This “wholesale change to veterans’ support and services,” known as the New Veterans Charter, was implemented in the midst of the Afghan war, which had a profound impact on many of our troops. Our military members had no say in the dissolution of the lifetime disability payments.

Since that time, Mr. Fantino’s government has wrongly taken credit for the $4.7-billion that has been cumulatively added to the department’s budget. Cost-of-living increases that are required by law account for nearly 50% of that total. Most of the remaining money was allocated in 2005 when bureaucrats anticipated the upfront cost of replacing lifelong payments with lump sums — a move that was intended to save the department billions of dollars.

The Minister insists that the lump-sum program does not “simply throw money at a problem or a person.” This is a richly misguided claim. The policy is designed to transfer money to veterans and their families now, while leaving most recipients without anything to show for their lifelong injuries in the decades to come.

And veterans are worse off because of it: Even with all the veterans programs taken into account, the Veterans’ Ombudsman concluded that the “overall value” of the New Veterans Charter programs is below the benefits paid under the old lifelong disability program. Moreover, the New Veterans Charter provides economic benefits for less than 1% of Canadian veterans.

The Minister asserts that his Department implemented “over 160 recommendations that were determined after wide consultation.” However, repeated efforts by the Royal Canadian Legion and other veterans’ groups to obtain a detailed accounting of the ethereal changes resulting from these recommendations have yet to materialize.

Mr. Fantino promises an upcoming review of the lump-sum legislation in Parliament will work towards “appropriate change” to address the “needs” of veterans and their families. However, the previous Parliamentary review proposed 16 areas of change, each necessitating a handful of specific remedies. The result: The bureaucracy ignored all but four specific remedies.

The Minister’s factual cherry picking has served to further inflame veterans and their families, who are far too bruised by bureaucratic insensitivity and empty political rhetoric. Veterans and their families must define what is “appropriate change” and what they “need.” It is nothing less than condescending paternalism for a government department to tell a veteran what he or she “needs.”

National Post

Sean Bruyea is a retired military intelligence officer and frequent commentator on veteran, military and government issues.