OTTAWA—The Liberals created an unnecessary and enduring lightning rod for veteran discontent in 2005. Back then, they rammed legislation through Ottawa’s sausage factory, replacing lifelong pensions with one-time lump sums to compensate veterans with lifelong disabling injuries.
Beginning April 2019, the so-called “Pension for Life” will pay lip service to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to reinstate lifelong pensions for disabled veterans. It will also exacerbate festering wounds while providing less to future veterans with disabilities just as the 2019 election approaches.
This newspaper can be commended for publishing both sides of a sometimes complex debate: government claims Pension for Life will give more. Advocates after careful scrutiny, including me and Brian Forbes, chair of the National Council of Veterans Association, claim it will give less to those veterans who apply beginning April 1, 2019.
Not so incidentally, the highest office of non-partisan academic authority in Canada, the Library of Parliament, also concluded that the Pension for Life will give less to veterans asking for help in April 2019 or later than veterans under previous programs will receive.
Without delving into the wonky details, there are some key areas that will clearly inflame justified veteran disaffection.
Central to the Pension for Life is “pain and suffering compensation.” It pays out a tax-free monthly amount based on degree of disability to a maximum of $1,150. The average amount, given, past trends will be less than $230 monthly.
Currently, almost 60,000 veterans receive pre-2006 Pension Act benefits. This program pays a maximum tax-free monthly amount of almost $2,800 plus up to almost $700 for a spouse plus amounts for each child. The average, not including amounts for family, is around $650 monthly.
How did the Ottawa come up with $1,150 per month? Government confirms that this amount “was determined by converting the value of the maximum lump sum Disability Award of $360,000  into an age-adjusted monthly payment.” Other numbers confirm this annuity approach. Currently, the maximum lump sum of approximately $365,400 invested would have to earn just 3.8 per cent to return $1,157/monthly. The maximum five-year GIC rate is now 3.6 per cent. With Canada’s key lending rate on an upward trend, higher returns appear inevitable.
Taking the lump sum in lieu of the paltry $1,150/month will be a better choice for many veterans with disabilities.
What about those 70,000 or so veterans who have already received a lump sum amount but no lifelong pension for their disability? Their discontent sparked a lawsuit garnering national attention. The 2019 plan pays them a portion of the monthly “pain and suffering compensation.” The portion will be determined with what government claims is a simple calculation taking into account age, amount of lump sum received, time since the lump sum received, degree of disability, and, yes, gender.
The calculation was so simple that government did not publicly disclose for at least six months after last year’s announcement that men and not women will receive less per month given the same circumstances. However, what will fuel veterans’ ire more: only about 60 per cent of the nearly 70,000 veterans currently in receipt of a lump sum will receive “additional monthly amounts.” Apparently, almost 30,000 lump sum recipients will receive zero additional amounts for the pain and suffering compensation.
Government is right in saying that this ersatz lifelong pension is more than just pain and suffering payments. For the most disabled and those attempting to retrain or medically rehabilitate, there is income support. Paying 90 per cent of military salary, however, this benefit is and will be available to ALL eligible veterans, whether they received the lifelong Pension Act pension, the lump sum disability award, or the 2019 monthly pain and suffering compensation.
One new initiative: disabled veterans unable to work will be entitled to an extremely modest one per cent per year increase in income payments for each year less than 20 years they served in the military. This falls far short of recommendations made over the past decade. The government’s own advisory groups, typically ignored by government, emphasized the need to compensate veterans for “probable earnings” including promotions that would have otherwise been earned.
All survivors in the case of a disabled veteran’s “service-related” death can receive income support. However, survivors of veterans who collect the pre-2006 lifelong pension also receive up to almost $2,100 monthly tax free plus an amount for each child. The 2019 pain and suffering compensation pays only the “residual amount” that is “leftover” from the so-called “reinstated lifelong pension.”
Improvement for disabled veterans has been a slow trickle of painfully inadequate or insensitively administered programs. Each successive generation of disabled veteran continues to suffer unnecessary injustices and inequities compared to their fellow veterans.
Remembrance Day is fast approaching. We should remember veterans’ sacrifices and finding ways to make those who survive whole again. Unfortunately, for many veterans and an increasing number of other Canadians, remembering injustice, inequity, and abusive bureaucratic practices has overshadowed honouring sacrifice.
Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada and author, has a graduate degree in public ethics, is a retired Air Force intelligence officer, and frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans’ issues. Mr. Bruyea filed a $25,000 defamation lawsuit against Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan on May 11, claiming the minister had defamed in a column published in The Hill Times on Feb. 26, which was a rebuttal to Mr. Bruyea’s Feb. 12 column also in The Hill Times. But an Ontario judge dismissed the case, saying the need to protect the freedom of expression is more important than any harm alleged to have been suffered by the outspoken veterans’ advocate, who represented himself in Ontario Superior Court. Mr. Bruyea is appealing the ruling.
The Hill Times