This piece was first published on the Hill Times website on February 12, 2018.
The new Liberal plan for veterans is all about saving money, yet again, at the expense of veterans.
The more Canadians and veterans learn of the 2019 Liberal programs, the more the confusion and anger grow. How do we survive the dizzying daze induced by trying to understand veterans’ benefits?
First, let’s cut through the thick and misleading rhetoric.
The issue: Injured veterans receiving pre-April 2006 Pension Act benefits collect more in pain and suffering payments than fellow veterans receive under the post-April 2006 New Veterans Charter lump sum program. Veteran outcry prompted the Liberals to announce a completely revised program to come into effect April 2019.
Government talking points: The New Veterans Charter and the April 2019 plan are superior because they offer more than just pain and suffering payments. They both provide medical and vocational rehabilitation, education, income loss, and medical care. The April 2019 plan claims to “re-establish” lifelong pensions.
The reality: All injured Canadian Forces veterans, under all three plans essentially have access to the same income loss, medical rehabilitation and care, as well as vocational rehabilitation and education (if not too disabled). We, therefore, can set those benefits aside and compare pain, suffering, and incapacity payments amongst the three programs.
The bottom line: Substantial differences between the three programs are striking. Pain, suffering, and incapacity are the most prolific veterans’ sacrifice on behalf of Canada and Canadians. And compensation for sacrifice is grossly unfair depending not upon date of injury, or release from the military but based upon arbitrary dates of application.
As the table shows, disability compensation has become increasingly miserly under each successive program introduced by the Liberals in 2005 and 2019. Veterans Affairs in a series of hypothetical scenarios claims that veterans will receive considerably more under the post April 2019 plan vs the New Veterans Charter. Furthermore, the government announcement asserts that the most disabled will benefit the greatest.
I was far too hasty (and confused) in swallowing this aspect of the announcement. Upon reflection, there is much deception here.
Setting aside the pre-2006 plans for now, when comparing the pre and post-April 2019 plan, both programs offer an incapacity allowance of roughly similar amounts. The pre-April 2019 New Veterans Charter is taxable at $1828/month while the post-April 2019 plan is tax free at $1,500/month. What is missing from the Liberal 2019 plan is the supplement currently available which pays $1,120/month. The Liberal 2019 plan has no equivalent. This supplement vanishes into fiscally thin air.
Under the April 2019 plan, the controversial lump sum still exists but veterans can instead a payment of up to $1150/month, depending upon level of disability and gender. Why a maximum of $1150? Veterans, including me, feared the government would merely offer the lump sum dissected and distributed over time, an option already in existence.
Veterans’ fears were justified. A VAC Q&A document indicates that the monthly amount up to $1150 “was determined by converting the value of the maximum lump sum of $360,000 into an age-adjusted monthly payment”.
Disturbingly, since “sex is a factor of life expectancy…the calculation used to convert lump sum amounts into monthly amounts must incorporate mortality rates which are sex dependent.” According to the 2019 plan, the lifetime payout to male and female veterans may be the same for similar disabilities, but females apparently will receive lower monthly payments. Female veterans should not be penalized for longevity. Their daily pain is no less nor should their suffering be amortized at a lower amount merely because they live longer.
The big picture: in terms of pain, suffering, and incapacity payments most if not all veterans who qualify for such benefits under the April 2019 plan will receive less than under programs currently available. The maximum disabled veterans under the current plan can receive is $35,392/year taxable plus a tax free lump sum of $365,400. Under the announced 2019 plan, the same veteran would receive a choice between $31,800/year tax free or the same lump sum plus $18,000/year tax free.
Additional existing and future benefits have highly restrictive criteria. Only 152 veterans have received the Critical Injury Benefit out of more than 62,000 recipients of the lump sum. Government estimates only six veterans per year will qualify going forward.
As for caregiver benefits, less than five per cent of the most disabled veterans receive the current program. The soon-to-be introduced new and improved Caregiver Relief Benefit will nearly triple that number but still represent less than 15% of seriously disabled veterans and less than two per cent of injured veterans in receipt of the lump sum.
Undoubtedly the starkest differences emerge when the New Veterans Charter and the post-April 2019 plan are both compared with the pre-2006 Pension Act programs. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, during the 2015 election campaign, promised to return to the lifelong pension. In fact the mandate letters for both former disgraced Minister Hehr and current Minister Seamus O’Regan commit to “re-establish lifelong pensions as an option for injured veterans”. However, the 2019 plan offers only 40% of the amount provided by the Pension Act.
Neither the 2006 nor the 2019 plans offer additional amounts for spouses and children, unlike the pre-2006 Pension Act. Furthermore, the manner that government determines disability levels has been far less generous post-2006 than pre-2006. As a result, the average monthly payment for pain and suffering under the 2019 plan could be less than 20% of the amount awarded under the pre-2006 Pension Act.
Government claims it is investing $3.6 billion in the post-April 2019 plan. However, it is unclear if this is new money or merely flimflam, rolling over money from existing programs into new programs. Sadistically procrastinating to bring about change, government has been able to transfer more than $1 billion over the past five years once paid to World War II veterans and their survivors towards the slow trickle of program changes for Canadian Forces veterans.
Veterans and their families have sacrificed much so that Canada and Canadians can prosper in safety and security. It is unclear what Ottawa is sacrificing to recognize the lifelong pain and suffering veterans endure on a daily basis.
Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Canadians for Accountability 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.