MPs recommend benefits for life for seriously disabled veterans

WATCH: MPs stand united over the new recommendations, but they all agree that nothing is perfect

TORONTO – Fourteen recommendations were released from a months-long review of the New Veterans Charter by a Parliamentary committee Tuesday morning, including financial benefits for life for the most seriously disabled veterans.

Committee chair Greg Kerr highlighted access to services as one of the main problems heard by many of the 55 witnesses called during the review.

“When a person is medically discharged from the Forces, that person should be automatically in line to receive the services they deserve,” said Kerr.

Committee chair Greg Kerr standing at the podium with vice-chair and NDP MP Peter Stoffer (left) June 3, 2014. Shirlee Engel / Global News

He said the unanimous report urges the government to ensure a smooth transition for military members as they transition from active duty to Veterans Affairs.

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“So once they’re out of service, they’re still looked after and cared for.”

But one of the main points of contention was that the charter changed the disability award for veterans from monthly lifetime payments to a “lump sum” that maxes out at $285,000.

When asked Tuesday about lump sum payment estimates and associated costs, Vice-Chair of the Committee and NDP MP Peter Stoffer said that would be up to government to review, since it would be “too difficult” to recommend a specific number.

“We do make a recommendation asking the government to look at the disability payment and the amount,” said Stoffer. “It’s not just the lump sum that veterans would receive in this regard, they also are eligible for permanent impairment allowance and earnings loss benefit.”

Stoffer said the recommendations also address problems accessing such benefits, which he said were very difficult to achieve and apply for since many didn’t realize they were eligible.

A summary of the 14 recommendations released Tuesday:

  • Seriously disabled soldiers not to be medically released until: they’re in stable medical condition, their medical records have been transferred to Veterans Affairs Canada, they’re put in contact with a case manager and the healthcare plan including follow-up is identified wherever they’ll live
  • The Veterans Bill of Rights should be included in the charter and Pension Act to highlight Canadians’ and government’s obligation to compensate veterans
  • Most seriously disabled veterans will receive financial benefits for life, including better access to the permanent impairment allowance
  • Earnings loss benefit set at 85 per cent of net income up to $70,000 and disability award paid once rehab is completed
  • All veterans with service-related disabilities and families entitled to same benefits, support as part of rehab whether Reserve or Regular Force
  • Canadian Forces work with Veterans Affairs Canada to make Military Family Resource Centres available to veterans
  • Spouses/partners of disabled veterans should be given independent access to Veterans Affairs Canada’s psychosocial and vocational rehabilitation services and parents and children of veterans should have access to psychological counseling, plus financial support to “primary caregivers” of seriously disabled veterans
  • Veterans Affairs Canada should review amount of the disability award, implement a transparent process for determining its value, and improve support for financial counseling throughout the process
  • That the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) Long Term Disability program be provided only to veterans medically released for a disability not related to military service and eliminate overlap between (SISIP) programs and those provided by Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Greater flexibility for eligible vocational rehab training programs
  • More rigorous case manager training program, and review / adjust the standard under which one case manager is assigned to 40 veterans, to determine if that ratio is appropriate
  • For Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence to provide adequate resources for research and understanding of known and emerging manifestations of operational stress injuries
  • That Veterans Affairs Canada consider a payment system resulting in one comprehensive monthly payment that clearly identifies the source of funding, while ensuring the net benefit to the veteran is not reduced
  • Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence should table their official response to this report within 120 days, and also table a report outlining the progress made on implementing the recommendations in this report by January 30, 2015 and that the New Veterans Charter, as a “living document,” be amended to include a mandatory review of its provisions

In response to the review, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said in a statement he was “very proud” Canadian parliamentarians from all parties worked together to produce the report.

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“Its focus on the most seriously injured as well as Veterans families and how benefits are delivered by Veterans Affairs in the first place, is welcomed and appreciated,” said the statement.

“Our Government will examine the proposals carefully with an eye to serve our veterans in the same way they served our country.”

Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent called the recommendations an important step forward to resolve gaps in the charter, and deemed it a turning point for veterans’ issues.

“I am encouraged by the Minister of Veterans Affairs statement today that the Government is prepared to consider many of the report’s recommendations,” said Parent in his own statement.

“If Veterans Affairs Canada moves quickly on their implementation, we will be on the road to making the lives of many Veterans and their families easier as they transition from military to civilian life. The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman stands ready to offer assistance to the Department to move implementation forward as quickly as possible.”

The ombudsman first called for a review of the charter in spring 2013, and by fall 2013 the committee was directed by the minister of veterans affairs to review areas including financial, vocational rehab and assistance and family support.

Parent said if the government follows through on the recommendations, it will help veterans “achieve what every Canadian strives for: a good job, financial independence, a reasonable quality of personal and family life, along with the best possible health.”

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Instituted in April 2006, the charter lays out the compensation system for this country’s veterans, including health and disability benefits, rehabilitation and job programs. It also focuses on support to families and the way services are delivered by government.

The document has been under attack from some soldiers and family members who say it’s failing Canada’s veterans, compounded by the closure of eight regional Veterans Affairs offices and a heated confrontation in January between Fantino and a group of angry veterans.

The government also came under fire in the House of Commons over services for veterans after at least eight former soldiers took their own lives during a two-month span in December and January.

Second Vice-Chair of the Committee Frank Valeriote emphasized the review will push for “enhanced research” to “deal with symptoms and syndromes stemming from military service we may not have dealt with.”

“We will all here hold this government to account.”

With files from Global News reporter Laura Stone 

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