Dozens of Canadian First World War veterans’ widows still get pensions

Click to play video: 'The Canadian government spends $110,000 a month on widows of First World War veterans'
The Canadian government spends $110,000 a month on widows of First World War veterans
Almost a century after the First World War ended, 54 Canadian women are still getting veterans' benefits linked to the war, Global News has learned – Sep 7, 2016

Fifty-four Canadian women are getting veterans’ survivor benefits linked to their husbands’ First World War service, Global News has learned.

In all cases, the payments were being made to widows because their husbands had disabilities linked to the war.

The widows’ average age is 92, Veterans Affairs Canada spokesperson Alexandre Bellemare wrote in an e-mail. On average, they are being paid $2,021.80 a month.

So as the hundredth anniversaries of First World War battles come and go, the federal government is still paying about $110,000 a month to widows of men wounded in them.

Eleven live in Ontario, 12 in British Columbia, and 11 outside Canada, Bellemare said. In smaller numbers, some live in all provinces but Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The data was released Wednesday in response to a question from Global News.

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The couples must have had a substantial age difference. Someone in her early 90s now would have been born in the mid-1920s, while an 18-year-soldier wounded toward the end of the war, in 1918, would have been born in about 1900.

Disabled veterans are paid according to the severity of the disability, expressed as a percentage. A widow of a disabled First World War veteran would be paid her husband’s full disability pension if her husband’s disability was rated over 48 per cent, and half if it was rated between 5 per cent and 48 per cent.

WATCH: Canada’s veterans are getting younger. It comes as World War II and Korean War vets pass on – and generations of men and women who’ve served in Afghanistan or peacekeeping efforts leave the Canadian Forces. 

In a 1918 Canadian table, total blindness was rated at a 100 per cent disability, and the loss of one eye was 60 per cent. Total deafness was worth 50 per cent. Holes in the skull were rated at different levels, depending on the size of the hole and the problems the injury caused. Loss of a nose was capped at 60 per cent.

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The average percentage disability of the widows’ husbands was 50 per cent, Bellemare said.

READ MORE: Mapping Winnipeg’s First World War dead

By 1921, the most common cause of disability pensions being awarded to Canadian First World War veterans was problems with the respiratory system; many of these men’s lungs may have been permanently damaged by gas.

In 1938, just under 1,800 Canadian veterans were getting payments for cardiovascular problems (the largest category), while about 1,300 were rated disabled for psychiatric reasons.

John Babcock, Canada’s last surviving First World War veteran, died in 2010 at the age of 109. No First World War veterans are known to be still living in any country.

READ MORE: Outdated Ontario law bars Afghan vets from getting emergency grants

The U.S. Veterans Administration is still paying a small pension to Irene Triplett, a North Carolina woman whose father fought in the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. (Triplett was born when her father was 83.)

The U.S. is also paying pensions to widows and children of 16 people who fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and to those of over 4,000 people who fought in the First World War.

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Do you know a widow of a Canadian First World War veteran? Send us a note. 

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