Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan unveiled the new pensions Wednesday, more than two years after the Liberals promised them during the last federal election – and only days before Christmas.
“Our pension-for-life plan is a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support and stability to veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members who experience a service-related illness or injury,” O’Regan said in a statement.
“We are addressing concerns made by the veteran and military communities by allowing those with a service-related injury or illness to determine the best form of compensation that works for them and their families.”
The changes are complex and multi-layered, and represent the most significant overhaul in more than a decade to benefits and services available for disabled veterans.
They are expected to provide more money to injured veterans than the current suite of benefits, particularly the most severely disabled who are unable to work and continue to suffer from service-related injuries.
But the Liberals’ plan offers only modest increases for those on the other end of the spectrum, and continues to provide many veterans with less than the previous lifelong disability pensions, which were abolished in 2006.
Those pensions were replaced with a lump-sum payment, rehabilitation and targeted income-replacement programs, known collectively as the New Veterans Charter.
While the charter has been criticized as offering less money than the old pension system, the government says the charter and new pension scheme offers more flexibility and assistance through rehab and career training.
Still, the lack of parity with the old pension system is unlikely to sit well with many veterans who have been demanding that the government reinstate the old system as a matter of fairness.
The new plan also won’t come into effect until April 2019. A a senior government official said it will take time to pass legislation and to secure the $3.6 billion in additional funding needed for the plan.
The Liberals were the only party to promise to reinstate lifelong pensions for disabled veterans during the last election campaign following widespread complaints from injured ex-soldiers about the New Veterans Charter.
The charter was implemented by the previous Conservative government with unanimous support from the Liberals and NDP. It provided a lump-sum payment for pain and suffering worth a maximum of $360,000.
But it also included various rehabilitation and career-training programs to help disabled veterans adjust to civilian life, and income-replacement benefits for those unable to work.
Comparisons are difficult, but a high-profile lawsuit against the government, which was recently thrown out by the B.C. Court of Appeal, claimed veterans under the charter receive 40 per cent less than those under the previous pensions.
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Under the new plan, the lump-sum award will still be available to veterans who want the money right away, but they will now be able to choose a monthly payment for pain and suffering instead. The payment can reach a maximum of $1,150 per month.
Those with severe or permanent disabilities will also be eligible for a new benefit worth between $500 and $1,500 per month, on top of the pain and suffering award. Both benefits are tax free.
The exact amount that a veteran can receive is based on the extent of their injuries or disabilities, as well as their age and gender based on Statistics Canada’s mortality data.
Officials briefing reporters on background said those who have already received a lump-sum award for pain and suffering will be assessed to determine how much they would have received per month.
There had been widespread fears the Liberals would simply take the $360,000 lump-sum payment and spread it out over a veteran’s lifetime.
They will also be eligible for the new benefit, which officials said will be retroactive and could result in substantial one-time payments.
The government is also lumping together six different benefits for injured veterans who are having trouble finding work or for those whose post-military career pays significantly less than what they earned while serving in uniform.
Veterans will also be able to make up to $20,000 before the income-replacement benefit starts being clawed back, and those who have served less than 20 years in uniform will see an annual one per cent increase.
Different scenarios drawn up by Veterans Affairs Canada indicate the most severely disabled veterans will receive substantially more money through the new system than they would have under the charter and even the old pensions.
Those with moderate injuries that have not affected their ability to rejoin civilian life or find work will also see increases compared with money available through the charter. But the amounts will be hundreds of dollars smaller per month than under the previous pensions.
“Those most catastrophically injured will receive greater financial compensation on our new plan, compared to those on the Pension Act,” said the senior government official.
“While those who have lower assessments will not achieve parity to the Pension Act in financial compensation, they will have access to all of our supports to help them transition to post-service life – unlike those under the Pension Act.”
Veterans had warned in the lead-up to Wednesday’s announcement that they were prepared to rally against the government if its pension plan did not provide an equivalent amount of compensation as the old system.