Broken government promises to veterans could see the number of deaths by suicide match those of soldiers killed in Afghanistan over the next decade.
That was the argument made by two veterans who joined the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson for a Remembrance Day discussion of what they describe as the continued failures of Veterans Affairs to meet the needs of veterans and how that is directly hurting the people who have fought and died for Canadians.
“People are dying,” said retired Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, who lost both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan.
“Right now, I think it’s 71 veterans have committed suicide from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. So we’re sitting here waiting for that number to reach the 159 soldiers who died in Afghanistan. It’s going to happen probably in the next five to 10 years and we need to get Veterans Affairs to understand that this is preventable and it’s up to them to do their job.”
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Franklin, who has been calling for the government to simplify the process of obtaining veterans benefits over recent years, criticized the Liberals for playing what he called a “shell game” with their attempt to meet a campaign promise to reinstate lifelong pensions to veterans.
Those pensions were eliminated in 2006 in favour of a lump sum payment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during the 2015 campaign to reinstate the lifelong pension.
But instead of reinstating the old pension, the Liberals announced late last autumn they offer essentially a bundled version of existing benefits and dole out an amount veterans say is worth roughly half to one-third of what the previous pension would have paid out over the course of their lifetime.
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“That pension was not reinstated, said retired Cpt. Sean Bruyea, one of the country’s best-known veterans advocates.
“This is merely the lump sum that’s been made into an annuity over time.”
Bruyea called the Liberal record so far on helping veterans “abysmal” and said they have failed to make improvements to the wait times facing veterans who apply for benefits and have also failed to implement meaningful promises such as hiring more front-line workers to help process veteran claims.
“Veterans are becoming incredibly disillusioned and disaffected and being harmed by the wait for these programs,” he said.
“I would say this is a direct contribution to much of the despondency that contributes to people taking such desperate measures such as substance abuse and perhaps even suicide.”
And as the clock ticks down to the implementation of that new pension plan, Bruyea urged the government to reverse a course they say is heading “all downhill for veterans.”
This is the last Remembrance Day before veterans will be able to choose between the existing lump sum payment or the pension they say amounts to breaking that same payment up over the course of a lifetime.
The new pension plan is set to become available in April 2019.
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