The government is launching a $20-million fund to prop up cash-strapped veterans’ organizations amid the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.
“To the women and men who have served our country I want to say this – you represent the best of who we are, and we will always be in your debt,” Trudeau said, speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill.
The fund, which the government is calling the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund, is aimed at veterans groups that have been struggling to raise funds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than $17 million of the fund will go to the Royal Canadian Legion, ANAVETS, True Patriot Love and VETS Canada. The rest of the fund will be available to other veterans organizations impacted by COVID-19, though they’ll have to apply to receive it.
“This fund is designed to help veterans’ organizations keep providing services,” Trudeau said.
Speaking to Global News in July, the Royal Canadian Legion’s communications manager Nujma Bond warned that hundreds of legions across Canada were facing a threat of closure after months of attempting to pay bills with little to no income.
The organizations are now facing another fundraising hit, as the pandemic has resulted in fewer poppy boxes sitting on Canadian businesses’ counters across the country this year.
In addition, many of the volunteers who typically distribute poppies are older and face a greater risk from COVID-19 – leading some to choose to stay home this year.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay told reporters on Tuesday that these factors are having a real impact on both veterans and the groups charged with supporting them.
“The last few months have been rough on folks, and our veterans are certainly no different. It’s been a tough time for them, but it’s also been a tough time on the organizations that support them,” MacAulay said.
He explained that these organizations provide a “critical role” within Canadian communities, including by “supporting homeless and disabled veterans.”
“Veterans have been hit hard by this pandemic. Some are at risk because of their age and declining mental and physical health. Others are more vulnerable because of homelessness or because they are now in long-term care homes. But that’s what makes the work of these organizations so important … these organizations change lives and they save lives,” MacAulay said.
In July, Bond told Global News that 124 of 1,381 Royal Canadian Legion branches, or one in 10, were facing “imminent closure” across the country. Additionally, 357 of those branches were facing financial difficulty.
The new funding will not go to the Juno Beach Centre, the museum built on the beach in France where Canadian troops came ashore on D-Day, which is facing its own pandemic-related financial crunch.
–With files from Global News’ Travis Lowe and The Canadian Press