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Lest we forget. Words our government forgot.

November 13, 2012

Like thousands of other Canadians, my husband and I went to the Remembrance Day ceremonies on Sunday and paid our respects to our veterans. But I was struck by the hypocrisy of our government which has a shameful record of treating our veterans. The annual outpouring of gratitude on November 11th is not enough. We as Canadians need to stand up with one voice and tell our elected members that they serve us. And that we will not tolerate their mistreatment, neglect and denial of rights for the men and women who risked their lives in service to their country.

Here are some details.

Equitas Society, a non-profit organization which represents Canadian wounded veterans, helped support the launch of a class action law suit against the Canadian Government on October 30th. The reason? In 2006, the government introduced the New Veterans Charter and thereby changed the rules governing delivery of disability pensions to veterans of Afghanistan. The new system moves away from the previous lifetime, indexed disability pensions to lump sum payments under an insurance type system that calculates the value of a missing leg, an eye, based upon a Table of Disabilities. The maximum award is $250,000, which with indexing is now $293,308, regardless of the amount of injury.

The new system does not factor in future wage loss, loss of capacity or cost of future care. Instead of compensating for wage losses as a workers’ compensation system would do, the New Veterans Charter, for moderately disabled personnel, provides only a two to four-year retraining program. According to the statement of claim, a severely injured worker would receive up to $2 million in lifetime compensation under a workers’ compensation program, substantially greater than what veterans of Afghanistan will receive. Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are particularly subject to low awards and the stress of repeated assessments by skeptical staff.

The new compensation works out to between 30 and 65 per cent less (and up to 90% less for Reserve Force members) than the disability pensions provided to veterans of other theatres of war, according to the statement  of claim. The government unfairly expects veterans to invest these paltry payouts and live off the interest for the rest of their lives. It allows them $500 to obtain professional financial advice on how to best manage these inadequate sums for the rest of their lives. These are people who have been severely injured, many of whom who can no longer work, who have lost limbs, are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Whose lives and the lives of their families have changed forever. How does the interest from $41,411, which was the sum awarded to one of the severely injured vets participating in the lawsuit, convert to a lifetime of support? Does $260,843 begin to compensate Mark Campbell who lost both legs at the knees and suffered profound hearing loss in one ear, loss of a testicle and libido, diminished mental capacity, major depressive disorder, PTSD leading to alcoholism, and a future of chronic pain among other problems? These are young people with a lifetime of suffering ahead, many of them with families who also need support.

Only those who served in Afghanistan or as part of the Cold War are subject to these new rules. Is it fair that these vets receive a fraction of what vets of other conflicts have received? A fraction of what they would receive under workers’ compensation plans or disability plans of public employees. How many of our soldiers have to fight their own government for what is their due. Or perhaps have given up because the struggle is too great. All because the government wants to save a dollar? This is a shameful budgeting exercise by the government on the backs of those who have risked all and lost much in service of their country. Compare the treatment of our Afghanistan veterans with how our members of Parliament prepare for their own futures.

After six years of service in Parliament, our currently serving MPs are entitled to collect pensions when they reach age 55. For every $1.00 that MPs contribute to their pensions, the Canadian taxpayers contribute $23.30. MP pensions have a guaranteed return of 10.4% which, if not achieved through the market, is funded by taxpayers thereby removing all risks of turbulent markets. Qualified MPs who are currently serving and who reach the age of 55 by 2015, will be eligible to collect an average pension of $54,693 per year in 2015. In addition, if they are not re-elected and are not qualified or old enough to collect their pension, they are entitled to receive a minimum $78,800 in onetime severance payments. An MP elected in the last election at age 19, the age of many of our wounded soldiers, will be eligible to collect an annual pension of $40,000 a year or $1.3 million by age 80 if he retires as MP at age 27 (Source: Canadian Taxpayer Federation Report on MP Pensions, Derek Fildebrandt National Research Director January 2012). There are certain changes pending in the Senate which, starting in 2016, will change the eligibility age from 55 to 65 and increase the required amount MPs must contribute to their own plans (Source: CD Howe Institute: Federal Employee Pension Reforms: First Steps – on a Much Longer Journey by William B.P. Robson and Alexandre Laurin  November 1, 2012) but the discrepancy between the treatment of vets and MPs is still shocking.

And finally for a little more perspective:

Steven Blaney is the MP who serves as Veterans Affairs Minister, the person entrusted with looking after veterans. His pension entitlement will be $56,035 starting in 2015 (lifetime pension $1,804,014) with an additional severance payment of $78,866 if he is not re-elected as an MP in 2015. (Source: Canadian Taxpayer Federation Report on MP Pensions, Derek Fildebrandt National Research Director January 2012).

You can read the Statement of Claim filed by Equitas Society on the Canadian Veterans Advocacy website. You can get more information from Equitas Society on its website or its Facebook page. Watch this YouTube video and read this story about Kevin Barry, one of the claimants in the Equitas lawsuit. An analysis of the failings of the New Veterans Charter written by Dr. Keith Martin, then MP for Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca, in 2006 may be found here. And if you believe we need to do better by our men and women who have come home disabled after serving our country, call or email your MP to let them know this is not right. Here is the list of MPs with contact information.

And please come back to visit because the next blog post will provide more examples of how the Canadian government fails our vets.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. elizabeth Kearns permalink
    November 14, 2012 8:47 am

    Good on you! So informative.
    Shame on our government!
    But, did you know that the Canadian Legion
    signed on to this “New Veterans Charter”?
    Look forward to reading more on this….

    • November 14, 2012 5:42 pm

      When the Charter was introduced, it was supposed to help votes. Most groups supported – or at least did not object – without realizing its implications. Now it is clear that Afghan vets are severely disadvantaged. One of the first to speak out was Sean Bruyea who then had his private medical files accessed without authority by government employees. Read more about his lawsuit against the government in my post which comes out tomorrow. Thanks for your comment!

  2. November 13, 2012 10:26 am

    This is a tremendous piece about the failure of the government and their treatment of veterans. Especially appropriate–and upsetting–after watching MP’s lay wreaths on Remembrance Day. It is time for all Canadians who value the services of our armed forces, past, present and future, to call for change.

    • November 13, 2012 1:09 pm

      Since these men and women went to Afghanistan on behalf of Canada, Canadian citizens have the responsibility, when our government fails in its duty, to require it to treat our veterans properly. Thanks for your comment

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