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The Last Post. A shameful reflection on Canada’s treatment of its veterans

November 15, 2012

We send our young men and women off to war, equip them with tanks, guns, uniforms. Train them for combat. We ask them to fight for us, and sometimes to die for us. Then when they come home wounded, our government compounds their pain. In my last post “Lest we forget. The words our government forgot“, I wrote about the law suit brought with the assistance of Equitas Society, a non-profit organization which advocates on behalf of disabled veterans. A law suit made necessary because of the miserliness of our Canadian Government.

Unfortunately this is not the only instance of its history of inadequate, stingy and unjust treatment of our veteran men and women. Here are some details and read to the end because I have saved the “best” for last, the final insult.

Watch this YouTube video for the heartbreaking story of how William Kerr’s family is trying to cope with his trauma and pain while faced with an unresponsive and uncaring bureaucracy.  It is their call for help, for changes to the system, so that in Mrs. Kerr’s words “when our soldiers go off to war and they come home they’ve got a place to go to and there is help. Not that they’ve got to search here, search there”. Mrs. Kerr says in the video that she is speaking out in part because so many other veterans’ families are afraid to do so. And I have to ask myself, can this really be an issue in Canada?

Inefficiencies: The Auditor General of Canada stated in its 2012 Fall Report that the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs are failing veterans by a process that is cumbersome, complex and riddled with red tape. Multiple programs and different medical conditions require multiple applications that even Veterans Affairs staff cannot keep up with. Incredibly, information provided to Veterans Affairs by the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces is largely in paper form resulting in inefficiencies and errors. For example, approximately 24% of the service numbers (the numbers used to track vets in the system) were inaccurate or missing and 18% of the key data used to determine eligibility for rehabilitation programs was incorrect in databases reviewed. In 68 percent of the cases reviewed, the Department did not meet applicable service standards for making a decision on the complete rehabilitation application. Unfortunately these problems result in lengthy waits for services and benefits and create enormous stress for people who are already suffering.

Clawbacks: Dennis Manuge led a five-year class-action battle, on behalf of 4500 veterans, against the Canadian Government which was wrongly clawing back vets’ long-term disability benefits under the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SSIP) from the amount of their disability pensions. SISIP disability payments come from a plan partially funded from soldiers’ wages. The Federal Court unreservedly held for Mr. Manuge and other plaintiffs in 2012 but until then the Canadian Government spent approximately $750,000 fighting the case and depriving vets of what was rightfully theirs. The Canadian Government decided recently not to appeal the decision. Hopefully, now that the decision is final, the Government will get on with paying out the claims.

Breach of privacy: In 2010, Sean Bruyea, a Gulf War veteran, settled a lawsuit with the Government for an undisclosed sum. The lawsuit resulted from the unlawful access to his private information, including confidential medical information, by federal bureaucrats. Prior to the facts giving rise to the lawsuit, Mr. Bruyea was an outspoken critic on behalf of veterans and specifically regarding the New Veterans Charter referred to in my previous blog post. Other veterans have since come forward to allege that their personal files were misused. Mr. Bruyea continues his activism on behalf of Canada’s military personnel, including through his website which contains extensive commentary on the issues covered in these blog posts as well as other topics.

The Last Post Fund: This fund operated through Veterans Affairs purports to pay funeral expenses for impoverished veterans and their families. Since 2006, two thirds of vets’ families who applied did not receive assistance because the prerequisites are too high. The family of the veteran is only eligible if the combined assets of the spouse and deceased is no greater than $12,015. What is that, a bit of furniture, a little money in the bank, maybe a TV? It is hard enough to think that the people who served in WWII and Korea would have so little at the end of their days not to mention that this could be considered an estate rich enough to pay for a funeral. Those few who do receive assistance from Veterans Affairs, receive a paltry $3,600 which is based on 2001 funeral rates. The average cost of a funeral today is considered to be around $10-12,000 – basically the same as the cut-off point for the Last Post Fund.

As further slap in the face, no assistance is given for impoverished veterans of the Cold War or Afghanistan unless the vets are receiving a disability benefit. In comparison, families of serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP receive $12,700 in funeral costs. Are veterans of the Cold War and Afghanistan valued less in the minds of our politicians?

The Royal Canadian Legion wrote an open letter on November 8, 2012, decrying the Government’s failure to address this issue and pointing out that the majority of World War II and Korean War veterans are currently in their 90s and that we are losing them at the rate of approximately 2000 per month. One last insult from the Canadian Government.

Notably, there seems to have been enough money in our system to pay just under $700,000 in bonuses and extra pay last year to senior managers at Veterans Affairs. There was also $3.5 million available to pay for advertising, social medial and “cool prizes” to promote this year’s Remembrance Day at which so many of our MPs so hypocritically laid wreaths.

If you haven’t already contacted your MP about the New Veterans Charter, read my last post Lest we forget. The words our government forgot. Think about what our elected officials pay themselves. If you think impoverished vets deserve a proper funeral, speak up on their behalf. And get angry. You can find the contact information for your MP and for Veterans Affairs Minister Blaney on the government’s website here.

Please come back to visit.

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