The parades are barely over and Veterans hoping for reforms may be abandoned by Minister Blackburn

J. P. Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs meets with Veterans (pnoto UN Nato Veterans)

J.P. Blackburn, Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, said the Government is sticking with the lump sum benefits that replaced the former life pension for veterans with a disability.

Veterans, their families and Canadians can only feel the cynicism of the Minister and the Harper government for going back on his assurances during Veterans Week that the Charter would be reformed.

Remembrance Day is last week’s news. This week veterans will have to continue the battle to get the benefits they need and deserve.

“I feel obliged,” Blackburn said in a copyrighted statement Saturday to the Calgary Herald,  “however, to draw one line in the sand.”

Then he went on to firmly denounce those who want the Veterans Charter reformed. “There are those who insist that Canada should abandon its lump-sum payments and the ongoing financial supports that come with them. They want us to turn back the clock and fully restore the previous system of disability pensions. I believe this would be a serious error. And, quite frankly, I believe those advocating such changes probably are not familiar with all the details of the Charter.” 

On Remembrance Day, J. P. Blackburn said he would reform the Charter.

“I’m responsible for these people. I saw them walking in front of me, older, younger, and I have great responsibilities to ensure that we are correct with them and for their future,” he told QMI Agency. “Am I doing the good thing for them?” the minister asked. “I believe I am.”

The poppies are barely off the jackets and coats of Canadians who paid honor to our Veterans when the government begins to backtrack from its promises.

In his statement, published only in the Calgary Herald as a signed opinion, Blackburn claims that the Veterans Charter improved the lives of veterans with disabilities. The full statement is re-printed at the end of this article.

Veterans Charter

The Charter replaced the former disability benefit with a one-time, lump sum payment of $260,000. The sum is inadequate to provide income replacement for veterans with disabilities even when invested wisely. Soldiers given disability cash but not financial advice (Toronto Star)

Many of the Veterans returning from Afghanistan are not prepared to become assiduous money managers, due to their injuries and the effects of war including PTSD. At 4% interest, the annuity would amount to a mere $11,000 annually for life, hardly enough to live on.

Experience with the lump sum payment is that many of the returning veterans are left with nothing but poverty after a few years.

As public pressure on Blackburn mounted, he claimed that the changes to a lump-sum were not a cost saving measure. Veterans Minister claims lump-sum is not cost saving

Recently release documents by the government disclosed that Blackburn’s statements are not true. The government expected to save money with the Charter.

In a series of televised press conferences this Fall, out-going Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran said VA department officials told him it saves the government money if veterans are killed in the line of duty and don’t return home with disabilities.

Veterans know the cynicism that permeates the government. There are lots of poppies and posters to hand out but the real issue is always saving the government money.

Recent improvements

Prior to Remembrance Day, Blackburn announced changes that he says cost $2 billion. These include income replacement for veterans up to $58,000 annually for the most severely disabled.

“The lost earnings minimum will be bumped up to $40,000 a year and eligibility requirements will be stretched so seriously injured veterans can receive monthly allowance between $536 and $1,609. The lump-sum payment, which was been criticized by veterans and Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk, will also be reformed so vets will have the choice of a one-time payment or staggered payments worth the same amount.

Blackburn said the changes mean the most seriously wounded soldiers would receive a minimum of $58,000 a year plus the lump-sum payment. Peterborough Examiner

These improvements came after strong protest by veterans and a rising tide of public awareness that our pride in Canadian veterans is leaving them in the lurch.

When the government says it is willing to change a system from $11,000 to $58,000 a year, how can Blackburn defend the Veterans Charter like he does in the Calgary Herald?

There is something wrong and Veterans will be watching the government closely knowing full well their benefits are not protected.

Our Veterans Deserve These Changes

J.P. Blackburn in the Calgary Herald

It as been said that every day is Remembrance Day for families and friends who have lost a loved one in service to our great country. In my 10 months as minister of veterans affairs, I have come to understand this more profoundly than ever.

If there is any comfort in our country’s tragic loss, it may be in knowing that such sacrifice has never been in vain, and especially, that they will never be forgotten. We are a blessed nation built on the shared values that these heroic men and women have fought for and defended: Freedom. Democracy. Human Rights. The Rule of Law. And, as our nation’s attention is focused on our veterans this month, it is also appropriate that we should take the time to discuss the issues that are so important to them and their families.

In doing so, I would like to reassure all Canadians that our government has been listening to our veterans. We recognize that they have legitimate concerns. The New Veterans Charter, which was adopted unanimously by all political parties in 2005, represented a fundamental change — and it was not perfect. There were gaps in the care and support we provided, and we have acted to correct them.

Over the past eight weeks, our government has unveiled a series of new measures totalling more than $2 billion for our veterans and their families.

We have made all of these changes for only one reason: because it was our duty to do so. Our government is committed to making sure our Canadian Forces personnel, veterans and their families have the support they need — when they need it.

This is why we recently announced another $2 billion to provide our seriously wounded veterans with adequate monthly income. We also announced $52.5 million to establish a “Legacy of Care” for our seriously injured men and women in uniform and their families. And we have announced immediate changes to the support received by veterans with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. At the same time, we are working behind the scenes to solve other problems, such as wait times that are too long and complicated red tape that too many of our veterans must contend with.

All these measures are part of our agenda for transforming Veterans Affairs Canada to better support the men and women who have served Canada so well.

I feel obliged, however, to draw one line in the sand. There are those who insist that Canada should abandon its lump-sum payments and the ongoing financial supports that come with them. They want us to turn back the clock and fully restore the previous system of disability pensions. I believe this would be a serious error. And, quite frankly, I believe those advocating such changes probably are not familiar with all the details of the Charter.

The New Veterans Charter was unanimously passed by Parliament in 2005 because Canadians recognized it was time for a new, modern social contract with the men and women serving our nation. While disability pensions had worked well following the two Great Wars, they had run their course. We had to correct a pension system that encouraged increasingly younger veterans to focus on proving their health was deteriorating while receiving very limited benefit from doing so. After all, the average disability pension from Veterans Affairs was about $600 per month, and it came with few services and only partial medical care.

Unfortunately, many people appear unaware that the New Veterans Charter is about far more than its Disability Awards. The sole intent of the lump-sum payment is to recognize and compensate our injured men and women for their pain and suffering. It is important to note that we also provide other monthly financial supports to recognize the ongoing economic impact of an injury or illness. One example is the monthly Earnings Loss Benefit. It provides eligible Veterans with up to 75 per cent of their pre-release salary.

While these new measures were a solid foundation, Veterans told us they weren’t enough. That is why we are proposing a minimum annual income of $40,000 for Veterans receiving the Earnings Loss Benefit. As well, we are proposing our most severely injured veterans receive a supplementary $1,000 a month — on top of the existing Permanent Impairment Allowance, which can already reach up to $1,609 per month. This would ensure that a seriously wounded veteran would receive at least $58,000 per year.

As these latest changes indicate, our government is convinced that the New Veterans Charter can keep pace with the varied needs of the men and women it serves. Our veterans have earned this. They deserve this. And, on behalf of our grateful nation, our government will continue to improve this Charter.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn is the federal minister of veterans affairs.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

Photo credit Western Canada un Nato Veterans