As the National Council of Veteran Associations (representing 58 member-organizations) gathered for its annual meeting last week, association secretary general Brian Forbes says its focus was on the declared intention of the government that many federal budgets are to be potentially reduced and that substantial financial cuts will have to be exercised by individual departments, including Veterans Affairs Canada.
He says the NCVA has recently written the prime minister expressing its serious concerns in regard to this announcement, in that it would be highly unacceptable that any deficit reduction plan would conceivably include cuts to veterans’ benefits or administrative components of VAC programs.
“We also trust that these cuts will not be made on the backs of the Canadian veterans’ community, particularly given the fact that a number of Allied countries, in attempting to cope with current economic deficits, have exempted veterans’ benefits and services from their proposed austerity programs,” Forbes said in a Nov. 7 press release..
“NCVA has consistently pointed out that, although Canada’s traditional veterans are aging, VAC continues to have significant responsibility to the more than 150,000 veterans who served Canada during the Second World War and Korea,” Forbes said. “… It is also quite self-evident that extensive financial and human resources are required of the department due to the influx of disabled veterans returning from Afghanistan and earlier Canadian military missions. Given the physical, mental and psychological concerns confronting these returning veterans, the job of VAC will become more essential and intensive in order to address these multifaceted problems.
It remains our view that VAC has an important and complex mandate and, indeed, is entering a significant phase. VAC currently administers two major pieces of legislation — the original Pension Act for the traditional veteran and the New Veterans Charter for the Modern Day Veteran. At the same time, health care benefits, veterans independence programs (VIP) and all of the related policies are administered by the department for all veterans and their families.
It is also a stark reality that should VAC’s budgetary capacity be impacted, the department will be unable to fund crucial legislative improvements in order to fulfil its ongoing commitments to the overall veterans’ community.
With reference to Traditional Veterans, there remain serious outstanding concerns as to the significant gaps in the VAC Long Term Care Program, inequities in the Last Post Fund/Veterans Burial Regulations and anomalies in the VIP programs for widows.
In relation to modern day veterans, the New Veterans Charter, considered a “living document” by veterans’ organizations, is currently an unfinished work in progress, Forbes said.
Among other things the NCVA advocates that the SISIP (Service Income Security Insurance Plan) long term disability program should be eliminated to remove the insurance culture constraints presently contained in the Charter.
The Earnings Loss Benefit should also be increased to 100 per cent of pre-release income and in relation to permanently incapacitated veterans, be paid for life (not terminated at 65, as is currently the case).