Author Topic: EDITORIAL: Ottawa AWOL on vet budget  (Read 1514 times)

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EDITORIAL: Ottawa AWOL on vet budget
« on: November 22, 2014, 10:08:57 AM »
EDITORIAL: Ottawa AWOL on vet budget

Published November 21, 2014 - 5:42pm
Last Updated November 21, 2014 - 6:14pm

Talk about adding insult to injury.

For years, Canada’s veterans and their ombudsman have been hammering Ottawa for failing to provide adequate medical and long-term financial support for wounded and injured veterans and their families.

Now we learn the Harper government has failed to spend $1.13 billion of the appropriations that Parliament has approved for Veterans Affairs since 2006.

As reported by The Canadian Press from data tabled in Parliament, a third of this “lapsed” funding over the last three years went to elimination of the deficit.

Now, if any department can find ways to carry out its responsibilities and do so for less than its approved budget, Canadians have no cause to complain.

But that’s not the story at Veterans Affairs. This department has not been properly doing its duty in respect to veterans. The inadequacy of post-traumatic-stress support services, disability compensation and spousal benefits for wounded vets have been well documented by the veterans ombudsman, confirmed by a parliamentary committee and angrily denounced by veterans themselves. The concerns of elderly veterans that closing VA offices and putting more services online would make them harder to access were dismissed.

Failing to find any use for $1.13 billion when these compelling human needs are not being met is grossly irresponsible.

To use a military analogy, it’s like bringing your reserves to a battle, then declining to commit them — and sending them on a furlough home instead.

The government gives itself credit for increasing annual Veterans Affairs spending from $2.8 billion to $3.4 billion since taking office in 2006.

Overlapping this period was Canada’s 12-year deployment in Afghanistan, in which 30,000 personnel served, 158 soldiers and four civilians died, and more than 2,000 were injured. A large increase in veterans spending would be expected from the casualties and traumas of this war. But clearly the Conservatives spent much less on vets than their budgets implied and Canadians should be told why.

A report in August by veterans ombudsman Guy Parent brings home the human impact of this gap between budgets and reality.

The ombudsman found that 924 of Canada’s 1,911 severely wounded ex-soldiers, in other words, nearly half, are receiving no permanent impairment allowance at all.

And the vast majority of those who do receive it are awarded the lowest grade of benefit.

That’s because guidelines used by bureaucrats are too restrictive and do not match the intent of the allowance, the report said. Mr. Parent said this unfairness must be corrected.

The ombudsman’s critique of the impairment allowance could be fairly applied to the whole budget at Veterans Affairs:

“It doesn’t make sense to set aside cash to deal with a problem and then not spend it. You can flood programs with money, but if you don’t broaden the access, then you haven’t accomplished anything.”

Veterans have a right to be angry and to doubt the government’s pledge to improve benefits, as recommended by a Commons committee. Its actions have not lived up to either its fine words about veterans or its budgets.
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