Canadian Veterans Advocacy Position Report
Harmonization – New Veterans Charter - Pension Act
Adapt... Overcome... Prevail...
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy has undertaken extensive consultation with veterans of all eras since conception and I would express my personal satisfaction to the thousands of veterans, family members, memorial Cross Mothers, Fathers and Widows who have reached out to us to have your voices heard. We are an organisation with principles founded in consultation, your voices have been heard and as we adapt to the evolving political situation, we have established a position to which we will submit to the government / conservative caucus prior to their policy meeting in two weeks. Several primary issues have been addressed: as always, CVA priorities are established on pain and suffering.
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy hopes to build on the harmonization approach the government recently implemented through the SISIP lawsuit, recognition of the 40 k poverty level threshold, and the voluntary inclusion of Earnings Loss Benefits and War Pensioners Allowance, as least in respect to the cessation of the claw back on the VAC disability award.
True harmonization has yet, regrettably, to be attained and the decision on retroactivity remains elusive. The CVA believes in full ELB, War Pensioners Act harmonization with the SISIP decision, inclusive of full retroactivity mandates. I would note that the law firm that represented Dennis Manuge has been contacted and veterans who feel they deserve full retroactivity should prepare yourself accordingly should the obligation fail; to be met.
Harmonization – An effective way forward.
The government's harmonization approach to the SISIP ruling and application the Earnings Loss Benefit and War Pensioners Allowance provides, we believe, an opportunity to present a veterans-centric platform to the government in anticipation of the legislated review of the NVC next fall and to a lesser extent, the Conservative Party's policy meeting in two weeks time.
We must be cognizant of all veterans' voices, that the needs of one generation do not necessarily meet the needs of another, that all must be respected and treated fairly. We must also acknowledge many of the measures implemented through the New Veterans Charter and Bill C 55 have borne a positive effect on quality of life of many, it is not our intent to have the NVC abolished, but to have acknowledged shortcomings addressed in a meaningful manner through legislative reform.
The concept of harmonization provides the opportunity to address the divergent opinions amongst the veterans stakeholders while concurrently providing focus on the primary issues the post NVC wounded and disabled, their families and our Memorial Cross Widows and the Memorial Cross Mothers and Fathers are confronting.
Harmonization – Lump Sum Award. The LSA issue is as complex as it is contentious, as a proactive veterans' advocacy with a veterans support base composed of Canadians who served in from WW2 to Afghanistan, we have undertaken extensive consultation on the issues that they and their respective generations are confronting. We appreciate their advice, concerns, individual needs and believe that we have created a harmonisation approach capable of addressing their wishes. Veterans who are entering the twilight years of life prefer a lump sum award so that they might enjoy a better quality of life and/or prepare for end of life responsibilities. Conversely, a vast majority of those who have been seriously wounded in Afghanistan since 2006, who are by definition much younger and raising much younger families, prefer the life time security of the Pension Act provisions.
The concept of harmonization also provides a viable method of addressing and satisfying most, if not all vested stakeholders concerns through the provisions of CHOICE. Veterans that would prefer to accept a Lump Sum Award would be provided under a revised formula that at the very least acknowledges the Royal Canadian Legion's current position and at best, the One Million Dollar threshold the Canadian Veterans Advocacy would champion. –denoted through consultation.
Veterans who prefer the Pension Act's lifetime obligation may choose to do so. They will be accorded the full privileges of the Pension Act, including spousal and family support. Applicable supplementary provisions –VIP- will be accorded and the improvements enacted through the NVC accorded to all.
This solution satisfies the immediate requirements of all generations of veterans and restores the Sacred Obligation through harmonization with existing programs.
Harmonization – Memorial Cross Mothers Fathers – Widows. As an Advocacy, we have represented several Memorial Cross Widows, Fathers and Mothers on individual levels in respect to their husbands or son's death. We have, more importantly, conducted fairly extensive consultation with families of many of the fallen. The NVC provisions have provided improvements yet those who sacrificed husbands prior to 2006 in Afghanistan have not been accorded access to these programs. We believe that harmonization of the Pension Act – NVC benefits should be applied and compensation attained by choice. Widows preferring a LSA award over the Pension Act provisions must be accorded this position, however, the LSA must be raised to address the reality of their sacrifice. Economic loss provision in the NVC must be universally applied, particularly the application of the harmonized SISP/ELB identified poverty threshold. The consequences have been profound, the most tragic, Memorial Cross Widows abandoned to an existence beneath the government's defined poverty threshold.
The next issue for inclusion is VIP services, which we propose be provided to all Memorial Cross Widows on the merit of their sacrifice. The compassion required for those who sacrificed so greatly in Afghanistan must be founded in the acknowledgement that many of these Memorial Cross Widows were very young at the time of their loved one's sacrifice and are raising children under the age of ten. Many have, due to repeated deployments, been unable to work or fulfill career ambitions due to the added responsibilities to family when husbands or wives were absent for prolonged, high stress periods or an inability to participate in educational opportunities. VIP services would significantly ease the burden and reaffirm this nation's life- time obligation.
Legislative Amendments. – Education benefits for widows raising families. Simply put, the two-year restriction on educational benefits cannot be realistically applied. Nor can the recognition of the fatality's impact on the family unit be marginalized by a 2-year time restriction as the grief factor, particularly in relationship to the family unit, often surpasses the time parameters legislatively applied. Taxation on the fatality's survivor's benefits should also cease and any VAC Pain and Suffering award excluded from poverty threshold determinations.
Harmonization of the Poverty threshold – Application to Reservists –VAC programs. The CVA spoke to this issue on May 21st at parliamentary committee in reference to the War Pensioners Allowance and Last Burial fund and was somewhat disappointed that the recommendations put forward, while discussed at length, there would be no opportunity provided to comprehensively address either issue or to apply the poverty threshold as identified in the ELB and SISIP mandate with the War Pensioners Allowance or the Last Post Burial Fund criteria. The Last Post Burial Fund threshold of 12000 dollars is 28 000 dollars beneath the identified poverty level, consequently, the denial rate is obscene when one considers a vast majority of applicants, if not all, have been deemed impoverished by this government's formal definition.
The harmonization of the poverty threshold to wounded/ disabled reservists is of growing concern due to the number of reservist deployments to high intensity combat roles in support of regular force elements. The consequences have been indiscriminate, the physical and mental wounds horrifically equal. The 40 000 dollar threshold, correctly, identified the basic minimum-essential income required for a disabled veteran to provide for shelter, clothing and food, yet this threshold has NOT been applied to Canada's wounded reservists regardless of the fact they were wounded at the same time as a regular force member, sustained the same extraordinary, life changing consequences and will continue to do so throughout the course of their lives.
I would speak to Corporal William Kerr, Canada's only surviving triple amputee. Cpl Kerr is a reservist, one can only imagine how his family is prevailing under a system that accord's him close to eight thousand dollars less per year than the identified poverty threshold?
Harmonization of WW2/Korean war – all VAC Clients – Long Term Care- War Pensioners Allowance. This issue is becoming more problematic as the post Korean War era veterans grow older yet are denied the same standard of financial respect as their forefathers even though they are clients of VAC. Many are living beneath the Government defined poverty threshold of 40 thousand dollars, a situation that will be exacerbated with the cessation of their CPP disability and SISIP or ELB LTD benefits at age 65.
There is, we believe, a harmonization solution that can be incorporated within the War Pensioners Allowance to address both of these issues by removing the exclusionary clause restricting the Allowance to WW2-Korean veterans, applying the SISIP?ELB poverty threshold income to the financial criteria and providing access to disabled veterans who are clients of Veterans Affairs once they meet the Allowance's age criteria. Eligibility to benefits included in the War Pensioners Allowance will satisfy several other issues, such as VIP as veterans/families require greater levels of assistance to maintain their independence. The option of extending the ELB an making the program eligible for SISIP clients at age 65 is also viable.
Harmonization – Environmental exposure. The issue of unfair compensation fro Agent Orange has recently been highlighted by the legal action launched by Veterans Basil Macallister. Basil served in Gagetown firing the unreasonably short time period where VAC has agree to provide compensation and cannot understand how others in his section, who did the same work, at the same place, at the same time, have been provided VAC support for consequential cancers and he is not. This is fundamentally unjust and the CVA has supported Basil, and will continue to do so through Tom Beaver and the CVA New Brunswick Chapter, until the court case unfolds and hopefully, justice is served.
Tragically, Basil is not alone, nor is the issue of defoliant exposure the only form of toxic contamination Canada's sons and daughters are confronting as a consequence to their service. Severe, oft times life threatening neurological and physical consequences have been identified and directly attributed to service. Surely, no one disputes that the life of a soldier, sailor, airman is fraught with environmental risk, that even in training, exposure to carcinogenic/toxic agents from operational equipment, battlefield smoke dispensers, C/S gases, burn pits, excessive diesel fumes, -particularly aboard submarines- the myriad of toxic substances that makes the war machine drive, sail or fly… sometimes has consequences.
We must acknowledge that Canadian Forces members have been subjected to vast array of toxic environments, during the past fifty years we have engaged in the 1st Gulf War – Gulf War Syndrome in not imaginary-, almost twenty years throughout the war shattered toxicity of former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda… Furthermore, awareness and treatment is crucial, many toxic elements bear insidious consequences beyond the original victim and as with Agent Orange, there are multi-generational repercussions.
Harmonization – Age 65 provisions. This issue is of growing concern as more veterans of the Cold War reach this age and are targeted with mandatory cessation of CPP and ELB/SISIP disability awards. This issue has been identified by the OVO and after participating in consultation meetings with his office –and many others- , we have attempted to provide proposals that will address this issue and ensure the poverty threshold obligation is perpetuated after the cessation of income losses replacement policies at age 65.
Two cost effective solutions are available, first extending the ELB for life, the automatic transition of those covered by SISIP to ELB at age 65 with an obligation to ensure the 40k poverty threshold is honoured and the same level of dignified care/compensation provided until end of life. The second option is to remove the discriminatory criteria of exclusion in the War Pensioners Allowance and apply the 40k anti-poverty threshold to the criteria.
On closing, I would remind veterans and CVA supporters, only through legislative reform will the Sacred Obligation restored. These issues will not be resolved in the court of law, they will be resolved in the court of public opinion and, as a consequence, on the floor of the House of Commons. With this objective, the CVA has attempted to present a comprehensive, workable platform capable of attaining veterans-identified objectives prior to the legislated study of the NVC during the next parliament. We need the support of all Canadians, we need the support of all veterans' organizations, the veterans' community and those serving members to whom we, as an advocacy, stand on guard for while they continue to serve and have no voice.
You can make a difference by merely copying this letter and forwarding it to your MP, by calling him/her up, by printing it off and engaging him/her over the summer bbq period. Your voice, your concern for Canada's sons and daughters who have borne the consequences of war/peace, your commitment to the spirit of this nation and all that we stand for can and will make a difference.
Please share with as many friends as possible, there is momentum, it is important to keep this momentum moving through the summer months and as we engage in proactive advocacy during the next parliament. Be steady on the right, be steady on the left, stand to in the center, together, we will prevail, together, we will restore the Sacred Obligation and revive the spirit of this nation.
Michael L Blais CD
Founder/President, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
6618 Harper Drive, Niagara Falls, Ont, Cda.
L2E 7K6 // 905-357-3306 // Cell 905-359-9247