By Stephen Fuhr
In 2006 all parties in the House of Commons agreed to and passed the New Veterans Charter (NVC). It was an initiative that modernized the benefits and services available to veterans, recognizing that those who had served in places like Afghanistan were going to need help transitioning to civilian life through the provision of financial, education, re-training and mental health supports that were not available under the old Pension Act.
But since the establishment of the NVC, and despite improvements, many veterans have continued to express concern that the most severely injured veterans needed a greater commitment from the federal government in the form of a lifetime pension.
On Dec. 20, Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, unveiled the government’s Pension for Life, a plan that will make significant changes to rectify the situation.
The pension plan has three key pillars:
• Monthly, tax-free financial compensation, with the choice of monthly payments for life, to recognize pain and suffering caused by a service-related disability with a maximum monthly amount of $2,650 for those most severely disabled with barriers to re-establishment
• Income replacement for veterans who are experiencing barriers returning to work after military service at 90 per cent of their pre-release salary. In some circumstances Veterans may be eligible for an additional 1%one per cent career progression factor each year
• Services and benefits to help veterans in a wide-range of areas, including education, employment and physical and mental health
These provisions represent an additional investment of close to $3.6 billion to support Canada’s veterans. When combined with well-being programs already announced in previous budgets, the government’s investments since 2016 add up to nearly $10 billion.
Previous adjustments to the NVC have added layers of complexity to an already overburdened system, a problem that was exacerbated with the closure of Veteran’s Affairs Canada offices across the country under the previous government.
By reopening the offices and making improvements and changes to veterans programming in last two budgets, veterans in Kelowna and across the country have the person-to-person support they need to navigate the suite of benefits and services available to them.
Now, with this announcement, unnecessary complexities and delays will be addressed and supports can be tailored to a veteran’s unique situation and service history to help veterans and their families live a full and productive life post-service.
In the meantime, those who are having the most difficulty resuming a normal life and those who have the most catastrophic injuries remain the government’s most pressing priority.
With the right balance and effective mix of financial compensation, benefits and well-being support services, it’s now time to turn our full attention to delivering services our veterans want and deserve.
Stephen Fuhr is the Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country.
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