Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, it is a great honour to represent Dominion President George Beaulieu, our executive, and the approximately 15,000 members of Canada’s most senior veterans association, The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, or ANAVETS for short. Our association has a long history of contributing to the consultation process with governments of the day in relation to services and benefits affecting the well-being of veterans, current serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as former members of the RCMP.
ANAVETS was a contributing stakeholder in all the committees and advisory groups leading up to and following the passing of the new Veterans Charter. We understood that as the traditional war veterans were aging, the programs and services were being adjusted to remain relevant with their changing needs. Conversely, these same programs and services were inadequate in addressing the needs of a new, younger generation of veterans.
The new Veterans Charter was to encompass a holistic approach to disability management and career transition and to encourage health and wellness for not only the veteran but the entire family. The new approach was to be easily adaptable to changing situations and requirements and, as such, was considered to be a living charter, which meant that as needs changed or we realized gaps in services and support, the legislation would be easily adjusted to remedy those shortcomings.
Unfortunately, in the eight years since the all-party passing of Bill C-45, the only enhancement of the legislation has been with Bill C-55, which delivered the minimum pre-tax income standard of $40,000 for earnings loss benefit, the introduction of the permanent impairment allowance supplement, and offered options to veterans on how to receive their disability award. There continue to be major shortcomings with the new Veterans Charter that have not been addressed, leaving veterans and veterans groups feeling duped with respect to the promised ongoing improvements to address gaps as they were discovered. To this end, we request that a biennial review of the charter be instituted to confirm the government’s resolve to truly make this a living charter.
It is of further concern that the legislation was written without the construction paragraph that can be found in the Pension Act, the War Veterans Allowance Act, and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, which is commonly referred to as the social covenant. In light of the comments made by government lawyers in the Equitas lawsuit, we request that the following paragraph be enshrined in the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act. I will read that for you.
The provisions of this Act shall be liberally construed and interpreted to the end that the recognized obligation of the people and Government of Canada to provide compensation to those members of the forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependants, may be fulfilled.;
This would put an end to the ongoing debate regarding the moral, social, legal, and fiduciary responsibilities that this nation’s citizens and its government have with regard to their commitment to the care of and compensation to veterans and their families. For those who were willing to write a blank cheque for up to and including their lives for this great nation, we owe them nothing less.
It is clearly understood that both rehabilitation and transition success is heavily correlated with financial stability. Injured veterans are much more likely to be able to concentrate on their rehabilitation program if they are not burdened with the concern over how they will be able to financially support themselves and their families. It is not surprising then that the most pressing priorities encompass issues of a financial nature.
In April 2013, the Veterans Consultation Group, consisting of 20 veterans groups, unanimously agreed that the following items needed to be the top priorities for immediate resolution. These priorities were reiterated by the same group in October 2013 and are issues that have also been identified by the veterans ombudsman’s report on the new Veterans Charter.
One, the earnings loss benefit must be increased to 100% of the pre-release salary and include provisions for loss of projected career earnings, be continued for life, and be indexed according to the consumer price index, removing the currently mandated 2% cap.
Two, the inequity of compensation paid to class A and B reservists with less than 180 days' service who receive injuries attributable to service cease.
Three, the maximum disability award be increased so that it is consistent with the amounts provided by a court of law to injured civilian workers.
These priorities remain unresolved and we implore this committee to recognize them in your deliberations as being the most vital items requiring immediate action.
The veteran’s ombudsman has provided a comprehensive set of reports including an actuarial analysis of the new Veterans Charter and has outlined the deficiencies with the programs and services provided therein. His review is unbiased, comprehensive, and fully supported by ANAVETS and we urge this committee to consider all of his recommendations in this comprehensive review. He has highlighted, as a major concern, the circumstances surrounding the most seriously injured veterans.
It is recognized that severely injured veterans may never have the ability to work permanently again. It is these veterans who are most vulnerable at the age of 65 when their earnings loss benefit is suddenly ended. A mere 2% retirement supplement is insufficient when over the years their income has been reduced to 75% of their salary, hampering their ability to save for their retirement years. Furthermore, although taxable, because the earning loss benefit is not considered earnings income, it does not give the option for continuing to contribute to the CPP, thereby reducing the amount of future income to be received upon reaching the age of 65 or 67.
It is therefore imperative that the totally and permanently incapacitated veterans be eligible to receive the permanent impairment allowance and the permanent impairment allowance supplement. We are deeply concerned that the ombudsman has found that over half of veterans deemed totally and permanently incapacitated are not in receipt of the PIA and the supplement when, by Veterans Affairs' own definition:
A Veteran may be determined to be Totally and Permanently Incapacitated if the Veteran is assessed as not having the capacity to return to any occupation which can provide suitable, gainful employment as a result of the permanent health problem(s) for which the Veteran is eligible for the Rehabilitation Program.
The amount of PIA payable is based on the extent of the veteran's permanent and severe impairment, and the payment of the PIA supplement is based on whether the veteran is totally and permanently incapacitated to the extent it prevents the veteran from performing any occupation that would be considered suitable, gainful employment.
In light of these similar definitions, it would be expected that all veterans who are considered totally and permanently incapacitated be automatically eligible for the PIA and PIA supplement. In addition, the attendance allowance and exceptional incapacity allowance should also be made available to severely injured veterans if required.
When a Canadian Armed Forces member becomes ill or injured the entire family unit is affected. In many cases spouses become caregivers or breadwinners and family dynamics change or break down. When dealing with mental health issues of a spouse or a parent, anxiety is often heightened and access to support systems becomes imperative. When transitioning from military to civilian life, there needs to be a continuum of care for the family members who are affected.
Military families often require short-term counselling, workshops, group therapy, child care, and referral services, all of which are available to them through the military family resource centres. After their family member releases from the forces, currently all of these supports are no longer accessible. Family members need to have access to counselling in their own right, as well as similar support services for child care, and respite care for those spouses who are giving full-time care to their injured partner.
In many cases, military spouses have given up career and education advancement to follow their husbands and wives as they received new postings and to raise children alone when duty called. When a CF member is seriously injured, it is often the spouse who becomes the full-time caregiver, further hampering their ability to work outside of the home. The Government of Canada needs to address these issues by offering respite care and compensation for full-time caregivers.
With the recent office closures and an overall reduction in front-line staff at Veterans Affairs Canada, there is a concern that the quality and timeliness of program delivery will suffer. This is an item that all veterans groups are watching closely.
The process in which members are transitioned from the care of the Department of National Defence to Veterans Affairs Canada requires continued harmonization, so that all transitioning members are acutely aware of the services available to them, and the eligibility, timeline, and required documents they need to access these programs and services. Adjustments to eligibility requirements and expansion of the timeline in which veterans and their families have to apply for the programs should be re-examined, in order to ensure that undue hardship is not put on these members at a time when they are ill and unable to handle the pressure of time constraints and unnecessary bureaucracy.
To conclude, in order to truly ensure that our servicemen and women are able to successfully transition from a life of service to country, to a fulfilling life of civilian employment, we need to invest in their future. By making certain that they have the financial stability to concentrate on their health and vocational training, we can ensure that they are well-equipped to start a new and fulfilling career. For those who have received injuries that preclude them from that ability, we must ensure that they and their families are cared for and compensated in a manner such that their quality of life, as near as possible, be no worse off than had the injury never occurred.
Since the introduction of the new Veterans Charter in 2006, there have been many reports issued from advisory groups, stakeholders, and parliamentary and senate committees highlighting over 200 recommendations on the necessary improvements needed for the new Veterans Charter. Add to that the comprehensive review and recommendations put forth in the ombudsman's report, and there is a clear road map for improvement. Now is the time for action.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.