Problems with the Veterans Charter can be fixed

For years we have been hearing about problems with the Veterans Charter and now a new report from the Veterans Ombudsman confirms that it will push some of our most severely disabled soldiers into poverty. That surely doesn’t match the sentiment that Canadians have for the people we ask to defend our country.


It is important to note that the Charter is relatively new.  Before 2006, we gave our veterans full pensions which have been replaced by programs and allowances.  Under this new system veterans tell us that injured soldiers are only getting a fraction of the help that the old pension system provided. 


Now analysis and projections from Veteran’s Ombudsman, Guy Parent point to real problems ahead for our most disabled veterans.  He tells us that individuals who have to rely on provisions in the Veterans Charter alone are in danger of living in poverty.  In addition to that the report also states that many current veterans do not have sufficient retirement income, and that there’s inadequate support for veterans transitioning to civilian careers which could in turn lead to more veterans struggling in their late years.


New Democrats have been working with Veterans to bring these problems to the government’s attention and the Conservatives cannot claim the Ombudsman’s report contains new revelations. We already knew many injured soldiers were left in serious need and now we have stark numbers to back it up.  Right now over 400 of Canada’s most severely disabled veterans do not even qualify for a Canadian Forces Pension. The report also states that an additional 600 soldiers who have been declared permanently disabled could also be at risk.


What makes this all so frustrating is the fact that the government could easily fix many of these problems.  One example is to remove the age 65 restriction on pension eligibility.  That would give more veterans and their families the dignity they deserve.  Surely we don’t have to wait for another review to do something, the government can fix these problems immediately.  


Within days of the Ombudsman’s report, veterans were voicing disappointment with the centralization of services at Veterans Affairs Canada after regional offices were axed in Budget 2012.   Veterans say this is making it tougher to navigate programs in the Veterans Charter meant to help with the adjustment to life after their time in the forces.  


The government should listen to veterans and patch the holes in the charter.  If they can’t do that it will be clear that the gap between the public’s desire to honour our veterans and the official – but amendable – document that governs how we do that is a product of the government’s unwillingness to address the flaws in their own work.