This Proposed Legislative Program was adopted at the 2017 NCVA Annual Meeting, held in Toronto on November 21st.
Our NCVA Legislative Report for 2017 will trace developments in veterans' legislation and policy reform since our annual meeting of November 2016 – the report will outline the degree of progress that has been achieved and the outstanding issues that need to be addressed on a priority basis as we move forward.
We will cover the impact of Budget 2017 delivered by the Federal Government in March of this year, with a comparable analysis of our NCVA legislative recommendations and those proposals emanating from the various Ministerial Advisory Groups, with particular focus on the Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), the Care and Support Advisory Group, the Service Excellence Advisory Group and the Commemoration Advisory Group.
I would first mention that, for the eighth time in the last eleven years (since the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006), we have a new Minister of Veterans Affairs (and Associate Minister of DND).
Seamus O'Regan was appointed by the Prime Minister on August 28, 2017 – at a time, in my judgement, when we have reached a critical juncture in the development of veterans' legislation and the reform of the New Veterans Charter.
As a matter of background:
As you will have noted, I wrote a letter of congratulations to Mr. O'Regan upon his appointment which I have attached to this report and, indeed, have received the following response from the new Minister on September 8, 2017.
It is an honour to be given the opportunity to serve as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. I am humbled to have been called upon to meet our Government's commitment to serve our nation's Veterans and their families.
In the days and weeks ahead, as I work to familiarize myself with the Department, I am eager to learn more about the priorities of each of the Ministerial Advisory Groups, and to receive your Group's advice. I am committed to continuing the dialogue and working collaboratively to improve benefits and services.
Thank you for your contribution to ensuring that Canada's Veterans and their families are treated with the care, compassion and respect they deserve.
There is a great deal of work for us to do, and I look forward to working together.
Hon. Seamus O'Regan
It will be interesting to observe the effect this ministerial change will have on senior staff and departmental hierarchy, with particular reference to ongoing VAC/DND efforts to implement the Mandate Letter received from the Prime Minister to ostensibly satisfy the needs and expectations of the veterans' community. It is to be noted that the initial Mandate Letter received by Minister Hehr has been revamped recently to update the government's commitments and delineate areas of apparent achievement.
As an overview, I would like to provide an evaluation of outstanding legislative and policy concerns as they have evolved under the administration of the former Minister Kent Hehr who was appointed in the Fall of 2015.
It will be recalled that, with the bringing down of the Federal Budget in March 2016, the Federal Government clarified to some extent its preliminary intentions with respect to partially implementing the Mandate Letter that had been established as a consequence of the Liberal Government's election campaign commitments. In my judgement, with certain significant caveats, this set of measures delineated in Budget 2016 represented a first step in reforming veterans' legislation but it was self-evident that there was clearly much more to be done to fulfill the priorities in the Mandate Letter.
In effect, Budget 2016 continued the process of addressing the outstanding gaps, weaknesses and inequities which have been readily apparent in the New Veterans Charter for some time and which have been recognized by multiple advisory groups and stakeholder organizations including the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group of 2009, the Veterans Ombudsman, The Royal Canadian Legion Veterans Consultation Assembly, Standing Committees of Parliament and our NCVA Legislative Program which have all studied and reviewed this legislation for almost a decade.
As part and parcel of Minister Hehr's obligation to fulfill the specific commitments outlined in the Mandate Letter, he engaged the veterans' community in order to better understand the position of veteran stakeholders. In conjunction with improving the consultation levels with the veterans' organizations, Minister Hehr appointed six advisory groups and two sub-advisory groups as follows:
Marijuana for Medical Use Expert Panel
Homelessness Working Group
I would advise that these Advisory Groups have continued to meet over the last two years with the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, Ministerial officials and senior members of the VAC hierarchy. It is to be further noted that NCVA has representation on four of the six Advisory Groups including the Policy Advisory Group, the Commemoration Advisory Group, the Service Excellence Advisory Group and the Care and Support Advisory Group. I will be asking Bruce Henwood, the co-chair of the Care and Support Group, and Derrill Henderson, a member of the Commemoration Group, to provide further reports later in this meeting.
You will have received my report earlier this year following the bringing down of the 2017 Federal Budget. I believe it is fair to say that the Budget announcement with respect to veterans focussed largely on transitional issues, "wellness" and rehabilitation programs, but contained little substance insofar as the longstanding concerns of the veterans' community on financial compensation and improved benefits under the New Veterans Charter.
Indeed, as confirmed by the Minister and the Deputy Minister following the delivery of the Budget, many of the recommendations emanating from NCVA, the Policy Advisory Group, and other veteran stakeholders have been deliberately pushed down the line for further review and evaluation.
As per usual, the budgetary document included a number of statements of good intentions and countless platitudes as to the Government's "care, support and respect" for Canadian veterans and their families.
As I had indicated earlier, to be fair to the Minister and the Budget, the document does advance and expand the following transitional wellness and rehabilitation programs which will potentially prove to be beneficial to many veterans and their families:
In the presentations made by the Minister and the Deputy Minister through the course of the briefings I attended, they both emphasized the fact that Budget 2016 led to the investment of $5.6 billion dollars over six years to provide more funds to veterans with injuries or illnesses incurred during military service. They particularly mentioned that, in Budget 2016:
It is noteworthy that the Minister and Deputy Minister appeared to draw on this history so as to attempt to rationalize the fact that Budget 2017 is extremely thin on financial compensation provisions and instead dwells on wellness and rehabilitation concerns.
In this context, it is revealing that the budget document defined "what success will look like" as a consequence of the budget announcements:
Unfortunately, as I have expressed to the Minister and the Deputy Minister, the Budget failed to tackle the "elephant in the room" in that it did not address the fundamental question of the financial disparity which clearly exists between Pension Act and New Veterans Charter compensation for disabled veterans. In addition, it is readily apparent that VAC has decided to "kick the can down the road" insofar as issues impacting on the financial compensation for disabled veterans and, more particularly, in re-establishing a form of lifetime pension as an option to the lump sum payment as delineated by the Mandate Letter. In fact, the Minister and the Deputy Minister have both reaffirmed that this subject will be under review with a decision to be made ostensibly later this year.
The Budget document provides as follows in this regard:
It is to be noted that, during the course of discussions leading up to the Budget and, indeed, in the briefings following the announcement, there was considerable concern that the Government was simply going to establish an option wherein the lump sum payment (Disability Award) would be apportioned or reworked over the life of the veteran for the purposes of creating a "lifetime pension" as ostensibly required under the Mandate Letter. NCVA and other veteran stakeholders have significantly criticized this proposition as being totally inadequate and not providing the lifetime financial security which was envisaged by the veterans' community in this context. In fact, it is fair to say that the reasonable expectation of veteran stakeholders was that some form of benefit stream would be established which would address the financial disparity between the benefits received under the Pension Act and the NVC for individually disabled veterans.
It has been our recommendation to the Minister and the Department that VAC should pivot from this lump sum payment evaluation for delivering the so-called lifetime pension option and instead look to the major conclusions of the NCVA Legislative Report and Policy Advisory Group Chapter One. Both of these reports propose that the combination of the best provisions of the Pension Act and the best provisions of the NVC would produce this form of lifetime pension in a much more realistic manner in order to ensure the financial security for those veterans who need this form of monetary support through their lifetime. In this context, it remains our strong suggestion that, rather than utilizing the term "lifetime pension" as an option to the lump sum payment, VAC should use the term "lifetime financial security" and move away from attempting to convert the lump sum payment into a form of lifetime pension.
It is further to be noted, from the perspective of the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group which I co-chair, that we feel in general terms that the Budget does not respond in a meaningful manner to the PAG recommendations (Chapter One) as endorsed at the Annual General Meeting of NCVA in November 2016. Our key recommendation in this context which would effectively produce a form of lifetime financial security was submitted to the Minister last Fall and presented to the Veterans Summit in Ottawa in October 2016. The PAG report concludes:
"The enhancement of the Earnings Loss Benefit/Career Impact Allowance as a single stream of income for life, the addition of Exceptional Incapacity Allowance, Attendance Allowance and a new monthly family benefit for life will ensure all veterans receive the care and support they deserve when they need it and through their lifetime."
It was the judgement of the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group that this proposal effectively bridged the best parts of the Pension Act and the NVC and represented a good first step to addressing the self-evident disparity between the NVC and the PA insofar as compensation was concerned, and further provided a form of "lifelong pension" for those veterans who qualified for the benefits proposed in our model. Given the ostensibly wide acceptance in the veterans' community of this phase of the Policy Advisory Group's report, it is somewhat difficult to rationalize the failure of the Government to adopt this recommendation as a priority step to NVC reform at this time.
It should be stated, however, that with reference to the bigger picture the overall Budget was quite light as to financial commitments to all Government departments in the immediate fiscal period – many political commentators have surmised that the Federal Government has adopted a "wait and see" attitude as to Government expenditures in the short term until the American Congress and the Trump administration have revealed their budgetary plans and a conclusion has been arrived at with regard to the NAFTA negotiation which will undoubtedly have a potentially significant impact on the Canadian economy.
I must say that I continue to maintain a certain degree of optimism about the potential for progress with respect to our legislative initiatives. Indeed, through the course of the ongoing work of the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group over the past year, including a number of briefings and meetings with ministerial and departmental officials, it was underlined that the recommendations of NCVA and the MPAG remain "front and centre" and are seriously being considered as part and parcel of the continuing evaluation in regard to providing lifetime financial security for disabled veterans and their families – time will tell as to the reality of this commitment insofar as actual implementation.
With reference to the improvements to be made to the newly defined Career Impact Allowance, Budget 2016, in response to the Mandate Letter, indicated VAC's intention to expand access to higher grades of the then Permanent Impairment Allowance to better support veterans who have had their career options limited by a service related illness or injury. It will be recalled that access to PIA had been extremely limited under the administration of the NVC. As a matter of background, the Veterans Ombudsman's Office determined that only 50% of Seriously Disabled Veterans qualified for PIA and, of those who do qualify, over 90% obtained only the lowest grade of grade 3.
Unfortunately, it became self-evident following the bringing down of Budget 2016 that the newly conceived CIA under the amended legislation was ill-defined both as to eligibility and grade level criteria. In effect, the CIA/PIA was arbitrarily structured so as to provide specific grade level amounts to Seriously Disabled Veterans under the Charter – in reality, these monetary figures have no real bearing as to any projected loss of career earnings suffered by an injured CAF member with reference to his or her military career. As indicated in our NCVA Legislative Report, it is widely recognized that the PIA provisions reflected a "blunt instrument" as opposed to a "precise tool" in evaluating the financial impact that an injury may have on an injured veteran when related to his or her projected military career.
It was the position of NCVA, in concert with the Policy Advisory Group, that it was essential that VAC "think outside the box" in this regard so that the concept of CIA contemplates future loss of income for a disabled veteran on the basis of the following fundamental question – "What would the disabled veteran have earned in his or her projected military career if the veteran had not been injured?"
Once this benchmark was established, it was the position of the Policy Advisory Group, as endorsed by the longstanding view of NCVA, that a form of CIA be developed as delineated in various reports emanating from the Veterans Ombudsman's office over recent years and as proposed by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group in 2009. The evaluation of the Veterans Ombudsman demonstrates the relative predictability of the elevation of a CAF member through his or her military career in recognizing the specific ranks the member would have achieved had the member not been injured. (For an extensive discussion on this subject refer to pages 7 through 9 of the NCVA Legislative Report of 2016.)
It is also of considerable import that the Canadian Civil Courts over the last number of decades have evaluated the plight of severely injured plaintiffs by consistently applying the concept of future loss of income in assessing monetary damages. In a similar fashion to the proposals emanating from our Policy Advisory Group on Career Impact Allowance, the courts consider the probable career earnings of an injured plaintiff from the perspective of future loss of income or, alternatively, future loss of earnings capacity as part and parcel of the damage award granted to plaintiffs in the Canadian judicial system. It is of interest that, in the context of Veterans Affairs Canada, the department has a distinct advantage over the courts, as the judicial system only has "one bite at the apple" at the time of the court hearing or settlement. VAC, on the other hand, is able to monitor the income position of a disabled veteran throughout his/her life to determine the differential between the benchmark established by the CIA concept and the actual income received by the veteran. Query: why should an injured Canadian veteran receive less than an injured plaintiff with reference to "future loss of income"? We have, in effect, paralleled the Disability Award under the New Veterans Charter with general damage awards in the Canadian courts – why not replicate the philosophy of the future loss of income concept as well?
A further question remains as to the eligibility of this newly branded allowance, i.e. what triggers the CIA? Currently arbitrary categories of disability are found in the VAC Regulations/Policy Guidelines for PIA. It is interesting that VAC has indicated that they intend, as one option, to do a "functional capacity assessment" or a "diminished earnings capacity test" at the point of determining whether a veteran is eligible for CIA – what does this truly mean?
Over recent years, NCVA has argued that the veteran's disability award initially granted should be a major determinant (but not the only criteria) in evaluating CIA qualification. The above mentioned "functional capacity assessment" or "diminished earning capacity test" contemplated by VAC is, in my judgement, merely an unnecessary extension or alternatively a duplication of this type of Disability Award evaluation.
In effect, it has been the longstanding position of NCVA that this employment of the Disability Award percentage would produce a more straightforward and easier understood solution to this ongoing issue of CIA eligibility. The following would reflect this form of evaluation criteria for CIA:
Veteran Disability Award
78% or over
48% – 78%
Alternatively, the DA percentage could be applied in a more precise manner by using the percentile against the maximum CIA compensation available – for example, if a veteran was in receipt of a DA of 35% the veteran would receive 35% of the maximum CIA allowance. NB: Note that this quantification of career impact has been utilized under the Pension Act for almost one hundred years in assessing the loss of earning capacity of a disabled veteran for lifetime pension purposes.
In conclusion of the overall evaluation of this important NVC provision, the MPAG recommendations with reference to the new CIA include the following:
It is extremely noteworthy that all of these recommendations, in my judgement, are key PAG proposals as it is self-evident that widening the scope of the CIA will expedite the "closing of the seam" between the NVC and the PA and potentially apply to all disabled veterans who qualify for this benefit.
In this context, it is interesting to note that, following Budget 2017, VAC finally announced the creation of the interim Regulations and Policy Guidelines for the Career Impact Allowance which were made effective April 1, 2017. It is of further significance that these provisions were not disclosed in advance to the veterans' community and, more particularly, our Policy Advisory Group, so we had no opportunity to comment or critique the proposals prior to implementation.
Following the implementation, discussions were held with departmental officials and it became clear that the grade levels under the new policy amendments were more generous for the purposes of the newly revised CIA but that the access for eligibility to qualify for the CIA benefit was essentially unchanged. However, the application of these new Regulations/Guidelines has proven extremely complex and confusing to the affected veterans' community and strongly suggests that a better solution is required.
PIA Grade Distribution
March 31 2016
Grade 1 1% (25)
Grade 2 10% (36)
Grade 3 89% (3357)
Anticipated Effective Changes
on Grade Distribution
It remains our position that these recent developments should be no more than a short-term stop gap measure to implement the proposed changes to the PIA/CIA emanating from Budget 2016. Optimally, we will continue to pursue the long-term solution through the course of this year so as to compel VAC to implement the PAG recommendation which provides a more realistic standard of compensation as to the loss of probable career earnings suffered by a disabled veteran.
I would now like to address specific provisions of the Federal Budget which establish new benefits or administrative improvements for veterans and their families:
It is the opinion of the Minister and the Deputy Minister that this is a landmark proposal which substantially enhances the Education and Training Benefit for all eligible veterans. Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk suggested that it was based on the United States G.I. Bill in relation to extending educational benefits beyond disabled veterans so as to include all released veterans who qualify under this new program.
The benefit will be available for ten years going forward following the release of the veteran and will be retroactive to April 1, 2006.
It will begin in April 1, 2018 for all veterans honourably released on or after April 1, 2006 – veterans with six years of eligible service will be entitled to up to $40,000.00 of benefits, while veterans with twelve years of eligible service will be entitled to up to $80,000.00 of benefits. The Minister/Deputy Minister emphasized that the benefit would provide more money for veterans to go to college, university or technical school after they complete their service.
There is little question that this newly expanded educational benefit will be potentially beneficial to a much larger segment of the veterans' community. My one caveat is that the "devil is often in the details" and questions of eligibility criteria will have to be examined closely and, in addition, it will be necessary to determine whether the rather restrictive policy in the past for educational programs will be addressed and that more liberal access in general will be achieved by this initiative.
It will also be important to understand whether a released veteran wishing to take advantage of the educational benefit will be covered through some form of income replacement program to address the potential diminishment in income receipt for the maximum four-year period, i.e. will the SISIP LTD program or the VAC ELB program accompany this educational benefit particularly for disabled veterans who might qualify though this REHAB/Education Program? Deputy Minister Natynczyk also indicated in conclusion that, for those veterans who find education is not their solution, there would be further monies available under this program for career development courses in the neighbourhood of $5,000.00 per veteran.
The Budget announced that this measure would equip veterans, CAF members, survivors, veterans' spouses and common-law partners with the tools they need to successfully navigate transition to the civilian workforce. The services offered would be expanded to include coaching and job placement assistance, all of which would be provided through a national contractor starting in April 2018.
The Ministry and Deputy Minister both felt that this was a breakthrough to assist the entire family given the expansion of the career transition service to survivors, veterans' spouses, and common-law partners (note example contained at page 176 of the Budget document of how a veteran would benefit from this new program).
This benefit will clearly replace the existing Family Caregiver Relief Benefit and would provide a slightly more generous non-taxable $1,000.00 a month benefit payable directly to caregivers to better recognize and honour their vital role. I, of course, raised obvious questions as to why the quantum of the Attendance Allowance or Attendant Care Benefit was not utilized as opposed to the rather meagre $12,000.00 a year. You will recall that we had proposed, through the NCVA legislative platform and the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group, that the amount of the Attendance Allowance Program or the Attendant Care Benefit would be more realistic so as to address, for example, the potential loss of employment income suffered by a caregiver spouse in attending to the veteran.
In addition, I have particularly raised with ministerial officials the concern that there should be more flexibility attached to this new Caregiver Recognition Benefit as clearly "one size does not fit all." It is not without significance in this area that the grading levels available under the Attendance Allowance provisions of the Pension Act give the department a certain degree of discretion and flexibility as to the attendance needs of individual veterans. In my experience, there are numerous examples where substantial distinctions exist as to the need for attendance encountered by Seriously Disabled Veterans.
It is also revealing that there is no mention of the Pension Act family compensation available to disabled veterans in this portion of the Budget dealing with caregiver recognition, i.e. under the PA a disabled veteran pensioner with a spouse is compensated a further 25% and for each child 12½% et al. This inclusion of this Pension Act benefit for families was a strong recommendation of the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group in order to recognize this beneficial provision of the Pension Act in the New Veterans Charter to better balance the overall compensation paid under the two statutory regimes.
Other budgetary provisions of note are as follows:
It is to be noted that, in our NCVA Legislative Agenda, we proposed the following with regard to this entire question of transition:
NB: I can advise that longstanding negotiations continue between DND, VAC and SISIP to attain an objective where VAC becomes the sole provider of income replacement and rehabilitation programs for medically released CAF members. I must confess this negotiation has been ongoing for at least the last decade and one can only hope that this urgently needed reform is implemented sooner rather than later.
With reference to the ongoing topic of the transition process for disabled veterans from the Department of National Defence to Veterans Affairs Canada, it remains readily apparent that dramatic procedural changes are required to ease this transition. Although Deputy Minister Natynczyk has initiated significant policy revisions to provide for an early intervention well in advance of the ultimate medical release of the disabled veteran, there remains much more work to be done to ensure that this transitional process is improved. It is extremely noteworthy that both the Veterans Affairs Ombudsman Guy Parent and the DND Ombudsman Gary Walbourne have made significant proposals to the Minister and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in relation to improving the transitional protocols in this context.
Without breaching confidentiality, quite clearly one of the most significant priorities currently being addressed by the various Advisory Councils to the Minister with reference to this transitional phase is to ensure that disabled veterans are fully apprised of benefits and entitlements, rehabilitation options and job alternatives well before their medical discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces.
In this regard, it remains the strong opinion of NCVA that VAC should be able to identify those benefits a veteran is entitled to and implement these benefits on the veteran's behalf. In general terms, the utilization of a knowledgeable case manager together with administrative aides at an early point in the transitional process should expedite this procedure, as opposed to the current protocol where a veteran is often asked to describe his or her needs and the precise benefits that the veteran is seeking. It has been our recommendation that the case manager must be in a position in nearly all cases to identify these benefits and entitlements to the individual veteran under the various VAC programs, and that this should occur in collaborative partnership with the Department of National Defence prior to the discharge of the disabled veteran in question. With particular reference to Seriously Disabled Veterans, the onus should be removed from the veteran and the VAC administrative function should be fine-tuned and more proactive in establishing entitlements for such veterans.
As earlier indicated, the new legislative provisions emanating from the Federal Budget 2016 were intended to increase the Earnings Loss Benefit, effective October 1, 2016, to provide 90% of gross pre-release military salary for injured veterans participating in VAC's rehabilitation program or on an extended basis for those injuries preventing the veteran from suitable and gainful employment. The indexation of this benefit would also no longer be capped at 2% and would be allowed to keep pace with inflation.
It was the expectation of veteran stakeholders that such an increase to the Earnings Loss Benefit would apply equally, and without exception, to all SISIP LTD benefits received by veterans whether covered by the Pension Act or the New Veterans Charter and whether service related or non-service related.
This entire discussion triggers a much more fundamental concern as to whether SISIP LTD for service-related disabilities should be continued at all or whether it should be eliminated due to the multiple standards which exist not only with the SISIP LTD program but also the SISIP VOC-REHAB program.
One of the priority recommendations of NCVA, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, numerous veteran consultation groups, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Ombudsman's office for many years has been to suggest that the insurance culture needs to be removed from the compensation made available to veterans and their families. The compensation of veterans and their dependants should not be a function of the insurance industry whose mandate, in many situations, is to minimize exposure of the insurer's policy when applied to injured or disabled individuals.
As a matter of background, a fundamental commitment made by the Government at the time of the enactment of the New Veterans Charter was the recognition that the SISIP LTD program should be eliminated and fully replaced by a liberalized Earnings Loss Benefit. The constraints placed on the New Veterans Charter by the restrictive provisions of the SISIP LTD program and the SISIP VOC-REHAB program are felt in the present context and should be removed as soon as possible. This Government commitment made by the Minister and Deputy Minister of the day was part and parcel of the understanding between the veteran stakeholder community and VAC in consideration of the immediate passage of the Charter by Parliament in 2006.
The "wellness program" strongly advocated by VAC and, more particularly, Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk is clearly impacted by the fact that the greater majority of medically released CAF members fall under the administration of the SISIP VOC-REHAB program. In effect, Veterans Affairs does not have the capacity to control and operate this portion of the VOC-REHAB program and is left with little accountability as to the impact that the SISIP program will have on veterans in regard to this essential element of the New Veterans Charter.
As part of our Policy Advisory Group report to the Minister we also concluded in this context that, with reference to the Earnings Loss Benefit, there should be no set off in relation to this program with regard to the first $10,000 (or higher amount to be determined) earned by a veteran in returning to the workplace. Through this mechanism, the question of disincentive is addressed with the resultant impact that the veteran sees a distinct advantage in attempting to earn employment income without worrying about a set off applying to these funds. It is interesting to note that the former Minister Erin O'Toole, as part and parcel of the Conservative Government's election platform in the fall of 2015, proposed that the first $10,000 of employment income should not be set off against the Earnings Loss Benefit in furtherance of this objective.
With reference to the question of service and non-service related disabilities, it has been the experience of the veterans' community that this entire question of whether a member of the Canadian Armed Forces is to be considered "on duty" for the purposes of pensionability either under the Pension Act or the New Veterans Charter has been a longstanding grievance. The regulations in this area would be far clearer and more equitable if the Government/Department agreed to adopt the "insurance principle" in this context so that all members of the military would be considered "on duty" at all times and thus eligible for various financial benefits such as the Disability Award and Income Replacement programs once they put on a uniform. This would clear up the potential interpretive issues which are raised in the regulations to the New Veterans Charter, and would address the confusion and ambiguity which often results when individual hypothetical cases reflect "gray areas" or areas of dispute. The resultant effect of this recognition would also further the objective of eliminating the SISIP LTD program even for non-service related disabilities which, of course, was its original and exclusive mandate in the 1970s when it was first created.
In this context, the following represents the recommendations of the Policy Advisory Group to the Minister:
As stated earlier, VAC has increased the Disability Award to a maximum of $360,000 in 2017 for injuries or illnesses caused or worsened by military service and aligning with other New Veterans Charter benefits by indexing the Disability Award to inflation. Higher awards will be paid retroactively to all veterans who have received an award since the introduction of the New Veterans Charter in 2006.
This increase, which the veterans' community has advocated for many years, allows the Disability Award to parallel the maximum that the Canadian Courts award for non‑economic damages (pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, et al) suffered by an injured plaintiff.
It is also noteworthy that this new maximum cap of $360,000 has been supported by the Veterans Ombudsman's Office (OVO) and the EQUITAS lawsuit. It is of particular interest that the recently released OVO report comprehensively compares the Disability Award to national and international standards and Workers Compensation Board standards in Canada and finds the maximum amount of DA to be fair and equitable.
It is not without significance in this regard that one of the major NCVA recommendations to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs over recent years with regard to non-economic awards was to propose that VAC adopt the Exceptional Incapacity Allowance concept founded under the Pension Act to distinctively recognize the extraordinary financial needs of certain seriously impaired high end veteran pensioners. This allowance has traditionally addressed the impact of a disability suffered by 100% veteran pensioners with reference to their difficulty to cope with their overall incapacity. The introduction of EIA to the Charter would augment the Disability Award particularly in the circumstance where a Seriously Disabled Veteran confronts the ravages of age.
It is interesting to note that the above-mentioned Veterans Ombudsman's report issued in August of 2016 proposes a similar continuation of the EIA with the caveat that the eligibility percentage be adjusted so that those Seriously Disabled Veterans under 100% should also be considered for this newly established award under the Charter.
Note the recommendations of the Policy Advisory Group in this context:
It is noteworthy that, under Budget 2016, the Government did not address sufficiently the plight of families particularly in circumstances where a member of a family, often a spouse, is required to act in the role of a caregiver to a disabled veteran.
As a matter of background, the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit (FCRB) introduced in 2015 proved to be clearly inadequate and certainly required further re-evaluation, as it failed to comprehensively provide adequate financial support for the families of Seriously Disabled Veterans where significant needs of attendance must be provided by a caregiver who often has had to leave his or her employment to do so.
It is noteworthy, as mentioned above, that the Family Caregiver Benefit contained in Budget 2017 has replaced the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit completely. However, this attempt by VAC is, in my judgement, only a marginal improvement.
It is readily apparent that VAC need not "reinvent the wheel" with regard to such caregiver allowances as:
It is noteworthy that the Liberal Government election platform position and Mandate Letter indicates an intention to invest $100 million per year to expand support for the families of veterans to include education, counselling and training for families who are providing care and support for veterans living with physical or mental health issues as a result of their service. The re‑introduction to the New Veterans Charter of the above-mentioned Attendant Care Benefit or alternatively the Attendance Allowance provision of the Pension Act would go a long way to alleviating financial concerns of families in this context.
In addition, the new Family Benefit MPAG is proposing for all veterans in receipt of a Disability Award based on the level of disability assessment would provide further support to families and address, to a certain extent, the cost of the veteran's disability to his spouse and/or dependant children. The amount of this benefit would parallel the payments which have been made under the Pension Act for many years as part of the pension received by a disabled veteran who has a spouse and/or dependant children. Once again, the resultant impact of balancing benefits in this manner under both statutory regimes would be particularly responsive to the current shortcoming in the New Veterans Charter insofar as financial assistance to families of disabled veterans is concerned.
Note PAG report recommendations in relation to the support to families:
It is also to be noted that the new legislative amendments emanating from Budgets 2016 and 2017 do not address the inadequacies of the Retirement Income Security Benefit (RISB) which was enacted two years ago by the former Conservative Government in its attempt to address the post-65 financial security for Seriously Disabled Veterans and their families.
The RISB provides specific veterans with a post-65 benefit consisting of 70% of the Earnings Loss Benefit (or SISIP LTD payment) together with 70% of the Permanent Impairment Allowance that the veteran has been receiving from Veterans Affairs, less certain deductions prescribed by regulation.
What became abundantly crystal clear upon the adoption of the RISB last year was that the effectiveness of the RISB was contingent upon appropriate enhancements to the PIA/PIAS (CIA) and ELB (SISIP LTD) provisions of the Act. Without such complementary amendments to provide, for example, improved access to PIA (CIA) and higher grade levels for the allowance, it was clear that a number of moderately or severely disabled veterans at age 65 would be essentially receiving 70% of the Earnings Loss Benefit which was originally awarded at 75%-90% of previous military service income indexed with a cap of 2% per annum. The impact on surviving spouses is even more adverse and detrimentally affects the financial security of the surviving spouses by only providing a 50% entitlement in relation to the above-mentioned formula. In the minds of most of the veterans' community this would result in less than a satisfactory form of financial security in the traditional retirement years for such disabled veterans and for their surviving spouses.
To apply a 70% formula to the post-65 period for a permanently incapacitated veteran based on a public/private sector pension model is not appropriate when it is recognized that the plight of such a Seriously Disabled Veteran post-65 remains unchanged and his or her financial costs of living continue to be essentially the same.
During the course of discussions surrounding the enactment of the RISB provisions last year, strong arguments were made by various veteran stakeholders that the Earnings Loss Benefit should be continued for life and that the Earnings Loss Benefit be established at 90%-100% of previous military service income, particularly given the fact that the principal recipients of this post-65 "pension" will be totally incapacitated veterans.
It is interesting to note that our Policy Advisory Group recommendations address this significant issue by establishing that a single stream of ELB/CIA payments should be continued for life as is the case for similar Pension Act benefits and that the RISB be eliminated – as it is self-evident the RISB is far too complex and impacts negatively on many Seriously Disabled Veterans and particularly surviving spouses.
In addition, our financial compensation model provides that, in the event ELB/CIA is indeed continued for life, surviving spouses should be entitled to 70% of this amount which would equate to the proposed levels of the new Canadian Forces Superannuation Act survivor benefit committed to under the Minister's Mandate Letter.
With reference to the Policy Advisory Group Report to the Minister and the Veterans Summit on October 5, 2016, our work under Chapter One of our Submission can be summarized as follows:
Firstly: "The enhancement of ELB/CIA as a single stream of income for life, the addition of EIA, Attendance Allowance, and a new monthly family benefit for life will ensure all veterans receive the care and support they deserve, when they need it and through their lifetime."
Secondly: "The elimination of the SISIP LTD and VOC-REHAB program will ensure all veterans have streamlined and simple access to VOC REHABILITATION as income support when they need to focus on wellness and re-establishing self-fulfillment.
So what is the impact of these recommendations:
As clearly outlined to the Veterans Summit, our assignment as an Advisory Group is a work in progress and there is clearly more work required to address the proverbial "elephant in the room," i.e. the disparity between the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter in regard to all disabled veterans.
In relation to our ongoing work in Chapter Two, in order to achieve the "one veteran – one standard" principle, it will be our task to ensure that no veteran under the NVC shall receive less compensation than a veteran under the PA with the same level of disability or incapacity.
It is our preliminary conclusion, with reference to those disabled veterans not fully covered by our Chapter One recommendations, that there are better options than simply returning to the disability pension under the Pension Act, and we are currently evaluating alternative solutions to eliminate the disparity and achieve the "one veteran – one standard" principle.
With reference to adopting the position of utilizing the disability pension under the Pension Act as a possible response to the Mandate Letter, the Policy Advisory Group has studied the challenges and implications of this option. These considerations include the following:
In reviewing this overall question as to the applicability of the disability pension under the Pension Act, it is important to analyze the origins of the disability pension under the Pension Act – suffice to say that the Pension Act disability pension over time has measured a number of elements:
It is noteworthy that, whatever definition of the PA disability pension you wish to employ, compensation for a disability pension has always been measured by a comparison to the wages paid in the unskilled labour market or the lower ranks of the Public Service.
In my many years of dealing with the Pension Act there has been a consistent criticism from the Traditional veterans' community that the disability pension is not only insufficient but that the unskilled labour market wage is too low a standard. It is important to recognize that Traditional veterans have felt, over the last few decades, that they had been falling further and further behind income actually paid to members of the military. It is the position of the Policy Advisory Group that we should not perpetuate this weakness in the Pension Act. We have concluded in this context that we can do better than returning to the Pension Act disability pension option in addressing the "one veteran – one standard" principle.
What does the work of the PAG to date reflect?
I would advise that the PAG has obtained preliminary actuarial studies to confirm that our financial model satisfactorily addresses the disparity in compensation between the Pension Act and the NVC for those veterans who require financial care and support through their life.
It was my personal feeling that the presentation of the Policy Advisory Group Report Chapter One to the recent Veterans Summit meeting on October 5, 2016 in Ottawa was well received and that the course of action adopted by the PAG will produce effective recommendations to the Minister and VAC so as to further the overall objective of improving veterans' legislation.
It remains my view, as many of you will be aware, that in the context of charting a course forward the so-called gaps, weaknesses and inequities in veterans' legislation, regulations and policy have been readily apparent for some time and have been recognized by our NCVA Legislative Program, the multiple advisory groups including the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group report and the original Minister's Advisory Group report of July 2015, the Veterans Ombudsman's reports and the Standing Committees of Parliament which have studied and reviewed the legislation for almost a decade. Clearly it is time, in my judgement, that the government implement solutions and for NCVA and the Ministerial Advisory Groups to continue to provide recommendations to assist the Minister in fulfilling the commitments and priorities that he will have to address in satisfying the Mandate Letter.
There is little question that the current environment surrounding this collaborative effort has dramatically improved and this may indeed be the best opportunity that the veterans' community has had to rectify the self-evident problems contained in the Charter and related legislation.
In conclusion, for the purposes of our NCVA legislative platform the following recommendations are proposed:
NCVA adopts the position that much more is required to improve the New Veterans Charter and that the Government needs to fully implement the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group recommendations presented to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Summit in October 2016 with particular emphasis on:
In addition to the above-mentioned fundamental proposals of NCVA as to the overriding guiding principles for New Veterans Charter reform, the following recommendations represent specific legislative amendments in furtherance of this objective:
NCVA continues to support the contention that the Seriously Disabled Veteran should be given the highest priority in the implementation of the Government's plan of action for legislative reform in regard to the New Veterans Charter and other related legislative provisions.
NCVA endorses the position that the Federal Government's failure to fully implement a plan of action on reforming the New Veterans Charter violated the social covenant owed to Canadian veterans and their families.
That NCVA require that DND and VAC employ all necessary financial, professional and personnel resources to identify, care and compensate veterans' suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that it is recognized that this insidious disability must be continually monitored to ensure the well being of such veterans.
N.B.: DND/VAC released a comprehensive report this fall entitled "joint suicide prevention strategy" which establishes a comprehensive set of protocols to address this entire question of PTSD and suicide. The veterans' community will be monitoring this new policy very closely to determine how effective these proposals will be in addressing what many in the veterans' community have described as a significant crisis.
NCVA takes the position that, as part and parcel of the DND and VAC "early intervention" protocols, no disabled CAF member should be medically released until proper rehabilitation, re-establishment and financial benefit programs are implemented and completed to ensure such disabled veteran is capable of satisfactorily returning to civilian life.
That NCVA continue to support the ongoing work of The War Amps Task Force to improve VAC administration efficiency for the purposes of optimizing the delivery of VAC programs and benefits.
That NCVA member-organizations contribute proposals based on their own members' experiences to be included in the effective work of The War Amps Task Force for the purposes of a further submission to Veterans Affairs Canada in addressing bureaucratic obstacles and eliminating red tape.
That NCVA continue to apply "relentless scrutiny" to departmental service delivery, so that we are able to draw our own conclusions as to the impact of the budgetary staffing enhancements currently being implemented by VAC and promised in the future by the new Liberal government in order to make our own judgement as to the question of whether VAC has become more administratively efficient through the "red tape cutting" initiative.
That NCVA continue to promote the utilization of presumptions in the VAC adjudicative system as outlined in NCVA's 2014 Legislative Agenda, so as to create administrative efficiencies and provide financial savings to the department in this period of budgetary analysis.
With reference to the longstanding concerns of NCVA in this area, I can advise that the Advisory Group on Care and Support is currently evaluating the shortcomings of the VAC Health Care and Long-Term Care programs. In specific terms, it is my understanding that the Advisory Group will be studying the myriad of regulations and policies which apply to VAC Health Care and Long-Term Care classifications and which remain of serious concern insofar as the voluminous number of eligibility criteria that exists in this area of VAC administration.
As discussed over the course of the last number of NCVA meetings, it is self-evident that VAC, through VIP, has the authority to cover specific costs and expenditures while a qualified veteran resides in his home. In addition, once such a veteran pensioner has reached the stage where a long-term care facility is required, the Veteran Health Care Regulations establish financial support at this time in the health care process.
As we have consistently argued with departmental officials for many years, what has been missing has been the financial assistance for the middle ground or intermediary level of institutionalization where many of our members currently find themselves, i.e. seniors' residences and assisted living facilities.
We have had a number of intensive meetings with departmental officials over the last year in an attempt to close this gap, and I remain encouraged, through the recent discussions we have just completed with senior members of the VAC team, that attempts are continuing to be made to address this longstanding concern.
Last year, I also advised this meeting that I continue to work closely with the Veterans Ombudsman's Office in this context. It is of significant interest that Guy Parent's office has adopted our position and has issued a number of reports with regard to Long Term Care/Intermediary Care which fully recognize the shortcomings that currently exist in the VAC Health Care Regulations concerning this particular gap in financial coverage. This will add further ammunition and support to our ongoing initiative to ensure that these inequities are eliminated.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Veterans Ombudsman released an excellent report last month entitled "CONTINUUM OF CARE: A JOURNEY FROM HOME TO LONG TERM CARE" which contains a comprehensive analysis of the current VAC long term care and health care policies. The report further provides a series of recommendations which are consistent and in line with NCVA's longstanding position on this important subject. We will continue to collaborate with Guy Parent and his office in pursing the implementation of these mutually desired recommendations.
In summary, the Veterans Ombudsman's proposals are as follows:
Recommendation 1: Follow-up contact with Veterans Independence Program recipients should be made on at least an annual basis and more frequently for those at higher risk (with in-home assessments when necessary) to ensure timely and accurate identification of changing needs as Veterans age.
Recommendation 2: Eliminate the inconsistency in Veterans Independence Program eligibility for housekeeping and grounds maintenance for survivors and spouses so that they may all have access to the services they need, regardless of what the Veteran received or did not receive prior to their death or involuntary separation.
Recommendation 3: Adjust the eligibility criteria of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit to provide easier access to compensation for caregivers when service-related conditions inhibit a Veteran's ability to perform Instrumental Activities of Daily Living and childcare.
Recommendation 4: Introduce additional financial support that can be used to subsidize assisted living options for Veterans whose needs do not require long term care, but who cannot stay in their own homes.
Recommendation 5: Merge the Veterans Independence Program and Long Term Care program into one "Continuum of Care" program such that access is determined once, and criteria are transparent, understandable, and based on the physical and mental health needs of the Veteran.
Recommendation 6: Reduce the complexity of 28 different eligibility groups, currently using service type, such that access to continuum of care support is based on the physical and mental health needs of Veterans.
Recommendation 7: Develop and publicly communicate a strategy to ensure that the continuum of care needs of all Veterans are being met within the current context of the Canadian Health Care system.
As many of you will be aware, there have been a number of high profile cases in the last two years which have been described in national media articles with reference to specific veterans attempting to gain admission to long term care facilities in various provinces across the country. It is of interest that VAC has ostensibly developed a flexible position in this context, so as to provide access to Traditional veterans' facilities on the basis of designating certain priority access beds as community beds for the purposes of VAC Policy Guidelines. This development of a form of freedom of choice for veterans attempting to gain admission to long-term care facilities should be encouraged on an ongoing basis.
That NCVA continue to collaborate with VAC to ensure that the adult residential care needs of the veteran are addressed through the expansion of the current VIP program and long-term care policy of the department so as to provide financial assistance in this area of institutionalized care.
That NCVA continue to work with the Veterans Ombudsman's Office in drawing to the attention of the Liberal Government the inequity that has resulted in the gap that currently exists in the VAC Health Care Regulations concerning financial coverage for adult residential care.
That NCVA ensure that VAC continues to develop flexible policy to provide veterans with a freedom of choice between a community bed and a priority access bed for purposes of admission to long-term care facilities.
I would reaffirm that I continue to consult with Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk to obtain regular briefings to ensure that VAC is fulfilling its responsibility in accordance with the Transfer Agreement governing the administration of Ste. Anne's Hospital by the Province of Quebec.
I would advise that, over the course of the last year, I have obtained appropriate assurances from the Deputy Minister that the standard of care at Ste. Anne's will not diminish under Quebec administration, that priority access beds to veterans will be maintained as entrenched in the Transfer Agreement, and that the institution will remain bilingual. In my most recent conversation with the Deputy Minister I strongly encouraged him to enhance the level of communication between the VAC hierarchy and Ste. Anne's residents to quell the ostensible concerns that they clearly are confronting in relation to this transfer.
We are certainly cognizant of the concerns expressed by staff and patients at Ste. Anne's since the takeover by the province with reference to matters which have been raised in media coverage and in relation to Union protestations as to staffing issues.
As mentioned last year, we need to be particularly sensitive to the feelings of the residents of Ste. Anne's, particularly as to the standard of care with reference to staffing and food which has found its way into recent letters to the editor from individual residents who are seriously concerned as to these ongoing issues.
It is of fundamental importance that NCVA member organizations in west Quebec continue to monitor the Transfer Agreement and ensure that the commitments made by the Federal Government are met with regard to the governance of Ste. Anne's by the Province of Quebec.
That NCVA will continue to express the significant concerns of our member‑organizations to the Minister and the Deputy Minister with reference to the administration of Ste. Anne's Hospital. NCVA intends to hold ongoing discussions with the new Minister's office to protect the interests of veterans affected by this transfer and ensure that the provisions found in the transfer agreement established to support the commitments made in relation to priority beds for veterans, language rights, and the standard of care be strictly enforced and funded by the Federal Government as promised.
Budget 2016 provided an expansion of the eligibility for The Last Post Fund Program so that more families of low income veterans will receive financial assistance under this program. The Budget proposed to increase the estate exemption for The Last Post Fund from roughly $12,000 to roughly $35,000 and apply an annual cost of living adjustment to this estate exemption going forward.
Although these are improvements over recent Federal Budgets, it remains our position that it is necessary for VAC to recognize that a Seriously Disabled Veteran should be entitled, as a Matter of Right, to receive funeral and burial benefits pursuant to the Veterans Burial Regulations.
As we have often stated, it is puzzling indeed that, during the lives of veterans, the Department has recognized the cumulative and synergistic impact of both their pension and non-pension conditions, approving many health care and treatment benefits on their behalf but, in death, ignores the relationship between these conditions.
In this context, it is inconceivable in our submission that the impact of the Seriously Disabled Veteran's pension and non-pension disabilities did not play a part in his/her ultimate demise. In this overall analysis, the principle of presumption should be fully applicable to this area of VAC adjudication.
I would advise, however, that with the odd exception, recent developments in this area insofar as the treatment of Seriously Disabled Veterans continue to be extremely encouraging.
We were, however, deeply disturbed recently to learn of the rejection of a Hong Kong veteran's claim for Last Post funding. As many of you will be aware, The War Amps of Canada has acted for the Hong Kong Veterans Association and all of its members for many decades – rarely have we been required to appeal a claim for Last Post funding under the Veterans Burial Regulations as VAC has long recognized the beneficial entitlement of this unique group of Canadian veterans.
We must say that we are somewhat shocked that this appeal has proven necessary, given the history of the Canadian Hong Kong veterans and the horrific experience they suffered as POWs of the Japanese in World War II for some 44 months – the devastating story of the abuse, torture, starvation and gross violations of human rights has long led us to the irrefutable conclusion that the family of a Hong Kong veteran should automatically receive Last Post funding as a "Matter of Right."
The War Amps/NCVA takes the strong position that all Hong Kong veterans should, as a "Matter of Right," be entitled to Last Post funding under the Veterans Burial Regulations – in our submission, no family of a Hong Kong veteran who suffered the physical, mental and psychological trauma of the 44 months in Japanese POW camps in World War II should be required to demonstrate the interrelationship of this experience on the ultimate demise of the veteran – surely it is self-evident.
As required by the relevant VAC regulations there is no doubt, in our considered opinion, that the death of a Hong Kong veteran is at least, in part, a consequence of his World War II experience and the multiple pensioned conditions that such a veteran has endured his entire life.
It would be our hope that this particular case reflects an aberration with regard to Last Post funding claims. However, it is clear that we must nip in the bud this development and thus we have mounted a comprehensive appeal to provide a "education" to the Department and, in all probability, an inexperienced adjudicator.
That NCVA continue to pressure the Minister of Veterans Affairs to ensure that, at a very minimum, Seriously Disabled Veterans entitled to a disability pension at 78% or more [SDVS] qualify, as a matter of right, under the Veterans Burial Regulations/Last Post Fund.
That Veterans Affairs Canada address the inequities that still exist in the Last Post Fund in relation to widening the standard for income/asset exemptions under the regulations and expanding the eligibility criteria to include a higher number of deserving Traditional Veterans and Modern-Day Veterans.
Over the last number of years, we have discussed at considerable length that the former Federal Government had proposed or implemented major changes to Public Service benefits and pensions including:
Once again, I have requested Chuck McCabe of the Armed Forces Pensioners'/Annuitants' Association of Canada to brief this year's NCVA Annual Meeting on these contentious issues with reference to impact on the veterans' community.
Given the "ostensible change" that the Prime Minister Mr. Trudeau has invoked with reference to the improvement of the relationship between the Federal Government and the Public Service, it will be interesting to see whether this alteration in attitude will impact upon these particular government programs and proposals – again, a true litmus test as to the validity and reality of these political commitments made during an election campaign.
With respect to our ongoing initiative vis-à-vis CAF retirees and "marriage after sixty:"
It is again noteworthy that the Liberal election platform specifically indicated that it was the intention to "… eliminate the marriage after sixty claw back clause so that surviving spouses of veterans receive appropriate pension and health benefits." As I indicated last year, if our dear friend Helen Rapp were still with us, she would be extremely pleased to see this dramatic change in political attitude emanating from the Liberal Government. Hopefully this policy will become a reality after so many years of tortuous advocacy to obtain this legislative amendment.
In addition, other concerns and inequities resulting from the operation of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act (CFSA) have been identified and deserve our attention:
In reality, when transitioning from the CAF to the Public Service, veterans with at least two years of service have the option to transfer their service from the CFSA to the PSSA, thus consolidating their pensionable service with the Federal Government under the PSSA.
As part of the Jobs and Growth Act (2012), the PSSA was amended to divide plan members into two groups: those who joined the plan before January 1, 2013 (Group I) and those who joined on or after that date (Group II). Members of Group I are entitled to an unreduced pension at age 60, or at age 55 with at least 30 years of service, while members of Group II must wait until age 65, or age 60 with at least 30 years of service.
At the time of this change, no provision was made to include in Group I CAF veterans who transferred pre-2013 military service to the PSSA. As a result, all CAF veterans joining the Public Service after January 1, 2013 become members of Group II, even if their combined military and civilian pensionable service under the PSSA began before that date.
NB: It is to be noted that this concern is the matter of Private Member's Bill C-357 introduced by Alupa Clarke, Conservative Member of Parliament for Beauport-Limoilou, and is currently before Parliament – we have advised Mr. Clarke that we are fully supportive of his initiative for this statutory amendment.
That NCVA monitor developments with reference to the Federal Government's position on Public Service pensions ("target pensions") and health care programs and engage the Government as required to protect the interests of veterans and their dependants.
NCVA adopts the position that the Public Service Health Care Plan be amended so that Seriously Disabled Veterans and their families be exempted from paying premiums for such coverage or, alternatively, that VAC should cover these contributions so as to alleviate this financial burden on Seriously Disabled Veterans and their dependants.
That NCVA continue to pressure the new Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of National Defence on behalf of the aforementioned class of widows so as to allow the spouse of a Canadian Armed Forces retiree marrying after 60 to be eligible for survivor's benefits without reducing the amount of superannuation in payment to the retiree in accordance with the Liberal party's election platform of 2015.
NCVA recommends that, to ensure fairness for CAF veterans employed in the Public Service and consistency with existing government policies, the definition of Group I under the PSSA be amended to include CAF members who have elected to transfer their pensionable military service from the CFSA to the PSSA where the start date of the military service was before January 1, 2013.
NCVA will continue to monitor the operation of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to ensure that the interests of veterans and their dependants are protected and that inequities are remedied by the Federal Government departments charged with the responsibility of administering the CFSA.
With reference to the longstanding grievance of the Aboriginal veterans in relation to their claim for compensation for post-World War II/Korea benefits, it is potentially of significant import that the Liberal Party's election platform has suggested that the new government wishes to bolster financial assistance in recognition of the unique historical culture of the Aboriginal community. In my view, this may be an opportunity to reinvigorate our support for the Aboriginal veterans in their claim against the Canadian Government which is based on overwhelming evidence that the Aboriginal veterans were denied full access to benefits under the initial Veterans Charter of 1945, which amounted to a form of "systemic discrimination."
It will be remembered that, some years ago, The War Amputations of Canada initiated a legal petition in the United Nations Human Rights Committee in an attempt to pressure the Canadian Government on the substance of the claim. This claim, although gaining appropriate exposure to this particular grievance, was not fully successful in the United Nations Human Rights Tribunal due to the ostensible limitation periods that exist in that particular jurisdiction.
It is extremely noteworthy, in this context, that the new Minister Seamus O'Regan, in a Press Release issued on September 21, 2017, has made the following comments and observations surrounding this longstanding grievance of Canada's Métis Veterans with reference to post-World War II/Korea compensation.
That NCVA continue to reinstate its support to the aboriginal veterans in their claim against the Canadian Government to provide an ex-gratia payment as compensation for benefits denied to them following their service in World War II or Korea.
It remains a priority issue of NCVA to underline the need to expand the eligibility of VIP to include, at a minimum, those widows of Seriously Disabled Veterans whose spouses did not apply for VIP prior to their death. Our position continues to be that in many cases the veteran was unable or reluctant to apply for VIP in the years prior to his passing. It is our strong argument that a presumption could be established that, in the event the Seriously Disabled Veteran had applied or was able to apply for VIP, he would have received the benefit given his significant incapacity. It is submitted that the Department would have great difficulty in refuting the logic of our argument and we remain hopeful that this particular presumption will be of great value to our widows in achieving VIP benefits.
As a matter of historic development, you will recall that the Federal Budget of 2008 partially expanded the current regulations for the continuation of VIP for life for widows provided the widow is either in receipt of the Guaranteed Income Supplement or has entitlement to the Disability Tax Credit under the Income Tax Act. It remains our position that this partial expansion is far too restrictive and that the required criteria should be removed with respect to widows of Seriously Disabled Veterans.
That NCVA continue to pressure the Minister and departmental officials to review the present policy on the continuation of VIP for life for widows with a view to providing, at a minimum, this benefit to all widows of Seriously Disabled Veterans who are not eligible because the veteran never applied for the benefits.
That the Minister of Veterans Affairs alter the Government's current position so that:
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