This year's NCVA Legislative Program will focus on developments that have taken place in veterans' legislation and policy since our Annual General Meeting of December 2019. The report will particularly evaluate the impact of COVID‑19 and describe our efforts to address the unacceptable backlog and wait times suffered by veterans in relation to health care claims and disability applications.
NCVA continues to call for dramatic and innovative steps to be taken by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to address the current unacceptable backlog and turnaround times experienced with respect to veterans' disability claims. As the Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk stated before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs earlier this year, we have indeed reached a "perfect storm" which has only been compounded by the onset of the COVID‑19 crisis.
I would reaffirm that the following represents the crux of our position in relation to this ongoing administrative crisis:
I would advise that the department issued a policy statement in June 2020 in response to this serious concern entitled "Timely disability benefits decisions: Strategic direction for improving wait times." This communication piece has been a significant priority for some time, not only for NCVA but also the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and many other stakeholder groups.
In my considered opinion, this policy document is a statement of good intentions for the mid‑ to long‑term objectives cited in the material, but fails to effectively remedy the present backlog crisis which has only been intensified by the COVID‑19 challenge.
Although it is somewhat encouraging that the VAC policy statement has adopted a number of our proposals including the prospective employment of automatic entitlement for common disabilities, the utilization of presumptions for certain consequential disabilities, and the lessening of the requirement for medical referrals in specific cases, the department's report unfortunately concludes that this will take considerable time to implement.
Furthermore, the departmental policy statement places significant weight on the announcement that an approximate $90 million has been approved by the Government for VAC in a supplementary budget estimate to retain new employees to deal with the ongoing backlog. However, this newly acquired departmental staff will face a steep learning curve and will not be operational until January 2021 at the earliest.
It is also noteworthy that the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) recently completed an evaluation of the VAC backlog through a financial analysis report issued on September 21, 2020 titled "Disability Benefit Processing at Veterans Affairs Canada". The PBO concluded that, without further significant increases in government funding to augment VAC staffing resources, the department would not substantially impact turnaround times for veterans' claims for years into the future, given the current pace of adjudication.
The department presented a formal briefing of their policy position on June 30, 2020 to various Ministerial Advisory Groups. As part of the ongoing dialogue surrounding this presentation, I took the strong position that the department needs to accelerate their plan of action through an adoption of the above-cited fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement approach for all outstanding veterans' applications.
Given the unattainability of medical reports from various health care providers, the following fundamental question requires an immediate answer:
What level of evidence is the department prepared to accept to approve current claims in the backlog?
Clearly, individual veterans and/or their advocates who are preparing disability applications must be cognizant of the department's position in relation to this important subject as to the sufficiency of evidence required for VAC approval.
In my judgment, the "approve and verify" philosophy we have espoused for many months is a crucial ingredient to the solution in this context.
Rather surprisingly, as part and parcel of our discussions, VAC has indicated through the briefing process that, ostensibly, "higher government authority" is required to implement this form of creative initiative.
With all due respect, I am somewhat mystified by this prerequisite for government authority, as it has been readily apparent that VAC has determined the overall question of sufficiency of evidence for many decades in adjudicating veterans' applications. In this context, the impact of the benefit of the doubt/presumptive provisions of veterans' legislation have been in place for many years. In my experience, this unique set of adjudicative principles gives the department great latitude to reach a constructive resolution in relation to policy amendments to address the present crisis regarding wait times.
In summary, the VAC policy statement contains a number of positive steps to alleviate the backlog and unacceptable wait times relevant to veterans' disability claims. However, the scope and pace of these initiatives require a higher priority from the Government in order to establish a more immediate resolution for veterans and their families, often facing severe financial insecurity during this COVID‑19 crisis.
As an ongoing strategy, we plan to offer up a number of test cases to evaluate the adjudicative system being implemented by VAC over the course of the next few months.
As a matter of background and prior to the impact of the COVID‑19 crisis, it is to be noted that the Veterans Ombudsman issued a scathing report in September 2018 criticizing the Federal Government for causing added frustration and stress to many injured veterans as they are forced to wait months longer than promised to find out if they qualify for disability benefits and other treatment supports. This remains particularly concerning given the unacceptable backlog of cases in the VAC adjudicative system, which now exceeds 40,000 claims.
Canadian veterans were told at the time that they could expect to find out within 16 weeks whether they were eligible for financial assistance and medical treatment for injuries related to their service. The Veterans Ombudsman's review found that the target was achieved when it came to applications by veterans from the Second World War and Korea, but that many applications from other veterans – including those who served in Afghanistan – experienced delays.
The average turnaround time for those applications was 23 weeks to 29 weeks, depending on which files were counted, while more than a quarter of those took 32 weeks or longer, a situation that is getting worse thanks to a growing backlog of files.
The findings were particularly troublesome for Francophone and female veterans, some of whom have been waiting for more than a year for a decision and whose files were disproportionately represented in those suffering from the longest delays.
The Ombudsman's office also underlined that, because of discrepancies with how the "service standard start date" – or the date the "clock starts ticking"– is determined, veterans with less need may see their applications move forward in the queue before others. The extensive Veterans Ombudsman's report makes seven major recommendations which will ensure that:
NCVA supports the findings of the Veterans Ombudsman and praises his comprehensive and thorough analysis of a longstanding concern to the veterans' community – turnaround times have been a substantial problem within VAC going back many years.
It is also noteworthy that, due to the complexity and confusion surrounding a number of new benefits which have been promulgated over the last couple of years, the process has been further backlogged, resulting in many veterans being unable to access these new benefits and, as significantly, struggling to understand the criteria for application. In effect, the Government has created a legislative "monster" insofar as the nature and scope of the benefit grid which currently exists within VAC is concerned. With the introduction of the new Pension for Life provision, statutory eligibility and policy guidelines have been dramatically complicated to the point where both the applicant veteran and the corresponding VAC adjudicator are confronted with many legalistic and interpretative obstacles with respect to achieving speedy decision-making and satisfactory entitlement results.
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, in the past four years, both the Veterans Ombudsman and the DND Ombudsman have made significant proposals to the Minister and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in relation to improving the transitional protocols in this context.
Quite clearly, one of the most significant priorities 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 DND 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.
Veterans remain vitally interested in the positions to be adopted by the Government and the Opposition parties in this minority Parliament to remedy the longstanding injustice and inequity impacting Canada's disabled veterans and their families.
Once the COVID‑19 crisis has begun to subside so as to allow Parliament to return to some form of normalcy, NCVA will continue to take the position that there is much to do in improving veterans' legislation so as to address the financial and wellness requirements of Canada's disabled veterans and their families. This is particularly so with respect to the Pension for Life (PFL) provisions originally announced in December 2017 and formally implemented on April 1, 2019.
It is self‑evident that only a very limited number of seriously disabled veterans and their survivors may benefit from the new legislation when compared to the level of entitlement available under the former New Veterans Charter – some seriously disabled veterans are actually worse off. However, the greater majority of disabled veterans will not be materially impacted by the legislation in that the new benefits under these legislative and regulatory amendments will have limited applicability.
This fails to satisfy the Prime Minister's initial commitment to address the inadequacies and deficiencies in the New Veterans Charter and continues to ignore the "elephant in the room" which has overshadowed this entire discussion.
As stated in our many submissions to VAC and Parliament, the Government has not met veterans' expectations with regard to the fundamental mandated commitment to "re-establish lifelong pensions" under the Charter so as to ensure that a comparable level of financial security is provided to all disabled veterans and their families over their life course. This financial disparity between the Pension Act and New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act (NVC/VWA) compensation was fully validated by the Parliamentary Budget Office's report issued on February 21, 2019, which clearly underlined this longstanding discrimination.
In this regard, it is essential to recognize that VAC has been substantially impacted by government budgetary constraints in implementing the PFL and related benefits, producing half‑measures and inadequate benefit components to overall veterans' legislation.
Notwithstanding the Prime Minister's protestations as to the ability of his Government to finance appropriate veterans' benefits and programs, one has to ask the fundamental question: What has happened to the millions of dollars saved by VAC with the passing of tens of thousands of traditional veterans and early peacekeepers over recent years?
In this context, in relation to the basic issue as to the "affordability" of veterans' programs, the Government has failed to acknowledge the impact on the overall VAC budget of the fact that the greater majority of traditional disabled veterans have passed on over the past several years, resulting in significant savings in VAC's budgetary funding requirements. With the continuing loss of this significant cohort of the veteran population, VAC is no longer required to pay pensions, allowances, health care benefits, treatment benefits, long‑term care benefits, VIP et al for all of these disabled veterans.
In all fairness, it must be stated that, under the Harper Government's regime, the veterans' community was shoddily treated vis-à-vis budgetary expenditures for veterans' benefits and programs – numerous VAC district offices were closed, front line staffing to assist veterans was dramatically reduced, and budgetary constraints led to a lack of appropriate action to enact necessary reforms to veterans' programs and entitlements. What remains to be seen is whether the new Conservative Leader, Erin O'Toole, will now stand up and be counted during the current Parliament to reverse these years of neglect and injustice. Although NCVA does not take partisan positions, in my judgment, we should be encouraged by Mr. O'Toole's Conservative Leadership election, given his tenure as a well‑respected Minister of Veterans Affairs in 2015 and as an individual who NCVA has worked with for many years in furthering the veterans' agenda.
The NCVA Legislative Program for 2020‑21 will continue to emphasize our fundamental position with respect to the following core recommendation:
That VAC, working together with the relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, should think "outside the box" by jointly striving over time to create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies – thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut-off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans based on whether they were injured before or after 2006.
Given the results of the 2019 federal election campaign and the establishment of a minority government, a genuine opportunity still exists for a commitment to substantially improve the legislation so as to eliminate the blatant discrimination suffered by disabled veterans since the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006.
In this context, it should be recognized that the Standing Committees of Parliament, including the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Standing Committee on National Defence, are not totally controlled by the Government in the present minority scenario. It is not without significance that the majority of the members of such Standing Committees are represented by members of the Opposition parties who have greater input in relation to the agenda, the calling of witnesses, and the substance of ultimate reports. In our experience, this form of minority government has led to a far better opportunity for significant legislative amendments in the veterans' field as a consequence of the need for all parties to reach compromise solutions in addressing outstanding issues.
NCVA and veterans at large will be closely monitoring all federal leaders to determine which party is prepared to make a substantial commitment to addressing the shortfalls and inequities which continue to exist in veterans' legislation. In this regard, it must be remembered that there are almost 700,000 veterans in Canada today and, when family, friends and supporters are considered, this number of potential voters is not without significance – particularly following an election year which has resulted in a minority government where, historically, a new election will in all probability ensue within the next 6 to 12 months.
If the "one veteran – one standard" philosophy advocated by VAC has any meaning, this glaring disparity between the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act benefits for disabled veterans requires that the Liberal Government and the Opposition parties seize the moment and satisfy the financial needs of Canadian veterans and their dependants. In so doing, Parliament would finally be recognizing that the longstanding social covenant between the Canadian people and the veterans' community demands nothing less.
With specific reference to the provisions of the legislation which became effective April 1, 2019, the statutory and regulatory amendments ostensibly reflect the Government's attempt to create a form of "pension for life" which includes the following three elements:
It is readily apparent that significant amendments to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act are required so as to address the proverbial "elephant in the room" in that the PFL legislation fails to satisfy the priority concerns of the veterans' community in relation to:
It is totally unacceptable that we continue to have veterans' legislation in Canada which provides a significantly higher level of compensation to a veteran who is injured prior to 2006 (date of enactment of the New Veterans Charter) when compared to a veteran who is injured post‑2006. If applied to the Afghanistan conflict, this discrimination results in veterans of the same war having totally different pension benefits.
During the course of discussions following Budget 2017 leading up to the Minister's announcement, there was considerable concern in the veterans' community, which proved to be well founded, that the Government would simply 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 lifelong pension. NCVA and other veteran stakeholders, together with the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group, strongly criticized this proposition as being totally inadequate and not providing the lifetime financial security which was envisaged by the veterans' community.
It is fair to say that the reasonable expectation of veteran stakeholders was that some form of substantive benefit stream needed to be established which would address the financial disparity between the benefits received under the Pension Act and the NVC for all individually disabled veterans.
It has been NCVA's consistent recommendation to the Minister and to the department that VAC should adopt the major conclusions of the Ministerial Advisory Group Report formally presented to the Veterans Summit in Ottawa in October 2016 (and directly to the Minister in January 2020) together with the recommendations contained in the NCVA Legislative Program – both of these reports proposed that the combination of the best provisions of the Pension Act and the best provisions of the New Veterans Charter would produce a form of lifetime pension in a much more realistic manner in order to secure the financial security for those veterans who need this form of monetary support through their lifetime.
We would refer to recent NCVA op ed papers published over the last year and our analysis contained in the Financial Comparison section later in this report, which addresses in considerable detail the fundamental deficiencies and flaws contained in the VAC position and outlines a series of proposals as to what can be done to improve the PFL concept.
We strongly encourage the Government to seriously consider the implementation of the following major recommendation of the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group as a first step to addressing this problem of the "elephant in the room":
"[T]he 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 in accordance with the Pension Act will ensure all veterans receive the care and support they deserve when they need it and through their lifetime."
In specific terms, we would also suggest that the following steps would dramatically enhance the legislative provisions and amended regulations relevant to the present PFL proposition and go a long way to satisfying the "one veteran – one standard" approach ostensibly followed by VAC as a basic principle of administration:
Liberalize the eligibility criteria in the legislation and regulatory amendments for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit so that more disabled veterans actually qualify for this benefit – currently, only veterans suffering from a severe and permanent impairment will be eligible. It bears repeating that the greater majority of disabled veterans simply will not qualify for this new component of the proposed lifelong pension.
It is noteworthy that the new regulations with respect to the Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit largely replicate the eligibility prerequisites of the Permanent Impairment Allowance/Career Impact Allowance. These PIA/CIA provisions have produced restrictive and arbitrary results over the years since their inception and were further complicated with the formula established by VAC in 2017 in relation to the interpretation of the CIA grades through the employment of the "Diminished Earnings Capacity" test. Although the APSC has moved away from the evaluation of Diminished Earnings Capacity to an analysis of the extent to which a permanently impaired veteran is confronting barriers on his or her return to civilian society, the legislative test remains onerous and unavailable to a greater majority of disabled veterans.
A more generous and readily understood approach is required in the amended regulations for the APSC benefit so as to generate a more inclusive class of disabled veterans. It has been the longstanding position of NCVA that the traditional PIA/CIA regulations and policy guideline requirements reflect a "blunt instrument" as opposed to a "precise tool" in evaluating the overall impact that an injury may have on a disabled veteran.
In NCVA's 2018 Legislative Program, we argued that the veteran's Disability Award (Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit) initially granted should be a major determinant in evaluating CIA (APSC) qualifications. The ostensible new criteria employed by VAC as set out in the regulatory amendments for APSC qualification represent, in our judgment, a more restrictive approach when compared to the Disability Award evaluation.
In effect, it is the position of NCVA that this employment of the Disability Award (PSC) percentage would produce a more straightforward and easier‑understood solution to this ongoing issue of APSC (CIA) eligibility. The following would reflect this form of evaluation criteria for APSC (CIA):
|Veteran Disability Award (PSC)||APSC (CIA) Grade|
|78% or over||1|
|48% ‑ 78%||2|
Alternatively, the DA (PSC) percentage could be applied in a more precise manner by using the percentile against the maximum APSC (CIA) compensation available – for example, if a veteran is in receipt of a DA (PSC) of 65% the veteran would receive 65% of the maximum APSC (CIA) allowance. For the purposes of potentially replacing the current Grade 3 assessment, it is our recommendation that the DA (PSC) percentile could be similarly applied; i.e. if a veteran is in receipt of a DA (PSC) of 25%, the veteran would receive 25% of the maximum APSC (CIA) allowance. 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.
The adoption of this type of approach would have the added advantage of enhancing the PFL so as to incorporate more disabled veterans and address the fundamental parity question in relation to Pension Act benefits.
With reference to the regulatory amendments emanating from the new PFL provision, we would also express concern that the regulatory prerequisite for the APSC benefit with regard to the disability of amputation remains arbitrarily defined, both as to eligibility and designated grade level.
It is to be noted that amputation at or above the knee or at or above the elbow is retained as a fundamental requirement for qualification in relation to a single‑limb amputee; however, our years of experience with The War Amputations of Canada make clear that the loss of a limb at any level represents a "severe and permanent impairment" for the veteran amputee. The current arbitrary distinction is not justified and should be amended.
Incorporate the special allowances under the Pension Act, i.e. Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance, into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act to help address the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.
In my over 40 years of working with The War Amps of Canada, we have literally handled hundreds of special allowance claims and were specifically involved in the formulation of the Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance guidelines and grade profiles from the outset. We would indicate that these two special allowances, EIA and AA, represent an integral portion of the compensation available to war amputees and other seriously disabled veterans governed by the Pension Act.
It is of further interest in our judgment that the grade levels for these allowances tend to increase over the life of the veterans as the "ravages of age" are confronted – indeed, non‑pensioned conditions such as the onset of a heart, cancer or diabetic condition, for example, are part and parcel of the EIA/AA adjudication uniquely carried out under the Pension Act policies in this context.
As a sidebar, it is interesting that VAC refers to the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit of $1,000 a month as an indication of the Government's attempt to address the needs of families of disabled veterans. What continues to mystify the veterans' community is why the Government has chosen to "reinvent the wheel" in this area when addressing this need for attendance/caregiving under the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act. For many decades, Attendance Allowance (with its five grade levels) has been an effective vehicle in this regard, providing a substantially higher level of compensation and more generous eligibility criteria to satisfy this requirement. In this context, it is noteworthy that the spouses or families of seriously disabled veterans often have to give up significant employment opportunities to fulfill the caregiving needs of the disabled veteran – $1,000 a month is simply not sufficient recognition of this income loss. VAC should return to the AA provision and pay such benefit to the caregiver directly if so desired.
We would strongly suggest that VAC pursue the incorporation of the EIA/AA special allowances into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act with appropriate legislative/regulatory amendments so as to address these deficiencies in the PFL.
As a general observation in relation to the new legislation and the regulatory amendments with regard to the evaluation of the calculation surrounding the new Income Replacement Benefit, we would suggest the following concerns are material:
With reference to the one percent per year increase in the IRB, it is to be noted that this percentile augmentation ostensibly decreases in financial impact with the higher number of years of military service experienced by the disabled veteran and disappears completely for those veterans who have served for over 20 years prior to suffering their injury or disability.
As underlined by the Parliamentary Budget Office's report earlier this year, it is also significant that, with the elimination of the Career Impact Allowance supplements ($12,000 per year allowance), new veteran applicants post‑April 1, 2019 will potentially be at a disadvantage due to the impact of this mathematical calculation, as for many veterans the one percent increase in the IRB will not make up for the loss of the CIA(S).
We would strongly suggest that the department consider the impact of these factors relative to the new Income Replacement Benefit so as to ensure this one percent increase has substantive and meaningful impact for disabled veterans who require such income replacement for life. In addition, we would submit that VAC should ultimately adopt the above‑mentioned progressive income model for a newly structured form of CIA in accord with the approach utilized by the Canadian courts as to "future loss of income."
In summary, it is fundamental to understand that it was truly the expectation of the disabled veteran community that the "re‑establishment" of a PFL option would not just attempt to address the concerns of the small minority of disabled veterans but would include a recognition of all disabled veterans who require financial security in coping with their levels of incapacity.
As a final observation, VAC consistently talks of the significance that the Government attaches to the wellness, rehabilitation and education programs under the NVC/VWA. As we have stated on a number of occasions, we commend VAC for its efforts to improve these important policies. NCVA recognizes the value and importance of wellness and rehabilitation programs; however, we take the position that financial security remains a fundamental necessity to the successful implementation of any wellness or rehabilitation strategy. It is readily apparent that this is not a choice between wellness and financial compensation as advanced by the Minister and the Prime Minister, but a combined requirement to any optimal re‑establishment approach to medically released veterans.
Ideally, we would like to believe that VAC, working together with relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, could create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies.
In our judgment, the adoption of this innovative policy objective would have the added advantage of signaling to the veterans' community that VAC is prepared to take progressive steps to tackle legislative reform beyond the current PFL provision so as to address this fundamental core issue of concern to Canada's veterans.
As a fundamental tenet of our current Legislative Program, NCVA has made a number of recommendations to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and senior VAC officials to address the discrimination and inequity (the "elephant in the room") that exists with respect to the financial compensation available to disabled veterans and their families under the traditional Pension Act (PA) and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act (NVC/VWA).
The essential components of the NCVA recommendations are as follows:
In addition to these overriding guiding principles for veterans' legislative reform, the following NCVA recommendations represent specific statutory and policy amendments in furtherance of this objective:
Let us now compare the present pension benefit regimes and then take a look at what VAC legislation would provide to veterans and their families if the afore-mentioned NCVA proposals were adopted by the Government.
For 100 percent pensioners (at maximum rate of compensation):
|Benefit (maximum per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Exceptional Incapacity Allowance||1,541.00||1,541.00||1,541.00|
|Benefit (maximum per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Pain and Suffering Compensation||$1,172.00||$1,172.00||$1,172.00|
|Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation||1,528.00||1,528.00||1,528.00|
|Caregiver Recognition Benefit||1,043.00||1,043.00||1,043.00|
|Benefit (maximum per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Pain and Suffering Compensation||$1,172.00||$1,172.00||$1,172.00|
|Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation||1,528.00||1,528.00||1,528.00|
|Family benefit (PA)||1,383.00||728.00||0.00|
|Exceptional Incapacity Allowance (PA)||1,541.00||1,541.00||1,541.00|
|Attendance Allowance (PA)||1,926.00||1,926.00||1,926.00|
It is of even greater significance to recognize the impact of the Pension for Life (PFL) policy which became effective on April 1, 2019, on those disabled veterans who might be considered moderately disabled as the disparity in financial compensation between the statutory regimes is even more dramatic.
Let us take the illustration of a veteran with a 35 percent disability assessment:
It is important to be cognizant of the fact that, once such a veteran earns 66‑2/3 percent of his or her pre‑release military income, the veteran is no longer eligible for the SISIP LTD or the VAC IRB and, due to the fact that the veteran's disability does not equate to a "severe and permanent impairment," the veteran does not qualify for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation Benefit.
Therefore, the comparability evaluation for 35 percent pensioners would be as follows under the alternative pension schemes:
|Benefit (35 percent per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Benefit (35 percent per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Pain and Suffering Compensation||$410.00||$410.00||$410.00|
We would underline that this analysis demonstrates the extremely significant financial disparity which results for this type of moderately disabled veteran. It is also essential to recognize that over 80 percent of disabled veterans under the NVC/VWA will fall into this category of compensation. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of the inequitable treatment of these two distinct classes of veteran pensioner is self‑evident and remains unacceptable to the overall veterans' community.
Finally, let us consider the impact on this analysis in the event the NCVA proposals were to be implemented as part and parcel of an improved NVC/VWA:
|Benefit (35 percent per month)||Veteran plus spouse and two children||Veteran plus spouse||Single veteran|
|Pain and Suffering Compensation||$410.00||$410.00||$410.00|
|Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation||535.00||535.00||535.00|
|Family benefit (PA)||485.00||255.00||0.00|
In summary, this combination of augmented benefits proposed by NCVA would go a long way to removing the discrimination that currently exists between the PA and the NVC/VWA and would represent a substantial advancement in the reform of veterans' legislation, concluding in a "one veteran – one standard" approach for Canada's disabled veteran population.
In addition, should VAC implement NCVA's recommendations (as supported by the OVO and MPAG) with respect to a newly structured CIA, the IRB would be substantially enhanced by incorporating this progressive future loss of income standard as to "What would the veteran have earned in his or her military career had the veteran not been injured?"
It is noteworthy that the current IRB essentially provides 90 percent of the former military wage of the veteran, together with a limited one percent increment dependent on the veteran's years of service, resulting in an inadequate recognition of the real loss of income experienced by the disabled veteran as a consequence of his or her shortened military career.
The new conceptual philosophy of this future loss of income approach parallels the longstanding jurisprudence found in the Canadian courts in this context and is far more reflective of the actual financial diminishment suffered by the disabled veteran (and his or her family). This would represent a major step forward for VAC in establishing a more equitable compensation/pension/wellness model.
As a final observation, it is noteworthy that the Prime Minister, various Ministers of the Department and senior governmental officials of VAC, in their public pronouncements from time to time, have emphasized that additional benefits and services are uniquely available under the NVC/VWA with respect to income replacement, rehabilitation, and wellness programs.
NCVA fully recognizes the value and importance of these programs and we commend VAC for its efforts to improve the Department's wellness and educational policies. However, it should be noted that a number of programs dealing with essentially parallel income replacement and rehabilitation policies already exist under the PA regime by means of services and benefits administered by the Department of National Defence (DND) through their SISIP LTD insurance policy and Vocational Rehabilitation (VOC‑REHAB) Programs.
The one unique element of NVC/VWA with respect to income replacement which is comparably beneficial for a very small number of seriously disabled veterans is triggered where such a disabled veteran is designated as having qualified for "Diminished Earnings Capacity" status (which requires that a veteran is unemployable for life as a consequence of his or her pensioned disabilities).
In these circumstances, such a veteran will receive additional funds post‑65 for life that are not available under the Pension Act/SISIP LTD program where such income replacement ends at age 65. This is most significant where the veteran has been medically released relatively early in his or her career.
It is noteworthy in this scenario that less than six percent of all disabled veterans qualify for the Diminished Earnings Capacity. Thus, 94 percent of veterans are not eligible for this post‑65 benefit under the NVC/VWA.
At the time of the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006, VAC committed to eliminating SISIP LTD and VOC‑REHAB programs and creating a new universal gold standard in regard to income replacement and wellness policies which would be applicable to all disabled veterans in Canada. The reality is that the SISIP LTD and VOC‑REHAB insurance policy has been and continues today to be "the first responder" for the greater majority of disabled veterans who have been medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces in relation to both the PA and the NVC/VWA.
As a fundamental conclusion to our position we would like to think that the Government could be convinced that, rather than choosing one statutory regime over the other, a combination of the best parts of the PA and the best parts of the NVC/VWA would provide a better compensation/wellness model for all disabled veterans in Canada.
During the course of the 2019 election campaign, federal party leaders made a limited number of pronouncements relevant to their positions on outstanding veterans' issues. Notwithstanding the scarcity of substantive proposals and given the onset of a minority government, it is important to evaluate the various recommendations as to where common ground may exist for establishing appropriate resolutions amongst the parties to begin to address veterans' concerns.
The Liberal party made the following proposals with respect to veterans' legislation and policy:
The following reflects the recommendations of the Conservative party as laid out in their election platform:
The following reflects the proposals emanating from the NDP during the election campaign:
Upon an evaluation of these various election platforms, it becomes readily apparent that none of the political parties expressed any meaningful intention to tackle the significant issues material to the fundamental reform of veterans' legislation.
These lists of election promises failed to address the "elephant in the room" in relation to addressing the two/three layers of legislation that currently apply to Canada's veterans and their families and the basic need to establish a "one veteran – one standard" philosophy for all veterans.
In my judgment, the veterans' community was left with no clear option in regard to the 2019 federal election and, in all probability, this resulted in the greater majority of veterans either staying at home or withdrawing their support from the major parties due to their inadequate and unresponsive track record in respect to veterans' concerns over the last 15 years.
NCVA will continue to pursue our ongoing legislative agenda as delineated in this 2020 report in recognition of the fact that the major federal parties will in all likelihood be facing a new election in the foreseeable future and, in my considered opinion, will become aware of the need to seek the hundreds of thousands of votes found in the veterans' community.
It is interesting to note that, as part and parcel of Erin O'Toole's 2020 Campaign for the Conservative Leadership, he established a substantive set of promises with regard to veterans' issues which are in large part supportive of the NCVA recommendations that we have been making for a number of years in relation to legislative reform for veterans and their families.
NCVA does not take partisan political positions; however, it is our hope that Mr. O'Toole's campaign platform will trigger further dialogue among all the federal parties as the next prospective election approaches in the next six to 12 months.
The following represent some of the more significant proposals and promises made in the campaign platform (taken from Mr. O'Toole's website during his leadership bid):
Although the ongoing battle for a more comprehensive and equitable Pension for Life is essential to accomplishing a "one veteran – one standard" solution, it is important to recognize the extent of NVC reform that has been achieved over the last few years. I believe it is fair to say that NCVA has been at the forefront of this crusade, working with VAC, Ministerial Advisory Groups, the Veterans and DND Ombudsmen and other veteran stakeholders to attain the following major objectives of our legislative agenda:
It will be readily apparent that much more needs to be done. Our experience over many decades has unfortunately taught us that progress with regard to veterans' legislative reform is usually incremental and often painstakingly slow.
However, it is important that we gauge from time to time the legislative and policy measures that have been achieved as we develop our strategies for next steps moving forward.
Notwithstanding the fact that VAC has converted the former Career Impact Allowance provision into the Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit, it remains the position of NCVA, in concert with the Policy Advisory Group, that the department should revisit the concept of CIA and address the future loss of income suffered by 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?"
It will be recalled that it is the position of the Policy Advisory Group, as endorsed by the longstanding view of NCVA, that, once this benchmark for CIA is established, a newly structured benefit 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 VAC, 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 or 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 NVC/VWA with general damage awards in the Canadian courts – why not replicate the philosophy of the future loss of income concept as well?
It is the opinion of VAC and, more particularly, Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk, that this program represents a landmark proposal which substantially enhances the Education and Training Benefit for all eligible veterans. The Deputy Minister suggested at the time of the formal announcement 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. Unfortunately, veterans released from the CAF prior to 2006 will not qualify for this benefit which, in my judgment, reflects a rather arbitrary cut-off date and conceivably is a government decision founded on budgetary constraints.
This program was initiated on 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 of benefits, while veterans with twelve years of eligible service will be entitled to up to $80,000 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 is 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 have to be examined closely and, in addition, it is necessary to determine whether the rather restrictive policy in the past regarding educational programs for disabled veterans has been addressed and if more liberal access in general will be achieved by this initiative.
It is also 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 received for the maximum four‑year period, i.e. will the SISIP LTD program or the VAC IRB program accompany this educational benefit particularly for disabled veterans who might qualify though this REHAB/Education Program?
Deputy Minister Natynczyk also indicated 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 per veteran.
In early 2018, VAC created a new policy with reference to partial entitlement flowing from veterans' legislation, i.e. disabilities arising in part out of military service or consequential disabilities arising in part from a primary disability.
The VAC policy amendment established a principle that any partial entitlement award would either be granted at four‑fifths or five‑fifths. In the past, fractional entitlements in this context were granted in fifths – one‑fifth, two‑fifths, three‑fifths et al. The backgrounder information given to our Advisory Group from VAC indicated that these fractional entitlements were often appealed one‑fifth at a time, clogging up the entire VAC adjudicative system. It was felt that it would be prudent to simply eliminate the one‑fifth, two‑fifths and three‑fifths entitlements and grant a four‑fifths for any partial entitlement award.
This is clearly a beneficial policy insofar as a substantive increase in pension to be received by a veteran, but we felt it was important to raise a number of questions following the introduction of this amendment:
NCVA continues to have a 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 Ministerial Policy Advisory Group, 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 income replacement loss benefit administered by VAC. The constraints placed on the NVC/VWA 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.
It is to be noted that the "wellness program" strongly advocated by VAC and, more particularly, Deputy Minister 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, VAC 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 NVC/VWA.
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 Forces is to be considered "on duty" for the purposes of pensionability either under the Pension Act or the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act 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 NVC/VWA 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.
NCVA remains concerned that the Government has not sufficiently addressed 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 that the Caregiver Recognition Benefit replaced the existing Family Caregiver Relief Benefit as of April 1, 2018 and provides a slightly more generous non‑taxable $1,000 a month benefit payable directly to caregivers to ostensibly recognize and honour their vital role. NCVA has 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 a year. In addition, we have questioned the fact that this new CRB still requires that rather stringent eligibility criteria be satisfied in order for veterans' caregivers to gain entitlement to this benefit.
It is readily apparent that VAC need not "reinvent the wheel" with regard to such caregiver allowances as:
In addition, we have particularly emphasized 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 of significance that the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group is proposing a new Family Benefit for all veterans in receipt of a Disability Award based on the level of disability assessment which would provide further support to families and address, to a certain extent, the cost of the veteran's disability to his or her 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 NVC/VWA insofar as financial assistance to families of disabled veterans is concerned.
It is also to be noted that the new legislative amendments emanating from Budget 2018 (which consolidate a number of income replacement provisions into one benefit, the Income Replacement Benefit (IRB)) unfortunately still retain the inadequacies of the Retirement Income Security Benefit (RISB) which was enacted earlier by the former Conservative Government in its attempt to address the post‑65 financial security for seriously disabled veterans and their families. As aforementioned, the new post‑65 benefit provides a limited number of disabled veterans (less than 6 percent) with 70 percent of the Income Replacement Benefit, should the veteran be deemed as suffering a "diminished earnings capacity" as defined under the regulatory provisions of the new Act, less certain potentially significant deductions prescribed by these policy provisions.
In our view, to apply a 70 percent 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 continue to be essentially the same.
During the course of initial discussions surrounding the enactment of these post‑65 provisions, strong arguments were made by NCVA and various veteran stakeholder groups that the full Earnings Loss Benefit/Income Replacement Benefit should be continued for life, 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 specific 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 or post‑65 benefit be eliminated – as it is self‑evident that these provisions are far too complex and impact negatively on many seriously disabled veterans and, particularly, surviving spouses.
In addition, the Policy Advisory Group financial compensation model provided that, in the event ELB/CIA is indeed continued for life without deduction, surviving spouses should be entitled to 70 percent of this amount which would equate to the proposed levels of the new Canadian Forces Superannuation Act survivor benefit committed to under an earlier Minister's mandate letter. Although the resultant net effect will not provide as much financial support as the MPAG is recommending, we would confirm that the department has at least implemented a parallel provision in this context providing a survivor benefit of 70 percent for the new consolidated IRB post‑65 benefit under the legislation flowing from the new PFL.
NCVA strongly recommends that VAC accelerate the adoption of fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement for outstanding veterans' claims in order to alleviate the backlog and wait times which have only been compounded by the COVID‑19 crisis. The VAC policy statement of June 30, 2020 has ostensibly adopted a number of our proposals including the prospective employment of automatic entitlement for common disabilities, the utilization of presumptions for certain consequential disabilities, and the lessening of the requirement for medical referrals in specific cases. The department's report, however, unfortunately concludes that this will take considerable time to implement.
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.
N.B.: NCVA welcomed the Liberal election campaign proposal (which ultimately became part of the Minister's mandate letter from the Prime Minister) to automatically award entitlement for PTSD, depression, arthritis et al to expedite the application process and address the significant adjudication backlog currently in existence with VAC, which potentially reflects a good first step in this context.
NCVA supports the Veterans Ombudsman's report, issued in September 2018, with reference to the inordinate delays and turnaround times with regard to applications for veterans' disability benefits and treatment entitlement, in order to address this longstanding concern.
NCVA takes the position that VAC, working together with relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, could think "outside the box" by jointly striving over time to create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies – thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut‑off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans based on whether they were injured before or after 2006.
NCVA adopts the position that much more is required to improve the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well‑being Act 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 (together with the report to the Minister of January 14, 2020) with particular emphasis on:
In addition to the above‑mentioned fundamental proposals as to the overriding guiding principles for legislative reform, the following recommendations represent specific statutory and policy 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/Veterans Well‑being Act 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.
NCVA recommends that VAC provide substantial financial funding to bolster the Veterans Emergency Fund to increase the maximum benefits per claim and to prioritize these applications during these challenging times. VAC should consider the utilization of the Veterans Emergency Fund as a stop-gap measure for veterans awaiting disability pension claim decisions which have been inordinately held up by the current backlog conundrum.
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 in 2018 entitled "Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy" which established a comprehensive set of protocols to address this entire question of PTSD and suicide. The veterans' community will continue to monitor this 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 strongly recommends that VAC grant automatic entitlement to those veterans currently in receipt of consequential or partial entitlement rulings at one‑fifth/two‑fifths/three‑fifths to a four‑fifths level of assessment. In so doing, the department will address a significant amount of the backlog in relation to the numerous appeals that are currently in the department system re: fractional awards.
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 Liberal Government in order to make our own judgment as to the question of whether VAC has become more administratively efficient through this "red tape cutting" initiative.
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 VAC in addressing bureaucratic obstacles and eliminating red tape.
One of the major recent developments with respect to long-term care has been the initiation of a policy by VAC to widen the scope of eligibility to so‑called traditional veterans' beds in historical veterans' hospitals to modern day veterans. With specific reference to individual hospitals such as Sunnybrook in Toronto, the department has taken steps to exercise this operational discretion where vacant beds have resulted from the passing of traditional veterans and the demand from the modern day veteran community exists.
In addition, as many of you will be aware, there have been a number of high‑profile cases in the last number of 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 (preferred veterans 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.
It is also to be noted, as discussed at the 2018 Annual General Meeting, that the class action lawsuit initiated in 2018 by a 95‑year‑old resident at Ste‑Anne's Hospital in Montreal by the name of Wolf Solkin continues to wind its way through the courts. Mr. Solkin takes the position that there have been significant violations in the transfer agreement between the Federal Government (VAC) and the Province of Quebec as to the quality and standard of care at the hospital, together with a failure to satisfy the bilingual language requirements. It is our recommendation in this context that VAC expedite the resolution of this legal dispute and address the shortfalls emanating from these transfer agreement violations at Ste‑Anne's by providing appropriate funding to address the significant breaches in this contractual arrangement.
Again, as emphasized 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 or her 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 three years 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.
As previously advised, we continue to work closely with the Veterans Ombudsman's office in this context. It is of significant interest that the Ombudsman'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 in 2018 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 the Veterans Ombudsman's 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 is being met within the current context of the Canadian Health Care system.
That NCVA ensure that VAC adopts a 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 without distinction between traditional and modern day veterans.
That NCVA urge VAC to increase the number of Preferred Admission beds in order to address the demands of modern day veterans and, in so doing, eliminate the current wait list for these beds across the country.
That NCVA continue to express the 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 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.
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.
It remains a priority issue of NCVA to underline the need to expand the eligibility of VIP to include, at a minimum, those surviving spouses of seriously disabled veterans whose veteran 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 or her 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 or she would have received the benefit given his or her 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 surviving spouses 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 surviving spouses, provided the surviving spouse 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 surviving spouses 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 surviving spouses with a view to providing this benefit to, at a minimum, all surviving spouses 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:
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 applied an annual cost of living adjustment to this estate exemption going forward.
Although these are improvements over previous government policies in this area, 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 seriously disabled veterans, the department has recognized the cumulative and synergistic impact of both their pensioned and non‑pensioned 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 pensioned and non‑pensioned disabilities did not play a part in his or 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.
You will recall that, several years ago, through the course of our advocacy, we were deeply disturbed 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.
Unfortunately, once again this year, we have encountered a rejection of an application brought by a Hong Kong veteran's family for such financial assistance.
We must say that we continue to be appalled that another 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."
In our submission, no family of a Hong Kong veteran who suffered the physical, mental and psychological trauma of life 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.
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 remains our hope that this particular case reflects an aberration with regard to Last Post funding claims, and we would advise that we have achieved success in the greater majority of Hong Kong veteran claims with regard to Last Post funding. However, it is clear that we must be vigilant in this context and thus we have continued to mount a comprehensive campaign to provide an "education" to the department and ensure that all adjudicators are properly informed as to the tragic history of Canada's Hong Kong veterans.
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 percent or more (SDVs) qualify, as a matter of right, under the Veterans Burial Regulations/Last Post Fund.
That VAC address the inequities that still exist in the Last Post Fund in relation to widening the standard for income/asset exemption 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 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 and Paul Baiden, our Vice Chairman, to continually apprise NCVA on these contentious issues with reference to impact on the veterans' community.
With respect to our ongoing initiative vis‑à‑vis CAF retirees and "marriage after sixty":
It is again noteworthy that the Liberal 2015 election platform specifically indicated that it was the intention to "…eliminate the marriage after sixty clawback clause so that surviving spouses of veterans receive appropriate pension and health benefits." Unfortunately, the 2019 federal budget contained a rather nebulous provision which was ostensibly proposed to address this longstanding concern.
The budget provided:
"To better support veterans who married over the age of 60 and their spouses, Budget 2019 announces a new Veterans Survivors Fund committing $150 million over five years starting in 2019-20 to VAC. With these funds, the Government will work with the community to identify impacted survivors, process their claims, and ensure survivors have the financial support they need. The Government will announce additional details on this measure in the coming months."
It is revealing that our continuing enquiries to the department still have resulted in the rather shocking conclusion that no one in VAC was aware of the substance of any legislative provision that actually would apply to this new policy. Our further communication with Ministerial officials has been to little avail, save and except that we were advised that a new policy was under consideration. The mystery continues as to why the Government did not simply eliminate the marriage after sixty clawback disqualifying provision in the CFSA as opposed to establishing a brand new policy with little or no substantive detail.
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.
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 Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of National Defence 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 takes the position that this amendment to the CFSA would be a more optimal solution when compared to the nebulous Veterans Survivors Fund contained in the 2019 federal budget.
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 survivors 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, I would reaffirm the Government announcement initially contained in the 2019 federal budget provided an ex gratia payment of $20,000 to those Métis veterans still alive and a similar amount to the estates of those Métis veterans who have died in the last three years. In addition, the $30 million fund created in the budget would largely be employed to establish a legacy fund to recognize the contribution of Métis veterans to the country's Second World War and Korea efforts, and to commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of all Métis veterans.
It must be stated that this announcement unfortunately fits into the description of "better late than never" as it is a real shame that this governmental policy was not initiated many years ago when a greater number of Métis veterans were still alive. It is also noteworthy that, originally, there was a restriction in eligibility to those estate beneficiaries where the Métis veteran had died after January 2016. Fortunately, the Government has amended this limitation period as of June 2020, and the policy is now inclusive of recognition payments being presented to all surviving spouses and common-law partners regardless of when their loved one passed. The policy remains the same that, if the spouse or common‑law partner has also passed, all living children of a WWII Métis veteran who has passed after January 2016 are eligible to receive equal portions of the $20,000 Recognition Payment.
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 on the basis of this systemic discrimination. The 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.
NCVA will continue to monitor the implementation of the 2019 budgetary proposal to provide ex gratia payments of $20,000 in compensation to Métis veterans still alive and to the estates of Métis veterans, together with the establishment of the legacy fund commemorating the exemplary service of Métis veterans in support of Canada's war effort.
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