Seamus O’Regan responds

I have been highly critical, since the early days of this blog,  of the way the New Veterans Charter was introduced, calling it immoral. But I have tried to be careful about not agreeing that only the pre-2005 situation is “fair” or “good.”

Recently some veterans have gone after the new minister, Seamus O’Regan, with some vigour. I support them in demanding that the Liberals stop fighting against the “sacred duty” thing, even though I understand that many, many senior officials are terrified of the fact ~ and they assert that it is a fact ~ that if the courts agree that the government has a “sacred duty” to any one group, even to wounded veterans, there will be an endless line up of other groups, beginning with First Nations, in front of courts with law suits demanding (expensive) special treatment. I’m guessing that when the prime minister used the words “more than we can afford” he was quoting from a briefing he had recently heard about the implications of any “sacred duty.” Even so, the Liberals made that promise in 2015 and they should either keep it or pay a high political price.

Seamus-OReganNow, in the Ottawa Citizen, Seamus O’Regan has responded to one set of critics and I think it is only fair to share his response:

Our government,” he writes, “made a promise to Veterans that we would re-instate a pension for life for those injured during service to their country. That is not rhetoric. That is not politics. That is the mandate that I received from Prime Minister Trudeau and it is what we delivered this past fall. 

Monumental and progressive changes like these can be very complex as they come into effect. And that is precisely why I have been travelling across the country to meet with Veterans and their families to hear their concerns and clarify our Pension for Life program. 

Once we sat down and discussed Pension for Life, the reception has been positive. We know how important it is to do right by our Veterans and we are committed to doing just that. 

So let’s dig into the recent opinion piece by Sean Bruyea recently published in Defence Watch. He incorrectly states that those receiving “Pension Act benefits collect more in pain and suffering payments” than those who will be eligible for Pension for Life. The truth is, Pension Act benefits were more than pain and suffering compensation. The Pension Act had a dual purpose as both economic and non-economic compensation. If Mr. Bruyea were to have honestly compared our Pension for Life program, he would have taken into account the Income Replacement Benefit (IRB) that our plan offers which is 90% of a Veteran’s pre-release salary. And to a Veteran who was making $60,000 while in the Armed Forces, that is an important cheque to them and their families each month. 

The piece also misstates that all “injured Canadian Forces veterans, under all three plans essentially have access to the same income loss.” I am sure Mr. Bruyea is aware that the Earning Loss Benefit (ELB) of 75% is not the same as 90%, which was an increase to the income supports that was made by our Government. We are also indexing that injured Veteran’s salary to inflation and including a 1% career progression factor if they are unable to work. 

The Bruyea piece also notes that Veterans “feared the government would merely offer the lump sum dissected and distributed over time.” I am happy to allay those fears as this does not happen under Pension for Life. For example, if you look at the chart included, which is actually factual, a 25 year old Veteran who is 100% disabled will be far better off under our new plan. Before our Government came to power, that Veteran would have received a lump sum for pain and suffering of $314,700. Under our new plan, they will be projected to receive $1.29 million, tax-free and in monthly payments for life. And that is regardless of gender. While the piece makes the baseless claim that female Veterans “will receive lower monthly payments”, I can assure all Veterans that if they are injured, they will receive the same support that their sisters and brothers receive for life. 

While there are numerous other errors in the opinion piece, I want to focus on just one more: the misconceived notion that Veterans who qualify for Pension for Life “will receive less than” what they would have previously. Let me be clear – NO Veteran will receive less than what they are receiving today and most will be receiving more. 

It is clear that Veterans are better off now than they were before. We have invested $10 billion of new money into services and supports for Veterans, we re-opened 9 Veterans Affairs offices across the country and we have hired over 460 new staff. 

We have also introduced an Education Benefit of up to $80,000, introduced a Caregiver Recognition Benefit of $1,000 a month (which is payable directly to the caregiver), enhanced our Career Transition Services and invested into numerous other programs that directly benefit Veterans and their families.

Frankly,” he concludes, “the truth is much simpler to understand: our government is committed to supporting Canada’s Veterans.

I offer no comment on Minister O’Regan’s response except to say that the case is not as simple as some veterans state, and the government does deserve some time, but only until before the next election, to provide a package that is fair, affordable and acceptable to most wounded veterans. It, the Trudeau government, has a moral duty to do that before we go to the polls again.

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