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VETERANS--CHOOSING FORWARD?

I SPOKE BRIEFLY with Prime Minister Trudeau after the national Remembrance Day service. I am disabled. Over the years, I have often sat beside the same valiant WWII veteran in the reception line. Now, neither of us is able to stand through the entire service.

"Will we be choosing forward for veterans?" I asked while briefly shaking his the Prime Minister's hand. "Or will we be forgotten?"

Veterans were acknowledged during the Throne Speech, a vague reference to the billions of dollars the Liberals have committed since 2015 and a promise of continued attention on mental health. Of note, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) sought an additional $857.6 million in supplementary funds from the treasury this year, spending a total of $5.3 billion on veterans during 2019-20.

How can it be, after committing $5.3 billion this fiscal year, that so many veterans remain disenfranchised?

Because there is no equality in recognition of their national sacrifice?

Because they are subject to divergent levels of respect?

Prime Minister Trudeau promised a Liberal government would re-establish a pension for life (PFL) in exchange for veterans' votes in 2015, yet the Liberals' PFL, in respect to national sacrifice provided, abysmally fails to meet the threshold established with the Pension Act. Consequently, we have Afghanistan War veterans' sacrifice acknowledged by two disparate pension standards with the Liberals' much heralded pension for life obscenely bereft at a meagre 30 cents on the dollar.

One war, one standard?

The Liberals' 2015 pledge to increase TPI (Totally and Permanently Impaired) veterans' income loss replacement to the 90% threshold is likewise deficient when program equality standards are applied. Restrictions limiting the 90% threshold to ONLY those supported through VAC's Earnings Loss Replacement Program. Afghanistan War veterans who have sustained the severest degree of mental and/ or physical trauma and deemed Totally and Permanently Impaired on release or within Manulife's two-year assessment period have been excluded and receive only 75% of their military wages through the SISIP Financial program.

There is no equality in recognition of their national sacrifice and, despite the severity of the wounds incurred in war, thousands of veterans have been denied, no, willfully excluded from the promised 15% increase.

One war, one standard?

Other programs are equally delinquent.

The disparity between eligibility standards in respect to the Pension Act's Exceptional Incapacitation Award and the Permanent Injury Award / Career Impact Allowance are obscene. The New Veterans Charter (NVC) criteria provides far easier access, provides three levels of acknowledgement in respect to their trauma. Afghan War veterans supported by the Pension Act have one and due to stringent criteria designed to exclude, more often than not result in denial.

One war, one standard?

What about the much heralded Combat Injury Award? $75,000 for Afghan War veterans covered under the NVC but not critically injured Afghan War veterans who would certainly qualify had they not been injured/wounded prior to 2006?

One war, one standard?

Caregivers Relief Benefit versus Attendance Allowance? Once again, eligibility criteria disparities abound. There is no singular standard and when inequitable criteria requisites of each program are assessed, many Pension Act recipients are again confronted with exclusion or denial.

The harshest example of inequity is defined on how Canada's Memorial Cross widows are being treated and the profound consequences therein. I suspect Canadians would be appalled to note that there are some Memorial Cross widows who are living well below the VAC-defined poverty threshold standards.

The New Veterans Charter acknowledged the fault and resolved widows' despair through income loss replacement provisions and vocational resources ... but only to widows whose loved one perished after 2006.

Choose forward?

I would suggest, before we choose forward, we start caring for all veterans equally without discrimination or reservation due to disparate programs. Veterans are not falling through the cracks. They are willfully, through corrupt, Inequitable policies, being denied and excluded, forced into a life of poverty and despair. Before we can further advance, we must consolidate and fight for a comprehensive approach that accords equality in recognition of national sacrifice that leaves no veterans behind.

One veteran, one standard?

One war, one standard?

We can do better.

Michael Blais CD Pres/founder, Canadian Veterans Advocacy. He can be reached at: mlblaisrch&gmail.com

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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Blais, Michael
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jan 1, 2020
Words:718
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