Next generation of veterans deserves equal access to aid

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Next generation of veterans deserves equal access to aid

Post by Trooper on Sat 11 Nov 2017, 8:44 am

Published November 11, 2017

A current member of the Armed Forces places a wreath during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Port Hawkesbury last year.

There’s a demographic shift under way within the veteran population that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) serves. It’s opening up a unique window of opportunity for injured and aging veterans and their families.

For the first time in recent generations, the continuum of care pathway, from home care to long-term care that many veterans find themselves on, can be redesigned to better suit their needs.

Today, both VAC’s Veterans Independence Program (VIP), which provides services to keep veterans in their homes longer, and its Long Term Care Program (LTC) are poised for large shifts in the composition of their client base.

As of March 2016, about 56,000 veterans received benefits through VIP, and this number will decrease by eight per cent to 47,000 by 2020. As well, while there were 6,400 inpatient veterans at LTC facilities today, by 2026 this number will decrease by 65 per cent to 2,300 veterans.

This significant decrease in veterans accessing these services will result in a $143-million reduction in program costs. This is money that could be reinvested in improving access to these programs.

The main reason for this decrease in numbers is that veterans from the Second World War and the Korean conflict have, by design, been given better access to continuum of care benefits than Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans who did not serve in those conflicts.

Now, 72 years after the end of the Second World War, the numbers of war service veterans are declining rapidly.

But CAF operations have not stopped. For example, more than 40,000 CAF members served in Afghanistan, yet these veterans do not have the same access to VAC’s LTC support program as did the 26,000 veterans who served in Korea.

As seven decades of post-war service have shown, every CAF operation comes with risk and personal sacrifice. There is no distinction in the sacrifice made by veterans and their families, yet a distinction is made when it comes to benefits based on when and where a veteran served.

I believe that veteran benefits and services need to be flexible enough to move and adapt seamlessly with veterans, as their needs and care situations change. They should be available to veterans who need them when and where they are needed and with eligibility criteria that are simple and determined only once.

But that is not the way it is today.

Rather, today’s veterans are forced into a complex regimen originally designed for post-Second World War and Korean War veterans. Many changes have happened since then, like the advent of assisted living options, which VAC needs to consider in modernizing programs.

Injured veterans and their families deserve the best service possible. That’s not happening today for our aging veterans. However, the changing demographics provide an opportunity to re-invest in Canada’s commitment to its injured and aging veterans.

Recently, I released my Continuum of Care for Veterans Report. In it, I recommended seven changes to help reduce complexity and enhance benefits and services to those who need them, while ensuring that eligibility is not tied to a veteran’s status or location of residence.

Instead of programs crammed together and layered one atop the other, I recommended a single, simple “Continuum of Care” program that adapts to the changing needs of veterans and their families, as they require more support.

We know that there is inadequate support for veterans today between at-home and LTC. But, while VIP helps veterans remain independent and self-sufficient in their homes, there is inadequate support for veterans as their needs change and remaining at home is no longer an option.

We know also that programs are too complex, and eligibility is often based on service type rather than needs. Legislation and regulations identify over 28 separate eligibility groups for LTC funding alone. This makes it difficult for veterans or their family members to understand and navigate the programs.

VAC also needs to develop a strategy for providing support to veterans within the context of the Canadian health-care system. Just as VAC’s post-Second World War investment in veterans often led the way to new approaches to health care, education, mortgages and housing for Canadians, so too today, VAC is in a position to lead.

Now is the time for action. CAF veterans deserve no less than their war service comrades. If you agree with me, let your voice be heard. Speak up and let decision-makers know that it is time for change.

Guy Parent is the Veterans Ombudsman in Ottawa.


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