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Post by Colter on Tue 10 Apr 2018, 9:40 am

By Stephen Beardwood VGR

April 10, 2018

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According to the Minister of Veteran Affairs during the Town Hall in Kingston on the 4th of April 2018, Pension for Life is a done deal. But is it? According to the information set out in the handouts, and through the Minister’s own words, they are still studying how to implement the plan and what the actual configuration would look like. I have to assume (which I don't like to do) that step 2 in their pension for life 'Cycle Timeline to 2019' is complete and they have entered Step 3 which is to debate the principles of the Bill in Parliament asking officials and experts (whom are undefined) to come forward and testify? I wonder if this is the same format as the VAC Parliamentary Committee where discussion is not only limited, but not binding and, in my opinion, ineffective.

This summer they expect the Bill to receive approval and to seek out regulatory funding and approval for funding via the Treasury Board. Whether they are expecting challenges or opposition along the way is not included in the literature, but it is clear by their proposed time line that by fall of 2018 to winter 2019 they expect that the parliamentary process will be completed and VAC will begin reviewing files with the 'New' benefits delivered 'efficiently' on April 1 2019. I'm not sure if this is a future April Fools day joke as all of this is to occur seamlessly according to the Minister.

Well here's the hiccup. The overall feeling I had leaving the Town Hall was one of exhaustion, heart break and confusion as to who or what would be in place and when. Although this time line was reinforced repeatedly by the Minister and his staff, the opposite was reinforced repeatedly by veterans, their wives and their stories of abandonment and strife. From veterans and their families repeatedly being referred to food banks while awaiting pensions and appeals, to complete disconnects from Veterans Affairs and other agencies like SISIP on basic administrative processes, this is likely to be anything but seamless. Going back to 2006 the issue focused on by politicians, has been the pension act of 1919, but in my opinion, and the opinion of many other veterans, the problem was never the pension act of 1919, it was the delivery of services and the culture within Veterans Affairs that was the problem.

Here are some of the problems the Minister himself identified during the Town hall after existing problems were brought forth by veterans. The present privacy legislation prevents government from removing the requirement for injured veterans to prove their injuries annually as they are not allowed to share veterans files with those administrating the pension (in particular SISIP) which in my opinion is really interesting because VAC was formed to administer pensions and do nothing else, yet it has to have another agency do it's administration for it. Keep in mind historically VAC has only ever administered pensions it has never provided services of care. They simply approve and pay the bills, and I am sure most veterans would agree they do that poorly on many occasions and well on others.

The complexity of the calculator that they intend to use to calculate the difference between lump sum payout and the new monthly income adds to the complexity of the new system, but more importantly, at the end of the day, the reduction of the lump sum from the monthly payment will reduce the tax free aspect and increase taxation on benefits as well as lower the monthly living wage to the injured veterans incapable of working. I would hope that the top off program or whatever it becomes would keep the veterans at a living wage, but that has yet to be seen and with the problems VAC has with delivering services; I and many others refrain from being hopeful.

According to the Minister the new law coming out of this legislation will create accountability, which is interesting as every liberal (including those that served in the military) voted down an accountably proposal only a few months ago. How this legislation differs is anyone’s guess as that aspect is not discussed. So I have to ask exactly how will this legislation create accountability or address the present culture in VAC.

Another problem answered but not fully believed (by veterans) about the proposed legislation is whether it will protect the pain and suffering income from being garnished. Our government has a strong history (independent of party in power) of clawing back retirement income of its forces. CPP can be reduced based on CF pensions, and at present (although I don’t fully understand it) veterans on different programs can lose benefit income from an injury if they are able to make a few dollars on the side. According to the Minister under the new proposal veterans would be able to make up to $20,000.00 without being penalized on the new system.

A few other problems brought forth by veterans without solutions by the Minister and his teams are post deployment injury percentages surrounding Mefloquin and the disparity of denial. One veteran offered evidence from the governments own statistics that Rwanda produce a 40% casualty rate, which is unprecedented for any military deployment. The absences of numbers for other deployments, leaves one to wonder what are the true numbers and at what point will this data be made known? Add to the disparity increasing wait time not just for applications themselves but due to the number of increases in applications and decreases in personnel to process the claim; add to this the longer wait periods for approval as veterans wait for specialist to fill out needed paperwork to certify injuries and the stress levels rise. Interestingly part of the blame on this is shifted to the CF medical system not filling out CF 98’s at the time of injury. Yet a minor injury would not need a CF 98, but over time can become pensionable. If the burden of proof was to error on the side of service, this would not be problem. But since the system is designed to place the burden of proof on the veteran the opposite is the norm.

Another identified problem is the Canadian Tax credit. Again the burden of proof is on the veteran, when a certificate by VAC could easily be made available or simply mailed out annually for anyone with a 3B release. What is really interesting with all these problems presented at this Town Hall by veterans is that most if not all were presented with solutions by the veterans that presented them. In some cases these problems are known to VAC because of testimony at the Standing Committees, but are largely ignored as I suspect these solutions will be ignored here as well. Here’s why

During the Town Hall it was made clear and reiterated by the Minister that the culture of VAC has to be changed or the problems expressed will remain. This is a clear indication that this new scheme to come up with a better pension plan will not address the wrongs within the system. A simple return to the old pension with a duty of care law would most likely have had more impact than the wasted money, time and energy selling this present solution will have. This pension reform is not a fix to a system that will fail veterans no matter which form of pension is in place. Couple this with a system that creates classes of veterans with no equality between male and female, or between pre 2006 (1919 pension act) and post 2006 pension, and the now proposed 2019 and it is a recipe for a dogs breakfast. In the Ministers own words this is a very complex and complicated process and the solution will become even more complicated when it really needs to be a simple process. I have to ask, would it not have been simpler to deal with the culture within VAC, than to come up with such complicated multi tier system? With this in mind I ask you is it evident that in choosing this particular option the interest of government is in controlling the pension and having ownership more so than doing what is in the interest of veterans and their families?


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Colter

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