OTTAWA, ON – The Royal Canadian Legion was on Parliament Hill to speak to members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs about Bill C-59, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on 21 April 2015 and other measures.
Please see below for the Brief to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Good evening, it is a great pleasure to appear in front of your committee. I am pleased to be able to speak to you on behalf of our Dominion President, Mr. Tom Eagles and our 300,000 members and their families. The Legion has been asked to discuss specifically Division 17 of Part 3 which amends the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act to:
(a) Add a purpose statement to that Act;
(b) Improve the transition process of Canadian Forces members and Veterans to civilian life;
(c) Establish the retirement income security benefit to provide eligible Veterans and their survivors with a continued financial benefit after the age of 65 years;
(d) Establish the critical injury benefit to provide eligible Canadian Forces members and Veterans with lump-sum compensation for severe, sudden and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in permanent disability; and
(e) Establish the family caregiver relief benefit to provide eligible Veterans who require a high level of ongoing care from an informal caregiver with an annual grant to recognize that caregiver’s support.
The Division also amends the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act as a consequence of the establishment of the critical injury benefit. Please note, our comments will be directed to this section and not the overall omnibus Bill-C59
The Royal Canadian Legion is the only Veteran service organization which assists Veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. The Legion’s advocacy program is core to our mission and we have been assisting Veterans since 1926 through our legislative mandate in both the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter. Please note that Veterans do not have to be Legion members to request our services. Our national Service Bureau network provides representation starting with first applications to Veterans Affairs Canada through all three levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (the VRAB). Through the legislation, the Legion has access to service health records and Departmental files to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost. Last year, our Service Officers prepared and represented disability claims on behalf of over 3,000 Veterans to VAC and the VRAB. There is no other Veterans group with this kind of direct contact, interaction, provision of support and feedback from Veterans, their families and caregivers.
When it comes to serving Veterans and their families, the Legion continues to be the only Veterans organization in Canada advocating for and providing assistance to all our Veterans.
The Legion recognizes the progress being made for Veterans and their families in this budget and recommends that NCVA provisions of Bill C-59 be passed as soon as possible. Is it everything we have been advocating for?Does it answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations? No, it does not; but, it is a very positive step forward.
This Bill lays out important enhancements that will improve the care and benefits provided to Veterans and their families, especially for our Veterans who have turned 65 or will be turning 65 soon. We need to ensure that they have financial benefits beyond age 65 and for life, including their survivors.
However, we do have many questions on how the Retirement Income Security Benefit (RISB) is calculated and until we receive and review the complete policies on the RISB, the Critical Injury Benefit, the Family Caregiver Relief Benefits, we will not see how adequate these benefits will be to our Veterans and their families. Our concerns remain:
- The maximum disability award must be increased consistent with what is provided to injured civilian workers who received general damages in law court.
- The family caregiver benefits do not adequately compensate a spouse who has to give up a full time job to become a caregiver. This is a respite benefit. Most families today are dual income families and sometimes the service member works two jobs to support the family. We would prefer to see something akin to the Pension Act’s Attendance Allowance.
As I previously stated, Bill C-59 Division 17, Part 3 does not answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations, and the Royal Canadian Legion will not rest until all of these recommendations are adopted and we will not cease in our efforts to push this government to honor its obligations.
We have not shied away from making our stance on these issues known. We have shared our position paper – Veterans Matter – with all Canadians to encourage informed debate on Veteran issues.
I want to address the issue of communication and accessibility. The New Veterans Charter was developed to meet the needs of the modern Veteran. It is based on modern disability management principles. It focuses on rehabilitation and successful transition. And it must be stated that the Legion, while endorsing the New Veterans Charter as it was adopted in 2006, has also been steadfast in our advocacy for its change to better meet the life-long needs of our Veterans and their families. We all have an obligation to understand the complexities, inter-relationships and inform and explain the New Veterans Charter. Our Veterans and their families deserve nothing less. The New Veterans Charter and Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act are comprehensive and complex. Our Veterans and their families need to know what programs are available to assist them and how to access them: whether they are financial, rehabilitation, health services and/or family care. The Government needs to ensure the resources and programs are in place to meet their needs and to review the accessibility to these programs, while ensuring front line staffs are available and knowledgeable to assist Veterans and their families. This can never become a self-serve system.
Most Veterans and their families do not have a good understanding of the New Veterans Charter. I would suggest that this highlights the ineffectiveness of the Government’s communication of the programs and services available in the New Veterans Charter for our injured Veterans and their families. What is required is proactive communication to all Veterans across this country and ensure that they are aware of the financial compensation, rehabilitation programs, health care services, and the family care programs which are available and how to access them. Lastly, it is also time for all of us to understand the New Veterans Charter and the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act. This should be a priority; our Veterans need to know not only the weaknesses but also the strengths behind the legislation, the programs, services and benefits. We too can help our Veterans and their families.
Since commencing our advocacy in 1926, the Legion’s advocacy and programming efforts continues to evolve to meet the changing demographics while still supporting our traditional Veteran community. However, notwithstanding the capacity of The Royal Canadian Legion, we certainly believe that the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada have a responsibility to ensure that policies, practices and programs, supported through a sustainable research program, are accessible and meet the unique needs of all Veterans, with the goal of enabling the healthy transition of all Veterans and their families through this very changing and sometimes difficult life course.
And finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention our WW II Veterans and post-WW II Veterans who are now seeking assistance through the Legion for access to the Veterans Independence Program, these Veterans are often frail and are approaching the end of their life. This very proud group of Veterans have never applied to the government for any type of disability benefit assistance and now, because they want to remain independently in their own home rather than going into Long Term Care facilities, they cannot access the Veterans Independence Program benefits for frailty because they do not have an established eligibility for a disability or low income. Last October we sent a high priority list of resolutions to the Minister of Veterans Affairs including a resolution that all Veterans be deemed eligible for VIP benefits based on need, irrespective of their having established disability entitlement or low income status. We urge the government to action this resolution without delay.
We understand that a response to these resolutions is forthcoming from the Department.
The passage of Bill C-59 is a step in the right direction!
Let me thank the Committee for the work that it does. The Legion appreciates the opportunity to come before the Committee to brief our perspective on issues of concerns for Canada’s Veterans. I would at this time also like to extend to the Committee an opportunity to visit our National Headquarters, Legion House, and the opportunity to provide you all with a full brief on how the Legion is one of Canada’s great institutions and how we support all Canadians and our Communities.