A House of Commons committee has joined the chorus calling for increasing payments and expanding eligibility for veterans’ funeral and burial benefits.
In its report, Commemoration In The 21st Century, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs recommended changes to the funeral and burial program which provides veterans’ families financial support to cover some expenses. The $9.3 million program is funded by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and administered by the Last Post Fund.
Veterans who die as a result of injury or illness related to service are eligible for VAC funeral and burial assistance.
As well, a Second World War or Korean War veteran whose estate is too small to fund appropriate services is entitled to assistance determined by a means test. More recent veterans who are receiving service-related income support and fit the means test are eligible for benefits. VAC says 152 post-Korean War veterans received assistance in 2010-11, down from 155 in 2009-10 and 164 in 2008-09.
The committee recommended expanding eligibility criteria; increasing the deduction used in calculating net value of assets and adding a cost of living adjustment; and replacing the list of eligible expenses with a “reasonably increased” lump sum payment, adjusted for inflation.
“We are reviewing the recommendations and will report back to the committee,” VAC said in an e-mail to Legion Magazine. The recommendations were presented to Parliament Dec. 12 and the government has 120 days to respond.
“This is an urgent issue for Second World War and Korean War veterans,” said Dominion Command Service Bureau Director Andrea Siew. “The amount for a funeral needs to be increased as a priority.” The numbers of these veterans is declining by about 2,000 every month.
“For the veterans and their families that are the most vulnerable this is a huge amount of money, but for the government of Canada, it’s a small amount,” said Siew. “Money is there within their budget to make these changes.”
VAC’s 2011-12 budget projected a decrease from $14.98 million to $10.98 million in the grant to The Last Post Fund due to a decrease in the number of eligible veterans. The department’s total budget is $3.5 billion.
At the 2010 Dominion Convention, The Royal Canadian Legion called for increasing allowable maximum funeral services benefits from $3,600, set in 2001, equal to the $12,700 used by the Canadian Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Legion also requested CF veterans of insufficient financial means be provided funeral and burial benefits equal to those of CF members killed on duty.
The $3,600 maximum “is not in line with the average cost of a funeral in Canada,” Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent said in his annual report. A 2009 review by the ombudsman recommended funeral and burial expenses reflect industry standards and be indexed to keep up with rising costs.
The Legion also requested the survivor/dependant estate exemption be set at least to the poverty level determined by Statistics Canada, with a cost of living adjustment. In 1995 the estate exemption was reduced from $24,030 to $12,015, excluding house and car. The ombudsman’s report recommends the exemption reflect “present-day income and cost levels.”
The Legion called for abandonment of complex eligibility requirements, noting those now used are contrary to the “needs principles” under the New Veterans Charter. The ombudsman also recommended families be reimbursed by lump sum, rather than by itemized benefits.
Report Looks At Military Milestones
Public commemoration of the Boer War, a national memorial to an Afro-Canadian war hero and a federal advisory committee to “ensure the suitable commemoration” of First World War centenaries are among recommendations by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
A report, Commemoration In The 21st Century, was issued to “initiate discussion of the future of our collective duty to remember,” said Conservative MP Greg Kerr, the committee chairman.
Many historic military contributions have until now been widely overlooked, the report said, including:
- The Boer War, also known as the South African War, the first conflict in which Canada sent troops overseas.
- Military contributions of Afro-Canadians, including Able Seaman William Hall who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The committee suggests a bust to honour him be added to the Valiants Memorial, a group of busts and full-figure statues depicting military heroes in Ottawa.
- Canadian peacekeeping during the Cold War. Thousands of Canadian veterans contributed to more than 50 United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeeping missions, often in danger that was downplayed or unreported.
Veterans Affairs Canada promotes remembrance of the service and sacrifice of Canadians at war and peace through the Canada Remembers program, which supports the building and maintenance of memorials and cemeteries, public ceremonies and commemorative events.
Plans for commemorative programs for the 110th anniversary of the end of South African War “will be shared in the near future,” VAC told Legion Magazine in an e-mail. The department is also working on a program of commemoration in Canada and overseas around the centennials of events of the First World War.
“Through these initiatives, Canadians will have a better understanding of the importance of sacrifices and achievements Canadians made during the First World War and their impact on Canada’s development of the nation,” says VAC.
The standing committee’s report also decries the lack of Canadian military history in school curricula. It recommended continued federal support of museums and educational programs to educate Canadians about their military history.