Expectations high for new minister

February 1, 2016 by Sharon Adams

Kent Hehr

Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr faces a steep challenge over the next few months living up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises to veterans.

And veterans’ advocates will be watching every step along the way. “I think there are good intentions,” said retired captain Mark Campbell of Edmonton, one of the plaintiffs in the Equitas lawsuit, which claims that veterans are worse off with lump-sum payments than if they had received lifetime pensions for their disabilities (“Broken faith,” September/October).

Veterans are looking for some immediate action as a gesture of goodwill, he says, such as raising the Earnings Loss Benefit from 75 per cent to “preferably 100 per cent” of former earnings.

The affable Hehr, an advocate for disabled and gay rights, curbing violence and gun control, sat as an Alberta MLA for seven years. But he has also had experience in forging a new life after a sudden disability.

A college hockey player, Hehr was rendered a quadriplegic in a 1991 drive-by shooting in Calgary. He told the Ottawa Citizen of his subsequent despair and questioning the will to live. “After that, it’s the struggle of  ‘who am I and how am I going to move my life forward?’”

It’s a similar experience to that of military members whose identities are shaken by the loss of a limb or the struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. But the difference is “he didn’t intentionally put himself in harm’s way,” as members of the military do, said Campbell.

The list of Liberal promises made is long:

• Amending the New Veterans Charter and re-establishing lifelong disability pensions, which were replaced by lump-sum payments;

• Spending $300 million more a year on services and benefits for veterans and $100 million more in support for families;

• Reopening the nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices closed by the Conservative government and hiring 400 new front-line staff members;

• Spending $80 million annually on veterans’ education and training;

• Establishing Canada as a world leader in veterans’ care.

Veterans understand some promises made during the election campaign will take longer to fulfill, but in the end, Campbell says, “We’re looking for substantive change here.”

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