Breathing life back into the charter

March 5, 2018 by Legion Magazine
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan discussing the new Pension for Life plan amongst veterans at a town hall meeting in Fredericton last month.
Facebook/MVA Seamus O’Regan

The Pension for Life plan introduced by Veterans Affairs Canada in December is based on three programs: a monthly tax-free payment to recognize pain and suffering caused by a service-related illness or injury; income replacement for veterans experiencing trouble returning to the workforce; and a suite of services and benefits to help veterans in a wide range of areas, including employment, education and physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, the plan will not come into effect until April 2019. The government says the time is needed to pass the legislation and have staff at VAC ready for its implementation—even though it has been under consideration since the Liberal Party promised it back in the 2015 election campaign.

Nonetheless, as Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan said at the announcement, “This marks a major change in the New Veterans Charter, which was supposed to be a living document, an evergreen plan.”

During the long wait, many disabled veterans have accepted the arguably in-equitable lump-sum payment offered by the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-Establishment and Compensation Act, or New Veterans Charter (NVC).

After the act was passed in Parliament in 2005, much criticism centred on the payment of a disability award as a lump sum instead of a monthly pension for life. It was argued that to the veteran the lump sum was not of equal value to a lifetime pension under the Pension Act. Furthermore, there was concern that veterans, especially young veterans, would not use the lump-sum payment wisely, possibly leaving them destitute as they grew older.

It was not until 2011 that changes were made so that disabled veterans were given the option of taking the lump sum, receiving it in annual payments, or a combination of both. 

The current government made minor improvements with each of its first two budgets but the lifelong pension was slow in coming. Many veterans’ advocates worried that this would mean just taking the lump sum and amortizing it over the expected lifespan of the individual.

Fortunately, the new plan does not do that. There is new money for the plan, expected to cost $3.6 billion from 2017 to 2022 and $111.7 million per year after that.

The NVC took its inspiration from the original veterans’ charter. The Pension Act was only part of the original charter, which was comprised of several pieces of legislation in the 1940s aimed at re-establishing those veterans coming back from the Second World War. It included education assistance and loans for buying a house or investing in a small business, farm or commercial fishing boat.

By 2005, those other benefits had atrophied. Before the NVC came into effect in 2006, a new veteran who suffered an injury leading to medical release from the Canadian Armed Forces had only the pension and not the access to the re-establishment benefits available to earlier generations.

No matter its shortcomings, the NVC was a realization that young veterans coming out of the forces with disabilities need a wide range of benefits and support programs that did not exist before 2006. Each year, those programs need to be revisited and changes made based on well-researched recommendations.

The Pension for Life plan does move the NVC forward, but we just don’t have enough details yet to determine how or if it will assist the majority of ill or injured veterans. In the meantime, Canadians expect the delay in implementation to be put to good use, that politicians and veterans’ advocates will work together to get it right.

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