The Royal Canadian Legion scored a significant success last year when the federal government agreed to split pension income for married seniors as of the 2007 tax year. The move which will reduce the amount of taxes paid by some seniors on fixed incomes was one of the government’s reactions to resolutions put to it from the 41st dominion convention held in Calgary in 2006.
The government’s comments are contained in a booklet sent to all branches in August. The book contains the resolution, the government’s, or other party’s, response and the Legion’s position. “The comments from most respondents are very detailed and comprehensive. In some instances, Legion objectives have been attained. In others, ongoing reviews and studies will provide a vision for the way ahead,” wrote Dominion Secretary Duane Daly in a covering letter.
Most resolutions were directed to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board or other government departments.
Apart from the success of the income splitting resolution, the Legion is still looking for more favourable response on other issues.
One resolution calls for Veterans Independence Program benefits–extended to the spouse of a veteran–to include medical benefits and access to a long-term care facility.
VAC responded, “The primary clients of VAC are veterans themselves. Where survivors receive benefits (housekeeping and grounds maintenance) they do so through the veteran, as a result of the veteran’s entitlement. Presently, there is no legislative authority to extend medical and long-term care services to those other than veteran clients.”
VAC did say that it was reviewing spousal benefits as part of its Veterans’ Health Services Review.
The Legion’s position is that it will await the conclusion of the review while still advocating for improved benefits.
Another resolution called for all Canadian and Allied veterans 80 years of age or older to be automatically entitled to VIP without a means test.
VAC replied, “The provision of benefits based on age would appear to contravene the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) and other human rights legislation. VIP eligibility is based on need regardless of age such that the same test applies to all veterans.”
The Legion position is “The Legion will focus on achieving improved benefits for frail veterans, regardless of age. This is a high priority issue which should have been resolved by now.”
Delegates supported a resolution that would see VAC introduce a full refund of taxi fare expenses for those clients travelling to medical appointments. The current policy is to refund the fare less $5.00.
The department responded, “Departmental policy currently allows for the deductible to be waived in certain circumstances where the client’s mobility or cognition is severely impaired or where the deductible would impede the client’s ability to access treatment benefits.”
The Legion “urges quick action to remove what is nothing but a vexatious policy with associated administrative burdens for VAC.”
Convention also called on VAC to increase the staff level to meet the current needs of veterans and other clients.
The department responded that it was planning on having a new resource allocation model in place for 2008-09 that would allot staff based on how busy an office is and not on the number of clients it has.
“The Legion continues to be concerned about not only the staffing levels at VAC but also the on-the-job training requirements associated with the very complex programs and benefits that were introduced with the implementation of the New Veterans Charter. The Legion will advocate strongly for the development by VAC of an annual continuation training plan for front-line employees who deliver VAC programs,” says the position.
A Bill of Rights for veterans residing in long-term care facilities was also called for in resolutions. VAC replied that the Veterans Bill of Rights which was unveiled April 3, 2007, applies to all veterans who are eligible or are receiving benefits and service including long-term care.
The Legion position is “The Legion is satisfied with the explanation of the Veterans Bill of Rights applies to all veterans while recognizing the importance of putting in place an updated long-term care quality assurance framework.”
As usual with most conventions, there were resolutions concerned with the number of priority access beds available to veterans in long-term care facilities.
After a lengthy reply noting various home-care projects the Legion responded, “Even though wait list management for access to long-term care facilities is becoming less problematic, in some areas of the country there are still locations where this remains a problem such as the Ottawa area where there are simply not enough priority access beds for veterans. The Legion awaits the results of the collaborative research program between VAC and the Government of Ontario.”
On the resolution that would see August 9 officially declared Peacekeepers Day, VAC replied that it supported the resolution and a private member’s bill being studied by a House of Commons committee.
Several resolutions were directed at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board such as one calling the VRAB to apply the “benefit of the doubt” clause to hearing loss disabilities.
The board replied that it was awaiting a case before the Federal Court of Appeal. The Legion in turn noted that the decision has already been brought down that found that the VRAB did not apply the definition of disability as contained in the Pension Act. The Legion maintains that VRAB should consider partial entitlements as allowed by the legislation.
One resolution called on VRAB to revoke its position on due diligence for representation at the request for reconsideration. The board said representation could be made in writing. The Legion has continued to argue for representation in person.
Another concern raised at convention was that Human Resources and Social Development Canada was not recognizing the Certificate of Birth Abroad and other documents as valid citizenship documents for the purposes of getting a social insurance number. The department replied: “To safeguard the security of our citizens and increase the integrity of the social insurance number, the Government of Canada reduced the number of documents accepted as proof of a SIN applicant’s identity.” The department has since announced a change in policy and now accepts the certificate.
“The Legion is happy with the progress made, especially the recognition that the Certificate of Birth Abroad will now be recognized as a valid proof of identity,” says the position. “Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor specific complaints on this issue and will refer them on a case-by-case basis to the minister.”
The Legion will be submitting new resolutions to the government following the dominion convention in Ottawa in June.