More widows and other survivors of Canadian veterans will be eligible to receive benefits under the Veterans Independence Program with a $282 million boost announced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in his Feb. 26 budget.
VIP is a national home-care program that helps low-income veterans with disabilities and their spouses remain healthy and independent in their own homes instead of moving into a costly, less friendly, long-term care facility.
The Royal Canadian Legion and other veterans groups have succeeded in getting Veterans Affairs Canada to extend housekeeping and grounds maintenance benefits to the survivors of veterans who were already receiving VIP benefits. However, those survivors whose spouse was not receiving benefits have not been eligible. This included many survivors of veterans who died prior to 1981 when the Veterans Independence Program was introduced.
While the February announcement addresses the needs of surviving spouses of veterans who died before 1981, the new money does little to address the overall concerns the Legion has expressed with VIP benefits.
“This planned expansion is spending money on survivors of deceased veterans and not on the living veterans who are in need of assistance,” said Dominion President Jack Frost in a news release. “While we generally support an initiative to compensate needy and disabled survivors of those who died before 1981, we cannot accept that frail veterans, Allied veterans now living in Canada and Canada-service only veterans themselves are being excluded from assistance.”
The new money will provide housekeeping and grounds maintenance benefits to eligible low-income and disabled survivors of traditional war-service veterans. The benefits would be up to a maximum of $2,400 a year.
To be eligible for the new money the applicant must be the survivor of a World War I, II or Korean War veteran who:
• was entitled to a disability pension under the Pension Act or the Civilian War-related Benefits Act; or
• was receiving a war veterans allowance or benefits under the Civilian War-related Benefits Act; or
• would have received an allowance if they had not been receiving benefits under the Old Age Security Act; and
• was not receiving VIP housekeeping or grounds maintenance benefits when he or she died or was admitted to a health-care facility.
The survivor must also receive the guaranteed income supplement under the Old Age Security Act or be approved for the Disability Tax Credit. He or she must also have a health need and require these services to remain at home and not have access to the services under a provincial health-care system or a private insurance plan. The survivor must also be a resident of Canada.
A survivor is defined by Veterans Affairs Canada as the primary care provider to the veteran, who was not paid or compensated for providing that care and who lived in the principal residence of the veteran for a continuous period of at least one year immediately prior to the veteran’s death or admission into a health-care facility.
The Legion has long been concerned that elderly and frail veterans often do not qualify for these benefits. A resolution at the 2006 dominion convention urged the government to allow Canadian and Allied veterans 80 years of age and older to be automatically eligible for VIP without a means test.
While the Legion has advocated that VIP benefits for survivors be extended to those whose veteran spouse died prior to 1981, it also has argued that the benefits should include medical benefits and access to long-term care facilities.
“The needy, frail veteran who cannot afford the expense to hire a contractor to tend to the basic maintenance items such as snow clearance, lawn cutting, window cleaning, etc., that the veterans himself was once able to do, must now face losing his home as he is forced into a long-term care facility, possibly separated from his spouse at great emotional cost,” said Frost.
“The government would rather place him or her in a more expensive long-term care facility than provide the basic VIP benefit,” said Frost. “Instead of adopting a comprehensive approach based on needs, VAC is continuing to introduce patchwork ad hoc measures which overestimate the financial costs associated with these so-called improvements.”
Frost said that the measure disregards the findings of VAC’s own Health Services Review which has been ongoing since 2004 as well as the report of the Gerontological Advisory Council entitled Keeping The Promise.
“We cannot support the type of action that denies government funding to frail veterans even though it may be going to survivors,” said Frost. “We are losing 70 veterans a day right now. An allocation of VIP to the frail and other groups of worthy veterans cannot wait any longer.”
Readers who think they may be eligible for expanded benefits should contact a Royal Canadian Legion provincial command service officer or call VAC toll free at 1-866-522-2122.