2022-2023 Legislative Program

Brian Forbes sits at a desk.

Brian Forbes, Chairman, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada

As we commemorate Remembrance Day in 2022, there continue to be significant concerns with respect to veterans legislation, regulation and policy, necessitating further action by the Government and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to rectify the ongoing inequity and injustice impacting disabled veterans and their families.

Based on recent exchanges with the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Lawrence MacAulay, and senior officials of the department, VAC unfortunately tends to underline the incremental progress that has been achieved on a number of issues, including the intolerable backlog/wait-time crisis and the insidious issue of military sexual trauma within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

However, it must be recognized that, although the minister and the department continue to deliver statements of good intention, it is readily apparent that the machinery of government does indeed move extremely slowly in actually implementing needed overall legislative reform.

We are, of course, encouraged by the recent enactment of an immediate treatment benefit policy for veterans suffering mental health challenges, which has been a major breakthrough in accordance with the long-standing position of NCVA in this context. We will continue to pursue an extension of this treatment benefit policy so as to ensure that it applies to all disabled veterans in urgent need of treatment or health care.

Suffice to say that much more is required to fully respond to our ongoing NCVA legislative agenda, including the following major topics of concern:

  1. A recognition that systemic change is essential to tackle the backlog/wait-time crisis, including the adoption of fast-tracking protocols and a form of automatic entitlement. As stipulated in the recent Auditor General's report and the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report of 2020, it is self-evident that increased temporary staffing and augmented digitization alone are not sufficient to resolve this ongoing problem. It is to be noted that the recent position paper we produced, entitled "Auditor General slams VAC for totally unacceptable backlog and wait-times for veterans' disability claims," contains the essential elements of our proposals to alleviate the backlog/wait-time debacle sooner than later.
  2. Our fundamental proposition that veterans legislation should equate to a "one veteran – one standard" approach. We have strongly recommended that the best parts of the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter should be utilized to produce a comprehensive pension and wellness model for all disabled veterans, regardless of where or when they were injured.
  3. The marriage after 60 dispute and our demand that the so-called "gold digger's clause" be eliminated from the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act after many years of advocacy. It is noteworthy that the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) recently carried out an extensive study of this long-standing grievance, and we are expecting a strong set of recommendations from the committee when Parliament reconvenes this fall.
  4. With reference to the extremely concerning issue of military sexual trauma within the CAF, we will continue to press the Government to fully implement without further delay the salient recommendations contained in the report of Madame Justice Louise Arbour. We remain concerned by the lack of a timeline to implement the 48 recommendations in the Arbour report and the delay in the appointment of an independent external monitor mandated to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.
  5. Replacing the present Caregiver Recognition Benefit by revitalizing the traditional concept of Attendance Allowance as to eligibility criteria from the Pension Act, together with the DND Attendant Care Benefit as to the minimum amount payable to informal caregivers. This is to better recognize and more generously compensate caregivers for their significant effort and economic loss in supporting injured veterans. We will also seek the creation of a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of Pain and Suffering compensation to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances, so as to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.
  6. A reform of the Last Post Fund legislation necessitating a recognition of the fact that families of seriously disabled veterans should receive this funeral and burial grant as a matter of right.
  7. The establishment of a Career Impact Allowance for life based on the future loss of income strategy employed for many years by the Canadian courts in lieu of the current VAC Income Replacement Benefit or the CAF SISIP income policy. The fundamental principle that should be followed by the department lies in the monetary evaluation as to what the disabled veteran would have earned in their military career if they had not been injured.
  8. A closeup of the shoulder of a Canadian Armed Forces uniform with a Canadian flag patch.
  9. A full revamp of the Diminished Earnings Capacity post-65 policy so as to establish a formula that does not reduce the amount of the income replacement from 90 per cent to 70 per cent (of 90 per cent) at age 65, with accompanying setoffs. It is quite clear that the financial requirements of a seriously disabled veteran in receipt of Diminished Earnings Capacity do not decrease at the age of 65, and the parallel to private pension plans – as often posited by VAC – is not an acceptable justification for this reduction.

We continue to work with the new Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs, Paul Ledwell, and the recently restructured hierarchy of VAC in an ongoing crusade to produce greater reform for Canadian veterans and their families.

Based on recent meetings with senior officials of VAC, we are somewhat encouraged that the department is indicating an open door to further dialogue, which at least allows a further evaluation of these priority legislative concerns. Unfortunately, it is too often the case that the bureaucracy tends to default to a defensive position of upholding the status quo. Notwithstanding this fact, we remain committed to achieving further advances on our overall legislative agenda beyond the incremental progress that has been accomplished to date.

VAC must recognize that time is of the essence for Canadian veterans and their families who continue to wait for this fundamental legislative reform so as to allow them to better cope with their service-related disabilities and injuries.

Our NCVA Legislative Program 2022-23 sets out the essential components of our agenda as we address Parliament, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence.

Quick Links

VAC Backlog/Wait-Time Crisis

The Auditor General of Canada, Karen Hogan, tabled a report in Parliament on May 31, 2022, concluding that Canada's disabled veterans continue to face intolerably long wait times and an unacceptable backlog in earning entitlement for deserved financial assistance and benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).

Hogan stated in her press conference in Ottawa that she was unimpressed with the efforts made by the department over the last number of years and called for the prioritization of a "realistic plan" to finally ensure that disabled veterans are not forced to wait months or even years for the financial support and compensation they require.

"I am really left with the conclusion that the Government failed to meet a promise that it made to our veterans, that it would take care of them if they were injured in service. This has a real consequence on the well-being of our veterans and their families.

"It is time to find a more sustainable solution that will see veterans receive their benefits in a timely way. After all, it is our veterans who are here to take care of and protect our country and keep peace. The Government should do better by them."

The Auditor General's report made a number of significant findings in their evaluation of VAC's efforts to improve the processing time and backlog confronting the veteran community in Canada:

"2.9 Overall, we found that despite Veterans Affairs Canada's initiatives to speed up the processing of applications for disability benefits, veterans were still waiting a long time to receive compensation for injuries sustained in their service to Canada. Veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time waited a median of 39 weeks for a decision, which is a long way from the department's service standard of 16 weeks in 80 per cent of cases.

"2.10 The department's data on how it processes benefits applications – and the organization of this data – was poor. As a result, the department did not know if its initiatives sped up application processing or even if any of its initiatives slowed down processing. We also found that the department did not always calculate wait times consistently, which meant that veterans waited longer than the department reported publicly.

"2.11 The department lacked a long-term staffing plan to help address the long wait times. The department hired term employees to help process the backlog of applications. However, some of them left the department before the end of their term to take jobs that offered more security. The department needs a stable workforce to process disability benefits. The department also needs an improved data management system to help ensure that veterans do not wait months or even years to receive benefits to support their physical and mental health.

"2.57 Veterans Affairs Canada should work with central government agencies to establish a sustainable long-term resourcing plan for processing disability benefit applications in a timely manner. This plan should consider the number of applications the department expects to receive and the efficiency it expects to gain from its process improvement initiatives.

"2.58 We concluded that although Veterans Affairs Canada implemented initiatives to improve the processing of disability benefit applications, its actions did not reduce overall wait times for eligible veterans. The department was still a long way from meeting its service standard. Implementation of initiatives was slow. Data to measure improvements was lacking. Both the funding and almost half of the employees on the team responsible to processing applications were temporary. As a result, veterans waited too long to receive benefits to support their physical and mental health and their families' overall well-being."

As a matter of background to the Auditor General's report, there is no doubt that the overriding concern in the veterans' community today remains the ongoing crisis as to the intolerable backlog and wait times confronting veterans in making applications for disability pensions and health-care benefits. The National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada (NCVA) has consistently argued that systemic change is absolutely essential. It is self-evident that the departmental measures to increase staffing and digital resources will not be sufficient on their own to resolve this deplorable state of affairs as underlined by not only the Auditor General's report, but by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)'s report of September 2020. Indeed, it is fully expected that the backlog will only be exacerbated as increased numbers of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members are being medically released following the conclusion of the pandemic.

From NCVA's perspective, it is incumbent upon the Liberal government, in concert with the official Opposition parties, to enunciate bold and creative measures to accelerate the establishment of fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement for outstanding veterans' claims in order to alleviate this backlog and wait-time dilemma, which has only been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.

Thick binders full of paper are stacked on top of each other on a desk.

The following represents the crux of NCVA's position in relation to this ongoing administrative crisis:

  • The department should adopt the position that veterans' claims be considered at face value and be based on the reasonable evidence provided by the veteran and his or her family, with the proviso that individual files could be monitored over time and "spot audits" carried out to address any potential abuses. The clear reality that medical reports usually required by VAC to support these applications continue to be extremely difficult to obtain at this time must be recognized in assessing this present dilemma.
  • Even though medical offices and therapists' clinics have re-opened, these individual health professionals are simply overwhelmed with their own backlog and rescheduling delayed appointments. In our experience, the preparation of medical reports to support veterans' claims is still not a priority at this time for these beleaguered physicians and therapists.
  • Unless creative steps are taken, the adjudicative delays and turnaround time dilemmas will not be relieved in the short term, given the reality of the significant challenge in obtaining these medical/therapist reports to substantiate individual veterans' applications.
  • There is a general consensus among major veteran stakeholders that this administrative/adjudicative measure leading to a form of fast-tracking/automatic entitlement deserves immediate attention.
  • It has been the long-standing view of NCVA that this type of automatic entitlement approach should have been implemented by VAC years ago in regard to seriously disabled veterans. This desired policy change would achieve the objective of expediting these specific claims so as to circumvent governmental "red tape" and in recognition of the fact that nearly all of these cases are ultimately granted entitlement in the end, often following many months of adjudicative delay. It is our considered position that now is clearly the time to extend this thinking to all veterans' claims.
  • It is noteworthy that a number of mandate letters received by the Minister of Veterans Affairs from the Prime Minister contained a specific direction that VAC should implement a form of automatic entitlement with respect to common disabilities suffered by Canadian veterans.
  • It is also extremely significant that many financial assistance programs rolled out over the last two years by federal/provincial governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic are premised on the philosophy of "pay now and verify later." In regard to a number of financial initiatives, the earlier need for medical reports to substantiate entitlement to these programs has been waived by the Government, given the impracticality of accessing any input from the medical profession in Canada through these troubled times.
  • It is to be noted that the initial reaction of the department to this proposed form of fast-tracking/automatic entitlement was that this approach could be implemented for benefits that are paid on a monthly basis. However, given the fact in relation to disability awards that the majority of veterans are still opting for lump sums, this would represent a concern for the department.
  • In addressing this concern, it was our recommendation that, as an interim step in granting this form of automatic entitlement, the disability award could be paid as a monthly allowance with a preliminary assessment in the first instance. Ultimately, the department would have the ability to fully assess the extent of the veteran's disability in order to determine the veteran's final assessment, at which point the veteran could choose to convert his or her monthly allowance to a lump sum award with the appropriate financial adjustment to consider the monthly amounts already paid.
  • The great advantage in this recommendation is that the veteran's entitlement would be established early on and the veteran's concerns surrounding financial security and access to health-care and treatment benefits would be addressed in this manner.
  • The old adage that "desperate times call for bold and creative measures" is particularly apt in this situation.
  • VAC Backlog/Wait Time Crisis Recommendations

    Recommendation

    NCVA urges VAC to fully recognize the substantive findings and criticisms of the Auditor General's report of May 2022 and implement with the highest priority the statutory, regulatory and policy changes proposed in the report to realistically address the backlog/wait-time conundrum confronting Canada's disabled veterans.

    A. VAC Policy Statement – June 2020

    As outlined in the Auditor General's Report 2022, the department issued a policy statement in June 2020 in response to this serious concern entitled "Timely disability benefits decisions: Strategic direction for improving wait times." This communication piece had been a significant priority for some time, not only for NCVA but also the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) and many other stakeholder groups.

    In NCVA's judgment, this policy document represented a statement of good intentions for the mid- to long-term objectives cited in the material, but failed to effectively remedy the ongoing backlog crisis that has only been intensified by the COVID-19 challenge.

    Although it is somewhat encouraging that the VAC policy statement has adopted a number of our proposals including the prospective employment of automatic entitlement for common disabilities, the utilization of presumptions for certain consequential disabilities and the lessening of the requirement for medical referrals in specific cases, the department's report unfortunately concluded that this will take considerable time to implement.

    Furthermore, the departmental policy statement placed significant weight on the fact that substantial funding had been approved in 2020 by the Government for VAC in a supplementary budget estimate to retain new employees to deal with the ongoing backlog. However, this newly acquired departmental staff continues to face a steep learning curve and was not actually operational until January 2021.

    In addition to the recommendations found in the Auditor General's report, it is also noteworthy that the PBO earlier completed an evaluation of the VAC backlog through a financial analysis report issued on September 21, 2020, titled "Disability Benefit Processing at Veterans Affairs Canada." The PBO (as most recently enunciated by the Auditor General's report) concluded that, without further fundamental systemic change together with further significant increases in government funding to augment VAC staffing resources, the department would not substantially impact turnaround times for veterans' claims for years into the future, given the current pace of adjudication.

    The department presented a formal briefing of their policy position on June 30, 2020, to various Ministerial Advisory Groups. As part of the ongoing dialogue surrounding this presentation, NCVA took the strong position that the department needs to accelerate their plan of action through an adoption of the above-cited fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement approach for all outstanding veterans' applications.

    Given the unattainability of medical reports from various health-care providers, the following fundamental question still requires an immediate answer:

    What level of evidence is the department prepared to accept to approve current claims in the backlog?

    Clearly, individual veterans and/or their advocates who are preparing disability applications must be cognizant of the department's position in relation to this important subject as to the sufficiency of evidence required for VAC approval.

    In our judgment, the "approve and verify" philosophy we have espoused is a crucial ingredient to the solution in this context.

    Rather surprisingly, as part and parcel of our discussions over the last two years, VAC has indicated through the briefing process that, ostensibly, "higher government authority" is required to implement this form of creative initiative.

    With all due respect, we are somewhat mystified by this prerequisite for government authority, as it has been readily apparent that VAC has determined the overall question of sufficiency of evidence for many decades in adjudicating veterans' applications. In this context, the impact of the benefit of the doubt/presumptive provisions of veterans' legislation have been in place for many years. This unique set of adjudicative principles gives the department great latitude to reach a constructive resolution in relation to policy amendments to address the present crisis regarding wait times.

    In summary, the VAC policy statement contained a number of positive steps to alleviate the backlog and unacceptable wait times relevant to veterans' disability claims. However, as underlined by the Auditor General's Report 2022, the scope and pace of these initiatives require a higher priority from the Government in order to establish a more immediate resolution for veterans and their families, often facing severe financial insecurity, particularly during this COVID-19 crisis.

    A. VAC Policy Statement – June 2020 Recommendations

    Recommendation

    NCVA strongly recommends that VAC recognize that fundamental systemic change is required and that the department needs to accelerate the adoption of fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement for outstanding veterans' claims in order to alleviate the backlog and wait times that have only been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.

    Recommendation

    NCVA proposes that VAC utilize presumptions in the departmental adjudicative system as outlined for many years in NCVA's Legislative Program. The adoption of evidentiary presumptions to deal with common disabilities and consequential claims will create administrative efficiencies and have a significant impact on turnaround times for veterans' claims currently in the backlog.

    B. Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs – December 2020

    The House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs issued its highly material report "Clearing the Jam: Addressing the Backlog of Disability Benefit Claims at Veterans Affairs Canada" on December 11, 2020, following many months of study and stakeholder input.

    NCVA presented our submission to the Committee in November 2020 as part and parcel of its deliberations.

    The Standing Committee findings identify quite clearly the present crisis in VAC adjudication and call for urgent and dramatic change in departmental protocols. Most importantly, from our perspective, the report endorses our position that a form of automatic entitlement/pre-approval, together with fast-track protocols, need to be adopted by the department to address the required systemic change.

    We would suggest that the Standing Committee's report, which echoes the current Auditor General's Report 2022, reflects a comprehensive canvassing of a number of the salient issues surrounding the backlog/wait-time problem. With respect to the adjudicative initiatives we have focused on, the following represents the major recommendations made by the Standing Committee in its report to Parliament:

    • Recommendation 13: That Veterans Affairs Canada continue to automatically approve applications for medical conditions presumptively attributed to service in the Canadian Armed Forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, table to the Committee its list of such medical conditions and continue to expand it through research in Canada and in allied countries.
    • Recommendation 14: That Veterans Affairs Canada conduct a study on women-specific medical conditions related to service in the Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and, when applicable, add them to the list of medical conditions presumptively connected to military service.
    • Recommendation 15: That the Minister of Veterans Affairs amend the Veterans Well-being Regulations to allow for the automatic pre-approval of disability benefit claims, and that Veterans Affairs Canada implement a pilot project to identify the risks and advantages of such automatic pre-approval of claims.
    • Recommendation 16: That Veterans Affairs Canada conduct an in-depth review of the Veterans Emergency Fund in the context of its use to support veterans waiting in the backlog and report back to the committee with their findings.
    • Conclusion: Adopting these measures would exhibit good faith in dealing with the existing backlog and uphold the fundamental principle that has guided all Canadian veterans' compensation programs since the First World War: the benefit of the doubt. Committee members want to reaffirm this principle and reassure veterans and their families that their well-being is the sole and unique purpose of Veterans Affairs Canada.

    In response to these compelling recommendations, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Lawrence MacAulay, provided a formal reply last year to the Committee setting out what constitutes, in our respectful judgment, a further statement of good intentions from the department's perspective in relation to increasing staffing, technological advances et al. We remain convinced, as set out in the Auditor General's Report 2022, that a more innovative approach is required to truly address this enduring backlog and wait-time crisis in VAC.

    In this context, senior officials of the department still maintain that they are ostensibly in the process of seeking legislative/regulatory authority to implement appropriate adjudicative changes required in accord with the Standing Committee conclusions and our long-standing proposals. Given the evaluation of the Auditor General's Report 2022, it is our hope that the department has recognized that there is sound rationale for incorporating the necessary adjudicative protocol amendments as the fundamental means of alleviating this unacceptable backlog/turnaround time conundrum. NCVA will continue to press the department to expedite the implementation of the necessary changes outlined by the Standing Committee report.

    B. Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs – December 2020 Recommendations

    Recommendation

    NCVA supports the adoption of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs report dated December 11, 2020, titled "Clearing the Jam: Addressing the Backlog of Disability Benefit Claims at Veterans Affairs Canada," which accepted the majority of NCVA's recommendations in alleviating the backlog/wait-times crisis.

    C. 2021 Federal Budget

    NCVA has strongly recommended for many years that the immediate granting of treatment benefits for seriously disabled veterans prior to the completion of the individual VAC adjudication process is absolutely essential to meet the urgent needs of such veterans.

    The proposed draft amendments to the Veterans Health Care regulations recently released by the department will ostensibly allow veterans who apply for disability benefits for mental health conditions to automatically qualify for treatment benefit/health-care coverage. As a matter of background, it is noteworthy that the 2021 federal budget, brought down by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 19, has recognized that:

    "… [v]eterans are three to four times as likely to suffer from depressive or anxiety disorders, and over 15 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), than the general population. Veterans are entitled to financial support for mental health-care through the Treatment Benefit Program, but they can wait up to two years to receive mental health-care while waiting for their disability benefit application to be confirmed. …

    "Budget 2021 proposes to provide $140 million over five years starting in 2021-22, and $6 million ongoing, to Veterans Affairs Canada for a program that would cover the mental health-care costs of veterans with PTSD, depressive, or anxiety disorders while their disability benefit application is being processed."

    Although this budgetary proposal does not fully adopt our favoured concept of automatic entitlement/preapproval for all physical and mental disabilities, it does provide a significant step forward in recognizing that treatment benefits should be granted immediately and not be dependent on the disability application process, which can indeed take up to two years. Thus, this provision is hopefully a springboard to expanding this principle so that veterans are not left in a precarious situation for many months or even years before health-care/treatment benefits are available to them. The Government, through the budget, has determined that mental health care (PTSD, depressive or anxiety disorders) should be given priority at this time. It will be our continuing position that this approach should be applied to all physical disabilities so that veterans in serious need of health-care or treatment benefits should be granted the same sense of priority.

    This stopgap initiative has the potential to trigger much-needed treatment benefits for those veterans suffering urgent mental health issues. Despite this, it still begs the larger question as to whether VAC is prepared in relation to the overall adjudication of disability benefits to fully operationalize the requisite systemic measures needed to ameliorate the pervasive administrative and bureaucratic delays currently confronting Canadian veterans and their families.

    In this context, it is to be noted that over 95 per cent of PTSD claims are approved by the department. Therefore, automatic entitlement just makes good administrative sense and would accelerate the necessary treatment benefits for the disabled veteran so as to obviate any further triggering of the bureaucracy of government.

    As we have said all along with respect to the backlog/wait-time crisis, veterans deserve nothing less during these challenging times where financial and health concerns have been intensified by COVID-19!

    C. 2021 Federal Budget Recommendations

    Recommendation

    NCVA strongly recommends that the Government expand the implementation of the proposals contained in Budget 2021, insofar as the immediate granting of treatment benefits prior to the formal adjudication of the veteran's disability claim so as to include all forms of disability suffered by the veterans of Canada.

    Recommendation

    NCVA recommends that VAC provide substantial financial funding to bolster the Veterans Emergency Fund to increase the maximum benefits per claim and to prioritize these applications during these challenging times. VAC should consider the utilization of the Veterans Emergency Fund as a stopgap measure for veterans awaiting disability pension claim decisions that have been inordinately held up by the current backlog conundrum.

    D. Transitional Provisions/Complexity of Legislation

    It is not without significance that, due to the complexity and confusion surrounding a number of new benefits that have been promulgated over the last couple of years, the VAC adjudicative process has been further backlogged, resulting in many veterans being unable to access these new benefits and, as significantly, struggling to understand the criteria for application. In effect, the Government has created a legislative "monster" insofar as the nature and scope of the VAC benefit grid that currently exists. With the introduction of the new Pension for Life provision, statutory eligibility and policy guidelines have been dramatically complicated to the point where both the applicant veteran and the corresponding VAC adjudicator are confronted with many legalistic and interpretative obstacles with respect to achieving speedy decision-making and satisfactory entitlement results.

    Although the department has initiated significant policy revisions to provide for an early intervention well in advance of the ultimate medical release of the disabled veteran, there remains much more work to be done to ensure that this transitional process is improved. It is extremely noteworthy that, in the past five years, both the Veterans Ombudsman and the Department of National Defence (DND) Ombudsman have made substantive proposals to the minister and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in relation to improving the transitional protocols in this context.

    Quite clearly, one of the most significant priorities with reference to this transitional phase is to ensure that disabled veterans are fully apprised of benefits and entitlements, rehabilitation options and job alternatives well before their medical discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces.

    In this regard, it remains the strong opinion of NCVA that VAC should be able to identify those benefits a veteran is entitled to and implement these benefits on the veteran's behalf. In general terms, the utilization of a knowledgeable case manager, together with administrative aids such as an enhanced "My VAC" account at an early point in the transitional process, should expedite this procedure, as opposed to the current protocol where a veteran is often asked to describe his or her needs and the precise benefits that the veteran is seeking. It has been our recommendation that the case manager must be in a position in nearly all cases to identify these benefits and entitlements to the individual veteran under the various VAC programs, and that this should occur in collaborative partnership with DND prior to the discharge of the disabled veteran in question. With particular reference to seriously disabled veterans, the onus should be removed from the veteran and the VAC administrative function should be fine-tuned and more proactive in establishing entitlements for such veterans.

    D. Transitional Provisions/Complexity of Legislation Recommendations

    Recommendation

    NCVA proposes that VAC simplify veterans legislation and regulations, including the Table of Disabilities, so as to provide a more "user-friendly" process and, in so doing, eliminate the complexities and legalistic provisions currently confronting veterans in making disability/health-care claims.

    Recommendation

    NCVA takes the position that, to ease the transition from DND to VAC, disabled veterans should be fully apprised of benefits and entitlements, rehabilitation options and job alternatives well before their medical discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces.

The "Elephant in the Room" in VAC Remains

 The top of the Peace Tower in Ottawa.

Veterans remain vitally interested in the positions to be adopted by the new Liberal government and the Opposition parties in this minority Parliament to remedy the long-standing injustice and inequity impacting Canada's disabled veterans and their families.

NCVA continues to take the position that there is much to do in improving veterans legislation so as to address the financial and wellness requirements of Canada's veterans' community. This is particularly so with respect to the Pension for Life (PFL) provisions originally announced in December 2017 and formally implemented on April 1, 2019.

It is self-evident that the greater majority of disabled veterans are not materially impacted by the PFL legislation in that the new benefits under these legislative and regulatory amendments have limited applicability – indeed, some seriously disabled veterans are actually worse off.

In our considered opinion, this PFL policy fails to satisfy the Prime Minister's initial commitment in 2015, in response to the Equitas lawsuit, to address the inadequacies and deficiencies in the New Veterans Charter and continues to ignore the "elephant in the room" that has overshadowed this entire discussion.

As stated in our many submissions to VAC and Parliament, the Government has not met veterans' expectations with regard to the fundamental mandated commitment to "re-establish lifelong pensions" under the Charter so as to ensure that a comparable level of financial security is provided to all disabled veterans and their families over their life course. This financial disparity between the Pension Act and New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act compensation was fully validated by the Parliamentary Budget Office's report issued on February 21, 2019, which clearly underlined this long-standing discrimination.

In this regard, it is essential to recognize that VAC has been substantially impacted by government budgetary constraints in implementing the PFL and related benefits, producing half-measures and inadequate benefit components to overall veterans legislation.

Various Canadian currency bills are spread out and a person holding a magnifying glass is inspecting one of them.

Notwithstanding the Prime Minister's protestations as to the ability of his Government to finance appropriate veterans' benefits and programs, one has to ask the fundamental question: What has happened to the millions of dollars saved by VAC with the passing of tens of thousands of traditional veterans and early peacekeepers over recent years?

In this context, in relation to the basic issue as to the "affordability" of veterans programs, the Government has failed to acknowledge the impact on the overall VAC budget of the fact that the greater majority of traditional disabled veterans have passed on over the past several years, resulting in significant savings in VAC's budgetary funding requirements. With the continuing loss of this significant cohort of the veteran population, VAC is no longer required to pay pensions, allowances, health-care benefits, treatment benefits, long-term care benefits, VIP et al for all of these disabled veterans.

In all fairness, it must be stated that, under the Harper Government's regime, the veterans' community was shoddily treated vis-à-vis budgetary expenditures for veterans' benefits and programs – numerous VAC district offices were closed, frontline staffing to assist veterans was dramatically reduced and budgetary constraints led to a lack of appropriate action to enact necessary reforms to veterans programs and entitlements. What remains to be seen is whether the new Conservative Leader, Pierre Poilievre, and the Conservative Party will now stand up and be counted during the next Parliament to reverse these years of neglect and injustice. In addition, it is of interest that the NDP and the PPC laid out strong campaign promises last year to address the need for a "one veteran – one standard" approach to veterans pension and wellness programs.

Given the results of the 2021 federal election campaign and the establishment of a minority government, in our judgment, a genuine opportunity still exists for a commitment to substantially improve the legislation so as to eliminate the blatant discrimination suffered by disabled veterans since the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006.

In this context, it should be recognized that the Standing Committees of Parliament, including the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Standing Committee on National Defence, are not totally controlled by the Government in the present minority scenario. It is not without significance that the majority of the members of such Standing Committees are represented by members of the Opposition parties who have greater input in relation to the agenda, the calling of witnesses and the substance of ultimate reports. In our experience, this form of minority government has led to a far better opportunity for significant legislative amendments in the veterans field as a consequence of the need for all parties to reach compromise solutions in addressing outstanding issues. This premise is supported by the significant reports that have been produced by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs over the last several years that will hopefully lead to legislative reform on a number of outstanding concerns.

NCVA and veterans at large will be closely monitoring all federal leaders to determine which party is prepared to make a substantial commitment to addressing the shortfalls and inequities that continue to exist in veterans legislation. In this regard, it must be remembered that there are almost 700,000 veterans in Canada today and, when family, friends and supporters are considered, this number of potential voters is not without significance – particularly following an election year that has resulted in a minority government where, historically, a new election will in all probability ensue within the next 12 to 24 months.

If the "one veteran – one standard" philosophy advocated by VAC has any meaning, this glaring disparity between the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act benefits for disabled veterans requires that the new Liberal government and the Opposition parties seize the moment and satisfy the financial needs of Canadian veterans and their dependants. In so doing, Parliament would finally be recognizing that the long-standing social covenant between the Canadian people and the veterans' community demands nothing less.

The "Elephant in the Room" in VAC Remains Recommendations

Recommendation

NCVA takes the position that VAC, working together with relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, should think "outside the box" by jointly striving over time to create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies – thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut-off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans based on whether they were injured before or after 2006.

Recommendation

NCVA adopts the position that much more is required to improve the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and that the Government needs to fully implement the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group recommendations presented to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Summit in October 2016 (together with the report to the minister of January 14, 2020) with particular emphasis on:

  1. Resolving the significant disparity between the financial compensation available under the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act;
  2. Ensuring that no veteran under the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act would receive less compensation than a veteran under the Pension Act with the same disability or incapacity in accordance with the "one veteran – one standard" principle;
  3. Utilizing a combination of the best provisions from the Pension Act and the best provisions from the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act, producing a form of lifetime pension in a much more realistic manner in order to secure the financial security for those veterans who need this form of monetary support through their lifetime; and
  4. Addressing the ongoing layering of legislation and incremental changes over the years, ostensibly without consistent objectives and clearly defined outcomes, which has created a complex grid of eligibility criteria, differences in eligibility for benefits depending on when and where served, and inconsistency between policy intent and outcomes and expectations.

A. Pension for Life

Two people sit at a table with paper in front of them. Wooden blocks on the table spell the word pension.

With specific reference to the provisions of the legislation that became effective April 1, 2019, the statutory and regulatory amendments ostensibly reflect the Government's attempt to create a form of "pension for life" (PFL) which includes the following three elements:

  1. A disabled veteran has the option to receive the present lump sum disability award in the form of a new Pain and Suffering Compensation (PSC) benefit representing a payment in the maximum amount of $1,150 per month (in 2022, $1,216) for life. For those veterans in receipt of PSC, retroactive assessment would potentially apply to produce a reduced monthly payment for life for such veterans. In effect, VAC has simply converted the amount of the lump sum disability award into a form of a lifetime annuity as an option for those disabled veterans who are eligible.
  2. A new Additional Pain and Suffering (APSC) benefit has essentially replaced the Career Impact Allowance (Permanent Impairment Allowance) under the New Veterans Charter, with similar grade levels and monthly payments that reflect a non-taxable non-economic benefit but is limited in its application to those veterans suffering a "permanent and severe impairment which is creating a barrier to re-establishment in life after service."
  3. A new, consolidated Income Replacement Benefit (IRB), which is taxable, combines four pre-existing benefits (Earnings Loss Benefit, Extended Earnings Loss Benefit, Supplementary Retirement Benefit and Retirement Income Security Benefit) with a proviso that the IRB will be increased by one per cent every year until the veteran reaches what would have been 20 years of service or age 60. It is not without financial significance that the former Career Impact Allowance and Career Impact Allowance Supplement have been eliminated from the Income Replacement Benefit package as identified by the aforementioned Parliamentary Budget Office report in February 2019.

It is readily apparent that significant amendments to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act are required so as to address the proverbial "elephant in the room" in that the PFL legislation fails to satisfy the priority concerns of the veterans' community in relation to:

  1. Resolving the significant disparity between the financial compensation paid to disabled veterans under the Pension Act (PA) and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (NVC/VWA); and
  2. Ensuring that no veteran under the NVC/VWA receives less compensation than the veteran under the PA with the same disability or incapacity in accordance with the "one veteran – one standard" principle.

It is totally unacceptable that we continue to have veterans' legislation in Canada that provides a significantly higher level of compensation to a veteran who is injured prior to 2006 (date of enactment of the New Veterans Charter) when compared to a veteran who is injured post-2006. If applied to the Afghanistan conflict, this discrimination results in veterans of the same war having totally different pension benefits.

During the course of discussions following Budget 2017 leading up to the minister's announcement, there was considerable concern in the veterans' community, which proved to be well founded, that the Government would simply establish an option wherein the lump sum payment (PSC) would be apportioned or reworked over the life of the veteran for the purposes of creating a lifelong pension. NCVA and other veteran stakeholders, together with the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), strongly criticized this proposition as being totally inadequate and not providing the lifetime financial security that was envisaged by the veterans' community.

It is fair to say that the reasonable expectation of veteran stakeholders was that some form of substantive benefit stream needed to be established that would address the financial disparity between the benefits received under the Pension Act and the NVC/VWA for all individually disabled veterans.

It has been NCVA's consistent recommendation to the minister and to the department that VAC should adopt the major conclusions of the MPAG Report formally presented to the Veterans Summit in Ottawa in October 2016 (and directly to the minister in January 2020) together with the recommendations contained in the NCVA Legislative Program. Both of these reports proposed that the combination of the best provisions of the Pension Act and the best provisions of the New Veterans Charter would produce a form of lifetime pension in a much more realistic manner in order to secure the financial security for those veterans who need this form of monetary support through their lifetime.

We would refer to NCVA op-ed papers published over the last two years and our analysis contained in the Financial Comparison section later in this report, which addresses in considerable detail the fundamental deficiencies and flaws contained in the VAC position and outlines a series of proposals as to what can be done to improve the PFL concept.

We strongly encourage the Government to seriously consider the implementation of the following major recommendation of the MPAG as a first step to addressing this problem of the "elephant in the room":

"[T]he enhancement of the Earnings Loss Benefit/Career Impact Allowance as a single stream of income for life, the addition of Exceptional Incapacity Allowance, Attendance Allowance and a new monthly family benefit for life in accordance with the Pension Act will ensure all veterans receive the care and support they deserve when they need it and through their lifetime."

In specific terms, we would also suggest that the following steps would dramatically enhance the legislative provisions and amended regulations relevant to the present PFL proposition and go a long way to satisfying the "one veteran – one standard" approach ostensibly followed by VAC as a basic principle of administration:

  1. Liberalize the eligibility criteria in the legislation and regulatory amendments for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit so that more disabled veterans actually qualify for this benefit – currently, only veterans suffering from a severe and permanent impairment will be eligible. It bears repeating that the greater majority of disabled veterans simply will not qualify for this new component of the proposed lifelong pension.

    It is noteworthy that the new regulations with respect to the Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit largely replicate the eligibility prerequisites of the Permanent Impairment Allowance/Career Impact Allowance. These PIA/CIA provisions have produced restrictive and arbitrary results over the years since their inception and were further complicated with the formula established by VAC in 2017 in relation to the interpretation of the CIA grades through the employment of the "Diminished Earnings Capacity" test. Although the APSC has moved away from the evaluation of Diminished Earnings Capacity to an analysis of the extent to which a permanently impaired veteran is confronting barriers on his or her return to civilian society, the legislative test remains onerous and unavailable to a greater majority of disabled veterans.

    A more generous and readily understood approach is required in the amended regulations for the APSC benefit so as to generate a more inclusive class of disabled veterans. It has been the long-standing position of NCVA that the traditional PIA/CIA regulations and policy guideline requirements reflect a "blunt instrument" as opposed to a "precise tool" in evaluating the overall impact that an injury may have on a disabled veteran.

    In NCVA's 2018 Legislative Program, we argued that the veteran's disability award (PSC) initially granted should be a major determinant in evaluating CIA (APSC) qualifications. The ostensible new criteria employed by VAC as set out in the regulatory amendments for APSC qualification represent, in our judgment, a more restrictive approach when compared to the PSC evaluation.

    In effect, it is the position of NCVA that this employment of the Disability Award (PSC) percentage would produce a more straightforward and easily understood solution to this ongoing issue of APSC (CIA) eligibility. The following would reflect this form of evaluation criteria for APSC (CIA):

    Veteran Disability Award (PSC) APSC (CIA) Grade
    78% or over 1
    48% – 78% 2

    Alternatively, the DA (PSC) percentage could be applied in a more precise manner by using the percentile against the maximum APSC (CIA) compensation available – for example, if a veteran is in receipt of a DA (PSC) of 65 per cent, the veteran would receive 65 per cent of the maximum APSC (CIA) allowance. For the purposes of potentially replacing the current Grade 3 assessment, it is our recommendation that the DA (PSC) percentile could be similarly applied; i.e., if a veteran is in receipt of a DA (PSC) of 25 per cent, the veteran would receive 25 per cent of the maximum APSC (CIA) allowance. Note that this quantification of career impact has been utilized under the Pension Act for almost 100 years in assessing the loss of earning capacity of a disabled veteran for lifetime pension purposes.

    The adoption of this type of approach would have the added advantage of enhancing the PFL so as to incorporate more disabled veterans and address the fundamental parity question in relation to Pension Act benefits.

    With reference to the regulatory amendments emanating from the new PFL provision, we would also express concern that the regulatory prerequisite for the APSC benefit with regard to the disability of amputation remains arbitrarily defined, both as to eligibility and designated grade level.

    A person with a leg amputation sits on a bench.

    It is to be noted that amputation at or above the knee or at or above the elbow is retained as a fundamental requirement for qualification in relation to a single-limb amputee; however, our years of experience with The War Amputations of Canada make clear that the loss of a limb at any level represents a "severe and permanent impairment" for the veteran amputee. The current arbitrary distinction is not justified and should be amended.

  2. Create a new family benefit to parallel the Pension Act provision in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.
  3. Incorporate the special allowances under the Pension Act, i.e., Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance, into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act to help address the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.

    In over 40 years of working with The War Amps of Canada, we have literally handled hundreds of special allowance claims and were specifically involved in the formulation of the Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance guidelines and grade profiles from the outset. We would indicate that these two special allowances, EIA and AA, represent an integral portion of the compensation available to war amputees and other seriously disabled veterans governed by the Pension Act.

    It is of further interest in our judgment that the grade levels for these allowances tend to increase over the life of the veterans as the "ravages of age" are confronted – indeed, non-pensioned conditions such as the onset of a heart, cancer or diabetic condition, for example, are part and parcel of the EIA/AA adjudication uniquely carried out under the Pension Act policies in this context.

    As a sidebar, it is interesting that VAC refers to the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit of $1,000 a month as an indication of the Government's attempt to address the needs of families of disabled veterans. What continues to mystify the veterans' community is why the Government has chosen to "reinvent the wheel" in this area when addressing this need for attendance/caregiving under the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act. For many decades, the Attendance Allowance (with its five grade levels) has been an effective vehicle in this regard, providing a substantially higher level of compensation and more generous eligibility criteria to satisfy this requirement. In this context, it is noteworthy that the spouses or families of seriously disabled veterans often have to give up significant employment opportunities to fulfil the caregiving needs of the disabled veteran – $1,000 a month is simply not sufficient recognition of this income loss. VAC should return to the AA provision and pay such benefit to the caregiver directly if so desired.

    We would strongly suggest that VAC pursue the incorporation of the EIA/AA special allowances into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act with appropriate legislative/regulatory amendments so as to address these deficiencies in the PFL.

  4. Establish a newly-structured Career Impact Allowance that would reflect the following standard of compensation: "What would the veteran have earned in his or her military career had the veteran not been injured?" This form of progressive income model, which has been recommended by the MPAG and the Veterans Ombudsman's Office, would be unique to the NVC/VWA, and would bolster the potential lifetime compensation of a disabled veteran as to his or her projected lost career earnings as opposed to the nominal one per cent increase provided in the proposed legislation.

As a general observation in relation to the new legislation and the regulatory amendments with regard to the evaluation of the calculation surrounding the new Income Replacement Benefit, we would suggest the following concerns are material:

We would strongly suggest that the department consider the impact of these factors relative to the new Income Replacement Benefit so as to ensure this one per cent increase has substantive and meaningful impact for disabled veterans who require such income replacement for life. In addition, we would submit that VAC should ultimately adopt the above-mentioned progressive income model for a newly structured form of CIA in accord with the approach utilized by the Canadian courts as to "future loss of income."

In summary, it is fundamental to understand that it was truly the expectation of the disabled veteran community that the "re-establishment" of a PFL option would not just attempt to address the concerns of the small minority of disabled veterans but would include a recognition of all disabled veterans who require financial security in coping with their levels of incapacity.

As a final observation, VAC consistently talks of the significance that the Government attaches to the wellness, rehabilitation and education programs under the NVC/VWA. As we have stated on a number of occasions, we commend VAC for its efforts to improve these important policies. NCVA recognizes the value and importance of wellness and rehabilitation programs; however, we take the position that financial security remains a fundamental necessity to the successful implementation of any wellness or rehabilitation strategy. It is readily apparent that this is not a choice between wellness and financial compensation as advanced by the minister and the Prime Minister, but a combined requirement to any optimal re-establishment approach to medically released veterans.

Ideally, we would like to believe that VAC, working together with relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, could create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies.

In our judgment, the adoption of this innovative policy objective would have the added advantage of signaling to the veterans' community that VAC is prepared to take progressive steps to tackle legislative reform beyond the current PFL provision so as to address this fundamental core issue of concern to Canada's veterans.

The "Elephant in the Room" in VAC Remains Recommendations

Recommendation

In addition to the aforementioned fundamental proposals as to the overriding guiding principles for legislative reform, the following recommendations represent specific statutory and policy amendments in furtherance of this objective:

  1. Liberalize the eligibility criteria in the legislation and regulatory amendments for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit so that more disabled veterans actually qualify for this benefit. Currently only veterans suffering from a severe and permanent impairment will be eligible. It bears repeating that the greater majority of disabled veterans simply will not qualify for this new component of the proposed lifelong pension.
  2. The Veterans Disability Award (PSC) initially granted to the veteran should be a major determinant in evaluating APSC (CIA) qualifications. It is the position of NCVA that this employment of the PSC percentage would produce a more straightforward and easily understood solution to this ongoing issue of APSC (CIA) eligibility.
  3. Create a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of PSC to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.
  4. Incorporate the special allowances under the Pension Act, i.e., Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance, into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act to help address the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.
  5. Fine-tune the concept of the Attendance Allowance, payable to informal caregivers, by adopting the amount paid under the Attendant Care benefit employed by DND so as to better recognize and compensate the significant effort and economic loss to support injured veterans. Moreover, VAC must ensure access reflects consideration for the effects of mental health injuries.
  6. Lower the eligibility criteria for Exceptional Incapacity Allowance to cover those veterans under 98 per cent disabled and who are confronting extraordinary incapacities as a result of their service-related disabilities.
  7. Improve the eligibility criteria for the Critical Injury benefit to include mental health injuries and evolving injuries.
  8. Extend eligibility of the death benefit to the families of all deceased veterans.
  9. In relation to the regulatory amendments emanating from the new legislation, NCVA expresses concern that the prerequisite for the APSC benefit with regard to the disability of amputation remains arbitrarily defined both as to eligibility and designated grade level. It is to be noted that amputation at or above the elbow, or at or above the knee is retained as a fundamental requirement for qualification in relation to a single limb amputee – the loss of a limb at any level represents a severe and permanent impairment for a veteran amputee. The current arbitrary distinction is not justified and should be amended.

Recommendation

NCVA continues to support the contention that the seriously disabled veteran should be given the highest priority in the implementation of the Government's plan of action for legislative reform in regard to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and other related legislative provisions.

Recommendation

NCVA endorses the position that the federal government's failure to fully implement a plan of action on reforming the New Veterans Charter so as to rectify the unacceptable financial disparity between the Pension Act and the NVC/VWA violates the social covenant owed to Canadian veterans and their families.

Recommendation

That NCVA require that DND and VAC employ all necessary financial, professional and personnel resources to identify, care and compensate veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it is recognized that this insidious disability must be continually monitored to ensure the well-being of such veterans.

N.B.: DND/VAC released a comprehensive report in 2018 entitled "Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy" that established a comprehensive set of protocols to address this entire question of PTSD and suicide. The veterans' community will continue to monitor this policy very closely to determine how effective these proposals will be in addressing what many in the veterans' community have described as a significant crisis.

B. Financial Comparison: Pension Act and New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act

As a fundamental tenet of our current Legislative Program, NCVA will continue to pursue the substantive recommendations delineated in this report with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and senior VAC officials to address the discrimination and inequity (the "elephant in the room") that exists with respect to the financial compensation available to disabled veterans and their families under the traditional Pension Act (PA) and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (NVC/VWA).

Let us now actually compare the present pension benefit regimes and then take a look at what VAC legislation would provide to veterans and their families if the aforementioned NCVA proposals were adopted by the Government.

For 100 per cent pensioners (at maximum rate of compensation):

Pension Act (2022)

Benefit (maximum per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Disability Pension $4,451.00 $3,773.00 $3,019.00
Exceptional Incapacity Allowance 1,598.00 1,598.00 1,598.00
Attendance Allowance 1,998.00 1,998.00 1,998.00
Total $8,047.00 $7,369.00 $6,615.00

New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (2022)

Benefit (maximum per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Pain and Suffering Compensation $1,216.00 $1,216.00 $1,216.00
Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation 1,587.00 1,587.00 1,587.00
Caregiver Recognition Benefit 1,083.00 1,083.00 1,083.00
Total $3,886.00 $3,886.00 $3,886.00

New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (2022) (in the event NCVA proposals are adopted)

Benefit (maximum per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Pain and Suffering Compensation $1,216.00 $1,216.00 $1,216.00
Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation 1,587.00 1,587.00 1,587.00
Family benefit (PA) 1,432.00 754.00 0.00
Exceptional Incapacity Allowance (PA) 1,598.00 1,598.00 1,598.00
Attendance Allowance (PA) 1,998.00 1,998.00 1,998.00
Total $7,831.00 $7,153.00 $6,399.00
A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the maximum monthly pension for the most severely disabled veterans (single veteran). A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the maximum monthly pension for the most severely disabled veterans (veteran and spouse). A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the maximum monthly pension for the most severely disabled veterans (veteran, spouse and two children).

It is of even greater significance to recognize the impact of the Pension for Life policy that became effective on April 1, 2019, on those disabled veterans who might be considered moderately disabled as the disparity in financial compensation between the statutory regimes is even more dramatic.

Let us take the illustration of a veteran with a 35 per cent disability assessment:

It is important to be cognizant of the fact that, once such a veteran earns 66.66 per cent of his or her pre-release military income, the veteran is no longer eligible for the SISIP LTD or the VAC IRB and, due to the fact that the veteran's disability does not equate to a "severe and permanent impairment," the veteran does not qualify for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit.

Therefore, the comparability evaluation for 35 per cent pensioners would be as follows under the alternative pension schemes:

Pension Act (2022)

Benefit (35 per cent per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Disability Pension $1,557.00 $1,320.00 $1,056.00

New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (2022)

Benefit (35 per cent per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Pain and Suffering Compensation $425.00 $425.00 $425.00

We would underline that this analysis demonstrates the extremely significant financial disparity that results for this type of moderately disabled veteran. It is also essential to recognize that over 80 per cent of disabled veterans under the NVC/VWA will fall into this category of compensation. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of the inequitable treatment of these two distinct classes of veteran pensioner is self-evident and remains unacceptable to the overall veterans' community.

Finally, let us consider the impact on this analysis in the event the NCVA proposals were to be implemented as part and parcel of an improved NVC/VWA:

New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (2022) (in the event NCVA proposals are adopted)

Benefit (35 per cent per month) Veteran plus spouse and two children Veteran plus spouse Single veteran
Pain and Suffering Compensation $425.00 $425.00 $425.00
Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation 555.00 555.00 555.00
Family benefit (PA) 501.00 263.00 0.00
Total $1,481.00 $1,243.00 $980.00
A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the monthly pension for moderately disabled veterans (single veteran). A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the monthly pension for moderately disabled veterans (veteran and spouse). A graph using the numbers listed in the chart above for the monthly pension for moderately disabled veterans (veteran, spouse and two children).

In summary, this combination of augmented benefits proposed by NCVA would go a long way to removing the discrimination that currently exists between the PA and the NVC/VWA and would represent a substantial advancement in the reform of veterans legislation, concluding in a "one veteran – one standard" approach for Canada's disabled veteran population.

In addition, should VAC implement NCVA's recommendations (as supported by the OVO and MPAG) with respect to a newly structured CIA, the IRB would be substantially enhanced by incorporating this progressive future loss of income standard as to "What would the veteran have earned in his or her military career had the veteran not been injured?"

It is noteworthy that the current IRB essentially provides 90 per cent of the former military wage of the veteran, together with a limited one per cent increment dependent on the veteran's years of service, resulting in an inadequate recognition of the real loss of income experienced by the disabled veteran as a consequence of his or her shortened military career.

The new conceptual philosophy of this future loss of income approach parallels the longstanding jurisprudence found in the Canadian courts in this context and is far more reflective of the actual financial diminishment suffered by the disabled veteran (and his or her family). This would represent a major step forward for VAC in establishing a more equitable compensation/pension/wellness model.

As a final observation, it is noteworthy that the Prime Minister, various ministers of the department and senior governmental officials of VAC, in their public pronouncements from time to time, have emphasized that additional benefits and services are uniquely available under the NVC/VWA with respect to income replacement, rehabilitation and wellness programs.

NCVA fully recognizes the value and importance of these programs, and we commend VAC for its efforts to improve the department's wellness and educational policies. However, it should be noted that a number of programs dealing with essentially parallel income replacement and rehabilitation policies already exist under the PA regime by means of services and benefits administered by the Department of National Defence (DND) through their SISIP LTD insurance policy and Vocational Rehabilitation (VOC-REHAB) Programs.

The one unique element of NVC/VWA with respect to income replacement that is comparably beneficial for a very small number of seriously disabled veterans is triggered where such a disabled veteran is designated as having qualified for "Diminished Earnings Capacity" status (which requires that a veteran is unemployable for life as a consequence of his or her pensioned disabilities).

In these circumstances, such a veteran will receive additional funds post-65 for life that are not available under the Pension Act/SISIP LTD program where such income replacement ends at age 65. This is most significant where the veteran has been medically released relatively early in his or her career.

It is noteworthy in this scenario that less than six per cent of all disabled veterans qualify for the Diminished Earnings Capacity. Thus, 94 per cent of veterans are not eligible for this post-65 benefit under the NVC/VWA.

It is not without significance in this evaluation that, at the time of the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006, VAC committed to eliminating SISIP LTD and VOC-REHAB programs and creating a new universal gold standard in regard to income replacement and wellness policies that would be applicable to all disabled veterans in Canada. The reality is that the SISIP LTD and VOC-REHAB insurance policy has been and continues today to be "the first responder" for the greater majority of disabled veterans who have been medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces in relation to both the PA and the NVC/VWA.

As a fundamental conclusion to our position, we would like to think that the Government could be convinced that, rather than choosing one statutory regime over the other, a combination of the best parts of the PA and the best parts of the NVC/VWA would provide a better compensation/wellness model for all disabled veterans in Canada.

Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

The Honourable Louise Arbour's Report on Sexual Misconduct in the CAF

Background

Last year, the NCVA provided a position paper and a high-level overview of the 30-year history of sexual misconduct in the CAF, including a summary of the findings of the previous investigations into the issue, the resulting recommendations and the recent response to address this unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour.

Our review found that all of the investigations, reports and recommendations made over the last 30 years point to four consistent issues that need to be addressed:

  • The urgency of cultural transformation to address the "underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGBTQ2+ members."
  • The ability to report incidents without fear of reprisal, independent of the chain of command and in a safe and confidential environment.
  • The requirement for independent investigations, accountability and oversight.
  • The lack of trauma-informed support programs for CAF members and veterans who have experienced sexual misconduct.

The evaluation concluded with five recommendations to effect immediate and enduring change:

  • There must be immediate meaningful and comprehensive cultural transformation in the Department of National Defence (DND) and CAF to restore trust in the leadership. The men and women who serve our country deserve to work in an environment that is free from all forms of harmful behaviour.
  • There is a requirement for an external and independent reporting and investigation system outside the chain of command. This system must offer a reporting mechanism for incidents of sexual misconduct without reprisal, fear or isolation.
  • There must be accountability for the actions of those who engage in this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour.
  • There must be the resources and support for all victims of sexual assault including CAF members and veterans.
  • Lastly, to effect and ensure meaningful change and oversight, the Government must establish a fully independent Office of the Inspector General of the DND and the CAF reporting to Parliament.
The profiles of soldiers saluting.

Purpose

Over the last year, there has been progress that responds to our concerns by the Government and the CAF to achieve enduring culture change; however, this kind of change will not happen overnight. The purpose of this update is to provide an overview of one of the key external initiatives launched in response to the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and harmful behaviour – the Honourable Louise Arbour's Independent External Comprehensive Review. This update will provide a summary of the review, recommendations made in the review and outlook for the way ahead. We will conclude with NCVA recommendations for change.

The Honourable Louise Arbour's Independent External Comprehensive Review

In April 2021, the Government launched an Independent External Comprehensive Review (IECR) of current policies, procedures, programs, practices and culture within the CAF and the DND and engaged former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to undertake this review.

The aim of the review was to:

  • Shed light on the causes for the continued presence of harassment and sexual misconduct despite efforts to eradicate it.
  • Identify barriers to reporting inappropriate behaviour and to assess the adequacy of the response when reports are made.
  • Assess the recruitment, training, performance evaluation, posting and promotion systems in the CAF as well as the military justice system's policies, procedures, and practice to respond to such allegations.
  • Make recommendations on preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct.

The final report was released on May 30, 2022. The comprehensive report details the causes of the continued presence of sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF and provides 48 recommendations that seek to prevent and/or eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF. Those areas range from the CAF's definitions of sexual misconduct and harassment to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) mandate and activities – including its independence and reporting structure, to issues around recruitment, military training and colleges, and internal and external oversight mechanisms.

IECR Recommendations and Government Response

Wooden toys shaped like people in varying skin tones with one that is rainbow coloured.

The Minister of National Defence (MND), in a May 30, 2022, news conference on the release of the report, announced that the Government agreed with all of the recommendations in the report and that work would begin immediately to implement 17 of the report's 48 recommendations – either through new efforts or by strengthening existing programs. These 17 recommendations include:

  • Recommendations 12 and 13: Renaming the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) to the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre and evolving SMRC's role to primarily providing resources for complainants, victims and survivors of sexual misconduct.
  • Recommendations 14, 15, 17 and 18: Having the SMRC facilitate immediate access to legal assistance to victims of sexual misconduct across the country and enhancing the role and structure of the SMRC.
  • Recommendations 20, 21 and 22: In relation to CAF recruiting and training, creating probationary periods to better assess trainees, outsourcing some recruitment functions and increasing the professional competence of recruiters, and ensuring that problematic attitudes on culture and gender-based issues are dealt with early on.
  • Recommendation 32: Incorporating a senior civilian advisor to assist the MND in approving the promotions of General and Flag Officers. (The senior civilian advisor will not be a current member of the defence team and will work to ensure that General and Flag Officers reflect the demographic composition of our country.)
  • Recommendations 33 and 35: Improve the evaluation and certification processes for Generals and Flag Officers, and other commissioned and non-commissioned officers.
  • Recommendations 41 and 42: The Assistant Deputy Minister (Review Services) to brief the MND directly on all investigations related to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and leadership culture in the defence team, and on statistics and activities related to other particular investigations.
  • Recommendation 45: The Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture to post a public online database of research and policies relating to sexual harassment and misconduct, gender, sexual orientation, race, diversity and inclusion, and culture change.
  • The final two recommendations, which the Government committed to immediately move forward on, concern procedural mechanisms. These two recommendations that are key to ensuring progress in the implementation of the recommendations and independent oversight of the progress include:
    • Recommendation 47 is that the MND inform Parliament of any recommendations that the Government does not intend to implement by the end of 2022.
    • Recommendation 48 is that the MND appoint an External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of recommendations. The External Monitor will report directly to the MND and will publish regular public reports. Of note, this External Monitor has yet to be appointed.

The Government has committed to studying, analyzing and developing plans, without a defined timeframe, to respond to the remaining 31 recommendations. There are three sections in the report that propose systemic change that the Government has committed to also "studying and analyzing and developing plans."

Criminal Code sexual offences should be entirely removed from the jurisdiction of the military justice system, and that they should be prosecuted in civilian criminal courts (Recommendation 5).

This is a system-changing recommendation, and the Government committed to examine it in earnest, while Madame Arbour's interim recommendation remains in effect. On November 4, 2021, the Government accepted an interim recommendation from Madame Arbour to refer the investigation and prosecution of Criminal Code sexual offences from the military justice system to the civilian justice system. Since receiving this interim recommendation, the Government has worked with federal, provincial and territorial partners to begin the referral of sexual assaults and criminal offences of a sexual nature to civilian authorities. However, a June 2022 CBC article highlighted the challenges of transferring cases to civilian police forces. The article states that, to date, about half of the files that the Military Police transferred to civilian police forces since the interim recommendation was made (62 sexual assault cases) have been declined and sent back to the CAF. The reasons according to the CBC article, for the most part, were related to workload by the civilian police forces.

The report called to urgently address longstanding culture concerns at Royal Military College campuses in Kingston and St-Jean (Recommendation 29). As this recommendation studies the issue, the report also recommended that DND/CAF concurrently work to create a safer and more inclusive learning environment for cadets, including to adopt the report's recommendation to expand the focus of the exit interview to include cadets' experiences with sexual misconduct or discrimination.

Recommendations 36 through 40 calls to improve the diversity of senior leaders in the organization and take steps to set and meet clear goals for diversity in the military – to ensure that the institution represents the demographic composition of our country.

Summary

The report's recommendations are thorough, and if fully implemented would ensure long-lasting and enduring change to prevent and eradicate harassment and sexual misconduct. These 48 recommendations also respond and address the concerns and recommendations raised by the NCVA in our 2021 position paper. However, while the MND says that the Government agrees with all of the recommendations, that does not mean that all of the recommendations will be implemented.

The NCVA is concerned by the lack of a timeline to implement the 48 recommendations contained in the report of Madame Justice Arbour and the delay in the appointment of an independent External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of recommendations. Therefore, the NCVA makes the following two new recommendations:

Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Recommendations

Recommendation

That the Minister of National Defence immediately appoint an independent External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of recommendations as required by Recommendation 48 in the Independent External Comprehensive Review.

Recommendation

That the Minister of National Defence not only inform Parliament of any recommendations that the Government does not intend to implement by the end of 2022 (Recommendation 47), but also provide the status, progress and timeline towards implementation of all the recommendations made by Madame Justice Arbour in the Independent External Comprehensive Review.

While there has been progress that responds to the concerns the NCVA raised in 2021, our five recommendations are still outstanding:

Recommendation

There must be immediate meaningful and comprehensive cultural transformation in the Department of National Defence and CAF to restore the trust in the leadership. The men and women who serve our country deserve to work in an environment that is free from all forms of harmful behaviour.

Recommendation

There is a requirement for an external and independent reporting and investigation system outside the chain of command. This system must offer a reporting mechanism for incidents of sexual misconduct without reprisal, fear or isolation.

Recommendation

There must be accountability for the actions of those who engage in this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour.

Recommendation

There must be the resources and support for all victims of sexual assault including CAF members and veterans.

Recommendation

Lastly, to effect and ensure meaningful change and oversight, the Government must establish a fully independent Office of the Inspector General of the Department of National Defence and the CAF reporting to Parliament.

We would express our appreciation to Captain (RCN) (Ret'd) Andrea Siew, former president of the Canadian Military Intelligence Association (a member organization of NCVA), for her outstanding contribution to this critically important position paper, which represents a high-priority concern of NCVA's Legislative Program.

Marriage After Sixty

An older couple stand in a garden hugging.

The National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada (NCVA) and our 68 member organizations have made submissions to the Government for over 25 years with respect to our concerns vis-à-vis Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) retirees and the infamous "marriage after 60" clawback provision. This continues to be a very important issue within the NCVA Legislative Program, in view of the fact that more and more CAF retirees (including many NCVA members) are living longer and marrying for a second time.

As it currently stands, CAF retirees contribute to the Canadian Forces Superannuation account throughout their entire career and one of the important benefits is a 50 per cent Survivor's Benefit, save and except in those cases where the CAF retiree marries after age 60. In order to provide their new spouses any form of "Survivor's Benefit," veterans over 60 must exercise the statutory option to reduce their own Canadian Forces Superannuation in a commensurate manner.

The resulting impact on the financial well-being of veterans over the age of 60 and their new spouses is often quite distressing, as the married couple in question is frequently faced with a difficult decision that in many cases can lead to economic hardship. Furthermore, should the veteran opt for providing a Survivor's Benefit for his or her new spouse, the immediate financial circumstances of the couple may be detrimentally affected as a consequence of the loss of current income. Moreover, utilizing this financial strategy in a situation where the new spouse predeceases the veteran, the funds contributed to the Survivor's Benefit are lost as they are not returned to the veteran but instead recouped by the Government.

Veterans and their new spouses should not be asked to confront this incredible conundrum. Without a crystal ball, the new couple has no way of knowing how their future lives will unfold and what the impact of their financial determination will be on each of them.

This archaic "gold digger's clause," in our respectful submission, should have no place in Canadian veterans legislation. It is of interest historically that, over 100 years ago when Canada's Militia Pension Act was passed in 1901, it contained a section now referred to as the "gold digger clause" that authorized the Government to exercise a discretion to deny benefits to widows deemed "unworthy." As a result, a widow of that period could not receive survivor benefits if she was more than 20 years younger than her husband or if he had married her after the age of 60. This antiquated legislation was apparently drafted this way to protect the military from "death-bed marriages," which were of known concern in the United States in relation to younger women marrying veterans of the 1865 Civil War for their pensions!

As a matter of advocacy background, over the last two decades both Conservative and Liberal governments have made unfulfilled promises and commitments to NCVA and various veteran stakeholders to expunge this punitive measure from the CFSA. Ministers of National Defence and Veterans Affairs of various political stripes have declared their intent to amend the legislation only to be overruled by the financial hierarchy of government.

In addition, a number of Private Member's Bills/Petitions to Parliament have been initiated to rectify this unacceptable situation with no success, notwithstanding the grave discrimination that remains in the statute.

It is noteworthy that the Liberal 2015 election platform specifically indicated that it was the intention to "…eliminate the marriage after 60 clawback clause so that surviving spouses of veterans receive appropriate pension and health benefits." Indeed, several Mandate Letters directed by the current Prime Minister to various ministers of National Defence and ministers of Veterans Affairs/associate ministers of National Defence have been issued with no legislative action achieved in this context.

Furthermore, the 2019 federal budget contained a rather nebulous provision that was ostensibly proposed to address this long-standing concern.

The 2019 budget provided:

"To better support veterans who married over the age of 60 and their spouses, Budget 2019 announces a new Veterans Survivors Fund committing $150 million over five years starting in 2019-20 to VAC. With these funds, the Government will work with the community to identify impacted survivors, process their claims and ensure survivors have the financial support they need. The Government will announce additional details on this measure in the coming months."

Following this budget announcement, NCVA made continued enquiries with Veterans Affairs Canada, which resulted in the rather shocking conclusion that no one in the department was aware of the substance of any legislative provision that actually would apply to this new policy. Our further communication recently with ministerial officials has been to little avail, save and except that we were advised that a new policy was under consideration and further research was being carried out. The mystery remains as to why the Government did not simply eliminate the marriage after 60 clawback disqualifying provision in the CFSA as opposed to proposing a brand-new policy with little or no substantive detail.

In conclusion, NCVA submits that it is incumbent upon the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA), which is currently studying this particular legislation, to require the Government to remove this inequitable and unjust legislative provision from the CFSA so as to ensure that veterans over 60 who marry are able to enjoy their remaining years with appropriate financial security. After many years of tortuous advocacy, they deserve nothing less.

Marriage over sixty Recommendations

Recommendation

NCVA recommends that the Minister of Veterans Affairs and/or the Minister of National Defence remove Section 31 of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so as to allow the spouse of a Canadian Armed Forces retiree marrying after 60 to be eligible for Survivor's Benefits without reducing the amount of superannuation in payment to the retiree in accordance with the Liberal Party's election platform of 2015. NCVA takes the position that this amendment to the CFSA would be a more optimal solution when compared to the nebulous Veterans Survivors Fund contained in the 2019 federal budget.

Recommendation

NCVA further recommends that, should VAC continue to explore the implementation of a realistic and effective Veterans Survivors Fund to address this long-standing issue, the following principles be applied:

  1. In the event the veteran exercises the option for a spousal benefit (OSB) under the CFSA, the amount of reduction in the veteran's current income in so doing will be reimbursed by VAC.
  2. Should the veteran not opt for the survivors' benefit, the amount of pension that the surviving spouse would have received if the veteran had indeed opted for the OSB will be paid to the surviving spouse by VAC under a new Veterans Survivors Fund.

Benefits to Support Families/Veteran Caregivers

A man using a wheelchair holds the hand of a young girl on one side and a woman on the other.

Since the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006, the National Council of Veteran Associations has taken the strong position that the Government has not sufficiently addressed the plight of families of veterans, particularly in circumstances where a member of the family, often a spouse, is required to act in the role of caregiver to a disabled veteran.

As a matter of legislative background, the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit (FCRB) was introduced by the Government in 2015. This program proved to be clearly inadequate, as it failed to comprehensively provide appropriate financial support for the families of seriously disabled veterans where significant needs of attendance must be provided by a caregiver who often has had to leave his or her employment to do so.

The current Caregiver Recognition Benefit replaced the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit as of April 1, 2018, and provides only a slightly more generous non-taxable $1,000 a month benefit payable directly to caregivers to ostensibly recognize and honour their vital role.

It is noteworthy that VAC refers to this relatively new Caregiver Recognition Benefit as an indication of the Government's attempt to address the needs of families of disabled veterans. What continues to mystify the veterans' community is why the Government has chosen to "reinvent the wheel" in this area when addressing this need for attendance/caregiving under the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act. For many decades, the Attendance Allowance under the Pension Act (with its five grade levels) has been an effective vehicle in this regard, providing a substantially higher level of compensation and more generous eligibility criteria to satisfy this requirement. In this context, it must be underlined that the spouses or families of seriously disabled veterans often have to give up meaningful employment opportunities to fulfil the caregiving needs of the disabled veteran – $1,000 a month is simply not sufficient recognition of this income loss. VAC should return to the Attendance Allowance provision, which potentially generates in excess of $23,000 per year of non-taxable benefits to those veterans in serious need of attendance, and pay such newly-established benefit to the caregiver directly.

It is not without significance that DND, through its "Attendant Care Benefit" program, has provided reimbursement to seriously disabled veterans of the Afghanistan conflict for payments made to an attendant to look after the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member on a full-time basis. This benefit has been paid to the CAF member at a daily rate of $100 ($3,000 a month – $36,000 a year) for a maximum of 365 days. This policy also implicitly represents a recognition that the financial costs of attendants far exceed the need to address respite. A serious concern remains in the context of such a veteran's transition from DND to VAC as to the fact that the financial assistance to such families dramatically drops from the DND program to the current VAC Caregiver Recognition Benefit.

In my over 40 years of working with The War Amps of Canada, we have literally handled thousands of special allowance claims and were specifically involved in the formulation of the Attendance Allowance guidelines and grade profiles from the outset. We would indicate that the Attendance Allowance represents an integral portion of the compensation available to war amputees and other seriously disabled veterans governed by the Pension Act.

It is of further interest, in our judgment, that the grade levels for these allowances tend to increase over the life of the veterans as the "ravages of age" are confronted – indeed, non-pensioned conditions such as the onset of a heart, cancer or diabetic condition, for example, are part and parcel of the Attendance Allowance adjudication uniquely carried out by VAC under the Pension Act policies in this context.

In addition, we have particularly emphasized with ministerial officials the above-cited concern that there should be more flexibility attached to the current Caregiver Recognition Benefit as, clearly, "one size does not fit all." It is extremely relevant in this area that the grading levels available under the Attendance Allowance provisions of the Pension Act give the department a certain degree of discretion and flexibility as to the attendance needs of individual veterans. In our experience, there are numerous examples where substantial distinctions exist as to the need for attendance encountered by seriously disabled veterans.

It is also highly material that NCVA and the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group are proposing a new Family Benefit for all veterans in receipt of a Disability Award. In accordance with the level of disability assessment, this recommendation would provide further support to families and address, to a certain extent, the cost of the veteran's disability to his or her spouse and/or dependent children. The amount of this benefit would parallel the payments that have been made under the Pension Act for many years as part of the pension received by a disabled veteran who has a spouse and/or dependent children. Once again, the resultant impact of balancing benefits in this manner under both statutory regimes would be particularly responsive to the current shortcoming in the NVC/VWA insofar as financial assistance to families of disabled veterans is concerned.

It is notable in this context that the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) recently carried out a study of federal supports and services to Canadian veterans, caregivers and families.

NCVA made a formal submission to the Committee proposing the following recommendations that need to be implemented by Veterans Affairs Canada to improve the financial supports to veteran caregivers so as to better meet their unique needs.

Admission to Long-Term Care Facilities Recommendations

VAC should:

  1. Incorporate the Attendance Allowance provisions under the Pension Act into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act to address the need for financial support of family caregivers of disabled veterans and, at the same time, help to rectify the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.
  2. Fine-tune the concept of Attendance Allowance payable to informal caregivers to recognize and compensate the significant effort and economic loss to support injured veterans and ensure access reflects consideration for the effects of mental health injuries.
  3. Create a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of a Disability Award to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.

In conclusion, NCVA takes the position that the plight of veteran caregivers in Canada requires immediate government attention. In our respectful submission, VAC should follow a "one veteran – one standard" approach by adopting a comprehensive program model for all veteran caregivers, thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut-off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans and their caregivers based on whether the veteran was injured before or after 2006.

A. Report of the Veterans Ombudsman (OVO)

It is to be noted in this context that the Veterans Ombudsman's Office conducted a study on veteran caregivers entitled "Spouses Supporting Transition" (dated September 21, 2020). This comprehensive OVO report examines a number of highly respected government and academic studies assessing the experiences of caregivers in relation to their support of their veteran spouses to transition from military to civilian life.

The peer review literature contained in the OVO evaluation makes a series of material findings with respect to this veteran caregiver role:

  • Spouses of veterans inherit a significant amount of unpaid labour and suffer negative impacts to both physical and mental health immediately prior to, during, and following the veteran's medical release.
  • Several studies reported negative career impacts, social isolation, and a sense of loss from the spouses' perspectives as a consequence of military-to-civilian transition.
  • Another study referred to the spouse and family as the "strength behind the uniform" and stressed the importance of the support system for the veteran during and after service.
  • B. Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

    A senior couple stands beside a lake, with one using a wheelchair and the other standing beside them

    The Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs released its report on veteran caregivers entitled "Caregivers: Taking Care of Those who Care for Veterans" on June 15, 2021, and forwarded the report to the House of Commons for Parliament's consideration.

    It is noteworthy that the Standing Committee report provides a comprehensive review of all family and caregiver benefits presently found in Canadian veterans legislation and delineates at considerable length the serious deficiencies and shortcomings that currently exist in VAC programs and benefits in this context.

    In NCVA's judgment, the Committee recommendations represent a potential major step forward to remedying the insufficient and inequitable treatment of veteran caregivers by VAC since the passing of the New Veterans Charter.

    We are also pleased to advise that our NCVA recommendations have been fully adopted by the Committee in relation to replacing the highly inadequate Caregiver Recognition Benefit through the incorporation of the Attendance Allowance eligibility rules (Pension Act) and the more generous DND Attendant Care Benefit financial provisions, together with the expansion of caregiver benefits to better recognize mental health concerns.

    The following are the recommendations from the ACVA report:

    Framework Recommendation

    That the Government of Canada work to ensure that spouses and dependent children of veterans who would be eligible to VAC's rehabilitation program can access other VAC programs, including financial support and mental health services, in their own right, and with an individual client number.

    Recommendation 1

    That Veterans Affairs Canada publicly promote its Mental Health Assistance Service so that veterans, their family members and other caregivers have a better awareness and understanding of the services available.

    Recommendation 2

    That the Caregiver Recognition Benefit be changed as follows:

    • That the maximum amount of the benefit be the same as the Department of National Defence's Attendant Care Benefit;
    • That the eligibility criteria be the same as those for the Attendance Allowance under the Pension Act;
    • That access be expanded to better reflect the specific challenges faced by family members and other caregivers of veterans who suffer from mental health conditions and brain injuries;
    • That eligibility be expanded to include caregivers under the age of 18.

    Recommendation 3

    That the services offered as part of the Veterans Independence Program be transferred to the veteran's spouse and maintained as a grandfathered right after the veteran's death.

    Recommendation 4

    That Veterans Affairs Canada automatically reimburse professional mental health expenses for the spouse and dependent children of veterans eligible for a rehabilitation plan for mental health concerns, up to $3,000 per person, and that the department's approval be required only when a claim is submitted that exceeds this amount.

    A doctor talks to a couple in an office.

    Recommendation 5

    That Veterans Affairs Canada ensure that every departmental client, whether or not they are case-managed, have a dedicated employee responsible for their file, be given direct access by phone or email to that employee, and that a group be given responsibility for answering questions from family members and other caregivers who would not be VAC clients.

    Recommendation 6

    That the Veterans Well-being Act be amended to include an obligation to dependent children of living veterans, and that applications to programs created to that effect may be submitted by any parent of the child.

    The full report can be found here.

    Our NCVA submission was made to the Committee on March 26, 2021, as part and parcel of its deliberations.

    It is also to be noted that the major recommendation from the OVO, more particularly from the new Ombudsperson Nishika Jardine, has been highlighted in the Standing Committee report vis-à-vis the important principle that caregivers should have an independent right to benefits and well-being provisions rather than the derivative rights that have existed in veterans legislation for many years. This shortcoming in veterans legislation has prejudiced the rights of veteran caregivers for many years and, quite appropriately, is underlined by the Standing Committee as a high-priority recommendation. NCVA clearly stands behind the OVO proposal as part and parcel of our position on improving the overall access to VAC programs and benefits for Canadian caregivers.

    Insofar as next steps, we will want to ensure that VAC enacts the requisite statutory, regulatory and policy amendments to capture the essence of the Standing Committee recommendations.

    In our considered opinion, these measures proposed by the Standing Committee, once implemented by the Government, will have a potentially significant impact on alleviating the "plight of veteran caregivers" that the department has failed to appropriately recognize since the enactment of the New Veterans Charter in 2006 and the subsequent extension to the Veterans Well-being Act.

    In conclusion, NCVA takes the position that the plight of veteran caregivers in Canada requires immediate government attention. In our respectful submission, VAC should follow a "one veteran – one standard" approach by adopting a comprehensive program model for all veteran caregivers, thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut-off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans and their caregivers based on whether the veteran was injured before or after 2006.

    B. Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) Recommendation

    VAC should:

    1. Incorporate into the NVC/VWA the eligibility standards of the Attendance Allowance provisions under the Pension Act, together with the amount of allowance described in the Attendant Care Benefit (DND) for caregivers of disabled veterans.
    2. Establish distinctive grade levels for this newly created Attendance Allowance:
      Grade 1 – $36,000
      Grade 2 – $30,000
      Grade 3 – $24,000
      Grade 4 – $18,000
      This will address the unique need for financial support of individual family caregivers of disabled veterans and, at the same time, help to rectify the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.
    3. Fine-tune the concept of Attendance Allowance payable to informal caregivers to recognize and compensate the significant effort and economic loss to support injured veterans and ensure access reflects consideration for the effects of mental health injuries.
    4. Create a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of Pain and Suffering Compensation to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.

Veterans Legislation and Policies

A. Career Impact Allowance

A woman sits at a desk in front of a laptop.

Notwithstanding the fact that VAC has converted the former Career Impact Allowance (CIA) provision into the Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit, as delineated earlier in our report, it remains the position of NCVA, in concert with the Policy Advisory Group, that the department should revisit the concept of CIA and address the future loss of income suffered by a disabled veteran on the basis of the following fundamental question – "What would the disabled veteran have earned in his or her projected military career if the veteran had not been injured?"

It will be recalled that it is the position of the Policy Advisory Group, as endorsed by the long-standing view of NCVA, that, once this benchmark for CIA is established, a newly structured benefit be developed as delineated in various reports emanating from the OVO over recent years and as proposed by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group in 2009. The evaluation of the Veterans Ombudsman demonstrates the relative predictability of the elevation of a CAF member through his or her military career in recognizing the specific ranks the member would have achieved had the member not been injured.

It is also of considerable import that the Canadian civil courts over the last number of decades have evaluated the plight of severely injured plaintiffs by consistently applying the concept of future loss of income in assessing monetary damages. In a similar fashion to the proposals emanating from our Policy Advisory Group on Career Impact Allowance, the courts consider the probable career earnings of an injured plaintiff from the perspective of future loss of income or, alternatively, future loss of earnings capacity as part and parcel of the damage award granted to plaintiffs in the Canadian judicial system.

It is of interest that, in the context of VAC, the department has a distinct advantage over the courts, as the judicial system only has "one bite at the apple" at the time of the court hearing or settlement. VAC, on the other hand, is able to monitor the income position of a disabled veteran throughout his or her life to determine the differential between the benchmark established by the CIA concept and the actual income received by the veteran. Query: why should an injured Canadian veteran receive less than an injured plaintiff with reference to "future loss of income"? We have, in effect, paralleled the Disability Award under the NVC/VWA with general damage awards in the Canadian courts – why not replicate the philosophy of the future loss of income concept as well?

A. Career Impact Allowance Recommendation

Establish a newly structured Career Impact Allowance that would reflect the following standard of compensation: "What would the veteran have earned in his or her military career had the veteran not been injured?" This form of progressive income model, which has been recommended by the MPAG and the OVO, would be unique to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and would bolster the potential lifetime compensation of the disabled veteran as to his or her projected lost career earnings, as opposed to the nominal one per cent increase provided in the proposed legislation.

  • NCVA encourages VAC to revisit the MPAG proposition of consolidating the Income Replacement Benefit and a newly structured CIA to provide a single stream of income for life that would include the "projected career earnings" approach.
  • Access to the new structured CIA benefit should be available through the lifetime of the veteran, providing a financial safety net that includes application to pre- and post-release income scenarios.

B. Veterans Education and Training Benefit

A man sits at a desk on the computer while another man oversees his work.

It was the considered opinion of former Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk that this program represented a landmark proposal that substantially enhances the Education and Training Benefit for all eligible veterans. The deputy minister suggested at the time of the formal announcement that it was based on the United States G.I. Bill in relation to extending educational benefits beyond disabled veterans so as to include all released veterans who qualify under this new program.

The benefit is available for ten years going forward following the release of the veteran and is retroactive to April 1, 2006. Unfortunately, veterans released from the CAF prior to 2006 do not qualify for this benefit, which, in our judgment, reflects a rather arbitrary cut-off date and conceivably is a Government decision founded on budgetary constraints.

This program was initiated on April 1, 2018, for all veterans honourably released on or after April 1, 2006 – veterans with six years of eligible service will be entitled to up to $40,000 of benefits, while veterans with twelve years of eligible service will be entitled to up to $80,000 of benefits. The minister/Deputy minister emphasized that the benefit would provide more money for veterans to go to college, university or technical school after they complete their service.

There is little question that this newly expanded educational benefit is potentially beneficial to a much larger segment of the veterans' community. One caveat is that the "devil is often in the details" and questions of eligibility criteria have to be examined closely. In addition, it is necessary to continually evaluate whether the rather restrictive policy in the past regarding educational programs for disabled veterans has been addressed and if more liberal access in general will be achieved by this initiative.

It is also important to understand that a released veteran wishing to take advantage of the educational benefit often needs to be covered through some form of income replacement program to address the potential diminishment in income received for the maximum four-year period, i.e., the SISIP LTD program or the VAC IRB program should accompany this educational benefit, particularly for disabled veterans who might qualify though this REHAB/Education Program.

For those veterans who find education is not their solution, the department has indicated that there would be further monies available under this program for career development courses in the neighbourhood of $5,000 per veteran.

A. Career Impact Allowance Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC eliminate the limitation as to the applicability of the new Veterans Education and Training Benefit so as to make this particular benefit available to all veterans and not just those who have served since April 1, 2006.

C. Partial Disabilities

In early 2018, VAC created a new policy with reference to partial entitlement flowing from veterans legislation, i.e., disabilities arising in part out of military service or consequential disabilities arising in part from a primary disability.

The VAC policy amendment established a principle that any partial entitlement award would either be granted at four-fifths or five-fifths. In the past, fractional entitlements in this context were granted in fifths – one-fifth, two-fifths, three-fifths et al. The backgrounder information given to the MPAG from VAC indicated that these fractional entitlements were often appealed one-fifth at a time, clogging up the entire VAC adjudicative system. It was felt that it would be prudent to simply eliminate the one-fifth, two-fifths and three-fifths entitlements and grant a four-fifths for any partial entitlement award.

This is clearly a beneficial policy insofar as a substantive increase in pension to be received by a veteran, but we felt it was important to raise a number of questions following the introduction of this amendment that still remain of concern as to the administration of this policy amendment:

  1. Will these fractional entitlements be granted retroactively to all veterans who have received a one-fifth, two-fifths or three-fifths entitlement in the past? It was established by VAC that this will not be done automatically but will only be triggered by individual veterans initiating a review of their files by the department in order to achieve a potential increase in their fractional entitlement. NCVA strongly recommends that VAC grant automatic entitlement to those veterans currently in receipt of consequential or partial entitlement rulings at one-fifth/two-fifths/three-fifths to a four-fifths level of assessment. This will also alleviate the significant backlog of the numerous appeals with respect to fractional awards that are currently in the VAC adjudicative system.
  2. Will there eventually be any limitation period as to how far back this form of increased fractional entitlement will be granted, given the magnitude of appeals that have been generated by this new policy?
  3. Will the standard of assessment be more stringent when it is recognized that the partial entitlement award will be granted at a minimum of four-fifths? In the past, one-fifth awards were occasionally granted on the basis of giving the veteran applicant the benefit of the doubt – will this relative generosity be altered in the new policy guideline adjudication?

C. Partial Disabilities Recommendation

NCVA strongly recommends that VAC grant automatic entitlement to those veterans currently in receipt of consequential or partial entitlement rulings at one-fifth/two-fifths/three-fifths to a four-fifths level of assessment. In so doing, the department will address a significant amount of the backlog in relation to the numerous appeals that are currently in the department system re: fractional awards.

D. SISIP LTD/VOC-REHAB Programs

NCVA continues to have a fundamental concern as to whether SISIP LTD for service-related disabilities should be continued at all or whether it should be eliminated due to the multiple standards that exist not only with the SISIP LTD program but also the SISIP VOC-REHAB program.

One of the priority recommendations of NCVA, the MPAG, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, numerous veteran consultation groups, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and the OVO for many years has been to suggest that the insurance culture needs to be removed from the compensation made available to veterans and their families. The compensation of veterans and their dependants should not be a function of the insurance industry whose mandate, in many situations, is to minimize exposure of the insurer's policy when applied to injured or disabled individuals.

As a matter of background, a fundamental commitment made by the Government at the time of the enactment of the New Veterans Charter was the recognition that the SISIP LTD program should be eliminated and fully replaced by a liberalized income replacement loss benefit administered by VAC. The constraints placed on the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act (NVC/VWA) by the restrictive provisions of the SISIP LTD program and the SISIP VOC-REHAB program are felt in the present context and should be removed as soon as possible. This government commitment made by the minister and deputy minister of the day was part and parcel of the understanding between the veteran stakeholder community and VAC in consideration of the immediate passage of the Charter by Parliament in 2006.

It is to be noted that the "wellness program" strongly advocated by VAC and, more particularly, by former Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk, is clearly impacted by the fact that the greater majority of medically released CAF members fall under the administration of the SISIP VOC-REHAB program. In effect, VAC does not have the capacity to control and operate this portion of the VOC-REHAB program and is left with little accountability as to the impact that the SISIP program will have on veterans in regard to this essential element of the NVC/VWA.

With reference to the question of service- and non-service-related disabilities, it has been the experience of the veterans' community that this entire question of whether a member of the Canadian Armed Forces is to be considered "on duty" for the purposes of pensionability either under the Pension Act or the NVC/VWA has been a long-standing grievance. The regulations in this area would be far clearer and more equitable if the Government/department agreed to adopt the "insurance principle" in this context so that all members of the military would be considered "on duty" at all times and thus eligible for various financial benefits such as the PSC and Income Replacement programs once they put on a uniform. This would clear up the potential interpretive issues that are raised in the regulations to the NVC/VWA and would address the confusion and ambiguity that often results when individual hypothetical cases reflect "grey areas" or areas of dispute. The resultant effect of this recognition would also further the objective of eliminating the SISIP LTD program even for non-service-related disabilities which, of course, was its original and exclusive mandate in the 1970s when it was first created.

D. SISIP LTD/VOC-REHAB Programs Recommendation

NCVA continues to take the long-held position that SISIP LTD/VOC-REHAB should be eliminated, placing all SISIP LTD and VOC-REHAB under VAC for all service attributable and non-service attributable medical releases with no premiums – one program/one service delivery model.

E. Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services Program

A person uses a physical therapy band while a medical professional assists.

In a major new development, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is updating how medical, psycho-social and vocational rehabilitation services are delivered to veterans and their families beginning in November 2022.

Presently, these services are delivered under two national contracts:

These two contracts are set to expire in December 2022 and will be replaced by one national contract awarded to Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services (PCVRS). It is important to note that the existing eligibility and guiding policies are not changing.

Under the old contract, vocational rehabilitation services were provided by CVVRS. Previously, CVVRS services were delivered by a joint venture provided by WCG International Consultants Ltd. and March of Dimes. Under the new contract, PCVRS vocational rehabilitation services will be delivered by a joint venture provided by the same WCG International Consultants Ltd. and Lifemark Health Group. Both these organizations have extensive experience in the field and a national network of service providers.

It has been confirmed that MBC will continue to authorize and reimburse treatment benefits under the FHCPS contract for VAC, CAF and RCMP members. Veterans who are in a rehab program and receiving medical and/or psycho-social services by MBC providers will have their files migrated to PCVRS. PCVRS will review the files to ensure that the services are indeed a rehab service and, if needed, they will work with the current provider to ensure the best continuity of care for the veteran.

The PCVRS will be responsible for the assessment, co-ordination and administration of all medical, psycho-social and vocational rehabilitation services in collaboration with VAC case managers and existing health professionals.

The intent is to relieve VAC case managers of having to spend an inordinate amount of time in administrating case-managed veterans' needs. Under the new PCVRS program, instead of the case manager doing the detailed administration of co-ordinating services to be delivered, the case manager can now assign this to PCVRS. PCVRS will conduct all the requisite work and report to the case manager periodically on how the services are being delivered. This will free up the case manager to work more closely with veterans on specific needs and determine if the veterans are meeting their rehabilitation outcomes and have a better transition to life after service.

The new PCVRS contract will be responsible for the payment of all medical, psycho-social and vocational services, and reimbursement of associated travel, approved under the rehab plan. Participants will be able to access, review and submit their claims through a new Participant Portal. Training and support to each participant on the Participant Portal will be provided as part of the migration process and for all new rehabilitation participants.

For services not approved under a rehab plan, MBC will continue to process the eligible treatment benefits payments and health-related travel (HRT) reimbursements.

For veterans who complete their rehab program and have entitlement for continuing treatment benefits, MBC will assume/resume processing the payment of the eligible treatment benefit and HRT reimbursement.

It is the intention of the department that having one contract will ensure consistent, standardized and timely nation-wide rehabilitation assessments and services. VAC is aiming to have a seamless implementation of the new PCVRS contract for both employees and veterans.

In summary, the "devil will be in the details," and it will be only after a period of time that we will be able to determine if this new PCVRS program is successful in providing better service to our veterans and their families.

E. Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services Program Recommendation

NCVA will monitor the implementation of the new Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services program to ensure that the objective of VAC to provide improved medical, psycho-social and vocational rehabilitation services to our veterans and their families is achieved.

We would express our appreciation to Major (Ret'd) Bruce Henwood, senior consultant to The War Amputations of Canada (a member organization of NCVA), for his outstanding contribution to this important new development within Veterans Affairs Canada.

F. Post-65 Benefits

A senior couple reviews a document on a clipboard.

It is to be noted that the legislative amendments emanating from Budget 2018 (which consolidate a number of income replacement provisions into one benefit, the Income Replacement Benefit) unfortunately still retain the inadequacies of the Retirement Income Security Benefit, which was enacted earlier by the former Conservative government in its attempt to address the post-65 financial security for seriously disabled veterans and their families. As aforementioned, the post-65 benefit provides a limited number of disabled veterans (less than six per cent) with 70 per cent of 90 per cent of the IRB, should the veteran be deemed as suffering a "diminished earnings capacity" as defined under the regulatory provisions of the new Act, less certain potentially significant deductions prescribed by these policy provisions.

In our view, to apply a 70 per cent formula to the post-65 period for a permanently incapacitated veteran based on a public/private sector pension model is not appropriate when it is recognized that the plight of such a seriously disabled veteran post-65 remains unchanged and his or her financial costs continue to be essentially the same.

During the course of initial discussions surrounding the enactment of these post-65 provisions, strong arguments were made by NCVA and various veteran stakeholder groups that the full Earnings Loss Benefit/Income Replacement Benefit (ELB/CIA) should be continued for life, particularly given the fact that the principal recipients of this post-65 "pension" will be totally incapacitated veterans.

It is interesting to note that the MPAG recommendations address this specific issue by establishing that a single stream of ELB/CIA payments should be continued for life, as is the case for similar Pension Act benefits, and that the diminishment found in the RISB or post-65 benefit be eliminated – as it is self-evident that these provisions are far too complex and impact negatively on many seriously disabled veterans and, particularly, surviving spouses.

In addition, the Policy Advisory Group financial compensation model provided that, in the event ELB/CIA is indeed continued for life without deduction, surviving spouses should be entitled to 70 per cent of this amount which would equate to the proposed levels of the new CFSA survivor benefit committed to under an earlier minister's mandate letter. Although the resultant net effect will not provide as much financial support as the MPAG is recommending, we would confirm that the department has at least implemented a parallel provision in this context providing a survivor benefit of 70 per cent for the new consolidated IRB post-65 benefit under the legislation flowing from the new PFL.

F. Post-65 Benefits Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC should establish that the Income Replacement Benefit (former Earnings Loss Benefit) be continued for life without deduction, and that the post-65 diminishment be eliminated as the financial plight of the eligible seriously disabled veteran at age 65 remains unchanged.

Long-Term Care/Intermediary Care

A. Admission to Long-Term Care Facilities

A graphic of a doctor touching a screen with the words long-term care on it.

One of the major recent developments with respect to long-term care has been the initiation of a policy by VAC to widen the scope of eligibility to so-called traditional veterans' beds in historical veterans hospitals to modern-day veterans. With specific reference to individual hospitals such as Sunnybrook in Toronto, the department has taken steps to exercise this operational discretion where vacant beds have resulted from the passing of traditional veterans and the demand from the modern-day veteran community exists.

In addition, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the last number of years that have been described in national media articles with reference to specific veterans attempting to gain admission to long-term care facilities in various provinces across the country. It is of interest that VAC has ostensibly developed a flexible position in this context, so as to provide access to traditional veterans facilities on the basis of designating certain priority access beds as community beds (preferred veterans' beds) for the purposes of VAC policy guidelines. This development of a form of freedom of choice for veterans attempting to gain admission to long-term care facilities should be encouraged on an ongoing basis.

B. Intermediary Costs

As emphasized over the course of the last number of NCVA meetings, it is self-evident that VAC, through VIP, has the authority to cover specific costs and expenditures while a qualified veteran resides in his or her home. In addition, once such a veteran pensioner has reached the stage where a long-term care facility is required, the Veteran Health Care Regulations establish financial support at this time in the health-care process.

As we have consistently argued with departmental officials for many years, what has been missing has been the financial assistance for the middle ground or intermediary level of institutionalization where many of our members currently find themselves, i.e., seniors' residences and assisted living facilities.

We have had a number of intensive meetings with departmental officials over the last three years in an attempt to close this gap, and we remain encouraged that attempts are continuing to be made by the Government to address this long-standing concern.

C. Veterans Ombudsman's Report

As previously advised, we continue to work closely with the OVO in this context. It is of significant interest that the Ombudsman's office has adopted our position and has issued a number of reports with regard to long-term care/intermediary care that fully recognize the shortcomings that currently exist in the VAC Health Care Regulations concerning this particular gap in financial coverage. This will add further ammunition and support to our ongoing initiative to ensure that these inequities are eliminated.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Veterans Ombudsman released an excellent report in 2018 entitled "Continuum of Care: A Journey from Home to Long Term Care" that contains a comprehensive analysis of the current VAC long-term care and health-care policies. The report further provides a series of recommendations that are consistent and in line with NCVA's long-standing position on this important subject. We will continue to collaborate with the OVO in pursing the implementation of these mutually desired recommendations.

In summary, the Veterans Ombudsman's proposals are as follows:

  1. Follow-up contact with Veterans Independence Program recipients should be made on at least an annual basis and more frequently for those at higher risk (with in-home assessments when necessary) to ensure timely and accurate identification of changing needs as veterans age.
  2. Eliminate the inconsistency in Veterans Independence Program eligibility for housekeeping and grounds maintenance for survivors and spouses so that they may all have access to the services they need, regardless of what the veteran received or did not receive prior to their death or involuntary separation.
  3. Adjust the eligibility criteria of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit to provide easier access to compensation for caregivers when service-related conditions inhibit a veteran's ability to perform instrumental activities of daily living and childcare.
  4. Introduce additional financial support that can be used to subsidize assisted living options for veterans whose needs do not require long-term care, but who cannot stay in their own homes.
  5. Merge the Veterans Independence Program and Long-Term Care program into one "Continuum of Care" program such that access is determined once, and criteria are transparent, understandable and based on the physical and mental health needs of the veteran.
  6. Reduce the complexity of 28 different eligibility groups, currently using service type, such that access to continuum of care support is based on the physical and mental health needs of veterans.
  7. Develop and publicly communicate a strategy to ensure that the continuum of care needs of all veterans is being met within the current context of the Canadian health-care system.

D. Ste-Anne's Hospital

The outside of Ste-Anne's Veterans Hospital.

Ste-Anne's Veterans Hospital

NCVA is pleased to confirm that the class action lawsuit initiated in 2018 by Wolf Solkin, then-95-year-old resident at Ste-Anne's Hospital in Montreal, was settled. The class action pleadings took the position that there have been significant violations in the 2016 transfer agreement between the federal government (VAC) and the province of Quebec as to the quality and standard of care at the hospital, together with a failure to satisfy the bilingual language requirements.

As you will recall, we strongly supported this claim from the outset, as set out in our Legislative Program for the last four years. It has been our recommendation in this context that VAC expedite the resolution of this legal dispute and address the shortfalls emanating from these transfer agreement violations at Ste. Anne's by providing appropriate funding to address the significant breaches in this contractual arrangement.

Indeed, one of our major proposals with respect to the long-term care situation at Ste-Anne's was as follows:

That NCVA continue to express the concerns of our member organizations to the minister and the deputy minister with reference to the administration of Ste Anne's Hospital. NCVA intends to hold ongoing discussions with the minister's office to protect the interests of veterans affected by this transfer and ensure that the provisions found in the transfer agreement established to support the commitments made in relation to priority beds for veterans, language rights and the standard of care be strictly enforced and funded by the federal government as promised.

We had taken part in numerous discussions with senior officials at the department and, more particularly, with Michel Doiron (the former Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery Branch) wherein we had learned in confidence that settlement negotiations were being carried out, and that it was the intention of the federal government to consummate an equitable resolution to this long-standing grievance by the residents of Ste-Anne's Hospital.

The class action initiated by the indomitable Mr. Solkin is a true legacy to this gentleman, a Second World War veteran who only learned of the settlement a few days before his passing on February 3, 2021.

The notice of settlement pertaining to the class action contains the following substantive principles:

  • It is recognized that the federal government and the province of Quebec failed to maintain the level of care and service that veterans received from Ste-Anne's Hospital before it was transferred to a provincial health and social services centre.
  • Members of the class who will be entitled to share in the settlement proceeds include any and all individuals who are or were veterans of the Second World War or the Korean War, and who resided at Ste-Anne's Hospital at any time as of April 1, 2016, or thereafter, as well as their heirs, successors and assigns.
  • The settlement was reached in consideration of the payment of a global, final and definite amount of $19,008,045.
  • Each member of the class will be entitled to a share of the settlement proceeds that shall correspond to the number of days they spent at Ste-Anne's Hospital between April 1, 2016, and October 30, 2020, multiplied by a fixed and definite amount to be determined once all statements of claim will have been duly received and processed.
  • As an integral part of the settlement agreement, it is understood that the terms and provisions of the original transfer agreement between the federal government and the province of Quebec must be satisfied, and necessary changes implemented to meet the required standards entrenched in the agreement.
  • The settlement approval hearing before the Quebec Superior Court has been consummated and the terms and provisions of the settlement sanctioned by the Court.

This was good news that supported the validity of the claim and the need for significant change to satisfy the key elements of the transfer agreement as originally contemplated by the parties and ensuring that the standards of care in existence prior to the transfer are replicated.

Wolf Solkin's legacy will be forever remembered by the residents of Ste-Anne's as an indefatigable advocate of veterans' rights, even at the later stages of his life.

D. Ste-Anne's Hospital Recommendations

Recommendation

That NCVA ensure that VAC adopts a flexible policy to provide veterans with a freedom of choice between a community bed and a priority access bed for purposes of admission to long-term care facilities without distinction between traditional and modern-day veterans.

Recommendation

That NCVA urge VAC to increase the number of Preferred Admission beds in order to address the demands of modern-day veterans and, in so doing, eliminate the current wait list for these beds across the country.

Recommendation

In conjunction with the settlement arrived at between the residents of Ste-Anne's Hospital, the federal government and the provincial government, NCVA calls on Veterans Affairs Canada, in accordance with the terms and provisions of the settlement documentation, to protect the interests of veterans affected by the transfer. The governments must also ensure that the provisions found in the transfer agreement established to support the commitments made in relation to priority beds for veterans, language rights and the standard of care are strictly enforced, and that enhanced funding is put in place by the federal government to satisfy this class action settlement.

Recommendation

That NCVA continue to collaborate with VAC to ensure that the adult residential care needs of the veteran are addressed through the expansion of the current VIP program and long-term care policy of the department so as to provide financial assistance in this area of institutionalized care.

Recommendation

That NCVA continue to work with the OVO in drawing to the attention of the Liberal government the inequity that has resulted in the gap that currently exists in the VAC health-care regulations concerning financial coverage for adult residential care.

VIP for Life for Surviving Spouses

It remains a priority issue of NCVA to underline the need to expand the eligibility of VIP to include, at a minimum, those surviving spouses of seriously disabled veterans whose veteran spouses did not apply for VIP prior to their death. Our position continues to be that in many cases the veteran was unable or reluctant to apply for VIP in the years prior to his or her passing. It is our strong argument that a presumption could be established that, in the event the seriously disabled veteran had applied or was able to apply for VIP, he or she would have received the benefit given his or her significant incapacity. It is submitted that the department would have great difficulty in refuting the logic of our argument, and we remain hopeful that this particular presumption will be of great value to our surviving spouses in achieving VIP benefits.

As a matter of historic development, it will be recalled that the federal budget of 2008 partially expanded the current regulations for the continuation of VIP for life for surviving spouses, provided the surviving spouse is either in receipt of the Guaranteed Income Supplement or has entitlement to the Disability Tax Credit under the Income Tax Act. It remains our position that this partial expansion is far too restrictive and that the required criteria should be replaced by a form of automatic entitlement with respect to surviving spouses of seriously disabled veterans.

VIP for Life for Surviving Spouses Recommendations

Recommendation

That NCVA continues to pressure the Minister of Veterans Affairs and departmental officials to review the present policy on the continuation of VIP for Life for surviving spouses with a view to providing this benefit to, at a minimum, all surviving spouses of seriously disabled veterans who are not eligible because the veteran never applied for the benefits.

Recommendation

That the Minister of Veterans Affairs alter the Government's current position so that:

  1. The needs of the surviving spouse should determine the benefit required (housekeeping or groundskeeping) instead of the present practice of basing the decisions on the specific VIP benefit the veteran was receiving prior to his or her death; and
  2. Section 16 and Section 16.1 of regulations be amended so as to eliminate the absurd anomaly whereby a surviving spouse who fails to qualify for VIP based on their spouse's VIP status cannot utilize their GIS or DTC eligibility for the purposes of their own VIP entitlement.

Last Post Fund/Veterans Burial Regulations

The logo of the Last Post Fund.

It remains NCVA's position that it is necessary for VAC to recognize that a seriously disabled veteran should be entitled, as a "matter of right," to receive funeral and burial benefits pursuant to the Veterans Burial Regulations.

VAC regulations state that a veteran may be eligible to receive a Funeral and Burial Grant through Veterans Affairs Canada if it can be determined that their cause of death is related to one of their pensioned conditions or is a condition that has been aggravated by their pensioned conditions, leading to their demise.

It is noteworthy that many seriously disabled veterans are in receipt of disability pension from VAC at the rate of 100 per cent. It is not without significance in this analysis to highlight that, once a veteran attains a 100 per cent pension status, there is no need or incentive to pursue further pension entitlement for other medical conditions due to the application of the SDV policy in regard to health-care benefits.

We would point out that the department recognizes that as seriously disabled veterans age, their overall medical condition involves ailments from both pensioned and non-pensioned conditions. To eliminate the complication of distinguishing between these conditions, SDVs are provided with health-care and treatment benefits for both pensioned and non-pensioned conditions, in accordance with VAC health-care regulations.

In our judgement, the overall interrelationship between pensioned and non-pensioned conditions contributes to the SDV's death as direct application of the well-established principle recognized by VAC with reference to the seriously disabled veterans' policy. In this context, it is inconceivable that the impact of the pensioned and non-pensioned disabilities did not play a part in the veteran's ultimate demise.

It is also noteworthy that, when determining eligibility for Exceptional Incapacity under the Pension Act, the department takes into consideration the impact of both the pensioned and non-pensioned conditions.

As indicated in Chapter 7 of VAC's Table of Disabilities, section on Exceptional Incapacity Allowance:

"7.04 … It is important to be cognizant of the fact that it is difficult and frequently impossible to medically separate the impact of pensioned and non-pensioned conditions in a severely disabled person and in such cases, one can fairly assume such impact exists. … Account should be taken of the "synergism" principle, i.e., the total effect of the pensioned disabilities may be greater than the sum of the effects of the disabilities taken independently. Mental and physical deterioration due to age is not excluded in the determination of exceptional incapacity…".

This synergistic relationship between pensioned and non-pensioned conditions is also acknowledged in the Attendance Allowance provisions of the Pension Act:

"An Attendance Allowance may be awarded to a pensioner when all of the following circumstances are met:

  1. The pensioner is in receipt of at least a one per cent disability pension or prisoner of war compensation
  2. The pensioner is totally disabled, whether by reason of military service or not
  3. The pensioner is in need of attendance."

It is our basic position that an SDV profile as enacted in the VAC policy guidelines should also apply to the administration and interpretations of the Veterans Burial Regulations when determining matter of right on behalf of an SDV. It is puzzling indeed that, during their lifetimes, the department recognizes the cumulative and synergistic effect of both their pensioned and non-pensioned conditions by approving many health-care and treatment benefits on their behalf but, in death, ignores the relationship between these conditions.

In conjunction with this overall position, we would also ask that the department consider the Benefit of Doubt Section under the Pension Act as a relevant and fundamental principle of veterans legislation and, as such, request that the adjudicators note Section 5 in relation to these SDV claims:

"(3) In making a decision under this Act, the Minister shall:

  1. Draw from all the circumstances of the case and all the evidence presented to the Minister every reasonable inference in favour of the applicant or pensioner;
  2. Accept any uncontradicted evidence presented to the Minister by the applicant or pensioner that the Minister considers to be credible in the circumstances and,
  3. Resolve in favour of the applicant or pensioner any doubt, in the weighing of evidence, as to whether the applicant or pensioner has established a case."

In furtherance of these presumptive principles, we would submit in support of our recommendation that statements emanating from Minister Lawrence MacAulay, former Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk and current Deputy Minister Paul Ledwell support the position that VAC adjudication should adopt a compassionate and generous philosophy and ensure that a liberal interpretation is followed in relation to individual veteran applications.

The "veteran-centric" approach adopted by the department has been similarly emphasized by the new minister and deputy in the context of "getting to yes faster" with respect to VAC adjudication.

As a personal note, it is extremely difficult to advise the surviving spouses/children of The War Amputations of Canada and the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada that not only has their claim for benefits under the Veterans Burial Regulations/Last Post Fund been turned down, but they will also not be receiving the Memorial Cross that is issued by the Government as a symbol of the personal loss and sacrifice that such surviving spouses/children are facing upon the death of their veteran spouse/parent.

Last Post Fund/Veterans Burial Regulations Recommendation

That NCVA continue to pressure the Minister of Veterans Affairs to ensure that, at a very minimum, seriously disabled veterans entitled to a disability pension at 78 per cent or more (SDVs) qualify, as a matter of right, under the Veterans Burial Regulations/Last Post Fund.

Appendix: 2021 Election Platforms

During the course of the 2021 federal election campaign, political issues impacting veterans generally focused on:

  1. The collapse of the Afghanistan government and the anger of Canadian Afghan veterans as to the ineffectiveness of the Canadian government's efforts to ensure that Afghan citizens who acted as interpreters and supporters of Canadian troops were adequately protected and extracted to safety; and
  2. The ongoing crisis in the military leadership and the plight of veteran survivors of military sexual trauma who were negatively impacted by the dysfunctional military culture.

It is to be noted, however, that each federal party laid out in their individual campaign programs specific commitments that they would ostensibly adopt and implement if elected.

We have highlighted in this section of our report the specific proposals that are of greatest significance to NCVA.

It will be a continuing priority to ensure that these election campaign promises are not just political puffery or window dressing but are actually pursued and implemented to meet the pressing needs of Canada's veterans and their families.


Liberal Platform: "Honouring Our Veterans"

Liberal Party of Canada logo.

(from https://liberal.ca/our-platform/)

A re-elected Liberal government will:

With respect to ending Veteran homelessness:

With regard to reducing benefit wait times for Veterans:

In relation to Veterans' employment strategy:

In relation to commemoration:

In relation to military sexual trauma:


Conservative Platform: "Standing Up for Our Veterans"

Conservative Party of Canada logo.

(from https://www.conservative.ca, page 101)

Canada's Conservatives will:


NDP Platform: "Honouring our veterans"

New Democratic Party of Canada logo.

(from https://www.ndp.ca/commitments)

A New Democrat government will honour the special bond of mutual obligation between Canadians and veterans, and deliver the services that veterans need and deserve. As part of this process, we will work with veterans to design a system that provides fair benefits to all veterans, including equal access to lifetime pensions.

Veterans shouldn't have to wait weeks or even months or years to receive the services they need. We'll get rid of backlogs and step up high-quality, personalized service delivery by actually providing one caseworker for every twenty-five veterans, hiring more disability adjudicators to clear the backlog, putting in place automatic approvals for the most common injuries, and improving services that are delivered by phone and online.

To ease the transition from service for veterans, we'll give Canadian Forces members access to care and support before the transition, and make sure that their benefits are in place before they are released from service.

New Democrats will help support veterans and their families by expanding the caregiver allowance to more people. We'll work with partners in community services and the veterans community to end veteran homelessness for good – because one veteran on the streets is one too many.

New Democrats will make the Veterans Ombudsman fully independent so they can report transparently and directly to Canadians.

A New Democrat government will make mental health support for members and their families a priority. No member or veteran of the Canadian Forces should ever feel that they are all alone in dealing with the impact of their experiences or in transitioning to civilian life. They – and their families – need to know that their country and their government has their back, during their service and for the rest of their lives.

We are also committed to putting an end to sexual harassment and assault in the military. The Liberals have talked about the issue for six years but have failed to make needed changes, while survivors of sexual misconduct continue to suffer from a culture of silence and impunity that extends right to the top of the chain of command. We will immediately implement the recommendations of the Deschamps Report, including establishing independent oversight and accountability for sexual harassment and assault in the military.


People's Party of Canada Platform: "Veterans: Standing Behind the Men and Women Who Sacrificed for Our Country"

People's Party of Canada logo.

(from https://www.peoplespartyofcanada.ca/veterans)

A People's Party government will:


In Conclusion

From NCVA's perspective, it is important to evaluate the various recommendations as to where common ground may exist for establishing appropriate resolutions amongst the parties to begin to address veterans' concerns.

In our work with Parliamentary committees, these political commitments provide valuable ammunition in compelling individual members to live up to the stated intentions of their respective parties.

It must be recognized once again that the chance of a new election in the foreseeable future remains very high, given our current minority government, and the performance of individual parties will be closely monitored by NCVA and the veterans' community.

Summary of Recommendations

VAC Backlog/Wait-Time Crisis

Recommendation

NCVA urges VAC to fully recognize the substantive findings and criticisms of the Auditor General's report of May 2022 and implement with the highest priority the statutory, regulatory and policy changes proposed in the report to realistically address the backlog/wait-time conundrum confronting Canada's disabled veterans.

Recommendation

NCVA strongly recommends that VAC recognize that fundamental systemic change is required and that the department needs to accelerate the adoption of fast-tracking protocols/automatic entitlement for outstanding veterans' claims in order to alleviate the backlog and wait times that have only been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.

Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC utilize presumptions in the departmental adjudicative system as outlined for many years in NCVA's Legislative Program. The adoption of evidentiary presumptions to deal with common disabilities and consequential claims will create administrative efficiencies and have a significant impact on turnaround times for veterans' claims currently in the backlog.

Recommendation

NCVA supports the adoption of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs report dated December 11, 2020, titled "Clearing the Jam: Addressing the Backlog of Disability Benefit Claims at Veterans Affairs Canada," which accepted the majority of NCVA's recommendations in alleviating the backlog/wait-times crisis.

Recommendation

NCVA strongly recommends that the Government expand the implementation of the proposals contained in Budget 2021, insofar as the immediate granting of treatment benefits prior to the formal adjudication of the veteran's disability claim so as to include all forms of disability suffered by the veterans of Canada.

Recommendation

NCVA recommends that VAC provide substantial financial funding to bolster the Veterans Emergency Fund to increase the maximum benefits per claim and to prioritize these applications during these challenging times. VAC should consider the utilization of the Veterans Emergency Fund as a stopgap measure for veterans awaiting disability pension claim decisions that have been inordinately held up by the current backlog conundrum.

Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC simplify veterans legislation and regulations including the Table of Disabilities so as to provide a more "user-friendly" process and, in so doing, eliminate the complexities and legalistic provisions currently confronting veterans in making disability/health-care claims.

Recommendation

NCVA takes the position that, to ease the transition from DND to VAC, disabled veterans should be fully apprised of benefits and entitlements, rehabilitation options and job alternatives well before their medical discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces.

The "Elephant in the Room" in VAC Remains

Recommendation

NCVA takes the position that VAC, working together with relevant Ministerial Advisory Groups and other veteran stakeholders, should think "outside the box" by jointly striving over time to create a comprehensive program model that would essentially treat all veterans with parallel disabilities in the same manner as to the application of benefits and wellness policies – thereby resulting in the elimination of artificial cut-off dates that arbitrarily distinguish veterans based on whether they were injured before or after 2006.

Recommendation

NCVA adopts the position that much more is required to improve the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and that the Government needs to fully implement the Ministerial Policy Advisory Group recommendations presented to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Summit in October 2016 (together with the report to the minister of January 14, 2020) with particular emphasis on:

  • Resolving the significant disparity between the financial compensation available under the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act;
  • Ensuring that no veteran under the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act would receive less compensation than a veteran under the Pension Act with the same disability or incapacity in accordance with the "one veteran – one standard" principle;
  • Utilizing a combination of the best provisions from the Pension Act and the best provisions from the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act, producing a form of lifetime pension in a much more realistic manner in order to secure the financial security for those veterans who need this form of monetary support through their lifetime; and
  • Addressing the ongoing layering of legislation and incremental changes over the years, ostensibly without consistent objectives and clearly defined outcomes, which has created a complex grid of eligibility criteria, differences in eligibility for benefits depending on when and where served, and inconsistency between policy intent and outcomes and expectations.

Pension for Life

Recommendation

In addition to the aforementioned fundamental proposals as to the overriding guiding principles for legislative reform, the following recommendations represent specific statutory and policy amendments in furtherance of this objective:

  • Liberalize the eligibility criteria in the legislation and regulatory amendments for the new Additional Pain and Suffering Compensation benefit so that more disabled veterans actually qualify for this benefit. Currently only veterans suffering from a severe and permanent impairment will be eligible. It bears repeating that the greater majority of disabled veterans simply will not qualify for this new component of the proposed lifelong pension.
  • The Veterans Disability Award (PSC) initially granted to the veteran should be a major determinant in evaluating APSC (CIA) qualifications. It is the position of NCVA that this employment of the PSC percentage would produce a more straightforward and easily understood solution to this ongoing issue of APSC (CIA) eligibility.
  • Create a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of PSC to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.
  • Incorporate the special allowances under the Pension Act, i.e., Exceptional Incapacity Allowance and Attendance Allowance, into the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act to help address the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.
  • Fine-tune the concept of the Attendance Allowance, payable to informal caregivers, by adopting the amount paid under the Attendant Care benefit employed by DND so as to better recognize and compensate the significant effort and economic loss to support injured veterans. Moreover, VAC must ensure access reflects consideration for the effects of mental health injuries.
  • Lower the eligibility criteria for Exceptional Incapacity Allowance to cover those veterans under 98 per cent disabled and who are confronting extraordinary incapacities as a result of their service-related disabilities.
  • Improve the eligibility criteria for the Critical Injury benefit to include mental health injuries and evolving injuries.
  • Extend eligibility of the death benefit to the families of all deceased veterans.
  • In relation to the regulatory amendments emanating from the new legislation, NCVA expresses concern that the prerequisite for the APSC benefit with regard to the disability of amputation remains arbitrarily defined both as to eligibility and designated grade level. It is to be noted that amputation at or above the elbow, or at or above the knee is retained as a fundamental requirement for qualification in relation to a single limb amputee – the loss of a limb at any level represents a severe and permanent impairment for a veteran amputee. The current arbitrary distinction is not justified and should be amended.

Recommendation

NCVA continues to support the contention that the seriously disabled veteran should be given the highest priority in the implementation of the Government's plan of action for legislative reform in regard to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and other related legislative provisions.

Recommendation

NCVA endorses the position that the federal government's failure to fully implement a plan of action on reforming the New Veterans Charter so as to rectify the unacceptable financial disparity between the Pension Act and the NVC/VWA violates the social covenant owed to Canadian veterans and their families.

Recommendation

That NCVA require that DND and VAC employ all necessary financial, professional and personnel resources to identify, care and compensate veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it is recognized that this insidious disability must be continually monitored to ensure the well-being of such veterans.

N.B.: DND/VAC released a comprehensive report in 2018 entitled "Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy" that established a comprehensive set of protocols to address this entire question of PTSD and suicide. The veterans' community will continue to monitor this policy very closely to determine how effective these proposals will be in addressing what many in the veterans' community have described as a significant crisis.

Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

Recommendation

That the Minister of National Defence immediately appoint an independent External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of recommendations as required by Recommendation 48 in the Independent External Comprehensive Review.

Recommendation

That the Minister of National Defence not only inform Parliament of any recommendations that the Government does not intend to implement by the end of 2022 (Recommendation 47), but also provide the status, progress and timeline towards implementation of all the recommendations made by Madame Justice Arbour in the Independent External Comprehensive Review.

While there has been progress that responds to the concerns the NCVA raised in 2021, our five recommendations are still outstanding:

Recommendation

There must be immediate meaningful and comprehensive cultural transformation in the Department of National Defence and CAF to restore the trust in the leadership. The men and women who serve our country deserve to work in an environment that is free from all forms of harmful behaviour.

Recommendation

There is a requirement for an external and independent reporting and investigation system outside the chain of command. This system must offer a reporting mechanism for incidents of sexual misconduct without reprisal, fear or isolation.

Recommendation

There must be accountability for the actions of those who engage in this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour.

Recommendation

There must be the resources and support for all victims of sexual assault including CAF members and veterans.

Recommendation

Lastly, to effect and ensure meaningful change and oversight, the Government must establish a fully independent Office of the Inspector General of the Department of National Defence and the CAF reporting to Parliament.

Marriage After Sixty

Recommendation

NCVA recommends that the Minister of Veterans Affairs and/or the Minister of National Defence remove Section 31 of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so as to allow the spouse of a Canadian Armed Forces retiree marrying after 60 to be eligible for Survivor's Benefits without reducing the amount of superannuation in payment to the retiree in accordance with the Liberal Party's election platform of 2015. NCVA takes the position that this amendment to the CFSA would be a more optimal solution when compared to the nebulous Veterans Survivors Fund contained in the 2019 federal budget.

Recommendation

NCVA further recommends that, should VAC continue to explore the implementation of a realistic and effective Veterans Survivors Fund to address this long-standing issue, the following principles be applied:

  1. In the event the veteran exercises the option for a spousal benefit (OSB) under the CFSA, the amount of reduction in the veteran's current income in so doing will be reimbursed by VAC.
  2. Should the veteran not opt for the survivors' benefit, the amount of pension that the surviving spouse would have received if the veteran had indeed opted for the OSB will be paid to the surviving spouse by VAC under a new Veterans Survivors Fund.

Benefits to Support Families/Veteran Caregivers

Recommendation

VAC should:

  • Incorporate into the NVC/VWA the eligibility standards of the Attendance Allowance provisions under the Pension Act, together with the amount of allowance described in the Attendant Care Benefit (DND) for caregivers of disabled veterans.
  • Establish distinctive grade levels for this newly created Attendance Allowance:
    Grade 1 – $36,000
    Grade 2 – $30,000
    Grade 3 – $24,000
    Grade 4 – $18,000

    This will address the unique need for financial support of individual family caregivers of disabled veterans and, at the same time, help to rectify the financial disparity between the two statutory regimes.

  • Fine-tune the concept of Attendance Allowance payable to informal caregivers to recognize and compensate the significant effort and economic loss to support injured veterans and ensure access reflects consideration for the effects of mental health injuries.
  • Create a new family benefit for all veterans in receipt of Pain and Suffering Compensation to parallel the Pension Act provisions in relation to spousal and child allowances to recognize the impact of the veteran's disability on his or her family.

Veterans Legislation and Policies

A. Career Impact Allowance

Recommendation

Establish a newly structured Career Impact Allowance that would reflect the following standard of compensation: "What would the veteran have earned in his or her military career had the veteran not been injured?" This form of progressive income model, which has been recommended by the MPAG and the OVO, would be unique to the New Veterans Charter/Veterans Well-being Act and would bolster the potential lifetime compensation of the disabled veteran as to his or her projected lost career earnings, as opposed to the nominal one per cent increase provided in the proposed legislation.

  • NCVA encourages VAC to revisit the MPAG proposition of consolidating the Income Replacement Benefit and a newly structured CIA to provide a single stream of income for life that would include the "projected career earnings" approach.
  • Access to the new structured CIA benefit should be available through the lifetime of the veteran, providing a financial safety net that includes application to pre- and post-release income scenarios.

B. Veterans Education and Training Benefit

Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC eliminate the limitation as to the applicability of the new Veterans Education and Training Benefit so as to make this particular benefit available to all veterans and not just those who have served since April 1, 2006.

C. Partial Disabilities

Recommendation

NCVA strongly recommends that VAC grant automatic entitlement to those veterans currently in receipt of consequential or partial entitlement rulings at one-fifth/two-fifths/three-fifths to a four-fifths level of assessment. In so doing, the department will address a significant amount of the backlog in relation to the numerous appeals that are currently in the department system re: fractional awards.

D. SISIP LTD/VOC-REHAB Programs

Recommendation

NCVA continues to take the long-held position that SISIP LTD/VOC-REHAB should be eliminated, placing all SISIP LTD and VOC-REHAB under VAC for all service attributable and non-service attributable medical releases with no premiums – one program/one service delivery model.

E. Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services Program

Recommendation

NCVA will monitor the implementation of the new Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services program to ensure that the objective of VAC to provide improved medical, psycho-social and vocational rehabilitation services to our veterans and their families is achieved.

F. Post-65 Benefits

Recommendation

NCVA proposes that VAC should establish that the Income Replacement Benefit (former Earnings Loss Benefit) be continued for life without deduction, and that the post-65 diminishment be eliminated as the financial plight of the eligible seriously disabled veteran at age 65 remains unchanged.

Long-Term Care/Intermediary Care

Recommendation

That NCVA ensure that VAC adopts a flexible policy to provide veterans with a freedom of choice between a community bed and a priority access bed for purposes of admission to long-term care facilities without distinction between traditional and modern-day veterans.

Recommendation

That NCVA urge VAC to increase the number of Preferred Admission beds in order to address the demands of modern-day veterans and, in so doing, eliminate the current wait list for these beds across the country.

Recommendation

In conjunction with the settlement arrived at between the residents of Ste-Anne's Hospital, the federal government and the provincial government, NCVA calls on Veterans Affairs Canada, in accordance with the terms and provisions of the settlement documentation, to protect the interests of veterans affected by the transfer. The governments must also ensure that the provisions found in the transfer agreement established to support the commitments made in relation to priority beds for veterans, language rights and the standard of care are strictly enforced, and that enhanced funding is put in place by the federal government to satisfy this class action settlement.

Recommendation

That NCVA continue to collaborate with VAC to ensure that the adult residential care needs of the veteran are addressed through the expansion of the current VIP program and long-term care policy of the department so as to provide financial assistance in this area of institutionalized care.

Recommendation

That NCVA continue to work with the OVO in drawing to the attention of the Liberal government the inequity that has resulted in the gap that currently exists in the VAC health-care regulations concerning financial coverage for adult residential care.

VIP for Life for Surviving Spouses

Recommendation

That NCVA continues to pressure the Minister of Veterans Affairs and departmental officials to review the present policy on the continuation of VIP for Life for surviving spouses with a view to providing this benefit to, at a minimum, all surviving spouses of seriously disabled veterans who are not eligible because the veteran never applied for the benefits.

Recommendation

That the Minister of Veterans Affairs alter the Government's current position so that:

  • The needs of the surviving spouse should determine the benefit required (housekeeping or groundskeeping) instead of the present practice of basing the decisions on the specific VIP benefit the veteran was receiving prior to his or her death; and
  • Section 16 and Section 16.1 of regulations be amended so as to eliminate the absurd anomaly whereby a surviving spouse who fails to qualify for VIP based on their spouse's VIP status cannot utilize their GIS or DTC eligibility for the purposes of their own VIP entitlement.

Last Post Fund/Veterans Burial Regulations

Recommendation

That NCVA continue to pressure the Minister of Veterans Affairs to ensure that, at a very minimum, seriously disabled veterans entitled to a disability pension at 78 per cent or more (SDVs) qualify, as a matter of right, under the Veterans Burial Regulations/Last Post Fund.

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