Lest We Forget Our Forces: The Pitiful State of Veterans’ Benefits

Remembrance Day has come and gone and with it many people’s concern for our members and veterans of the Canadian Forces.

In the days around November 11 you probably all saw the same cartoon by American artist Rob Rogers circulating online. It featured the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a monument to World War I soldiers, shown next to an illustration marked “The Known Soldier” in which a beggar holds sign saying: “Homeless, Suicidal, and Suffering from PTSD” and asking frantically if anyone is there:

Known Soldier

The cartoon is a sad reflection of how veterans are treated in Canada and the US. In Canada, veterans fall under the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, which was enacted in 2005 to “recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service.”

The law provides that this obligation is to members and veterans of the Canadian Forces who were injured or killed as a result of their military service as well as to their spouses and children. What the law does in fact is give the Minister of Veterans Affairs the power to provide financial assistance, and rehabilitation and vocational services to facilitate veterans’ reentry into civilian life and compensate them for their service. In cases where a soldier is completely incapacitated by a service related injury or condition, the veteran continues receive benefits until he or she is able to work or until he or she reaches retirement age.

At first glance, the Act seems like a wonderful thing for it looks like it provides for our troops and their families when they get hurt defending us. But, like all laws there are more than a few catches that make the Act a lot less fair than it seems.

First, the Minister of Veterans affairs under article 9 (2) must refuse an application for the services and assistance the Act provides if the application was made more than 120 days after the veteran was released from service. Every section of the law mentioning eligibility for benefits refers to this “prescribed time.”

There are lots of reasons a person will take their time submitting an application for government benefits. If a soldier, is for example, in a coma for over four months and has no close family, it would be no surprise that said soldier would not submit their application in 120 days. Other possible scenarios are medical or psychiatric conditions that were caused by their military service but would not necessarily surface during their service or within those 120 days. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a perfect example.

While this provision of the act does allow the Minister some discretion if he is “of the opinion that the reasons for the delay are reasonable,” setting a maximum number of days in which to submit an application for help simply doesn’t fit with the nature of medical and psychiatric conditions that don’t obey such arbitrary timelines.

veterans affairs canada

A second caveat of the Act is regarding the eligibility of government benefits for veterans. If a veteran is deemed in need of a rehabilitation or vocational program, the Minister can pay the veteran benefits – called an Earnings Loss Benefit – for as long as he or she is completing the program, or until it’s cancelled or until the veteran reaches age 65 and can retire.

The Minister can refuse or cancel such a program if he dubs it reasonable, but the circumstances considered reasonable are never explained in the Act. If the veteran is no longer entitled to the Earnings Loss Benefit because, for example, the extent of their health problems keeps them from working despite the rehabilitation program, he or she can apply for an Income Support Benefit but it should be noted that under article 33 veterans aren’t eligible for this if they decide not to reside in Canada.

Now let’s look at the something called the Permanent Impairment Allowance. Under article 38 the Minister can pay a permanent allowance to a veteran who has one or more physical or mental health problems creating “permanent or severe impairment.” Article 40 says that in order to determine whether a veteran can continue to receive this type of benefit the Minister can make him or her undergo a medical exam by a person of his choosing. Anyone who’s battled a government for disability payments knows that when they get to choose the doctor, chances are that doctor is going to be more sympathetic to them than to you.

All that said, let’s take a look at how much a veteran will actually get. For a single veteran entitled to an Income Support Benefit, they get a $1132.26 a month. If you take the time to crunch the numbers on the average cost of living, a single person needs at least two grand a month after taxes in order to survive.

If you’ve been permanently disabled due to your service, you get a lump sum determined by a percentage calculated based on the extent of your disability. The highest amount you can get for the highest percentage of disability is $250 000 which sucks if you’re crippled and are expected to live another 30 years.

But don’t worry, there’s hope! You can choose to have your lump sum in the form of annual payments that take the lump sum and divide by the number of years you choose and then add in the interest. No matter how you slice it, it’s still not enough to live on.

The Remembrance Day slogan is “Lest We Forget” and yet we have forgotten to care for those risking their lives for Canada. Instead of honoring them with expensive monuments and a massive ceremony once a year, how about we salute them with something a lot more concrete: proper care and benefits.

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