Dishonour from the crown: It’s time for the government to step up and honour its promises to veterans

by Michel W. Drapeau & Joshua M. Juneau

Generally speaking, a veteran (originating from the Latin word “vetus” meaning “old”) is a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field. Using everyday language, military veterans are considered those persons who have served or are serving in the armed forces, particularly those who have had direct exposure to acts of military conflict; these persons are referred to as war veterans.

However, as matters now stand, the definition of a military veteran is not only dusty and non-standardized, but is in dire need of an upgrade to ensure both consistency and simplicity.
Consider that for the purpose of health care benefits, Veterans Independence Program and Long Term Care, the terms “allied veteran,” “Canada service veteran,” “dual-service veteran,” “grandfathered veteran,” “income-qualified veteran,” “merchant navy veteran,” “overseas service veteran,” “veteran,” and “veteran pensioner” — each have their own separate meaning.
Consider also that the New Veterans Charter defines veteran as a “former member.” This seems logical. However, this definition is markedly incongruous with that provided under the War Veterans Act, which defines veteran to exclusively mean a person who served in a theatre of war. More interestingly, by definition, the last war that Canada participated in was the Korean War. Therefore, because there has been no recognized wars since 1953, there have technically been no war veterans since that conflict.

One would think that this wold be an easy problem to solve. In the thousands of laws passed by Parliament over the past century and a half, one would think that at least one of them would define the term of military veteran. Using the dictionary definition, consider that one could be deemed a military veteran with just one day of military service, even with a dishonourable release. At present, whether or not one is considered a veteran depends entirely upon which veteran program or benefit one is applying for.

What happened to the term “war”?

It seems as if Canada officially no longer partakes in war. Instead, our members serve in “conflict areas” or “theatres of operation” — no longer theatres of “war.” This flowery language is problematic because it diminishes the valiant service our men and women have committed in the last 50 years.

By all accounts, Afghanistan was a war, so was Bosnia, and so too was the Persian Gulf. So too will be Syria. Wars and conflicts leave scars — both physical and mental — to which the Canadian government owes a responsibility of care.

Wearisome effect on war veterans

The most vulnerable of all war veterans are those who are aged, infirmed, and partly or wholly disabled and unable to support themselves financially. These veterans are numerous, and spread across the country – many of whom are living in isolated areas under the care of families or friends. Thankfully, the government recognizes this class of veterans, and provides monthly financial assistance to them or their survivors to help them meet their basic needs. For veterans of Korea and the Second World War whose income is less than approximately $42,000, Veterans Affairs will provide allowances in order to help make ends meet. This is done through the War Veterans Allowance. In this way, these older veterans are given deserved welfare considerations, for the dedication and sacrifice they have paid for our freedom.

On April 1, 2006 the New Veterans Charter was enacted, and several awards, including the War Veterans Allowance, were reduced by pension awards, employment income or disability awards (offsets). These offsets were applied universally and with heavy public scrutiny because they had the practical effect of reducing the quality of life of our most vulnerable and low-income veterans. The policy consideration underpinning these cutbacks is obvious: to save money. In our opinion, it is shameful that any government would seek to keep money in the coffers by taking from those who fought to preserve our system of government.

The ebb and flow of Parliament

In June 2012, shortly after the class action lawsuit of Manuge v. The Queen was settled, then-Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney stated:
“I am happy to announce that our government is taking action to harmonize our disability benefits at Veterans Affairs to reflect the planned changes to SISIP … With these changes, Veterans Affairs’ disability pension will no longer be deducted from … the War Veterans Allowance … This is a very positive change for our men and women injured in service to Canada who will now receive the benefits and services that they are entitled to.”

But will the department walk the walk? Only the future will tell.

Indeed, at the time that Blaney’s statement was issued, we viewed it with optimism, as it demonstrated that the department had a commitment to aiding veterans, and considered the claw back of pension awards from the War Veterans Allowance as an entitlement. Surely, we naïvely surmised, this would result in the reimbursement of claw backs improperly taken since the inception of the New Veterans Charter!

Partial repayment

On October 1, 2012, as a consequence of the Manuge class action settlement, the claw backs from the War Veterans Allowance were cancelled. In fact, the Conservative government offered retroactive repayment of these offsets from April 1, 2012. The problem is that this leaves a six-year window (2006 – 2012) where the claw backs have not been reimbursed. We find this troublesome, particularly given that the department has referred to these payments, wrongfully reclaimed, as an entitlement.

The Canadian government boasts it will have a balanced budget in 2015, but at least part of this budget was balanced by taking money from our most vulnerable veterans. Despite the fact that these claw backs were deemed an entitlement back in 2012, nothing has been done to fully restore our war veterans financially. Is this really how the Canadian government values our troops? In our opinion, cost savings should not even be on the radar when discussing caring for our own.

Election 2015 may cause ‘all ears’

Given that next year will be an election year, perhaps the time is ripe to apply some pressure for these payments to be made. A government must not be permitted to make empty promises to its most vulnerable and deserving persons: patriots, who when called upon by their nation were among those who valiantly stepped forward in the face of tyranny to, if required, give a full measure of devotion in the defence of freedom and democracy.

If you are a recipient of the War Veterans Allowance, or if you know of someone who is receiving this allowance, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us at info@mdlo.ca.