WINDSOR, N.S. — Changes announced in December to Canada's veteran pension plan will better serve those who are ill or have been injured due to service, says the minister in charge of rolling out the new program.
“The idea is to look after each and every veteran,” said Veteran Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan in a sit down interview in Windsor.
“In this case, we're talking about those who are ill and injured as a result of their service to this country and we want to do right by them and their families. I believe that this will,” said O'Regan.
The Liberal government unveiled its Pension for Life for Veterans plan on Dec. 20, 2017.
O'Regan, who visited Windsor Jan. 16, 2018 with Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison, said the plan will replace the 2006 New Veterans Charter, which had been developed to address the shortcomings of the 1919 Pension Act.
The New Veterans Charter “was meant to be a living document — it was meant to be something that would grow as we had a better understanding of what we're dealing with and the needs of veterans. It didn't under the previous government. It was more or less left dormant and it wasn't funded properly,” said O'Regan.
“When we ran as a party a couple years back, we ran on a promise that we would make changes,” he said of the Liberal's 2015 campaign promise. “One of the most significant changes was to get rid of a lump sum payment that had been given out under the New Veterans Charter.”
The new pension-for-life plan offers tax-free pain and suffering financial compensation with a maximum combined monthly amount of $2,650 for veterans “most severely disabled with barriers to re-establishment,” plus taxable income replacement for veterans experiencing issues returning to work following military service. Payments will be determined on a case by case basis.
The veterans who received lump sum payments under the New Veterans Charter will also be reassessed and may be eligible for an additional monthly amount.
Hants County's Rick Folker, who spent 30 years with the Royal Canadian Navy, was at the Royal Canadian Legion when O'Regan and Brison stopped by.
While he said it's too soon to have an opinion on the government's new plan, he feels it's bound to be better than what was in place.
“The lump sum, really, you're not given that much and it's supposed to last you forever. When you have a pension for life, you can plan your life that way. You know what you're getting,” he said, adding he'll reserve further comment until he learns more about it.
Brison said the lump sum payment wasn't an ideal situation and is pleased to see the federal government making meaningful changes.
“When they get a lump sum payment, they're at a very vulnerable state. The idea of giving somebody a lump sum payment and cutting them off, that's a recipe for... big problems,” said Brison.
“The big thing, right now, is fixing the pension for life issue. That was a clear commitment by our prime minister and one that Seamus, very early in his mandate as minister, is delivering on,” said Brison, who serves in Justin Trudeau's cabinet as the president of the Treasury Board.
“That's a really significant improvement over a lump sum payment that can leave veterans high and dry and without that safety net of an ongoing payment,” Brison added.
O'Regan said the lump sum payment will remain an option, but the Department of Veteran Affairs will be promoting the monthly plan.
“(For) the bulk of the people that we deal with in terms of ill or injured veterans... it's hearing loss and bad knees. In which case, the lump sum is a more modest amount and you'd rather have it all up front. You might take it that way,” said O'Regan.
For veterans wondering what the best option is, O'Regan said the government will provide up to $500 for them to hire an accountant.
“I feel strongly about what we're doing. We've kept our word to veterans by coming forward with a monthly pension for life and that's extremely important,” he said, acknowledging that not everyone will be satisfied with the plan.
“This government wanted to propose something that we could look a veteran in the eye and shake their hand and keep our word,” said O'Regan. “We've sweated the details and we will continue to sweat the details because they're important.”
The plan is due to roll out April 1, 2019.
To learn more, visit http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/services/pension-for-life.