Slipping Through the Cracks of Government

Alaina Abplanalp Photography via Flickr
Alaina Abplanalp Photography via Flickr

In the wake of another Remembrance Day, the government’s disregard of Veteran Affairs could not be more glaringly obvious. The Conservatives have made some half-hearted bids in recent years to try to make reparations, but these have rarely been met with success.

Early this year, the federal government officially designated 2013 the “Year of the Korean War” and made July 27 Korean War Veterans Day. This action was taken to try and atone for the feeling amongst these veterans that they have been left behind. Thus, it only took 60 years for the veterans of Canada’s third deadliest war to receive recognition for their sacrifice, finally shining a light on a war that was at risk of slipping through the cracks due to the lack of attention it receives in schools.  Besides sometimes slipping the minds of Canadians in general, it also sometimes seems as though the government has forgotten them as well. Amongst other things, Korean War veterans still have an incredibly hard time claiming their rightfully earned pensions.

However, the main cause of frustration amongst veterans – and the general population in regards to Veteran’s Affairs – is  the New Veterans’ Charter. Enacted by the Harper government, people feel it doesn’t do nearly enough for our veterans. The Charter now offers a lump sum payment as opposed to regular pension installments that it use to offer. This can be more practical for senior veterans, but for those injured having barely reached adulthood, it poses a serious problem. These young people are sometimes coping with life-altering physical injuries along with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, and need the money to last. This is especially true in the cases where they are no longer able to work.  It was found in a recent report that for many veterans left severely disabled from service income plummets upon reaching the age of 65. This is due in part to the absence of their pension, but also because some of their Charter benefits have now ended.  It is also rare that soldiers receive the full $298,000 lump sum; instead, they receive on average $45,000 under the new system. This is hardly comparable to the $31,000 yearly installments they were receiving before.

Recently, it has also come to light that young soldiers injured in Afghanistan were being discharged just before they were able to complete the pension’s required 10 years of service, in order to prevent them from collecting a full pension.  Before, they would be  reassigned to another job so they could complete these years, but this is rarely the case now.  It is estimated that 200 soldiers are discharged annually for medical reasons before they are able to acquire the minimum years to make the eligible for pension.

The government set up eight Joint Personnel Support Units in Canada to oversee twenty-four Integrated Personnel Support Centres across the country. These centres offer support and treatment for soldiers suffering from psychological issues and help them transition back to living life as a civilian. Ideally, it would be a highly beneficial service, but increase in demand and limited staffing has caused the units to exist in a state of complete dysfunction. As a result, it cannot offer soldiers the help they need.  In fact, in its current state the system is causing its staff to develop problems of their own.

Further attempts at reparations were made this past spring , whish saw the federal budget allocating an additional $65 million to the Last Post Fund. A fund that provides financial assistance to help cover the funeral costs iof departed veterans. This extra money has helped to increase the average reimbursement from $3,600 dollars to $7,376. However, this change came suspiciously around the time it was discovered that over two-thirds of applicants have been rejected in the past five years. Currently, the eligibility criteria exclude those soldiers that have served in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and the Cold War. It also dictates that eligible veterans must have an estate worth less than $12,010. A veteran’s group has recently mentioned that the Conservatives may be willing to review the current criteria, but there has been no word on the matter passed that.

The Conservatives’ website lists the “support” that they are providing for veterans, but the positive results are not nearly as noticeable as the negative ones. For a party that prides itself on its military policies – even going as far as to make them one of few topics Harper touched upon in his convention speech – you would think that this pride would extend past weaponry to the soldiers operating it and the veterans who have given so much for this country.