Budget 2017 contains eight new or enhanced benefits for Veterans and their families to help ensure that they receive the support they need and deserve. While it has taken time to get where we are today, I am cautiously optimistic that we are moving in the right direction.
However, special attention needs to be placed on defining the long term outcomes that we want to achieve for Veterans and their families. Without that anchor, analysis is impossible and determining success is problematic.
These are the questions that need to be asked each time we look at a benefit:
- What is the Veterans’ outcome that we are trying to achieve?
- Is it an outcome for all Veterans or just some Veterans?
- What is the benchmark that we are using to measure results?
- How is success determined?
If we cannot answer those questions, how do we know we have got it right?
As a country, we need to rise to this challenge. We can afford to look after our Veterans well; we cannot afford to fail in our obligation to meet their needs for the services they have provided to Canada.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Bill C-44, The Budget Implementation Act, 2017, provides new opportunities for Veterans, and I am pleased that the Government took my recommendations and those of many Veterans’ advocates and organizations seriously and is moving forward on several of them.
For example, the new Education and Training Benefit has the potential to provide significant support to all releasing members, including Reservists, who wish to further their education after their service. When taken in combination with the higher level of career transition services introduced in Budget 2017, this could be a real game changer for Veterans transitioning to civilian life. Better job and lifestyle opportunities for all Veterans, and not just the injured/ill, will translate into more successful transitions. This can economically and socially improve the lives of Veterans and the communities they live in from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Importantly, Budget 2017 recognizes the role of caregivers by providing compensation directly to them through the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit. This is something I’ve been pushing for, and a substantive step forward in recognizing that family members who act as caregivers, need benefits in their own right because of the significant role many play in supporting Veterans.
Recently I released, Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Actuarial Analysis Follow-up Report. Its analysis underscores the point that recent changes are making a difference. The analysis also indicates that more work needs to be done in determining: what financial support is required post age 65; how Veterans with a diminished earnings capacity, but still able to work, are supported; and how survivors are supported.
THE PATH FORWARD
Going forward, Veterans Affairs Canada needs to consider how Veterans dependent on the Department for financial support, are compensated for career progression and lost job opportunities during their working years and in retirement. To do this, the Department needs to start by defining the outcome it is trying to achieve before designing the benefits needed to achieve that result. Also, the emphasis should not only be placed on how much a Veteran gets, but also on when they get it.
I have repeatedly advised Veterans Affairs Canada that when it comes to income replacement, the benchmark that should be used to financially support Veterans is to provide them with what they could have received had they had a full military career. If you do it that way, the outcome is easy to communicate and measure.
The Canadian Armed Forces pay and compensation package can be the starting point. Career models exist to predict career progression and CAF Superannuation benefits provide a model for retirement income. If Veterans who need income replacement received this level of compensation, there would be no question that financially they had been restored to a level that they had prior to being released.
Also, compensation for pain and suffering should not be considered in determining financial security. As indicated in my Report on Pain and Suffering, there is a national benchmark that can be used to decide fair compensation in this area. I have recommended that due to the nature of military service and the sacrifice of those who have suffered exceptionally, a monthly allowance be provided also.
I believe that current and proposed changes put forward in Budget 2016 and Budget 2017 can serve as building blocks in the suite of benefits which help support Veterans and their families better. This does not mean, however, that we can rest on our laurels and stop all improvement actions. The Veterans Well Being Act, as the New Veterans Charter will soon be called, should be a true evergreen document that evolves continually with Veterans’ changing needs. As it is so aptly called, this act needs to resume focus on the well-being of Veterans, ensuring that they and their families continue to be supported in a manner that meets their unique needs.
I look forward to seeing the details of how the proposed changes pertaining to Veterans and their families will be implemented, and I will continue to monitor and assess the impact of Budget 2017 to determine if it meets the needs of our Veterans and their families.