Chair, Committee Members,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on Bill C-15, The Budget Implementation Act, as it pertains to Canada’s Veterans.
In my five and a half years as Veterans Ombudsman, I have met with and listened intently to the concerns of thousands of Veterans and their families across Canada. On October 1, 2013, I released my Report on the New Veterans Charter, which was evidenced-based and for the first time in relation to any report of this nature, it was supported by an independent, actuarial analysis that pinpointed exactly where benefits were failing Veterans and would continue to fail them unless changes were made. In addition, on August 19, 2014, I released another evidence-based Report on the Permanent Impairment Allowance and the Permanent Impairment Allowance Supplement and recommended changes in order to better support severely impaired Veterans.
Bill C-15 addresses several of my key recommendations in both of these Reports. Although it is too early to provide you with an evidence-based analysis on the effectiveness or fairness of the proposed legislative changes – because we do not have all of the details yet – it is not too early to say that it is movement in the right direction.
Division 2 of The Budget Implementation Act takes steps to help Veterans and their families by:
- Increasing the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 percent of an eligible Veteran’s military salary. According to Veterans Affairs Canada’s numbers, this will provide increased short-term financial support to approximately 3,000 Veterans while they participate in the Department’s rehabilitation programs. It will also provide increased long-term financial support to around 2,000 of the most seriously impaired Veterans for life.
- Changing Permanent Impairment Allowance grade determination. Although I do not as yet have the details of what this change will look like for Veterans, I am hopeful that it will better support the most seriously impaired Veterans with career-limiting service-related injuries. Also, I am pleased to see the program renamed Career Impact Allowance in order to better reflect the original intent.
- Replacing “Totally and Permanently Incapacitated” with “Diminished Earnings Capacity”. There is no definition of Diminished Earnings Capacity, so it is difficult to assess the impact of this change without knowing the details. However, I am hopeful that it will lower the threshold for access to certain benefits.
- Raising the Disability Award to $360,000. This change will align the Disability Award with what Canadians can receive through the courts. It will also provide retroactively to approximately 55,000 Veterans a one-time increase to the Disability Award that they have already received.
- Increasing the Death Benefit to $360,000. Once implemented, this will provide better support to the family members of those who have paid the ultimate price.
These changes, especially those to the Disability Award, will have a positive impact on all Veterans receiving benefits under the New Veterans Charter. Other changes, such as those to the Earnings Loss Benefit and the Permanent Impairment Allowance, will provide greater life-time financial security to relatively few Veterans; but they are the Veterans who are the most vulnerable and have the greatest need for support.
I believe that it is important for you in your deliberations to put Veteran-program spending into context. Expenditures on Veterans are approximately 1% of the current federal expenditures, and current estimates suggest they will decline over the next decade due to a decrease in the Veteran population.
As the Veterans Ombudsman, my office evaluates fairness through the principles of adequacy (Are the right programs and services in place to meet the needs?), sufficiency (Are the right programs and services sufficiently resourced?), and accessibility (Are eligibility criteria creating unfair barriers, and can the benefits and services provided by VAC be accessed quickly and easily?). While it is difficult to evaluate the fairness of the proposed changes without more detail, as I said earlier in my remarks, they do reflect the recommendations I have previously made for improvements to the deficiencies of the financial benefits in the New Veterans Charter.
In closing, I believe that the proposed changes represent an important step forward in Canada’s support to Veterans and their families. They deserve no less in return for their service and sacrifice to Canada and Canadians.