Chair, Committee Members,
Thank you for your invitation to appear today to discuss Bill C-15, The Budget Implementation Act, as it pertains to Canada’s Veterans.
I am appearing on behalf of Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent. Yesterday, he shared his opinion on Bill C-15 at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. However, today he was committed to be in Quebec City for the Annual Director General Meeting of Military Family Resource Centres, so I am appearing for him.
The Veterans Ombudsman and his team frequently meet with and listen to the concerns of Veterans and their families across Canada. Whether in individual meetings, at town halls, events, or via Twitter chats, we hear upfront what is and what is not working for Canada’s Veterans and their families.
We believe that Bill C-15 addresses several of our key recommendations in both the 2013 Report on the New Veterans Charter and the 2014 Report on the Permanent Impairment Allowance and the Permanent Impairment Allowance Supplement.
Although it is too early to provide you with an evidence-based analysis on the effectiveness or fairness of the proposed legislative changes in Bill C-15 – because we simply do not have the details – we do consider it to be a movement in the right direction, albeit with some reservations.
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. However, what we do not know is for those Veterans in receipt of the SISIP Long Term Disability Benefit – which is at 75 percent of their pre-release salary– will this be increased to ensure fairness?
- Changing Permanent Impairment Allowance grade determination. Although we do not have the details of what this change will be, we are hopeful that it will better support Veterans with career-limiting service-related injuries by providing access to higher grade levels. Also, we are 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, we need to clearly understand how it will be defined and applied to ensure it meets the needs of Veterans.
- 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 the Veterans who are the most vulnerable and have the greatest need for support.
However, although many of the initiatives announced in the Budget may indirectly support Veterans’ families, no action was taken to provide financial compensation for family members who give up their employment to become the primary caregivers for severely impaired Veterans. And, it is paramount that we define and achieve the desired outcome for Veterans for lifetime financial security. These are priorities for the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman and are critical to ensuring that our most vulnerable Veterans and their families are supported.
In closing, we believe that Budget 2016 is a promising start; now we need a clear action plan and an evidence-based evaluation approach to determine what the impact of these changes will be on Veterans and their families. Veterans and their families deserve no less.