Ottawa – Sometimes we field questions on the New Veterans Charter. Why did The Royal Canadian Legion support it in 2006? What was our role in bringing it to fruition? Why do we continue to advocate for improvements rather than a return to The Pension Act?
In this article, we answer some of the key questions and respond to some of the concerns we hear.
In the 1990s, The Royal Canadian Legion was seeing a new generation of Veterans coming forward with unmet needs. At the same time, with increased awareness and research coming out about modern disability practices, rehabilitation, and integration of Veterans into civilian life, it was becoming clear that the current system of taking care of ill and injured Veterans was not working. From early 2000, the Legion was advocating for a shift from a program-based system of benefits and supports to a needs-based system that could respond and adjust to the unique requirements of ill and injured Veterans and their families.
In July, 2000, the Department of Veterans Affairs established a multidisciplinary working group to offer advice on policies, programs and services to better meet the needs of Veterans and their families. This group, called the Veterans Affairs Canada – Canadian Forces Advisory Council included representatives from Veterans’ organizations, spouses of Veterans, medical specialists, academics and researchers, and federal departments and organizations. The Legion was one of seven Veteran organizations invited to participate in the working group. Others included the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada, the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, the National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada, the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, the Gulf War Veterans Association of Canada, and the Air Force Association of Canada.
Over a four-year period, this advisory council explored the challenges, needs and systems currently in place for Canada’s ill and injured Veterans. At the heart of discussions: the support provided to Veterans through The Pension Act of 1919. Initially developed as a system of financial compensation and programs awarded on a percentage basis of level of disability, it needed to be adapted to meet the changing and diverse health and wellness needs of ill and injured Veterans transitioning into civilian life. It did not, for example, directly address two essential elements of supporting illness and injury: quality of life and opportunity to enjoy a meaningful role in society. In 2004, the Advisory Council advocated for an overhaul of the way Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans were compensated for injury.
The New Veterans Charter (NVC) was introduced by the government of the day in 2006. On cursory review by the members of the Advisory Council, the NVC offered a number of benefits that The Pension Act did not provide. This included additional financial benefits, disability benefits, rehabilitation services, health services, education assistance, and job placement assistance. The new benefits not only addressed financial support but also continuing care and quality of life. However, because of a perceived urgency in a need for changes to meet the modern needs of Veterans returning from deployment injured and ill, little time was allotted for in-depth review and consultation. As a result, the NVC was adopted without clause-by-clause review in Parliamentary Committee and in the Senate.
The Legion, along with the other Veterans organizations, initially supported the NVC in 2006 because it was promised as a ‘living charter’ that could—and would—be amended as necessary to provide Veterans with financial stability as well as wellness and quality of life. Early on, the Legion, among others, identified gaps and flaws and made recommendations for change. But despite assurances that the Charter would be amended, the government left it neglected for five years before making the first amendment. Progress has been excruciatingly slow since, and it has become clear that there are massive deficiencies in the Charter as our Veterans return from conflicts in dire need of support.
Looking back at the development of the New Veterans Charter, it is evident that in order to identify and address concerns and gaps in care, the government should have conducted more thorough consultation with the Veteran community before it was launched, especially with those who would be most impacted by the subsequent changes.
The Legion continues to work to ensure that the men and women, and their families, who have sacrificed so much, have financial stability and supports for wellness and quality of life. We strongly believe that no Veteran should receive less support than another with the same level of disability. With the recent announcement of the Pension for Life plan, our greatest concern is the lack of detail and clarity in the plan, and exactly what those supports mean for all Veterans and their families. The government has not yet provided enough information to be able to sufficiently review and analyze the Pension For Life plan. We have been pressing government to provide those details so that we can fully understand how the plan impacts all Veterans, and where gaps may still exist.
Our understanding is the Pension for Life plan will enhance the NVC (to be renamed the Veterans Wellbeing Act in April 2018) and that this will continue to be a living document that can be amended as needs or gaps arise. The Legion has been vocal in our belief that while progress is being made, we’re not 100% there yet, including achieving lifelong financial security and definitive financial support for families.
The Legion’s position was, and still is, that there are essential benefits in the New Veterans Charter that focus on quality of life that were not provided through The Pension Act. Nevertheless, significant gaps remain, and we have been advocating for change since it was instituted. In fact, since 2006, the Legion has passed eighteen resolutions advocating government for specific improvements to it.
The Legion continues to advocate to the government of the day for care, support and lifelong financial security for ill and injured Veterans and their families. Our positions are based on the knowledge we have gained through direct and extensive one-on-one support of thousands of Veterans every year, research and work with organizations that specialize in Veteran health and care issues, consultation with Veterans groups and senior military officials, and input from tens of thousands of member Veterans through the Legion’s resolution process.
The Legion has representatives on each of the six Veterans Affairs Ministerial Advisory Groups, working to develop sound recommendations to improve care and benefits for Veterans. We regularly meet with government representatives and senior military officials and we work alongside other Veterans’ organizations to identify challenges and press for change. In addition, the Legion financially supports Veterans health research so we all can better understand the scope and nature of the challenges facing our Veterans and their families.
The Royal Canadian Legion stands committed to doing the work that is needed to ensure the care and benefits provided to Canada’s Veterans are the best they can possibly be and that all governments honour their obligations to the men and women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.