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PAYING CANADA’S DEBT TO WAR VETERANS

One statistic I saw recently indicated that 60% of Canada’s war veterans are not receiving the full range of benefits to which they are entitled. That suggests to me that there must be a lack of awareness and understanding of the full range of available benefits.

Veterans Affairs Canada is our government department through which the benefits tailored specifically for our veterans are administered.

It offers services and benefits to qualified veterans, Canadian Forces members, serving and discharged members of the R.C.M.P., certain civilians, and their families.

Not having really ever given much thought to what these benefits might be, I paid a visit to the Veterans Affairs website (www.vac-acc.gc.ca).

My initial reaction, upon accessing the home page and clicking on “Veterans Services”, is that there is a dizzying array of available benefits and services. The permutations and combinations of eligibility seem, at first glance (and all my subsequent glances), to be both endless and highly impenetrable.

Even as a practicing lawyer who wades through this sort of thing every day, being confronted with all of this information is intimidating (and I know that I cannot capture all the relevant information in this short article). I sensed, immediately, that the bewildering range of intertwined options may have something to do with the prospect that not all veterans are receiving the services and benefits they have earned.

If you doubt my reaction, try digging through the Veterans Affairs website yourself.

War Veterans Allowance

As of January of 2010, changes to the War Veterans Allowance Act provide low-income allied veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War with access to the War Veterans Allowance and associated assistance and health benefits. The War Veterans Allowance is is a form of financial assistance that ensures eligible clients are provided with a regular monthly income to meet basic needs.

To qualify for these benefits, low-income Allied Veterans must have served with Allied forces in the Second World War or Korean War and have lived in Canada for at least 10 years or lived in Canada prior to enlisting and live in Canada now. Those who qualify may be eligible to receive the benefit of the War Veterans Allowance, Assistance Fund, Funeral and Burial Program, Treatment Benefits, Veterans Independence Program, and Long-Term Care.

The Veterans Independence Program is a national home care program. The program was established in 1981 to help Veterans Affairs clients remain healthy and independent in their own homes or communities, complementing other other federal, provincial or municipal programs.

The Health Care Program is designed to enhance the quality of life of Veterans Affairs clients, to promote independence, and to assist in keeping clients at home and in their own communities by providing a continuum of care. Eligible veterans and other qualified clients are entitled to health care benefits under the Veterans Health Care Regulations including medical, surgical and dental care, prosthetic devices, home adaptations, supplementary benefits such as travel costs for examinations or treatment and other community health care services and benefits.

Pension Awards

Veterans may also qualify for a disability pension if they have a medical disability that is related to their service and they are a Canadian Forces veteran or a Merchant Navy veteran of the First or Second World War or the Korean War, or a current or former member of the Regular or Reserve Force, or a civilian who served in close support of the Armed Forces during wartime. Additional benefits may be awarded if a veteran is a disability pensioner who has a spouse/common-law partner or other qualified dependants.

The provision of military pensions arises out of the federal Pension Act. It appears to be the method of payment of these pensions for wounded and injured personnel which have recently stirred protests amongst veterans.

Pension entitlement is based solely on the relationship between service and disability. It is awarded in fifths: from one-fifth (1/5), if service played only a minimal part in the cause or worsening of the disability, to five fifths (5/5) if the disability was incurred during, or was caused in its entirety by military service. Pension entitlement may also be awarded for a disability which is a consequence of a pensioned service-related disability.

A veteran of the Canadian Forces or a Canadian merchant mariner who was a prisoner of war for 30 days or more, or who evaded capture or escaped from the enemy for 30 days or more may also be entitled to pension benefits. Compensation may also be paid to members of Allied Forces who were domiciled in Canada or Newfoundland at the time of enlistment in the First or Second World War, and to some civilians who served in support of the Canadian Forces.

The term “prisoner of war” now also includes those who were interned in a neutral country designated as enemy-occupied territory. Additional compensation for a spouse/common-law partner and dependants, similar to that awarded for a disability pension, is also available.

Special pension allowances are also available. The Exceptional Incapacity Allowance is an additional monthly allowance provided to pensioners who are exceptionally incapacitated in whole or in part by their pensioned disability.

The Attendance Allowance is available to pensioners who have a disability assessed at 1% or more and/or who are receiving prisoner of war compensation (the pensioner must also be totally disabled and in need of attendance due to his or her physical or mental state). A Clothing Allowance is provided if a veteran has a disability (for which the veteran has received a disability benefit) that causes wear and tear on clothing or that requires the wearing of specially-made clothing.

The Pension Act also provides for Surviving Dependant Benefits for a surviving spouse or common-law partner. When a disability pensioner dies, the survivor may receive, temporarily, the same pension and/or POW compensation amount (including Attendance Allowance and Exceptional Incapacity Allowance, if applicable) being paid to the pensioner at the time of death.

Surviving children may be eligible to receive orphan benefits following a pensioner’s death. And, the Education Assistance Program provides post-secondary education assistance to those children of deceased Veterans or Canadian Forces members who have died as a result of military service or who were pensioned at 48% or greater at the time of death.

If the deceased pensioner had been supporting parents, brothers or sisters who are left without adequate means of support, these dependants may be awarded a pension. Awards of this nature are discretionary and are based on the circumstances of each case.

Other available military pension-related services and benefits include counselling, assessment and referral services, legal assistance with application appeals, and treatment benefits.

Disability pensioners are also provided with treatment benefits such as prescription drugs directly related to their pensioned conditions (treatment benefits may also be provided to clients for non-pensioned conditions in certain circumstances).

Other Programs and Services

According to the Veterans Affairs website, eligibility for the War Veterans Allowance or pension benefits serves as a gateway to other programs and services. These include the Veterans Affairs Health Care Programe (providing veterans and other eligible clients with health care benefits including treatment benefits) and the Veterans Independence Program and other personalized health care services such as residential care, advice and information, needs assessment, advocacy, and referrals.

It seems to me that, as a society, one way in which we pay our debt to our fighting men and women is by ensuring they are well taken care of when their job is done. Making certain that they are aware of the range of available benefits is only the first step towards payment of that debt.

If my own visit to the bewildering Veterans Affairs website is any indication, that debt is presently going unpaid.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer who operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, or to subscribe to “You Work Here”, visit www.smithsonlaw.ca. If you have a labour or employment question for him to answer in a future “You Work Here”, email him at robert@smithsonlaw.ca. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.

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