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Before we honour the dead, living veterans have this to say on pension promises

Second World War veteran David Coleman lays a wreath next to the cenotaph in Joggins in recognition of the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. The community’s cenotaph was also rededicated with the addition of 10 names of veterans from the area who died during the First World War.
Second World War veteran David Coleman lays a wreath next to the cenotaph in Joggins in recognition of the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. - Darrell Cole

As Canadians mark the sacrifice of veterans who’ve fought for the freedoms we enjoy today, some veterans are fighting a very different kind of battle.

It’s no secret many veterans are unhappy with Veterans Affairs Canada. A culture of denial that has seen many veterans denied disability benefits, broken promises from politicians, and lengthy wait times and confusing bureaucracy are all issues veterans have been dealing with for decades.

With a new government in place and Justin Trudeau set to announce his cabinet later this month, SaltWire heard from three veterans on the concerns that are top of mind, issues they’d like to see addressed when the House of Commons reconvenes.

David MacLeod

“It would be in the best interest of the federal government, veterans and probably the general public to not have to go to a lawsuit in order to resolve major administrative issues.”

David MacLeod is a Nova Scotia veteran and author of “A Dirty Little Skirmish.” He’d like to see the Office of the Veteran’s Ombudsman (OVO) move from a watchdog mandate to a parliamentary office.

This change, he said, would allow the office to investigate concerns and also to potentially address some of the issues veterans are facing.

“Many of the issues veterans have faced that they've taken to federal court have been administrative procedures and OVO would be an excellent place to actually address and resolve these major problems before they ended up being lawsuits,” MacLeod said.

“It would be in the best interest of the federal government, veterans and probably the general public to not have to go to a lawsuit in order to resolve major administrative issues.”

Secondly, he would like to see better coordination within the healthcare system on veterans’ files.

“The performance, both provincially and federally, when it comes to healthcare has been undermined by poor coordination, especially in terms of medical records,” he said.

“Most people don't know this, but most veterans don't have their military medical records put into a provincial healthcare system. In the case of Lionel Desmond, if we had had his medical records within the system, he may have received help fast enough to prevent a murder-suicide.”

Desmond, an Afghan war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, killed his daughter, wife, and mother before turning a gun on himself in Upper Big Tracadie, NS., in January 2017. 

Michael Blais

“They came out with a pension that equates to 30 cents on the dollar when compared to the pension act, and that's what upset everyone."

Michael Blais is a former infantryman and president and founder of the group Canadian Veterans Advocacy. For him, a main mandate the Trudeau government should have, and opposition parties should fight for, is making good on their promise of a pension-for-life program.

Back in 2015, one of the Liberal party’s key promises was to bring back the option of a pension for life for veterans.

Lifelong disability pensions for injured veterans were abolished in 2006 with the New Veterans Charter.

The charter, implemented by the previous Conservative government, offered a lump-sum payment for pain and suffering instead of a lifelong pension.

The change was met with widespread outcry from veterans who felt the new system was short-changing them.

Under a new system implemented by the Liberals last spring, veterans are now able to choose either a lump-sum award or a monthly payment.

But many veterans have criticized the new pension plan, saying it’s a far cry from the plan to which the Liberals promised a return.

“They came out with a pension that equates to 30 cents on the dollar when compared to the pension act, and that's what upset everyone. Mr. Trudeau made the promise to me personally on Remembrance Day one year that he would reestablish the lifetime pension,” Blais said.

“The reality is, he has not fulfilled the promise yet. He has opened the door for further discussions on that promise and we fully plan on exploiting that.”

Blais added he’s hoping to see some extra resources put into dealing with the backlog of disability claims.

“We're still talking about the same issues at VAC in 2019 that we were talking about in 2011,” he said.

“I think the message veterans must take to parliament is that we expect the government to acknowledge the promises they made and fulfill them. And most importantly, we expect the minority government to fight for veterans and for the opposition parties to step forward and acknowledge the national sacrifice and inequalities and fight on that level.

Martin McNeil

"Thousands of veterans voted for (Trudeau) because of the promises he made."

Martin McNeil is a 35-year veteran who now lives in Fredericton. He just wants to see the government start listening to veterans and keeping promises.

“Justin Trudeau stood in front of all those veterans and promised so many things and then he backed off the promises. Thousands of veterans voted for him because of the promises he made ... someone needs to hold his seat to the fire and say this is what you promised, get on with it,” he said.

McNeil said he feels that governments do things like hold town halls and listening tours to hear veterans’ issues but those events often just amount to lip service.

“The truth is an important thing for veterans because that's what we fought for and we don't seem to be getting,” he said.

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