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Watchdog blasts compensation regimes for disabled veterans, calls for overhaul

OTTAWA — Canada's veterans' watchdog is calling for a wholesale overhaul of how the federal government compensates and supports injured ex-soldiers, blasting the existing system for providing some with more assistance than others who have the same in

OTTAWA — Canada's veterans' watchdog is calling for a wholesale overhaul of how the federal government compensates and supports injured ex-soldiers, blasting the existing system for providing some with more assistance than others who have the same injuries.

The comments are contained in a new report published Wednesday by veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton following a year-long study that coincided with the rollout of a new benefits regime by the Liberal government in April 2019.

They also follow more than a decade of anger and broken political promises over the financial assistance available to those hurt in uniform through the three benefits regimes that have been in place at different times.

The Liberals' "Pension for Life" is the most recent version, after the system of lifelong disability pensions introduced for veterans after the First World War was replaced by a lump-sum payment and other targeted financial assistance called the New Veterans' Charter in 2006. 

The ombudsman's study found that no single system was more generous to all veterans than the others. Many veterans have called for the pre-2006 disability pensions to be reinstated, saying they offered the most financial assistance.

But Dalton's report was notably critical of the Liberals' benefits scheme for offering less support for the most seriously disabled than the regime it replaced. Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux reached the same conclusion last year, though the Liberals have not addressed the issue.

Yet the watchdog's overarching finding was that veterans suffering from the same types of injuries are receiving different levels of compensation and benefits depending on when they applied for support.

"Because there are three benefit regimes with different effective dates offering different suites of benefits, veterans in similar circumstances are not treated equitably," Dalton wrote. "Rather, the benefits they access are determined by the regime under which they apply."

Dalton, who is stepping down as ombudsman on Friday after only 18 months on the job, traced the problem to successive federal governments' having failed to identify what financial outcomes they want for disabled veterans and their families.

The result has been a mishmash of different benefits regimes as governments have tried to address some gaps and inequalities but created new ones in the process.

Dalton called on the federal government to take a step back and figure out what kind of life it wants to see for disabled veterans and their families before creating a fair and equitable regime that helps them reach that goal.

"Veterans will continue to feel as though they are being treated unfairly until these outcomes are clearly identified and communicated," he said.

As for the individual regimes, Dalton's study did find that the New Veterans' Charter was the most generous to the seriously ill and injured veterans while those with minor injuries often received more under the disability pensions.

While the Liberals' Pension for Life scheme offered less to the most seriously ill and injured, it was found to be better for those injured early in their military careers.

Dalton added that non-financial aids such as retraining programs have been improved over the years, but that analyzing their benefits was outside the scope of his study.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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