Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Friday, May 16, 2014

New announcement: Parliament Has To Do Better For Veterans, Says Advocate

Parliament Has To Do Better For Veterans, Says Advocate

From veterans advocate Sean Bruyea: His testimony to House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance-May 14, 2014

Thank you Mr. Chair and honourable members of Committee. You have much on your plate so I will skip further formalities.

On May 29, 2012, coincidental with the announcement to not appeal the class action lawsuit involving the Canadian Armed Forces insurance plan known as SISIP, the Government of Canada committed to cease the offsetting of Pension Act pain and suffering monthly payments from four plans: Earnings Loss Benefit, Canadian Forces Income Support, War Veterans Allowance and Civilian War-related Benefits. I will speak specifically about the Earnings Loss Benefit or ELB.

ELB, is an income loss program and a key pillar of the controversial legislation commonly known as the New Veterans Charter.

Bill C-31 provides retroactivity in returning to the veterans the Pension Act pain and suffering deduction offsets of ELB from May 29 to September 30, 2012.

During the launch of the New Veterans Charter including the Earnings Loss Benefit on April 6, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised that "Our troops' commitment and service to Canada entitles them to the very best treatment possible. This Charter is but a first step towards according Canadian veterans the respect and support they deserve."

If government has decided that the policy of offsetting monthly Pension Act payments from ELB is not what our "troops deserved" on May 29, 2012 did our troops deserve the unfair deductions on May 28, 2012? For that matter did our troops deserve the unfair deductions any day back to April 6, 2006 when the Earnings Loss Benefit was created?

ELB is clearly an income loss program. The Pension Act is indisputably a program for pain and suffering. Our courts have long stipulated that income loss is to be maintained completely separate from general damages otherwise known as pain and suffering payments. No other provincial civilian workplace insurance program in Canada deducts pain and suffering payments from income loss programs. Why are our disabled military veterans and their families subjected to an unjustifiable lesser standard from April 2006 to May 2012? ? ?Even if we ignore the strong legal precedent of not deducting pain and suffering payments from income loss programs, this arbitrary retroactive date of May 29, 2012 comes across as petty. The indefensible retroactive date creates additional classes of veterans once again. Those in the SISIP class action lawsuit had the problem rectified back to the date SISIP began offsetting Pension Act payments. Why are ELB recipients not accorded the same dignity? The appearance of justice being done is plainly not reflected in Bill C-31.

Should you pass this legislation as is, you will force the most disabled veterans under the flagship Conservative veterans' benefit program, the New Veterans Charter, to enter the paralytic morass of years of unnecessary and bitter legal battles. These battles will sap the health, family stability and dignity of military veterans and their families. We say we honour our injured veterans as a nation and a government but Parliament's actions often speak otherwise. Before we hesitate because of cost, please remember these disabled veterans never hesitated when Parliament ordered them into situations knowing full well many would die or be disabled for life.

Major Todd, the architect of the Pension Act philosophy of pain and suffering payments stated in 1919, "Those who give public service do not so for themselves alone but for the society in which they are a part. Therefore, each citizen should share equally in the suffering which war brings to this nation."

This is just one tangible and clear example of the debt we keep promising to repay our veterans but do not.

What is also troubling about Bill C-31, is what is absent, what further debts we must pay. The Earnings Loss Benefit is not being increased to 100% of military release salary while providing lost potential career earnings. Yet civilian workplace compensation schemes recognize this lost potential. Boosting ELB to 100% has been emphatically pushed by the major veterans' groups, the two VAC advisory groups tasked to study the matter as well as the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. There are also no provisions for providing childcare and spousal income assistance to the most disabled veterans. These most disabled are not supported for education upgrades or to pursue any employment opportunity to better themselves and improve their esteem. The monthly supplement provided under Bill C-55 in 2011 is denied those seriously disabled veterans collecting Exceptional Incapacity Allowance under the Pension Act.

My first of now eight parliamentary committee appearances was in front of the Senate version of this committee, National Finance, on May 11, 2005. Then I raised and continue to raise serious concerns about the New Veterans Charter. My concerns were generally ignored by government but not by veterans and the public. Had substantive action been taken then, we would not be in year eight of the tragic mess in how our veterans are mistreated and often pushed aside by both the New Veterans Charter and Veterans Affairs Canada. The Special Needs Advisory Group and the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group created as a result of Parliament's concerns in 2005 were summarily and without warning terminated. They have never been able to verify if their good work has ever been implemented.

I also warned Parliament of harassment of those who opposed the New Veterans Charter. This was also ignored only to explode on the national media stage five years later with what some call the largest individual privacy breach in our history, my privacy.

As such, provisions such as those which would allow CRA to voluntarily hand over highly confidential taxpayer's data to the police without the approval of a judge send shivers down my spine as they should with every Canadian. Surely the magnitude of Bill C-31 is disconcerting. The consequence of ignoring the concerns of Canadians and veterans is a perilous road.

Undoubtedly Parliamentarians and the Public Service work hard for democracy. However, none can claim to have sacrificed what our military has sacrificed to preserve our democratic way of life. The omnibus budget bill does not meet Canada's democratic standard. It allows many changes to Canada's laws to enter the backdoor of government policy without full participatory and democratic due process.

Ramming through legislation without proper scrutiny is an insult to the dignity of all that the military has sacrificed in Canada's name and at Parliament's orders. The omnibus budget bill is a perversion of democracy, a democracy for which almost 120,000 Canadians have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more have lived and continue to live with lifelong disabilities as a result of serving our nation.

Surely Parliament can do better.

Thank you.

Source: Parliament Has To Do Better For Veterans, Says Advocate

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