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Canadian Veterans Still Fighting for their Rights

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Published by Senator Percy Downe on 30 November 2010

In response to scathing criticism from the former Veterans Ombudsman, Colonel Pat Stogran (Retired), the Harper Government has once again reverted to their now familiar tactics in dealing with veterans and their families: reassuring words and more promises.

However, many veterans and their families would prefer that Stephen Harper deliver on the promises he has already made rather than starting a list of new ones – especially since so many have not been kept.

A few of the unfulfilled commitments that come to mind include the Veterans Independence Program, the now extinct Veterans Health Care Review, increased funding for the funeral expenses of veterans, the priority hiring of medically released veterans and compensation for victims of Agent Orange chemical spraying, to name a few.

Veterans Independence Program (VIP): The VIP was intended to help veterans maintain their independence and stay in their own homes by providing funds for basic services such as snow removal and lawn mowing. Stephen Harper promised veterans and their families that he would:

“…immediately extend the Veterans Independence Program services to widows of all Second World War and Korean War veterans regardless of when the Veteran passed away or how long they had been receiving the benefit prior to passing away.”

Sadly, as widow Joyce Carter of Cape Breton who received one of the letters signed by Stephen Harper found out, he once again failed to honour a promise he personally made.

Veterans’ Health Care Review: In 2005, the Conservatives promised they would undertake a “complete review of veterans’ health care services to ensure they meet the needs of our veterans”. They boasted it represented “one of the most extensive health services reviews ever undertaken at Veterans Affairs”.

What was the result of that comprehensive effort? Now, almost five years later, the Review has all but disappeared from the Veterans Affairs Canada website, and anyone who asks this Government whatever became of it is told that it is “protected information”. So not only can you not find any information about the Review, you can’t even ask about it.

Veterans Funeral Expenses: Next is the unfulfilled commitment in addressing the discrepancy between the $3,600 limit for veterans’ funerals versus the $12,700 for funeral and burial expenses for Canadian Forces Members. In response to a Written Question dated March 2010, the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs stated:

The Veterans’ Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial program is currently being reviewed to ensure the level of support provided continues to allow a dignified funeral and burial.”

Evidently, this “review” is still ongoing, because veterans and their families are still waiting.

Priority Hiring: Since 2005, medically released Canadian Forces veterans have been eligible for priority employment appointments in the federal public service, but the very low participation levels of most federal government departments is an ongoing issue.

This seemingly worthwhile endeavour was intended to create important future career opportunities for the young men and women who have to live the rest of their lives with the injuries they sustained in their service to Canada. However, sixty-seven veterans had their job priority appointment status expire without finding a position in the public service.

Employment options for medically released veterans can be severely diminished, but in a federal public sector work force of over 380,000 across Canada, employment can be found for all medically released qualified veterans. Yet, Prime Minister Harper is refusing to make the hiring of Canadian veterans who want to work in the Public Service a priority, and is not allowing them the independence they seek to support themselves and their loved ones.

Agent Orange: Prime Minister Harper made a promise during the 2006 federal election, when he stated, “Our government will stand up for full compensation for persons exposed to defoliant spraying during the period from 1956 to 1984.”

However, the Harper Government announced a disappointing compensation package for those affected by the spraying of Agent Orange, offering payment only to those who served between 1966 and 1967.

The Harper Government announced funding of $96 million dollars; however, so many veterans were excluded from receiving any assistance for their medical conditions, the Government ended up spending nowhere near this exaggerated figure. Almost $33 million was never distributed to the surviving veterans, or their widows and families.

In order to force Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour his commitment, these deserving Canadian veterans and their families have had to undertake a class action lawsuit at their own expense against the full resources of the Government of Canada.

And quite literally to add insult to injury, it was disclosed earlier this year that the Federal Government has spent $7.8 million fighting veterans and their families in opposition to this lawsuit. The costly legal and delaying tactics of the Harper Government have so far prevented the cases from seeing the inside of a courtroom.

The list of broken promises made to veterans from this Conservative Government goes on and on.

Our veterans have done their job and met their responsibilities – it is the duty and responsibility of all Canadians to do our part in reminding this Federal Government that it must keep the promises it has made to the most deserving: the men and women who were willing to ultimately sacrifice their lives in service to Canada.

Charlottetown Senator Percy Downe is actively involved with veterans’ issues.

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For further information:
Senator Percy Downe: 613-943-8107
Or toll free at 1-800-267-7362   
www.sen.parl.gc.ca/pdowne


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