The New Veterans Charter might confuse those suffering from an operational stress injury, says Col. Pat Stogran.
Afghanistan vets fear for future care; Ombudsman has 'misgivings' about giving wounded lump-sum payments
The Ottawa Citizen
Tue Nov 3 2009
By David Pugliese
Canada's Afghan veterans are raising serious concerns about their future and whether they will be taken care of by the government in the decades to come, says the country's Veterans Ombudsman.
Retired Col. Pat Stogran says the problems revolve around the New Veterans Charter and some of the provisions in that legislation. One concern is that Afghan veterans who are wounded now receive a lump-sum payment. In the past, former soldiers got a monthly disability pension, he noted.
"I have some significant misgivings about that," said Stogran, a veteran of Afghanistan and missions in the former Yugoslavia. "Personally, my instincts tell me the last thing you want to do when a young soldier comes back from overseas, perhaps with an operational stress injury, or with a dependency on alcohol or drugs, is give him $250,000 to self-medicate."
The money is meant to recognize and compensate Canadian Forces members, veterans and their families for a service-related disability. The award is a tax-free lump-sum payment with the amount depending on the extent of the injury. The maximum amount is slightly more than $267,000.
Other veterans have complained that the Charter is mired in red tape, Stogran added. "This New Veterans Charter, especially for someone suffering from an operational stress injury, is going to be so confusing and frustrating," he said.
"Another problem we're seeing as well is that a lot of the benefits fall off the face of the earth when the veteran turns 65," Stogran added.
The New Veterans Charter, started in April 2006, represents the most sweeping change to veterans' benefits and services in years, according to Veterans Affairs.
Department spokeswoman Janice Summerby stressed that the disability award is one of several benefits available. "The New Veterans Charter is ... part of a group of programs with a completely different focus which is the re-establishment (of the veteran) in civilian life," she added.
Summerby noted that Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson has repeatedly said the legislation is a "living charter."
"The department has been doing a lot to keep it current and there is a commitment to look at the input that other groups have provided," she added.
But Stogran said while the Charter is a good first step, there doesn't seem to have been too much effort to fix the problems. "There are (Afghan) veterans who are worried about the rest of their lives.
"All parties had a sense of urgency and agreed to put this thing through on the condition it was a living charter and it would be fixed where there were problems," Stogran explained. "My position is; let's fix it with the same sense of urgency that we brought it in with in the first place."
He said that if problems with the charter aren't fixed, he could see the various issues becoming a "political football" that will be played out on the floor of the House of Commons as problems emerge in the future.
Stogran also said any changes should be grandfathered to cover veterans who received such benefits starting in April 2006.
Some disabled Afghan veterans fall under the old system in which they receive the monthly pension and they have expressed their relief at being covered by that benefit, he added.
Both Senate and Commons committees looking into veterans' issues have been examining the Charter. "There will be lots more to come on this subject," added Summerby.
Several hundred Canadian soldiers have been physically injured during the Afghanistan war. In addition, there is the issue of post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD. Some specialists estimate about 20 per cent of those who served in Afghanistan will exhibit PTSD symptoms, ranging from anxiety to nightmares to suicidal tendencies.
A Commons committee recently released a report outlining how hard the problem is expected to hit the ranks in the future. Of the estimated 27,000 military personnel who have served in Afghanistan since 2002, the committee received estimates that slightly more than 3,600 could come down with some sort of mental health problem while, of those, 1,624 would have symptoms of PTSD and depression.