In my Ottawa Citizen article from earlier this week, Veterans Ombudsman, retired Col. Pat Stogran, outlined various problems with the New Veterans Charter.
One concern he had centered around the fact that Afghan veterans (and any future 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.
It’s a concern that I’ve heard a lot about from Defence Watch readers and Afghan veterans.
A Citizen editorial in Thursday’s paper weighed in with this: “Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, a medic who lost both legs in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan, is among the veterans who have expressed these concerns. Indeed, he told Legion Magazine that he has heard from injured soldiers that there is real skepticism about in the new Veterans Charter. It's easy to see why. Franklin was injured before the new system came into effect and therefore receives a monthly disability pension that, over 40 years, will amount to about $2 million. That's four times as much as the maximum payment under the new system.
Veterans Affairs officials say they offer financial counselling to soldiers on how to deal with the lump sum, but surely soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder need more guidance than can be provided by an investment adviser. The federal government needs to reassure veterans that it had their best interests in mind when the benefits system was revamped, that it wasn't simply a money-saving exercise.
Canadians who are risking their lives in Afghanistan and other places deserve nothing less than total confidence that their government is behind them -- before, during and after every deployment.”
But Veterans Affairs has a different take. During a recent Commons committee on Veterans Affairs, Brian Ferguson, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Programs and Partnerships, Veterans Affairs Canada noted this:
“There's a component of the charter that offers financial
advice to the veterans, at their choice, where we encourage them to use the free financial service that is available from the department to actually assist them, particularly if it's a fairly significant lump sum, because a significant lump sum gives many of these individuals a
unique opportunity to buy a home or to make a significant serious investment. We're also very concerned about the potential for wasting that particular resource, and that's why we introduced that particular component.
There's a balancing act, obviously. If someone is mature enough to serve Canada in a military context, there's a line that you don't want to cross in terms of telling them how to live their personal lives. There's also the issue around the old Pension Act, where we had similar circumstances arise from time to time as well. So it sort of transcends the kind of payment that you're making. It's an issue, and we've made an attempt in the charter to try to come to grips with it."
Any thoughts out there on this issue?
If you want to view some of the previous defence articles written by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen please go to this site which is updated regularly with either archival or newly published articles: