OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government’s long-awaited plan to provide lifelong disability pensions to veterans has led to confusion and frustration for many of those that it’s aiming to help.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan unveiled the new pension plan on Wednesday, more than two years after the Liberals promised it during the last federal election and only days before Christmas.

The plan promises more money to injured veterans than the current suite of benefits, especially the most severely disabled who can’t work and continue to suffer from service-related injuries.

Yet it offers only modest increases to those on the other end of the spectrum and it continues to provide many with less than the previous lifelong disability pensions.

“We were focused in this program on those who are catastrophically injured,” O’Regan explained during a news conference at National Defence Headquarters.

“Those who have received a disability or an illness during their service. Those who have a hard time going back to work. Those who have a hard time, as they say, re-establishing themselves.”

Read: Liberals’ pension plan for disabled veterans won’t take effect until 2019

The plan, which comes with an expected cost of $3.6 billion over six years, will take effect in April 2019.

Veterans and support groups were scrambling after the announcement to figure out exactly how the changes would affect them and their clients, citing a lack of detail as a major complaint.

“It’s confusing,” said Jim Lowther, president of VETS Canada, which support homeless veterans in different cities across the country. “We’ve been going over this all morning, but it’s very vague.”

Veterans receive financial benefits and compensation based on the extent of their injuries or disabilities and whether those factors have an impact on their post-military career and earnings.

The existing system, created in 2006, provides a lump-sum worth up to $360,000 for the most severely disabled, in addition to rehabilitation, career training and income support.

While veterans who want the money right away will still be able to choose the lump-sum payment, the Liberals are also giving them the choice of a monthly payment instead worth up to $1,150.

Read: A primer on Canada’s patchwork of rules for reservist leave

Those with severe or permanent disabilities will also be eligible for an additional new benefit worth between $500 and $1,500 per month. Both benefits are tax free.

Officials said the more than 61,000 veterans who have already received a lump-sum award will be assessed to determine how much they would have received per month. They’ll also be eligible for the new benefit, which officials said would be retroactive and could result in substantial one-time payments.

The government will also lump together six different benefits for veterans who can’t find work or whose post-military careers pay less than when they were serving in uniform.

Yet it wasn’t immediately clear who will be eligible for different elements of the new pension plan or even which of the income-replacement programs will remain in existence after they merge.

O’Regan guaranteed no disabled veteran would end up with less money, and the department plans to launch an advertising campaign to educate former service members about the plan.

“All of those covered under the [existing] new veterans charter will be automatically assessed against the new pension-for-life program,” said O’Regan.

Read: B.C. appeal court dismisses injured veterans’ pension claims

“And no individual will be subject to a net-decrease in overall benefit.”

But that didn’t stop many on social media from questioning whether they would see any real benefits or prevent concerns about clawing back existing supports.

“They’ve created chaos with a vague presentation,” said Aaron Bedard, one of six disabled Afghan veterans who launched a legal challenge against the federal government in an unsuccessful bid to force a return to the previous system.

“It’s like watching Game of Thrones: You get a couple of answers but you end up with a dozen new questions.”

The Liberals’ new plan also came under criticism for continuing to offer less financial support for the majority of veterans than the lifelong pension system that existed prior to 2006.

“So we still have this ludicrous situation where you can have two guys with the same injuries from the same war but at different times and getting different compensation,” said Mark Campbell, who lost both legs in Afghanistan.

“That’s fundamentally wrong, and it has not been addressed.”

Read: Liberals promise lifelong pensions for injured veterans

The Conservatives and NDP were also critical that the new pensions wouldn’t come into effect until April 2019, which O’Regan said was necessary to pass required legislation and ensure Veterans Affairs staff are ready for the change.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

Add a comment

Have your say on this topic! Comments that are thought to be disrespectful or offensive may be removed by our Benefits Canada admins. Thanks!

* These fields are required.
Field required
Field required
Field required