Veterans Affairs accused of skipping consultations on Pensions for Life

Veterans Affairs is being accused of avoiding consultations with veterans after introducing details of its Pensions for Life program.

The new pension plan, taking effect April 2019, will save the government money in the short term, and reduce the compensation awarded to many disabled soldiers. During the first four years of the plan, Ottawa will pay about $1.8 billion less, in total, to disabled vets than it would have under programs enacted during the Harper government. Critics say it has prevented veterans from having input.

“It’s a systemic attack upon veterans’ rights to be denied the chance to participate in the very democracy they were willing to die to defend,” says Sean Bruyea, a veterans-rights advocate. Bruyea is suing Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan for defamation as a result of comments the minister made in response to Bruyea’s criticism of the plan.

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After taking office in 2015, the Liberal government created advisory groups of veterans to offer comment about new policies and laws affecting Canadians who served in the military. The government says a number of suggestions from the advisory groups were incorporated into Pensions For Life.

The legislation to enact the program was rolled into an omnibus budget bill in 2018. There was no discussion about it in the House of Commons and very little at Commons committees.

Although in the spring of 2018 there was an opening for public consultation when the government announced its intention to publish regulations to put Pensions for Life into effect, there was no additional opportunity for comment after the regulations were released in September. That differs from how the government typically does things, said Bruyea.

The New Veterans Charter, which came into effect under the Conservatives in 2006, allowed a comment period after the proposed regulations were made public and before they were approved by cabinet.

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When asked why there was no opportunity for public input after the regulations were published to enact the Pensions For Life, the Veterans Affairs department told The Globe and Mail there is no requirement to publish regulations for consultation before they are approved.

“Cabinet may exempt regulatory proposals from pre-publication on a case-by-case basis, and the specific rationale for exempting pre-publication is protected under cabinet confidence,” the department said in an email.

The department also pointed out that O’Regan has been travelling the country to explain the Pensions For Life to veterans and their families, “to get their feedback, [and to] ensure their voices are heard and their questions answered.”

The new pension plan is designed to replace the compensation plan in the New Veterans Charter that is based largely on a lump-sum payment.

“This is not what the Liberal government promised, it’s not what veterans were expecting,” Bruyea said, “and we are going to create a whole new generation of marginalized former soldiers.”

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