Veterans affairs minister touts new and expanded benefits, hedges on pensions

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr has all but ruled out a return to the old way injured veterans received pensions, setting up a potentially vicious fight with some of those hurt in uniform.

In an interview Friday with The Canadian Press, Hehr touted the benefits and services available under the New Veterans Charter, which replaced the previous pensions-for-life system in 2006. Those include a lump-sum payment, career training and targeted income-replacement programs, many of which the Liberals have topped up and expanded over the last two years.

Wednesday’s budget saw the government commit to paying up to $80,000 for long-serving veterans who want to go back to school, as well as additional help to find civilian jobs and new money for families. Those are in addition to a number of measures adopted in last year’s budget.

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“The whole suite of benefits under the New Veterans Charter were not available under the Pension Act,” Hehr said. “My dad always says this: ‘The good old days weren’t always so good’.”

But some veterans say the current system provides less financial support over the course of a lifetime and have demanded that the old lifetime pensions be brought back.

Hehr stopped short when asked whether the old pension system is dead, but veterans were told by a member of his staff in at least one briefing earlier this week that it would not be coming back. A recording of the briefing was obtained by The Canadian Press.

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That sparked complaints from several veterans who told officials that Justin Trudeau specifically promised to bring back the pensions when he campaigned for their votes during the last election.

“We will re-instate lifelong pensions and increase their value in line with the obligation we have made to those injured in the line of duty,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in Belleville, Ont., in August 2015.

The Liberal government has since promised to give injured veterans the option of a lifelong pension, the details of which have been promised before the end of the year. But some fear the government will simply take the lump sum that veterans currently receive for pain and suffering when they are forced from the military and spread it out over a lifetime.

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The lump-sum amount varies depending on the extent of injury, with the maximum amount being $360,000.

Asked about this, Hehr said: “We’re not going to preclude any discussions on this. All options are on the table. Veterans need to know that our government is committed to their success and their families.”

The New Veterans Charter received strong support when it was announced in 2005, which Hehr suggested was a sign veterans weren’t happy with the old pension system.

The problem was that the new charter wasn’t properly implemented by the Conservatives, he said, which resulted in many veterans getting inadequate support or falling entirely through the cracks.

“I think a lot of times people forget there were calls to get rid of the old Pension Act,” he said.

“Our government is committed to filling the gaps that the former government did not do over the course of their 10 years in power.”

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