âTrust must be restored in Service to Countryâ
In 1917 as the Battle of Vimy Ridge drew near, Prime Minister Robert Borden spoke of the sacred duty Canada had to support our soldiers. Borden said Canadaâs Veterans, âneed have no fear that the government and the country would fail to show just appreciation of their service.â Borden added it was the âfirst dutyâ of the country to support Canadian soldiers and said they must not have âjust cause to reproach the government for having broken faith,â with them.
Bordenâs comments werenât just a one-off speech. They represented a promise from the government to Canadaâs veterans, and the government made that clear by saying the âmaimed,â, âbroken,â âthe widow and the orphanâ would be supported. The government added that, âDuty and decency demanded that those saving democracy should not find democracy a house of privilege, or a school of poverty and hardship.â
Those words must be as true today as they were 100 years ago.
Unfortunately, that hasnât been the case.
Successive governments have copied Bordenâs sentiments, without following through on the actions that sentiment demands.
Today, Canadian Veterans are not getting the help they need, and the very programs meant to help them are being turned into systems designed to make a profit for the federal government, rather than help Veterans.
Aaron Bedard â standing up for the rights of Canadaâs Veterans
I recently interviewed someone who has vast experience dealing with Veterans Affairs, and fighting for Canadian Veterans: Aaron Bedard â a Former Corporal in the Combat Engineerâs.
Corporal Bedard bravely served our country in Afghanistan, and now he serves the cause of supporting the rights of Canadian Veterans.
During his service in Afghanistan, a vehicle in which Bedard was travelling went over an anti-tank mine.
As he dealt with the aftermath of the injury he sustained in the blast, Bedard witnessed the lack of support provided to Veterans.
At one point, his file was lost for a full year.
Bedard deals with the ongoing consequences of the blast:
He uses cannabinoid oil to help with severe headcahces, pain, and Â PTSD â which relaxes the parasympathetic nervous system, and uses Botox injections for chronic headaches.
Bedardâs personal experiences have given him unique insight into the severe shortcomings of the Veterans care system.
Disturbingly â considering how many Veterans have PTSD â Bedard says âPTSD is being managed horribly,â with far too much focus on âpharmaceuticals and treating people like an experiment.â
Bedard says they need to heal the body, as âthe nervous system is the problem.â
Bedard says that 11 years after his injury, they still have not done all the medical assessments he needs. In fact, he just got assessed for a Traumatic Brain Injury – over a decade later.
Clearly, something has gone very wrong with the system. And itâs not just the system of treatment that is failing. The basic contract behind supporting our Veterans has been broken. The New Veterans Charter is a big part of that problem.
New Veterans Charter
The New Veterans Charter (NVC) was brought in by the previous government in 2006. It replaced the lifetime pension with a lump sum payment. While it was sold as something that would help Veterans, many feel it has done the exact opposite â moving away from Bordenâs lifetime pensions promise.
Bedard says the NVC was modelled after an insurance company, and was set up to make it difficult to get benefits.
As Bedard put it, the NVC âexploited the best aspects of soldiers â that they donât want to be an administrative burden or show weakness,â and itâs âdesigned to deny benefits or reduce them,â in the hope âpeople will go away.â
The New Veterans Charter has created savings, but when it comes to helping Veterans, budget savings mean money is not getting where it needs to be.
In fact, every year, the Veterans Affairs Department sends back about $130 million to the government. That means in the last 10 years, around $1.3 billion budgeted for Veterans has gone unspent.
That is a disgrace.
That is money that was supposed to help our Veterans who were in need, but instead the government put it back into general revenue.
Itâs a sick irony that almost everything the government does goes way over-budget, except when it comes to helping Veterans.
The Equitas Society
In response to the New Veterans Charter, a group of Canadian Veterans and their families launched the Equitas Society. They describe themselves as a âBC-based, national, cross-partisan, volunteer community organization which since 2011 has sought fair settlements for disabled veterans through a class action lawsuit launched by six representative plaintiffs over deficient compensation awarded under the New Veterans Charter.â
Corporal Bedard is one of the six lead plaintiffs of the Equitas case, seeking to restore justice, fairness, and equity for Canadian Veterans.
Bedard has tried working with people in both the past and current government to get Veterans the support and benefits they were promised.
While Erin OâToole was Veterans Affairs Minister, Bedard had a conversation with him, and negotiations had started on the Equitas Case. However, he says the critical injury benefit, along with many other programs, were âunderfunded from the start.â
Bedard also pointed out that OâToole went on TV and was honest in saying that many more people were eligible for the critical injury benefit than were receiving it.
Says Bedard, âThey (the government), didnât want to give him (OâToole) the stuff to win the Veterans vote.â
Things have not gone any better with the Trudeau government.
Trudeau breaks lifelong pension promise
When he was seeking power, Justin Trudeau promised to fix the problems with the New Veterans Charter. He said he would restore lifelong pensions for Veterans.
âIf I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned,â said Trudeau at the time. âWe will reinstate lifelong pensions and increase their value in line with the obligation we have made to those injured in the line of duty.â
He has not done so.
The Equitas Society clearly explains how that promise has been broken so far:
âThe lifelong military pension (according to the previous Pension Act) that was promised to be reinstated by now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had these attributes:
- 75% of previous earnings (non-taxable)
- Not subject to claw back
- Not subject to review or revision
The announcements made in Budget 2017 that were released on March 22 do not fulfill this promise of lifelong pensions. What the government referred to as a âpension optionâ is simply the ability to receive their Disability Award through a monthly payment for life, rather than the inadequate one-time lump sum payment. This does not come close to providing the standard of care and compensation that the previous Pension Act provided and that was promised by Prime Minister Robert Borden and other governments since.â
In a terrible irony, Veterans are now forced to fight in court against the same government that promised those court cases wouldnât be necessary ever again.
Says the Equitas Society, âWhile there have been some improvements in some benefits for Canadaâs disabled veterans, lifelong pensions remain an unfulfilled promise and makes it necessary for justice to continue to be sought in the courts through our class action lawsuit. While Prime Minister Trudeau stated in his election promise that âno veteran will be forced to fight their own governmentâ that is exactly what the representative plaintiffs have been compelled to do as a result of this government not delivering on the promise of a lifelong pension and by not providing a timeline when that promise might be fulfilled.â
During our conversation, Bedard pointed out the main differences between Trudeauâs promises, and his actual budget plans when it comes to Veterans.
Hereâs a list:
- Instead of restoring the lifetime pension, Trudeau has altered his promise to an âoptionâ for a pension.
- They lowered the benefits payments for veterans, and moved privates from corporal 4 pay to private 4 pay. This adjustment to the benefit keeps young soldiers right at the poverty line. Theyâre âscrewing over the young guys,â by cutting the benefits for Privates. 90% of injured soldiers are of the Private or Corporal Rank.
- The retroactive top-up was supposed to be put at $360,000. Instead, the government tied it to the consumer price index, which lead to less than half the increase.
- All troops must serve a minimum of 10 years for a basic pension â which starts at only $350 a month. Politicians work just 6 years and get $100,000 pension.
Worst of all, the Trudeau government is showing no intention of living up to their campaign promise.
Trudeau âslowed down return of the pension.â
Immediately after the election, the Trudeau government made the unusual move to publicly release a mandate letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. On December 3rd, 2015, the government held a stakeholders meeting to discuss how the Ministerâs mandate could be fulfilled.
An advisory group was also formed.
âAdvisory groupsâ are how governments avoid doing something. They pass it all off on some other group they can blame, and hope it goes away.
Bedard says the policy advisory group had already come up with a reasonable plan to restore the pension, but a year and a half later he asks, âWhere is the pension?â
Instead, the Trudeau government talked more about spending â how they could âsprinkle more benefits,â into the existing suite of programs.
Of course, thatâs not what Trudeau promised during the campaign. He promised the lifetime pension would return, nothing less.
And when the government broke their promises to Veterans in the 2017 Budget, they didnât even tell Veterans ahead of time. A total lack of respect.
Government clueless about Veterans
In my conversation with Bedard, a clear impression forms of the Trudeau government: They are clueless and ignorant about Veterans issues.
For example, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr had announced new programs for family support. But the “new” programs were just a link to a webpage from 2012, while the other was a link to a public health organizationâs one pager with a few things people can do for PTSD – just a couple of bullet points.
And when Trudeau spoke at the Invictus games and tried talking about âall the great programsâ the government had for Veterans, he spoke about the Last Post Fund. The problem? As Bedard said, âItâs a fund for when youâre dead and have to be buried.â
It doesnât get more tone-deaf than that, and Bedard says it means âthe PMO doesnât have a good advisor for Veterans.â
âTrust must be restored in Service to Countryâ
The government is breaking faith with Canadian Veterans.
Campaign promises have turned out to be empty.
Pledges have been broken, and trust has been lost.
For the government to fix things, Bedard says âThey have to have a Veteran who understands the Veterans community.â
Says Bedard, âTrust must be restored in Service to Country.â
How you can help
Every Canadian benefits from the sacrifices of the brave men and women in uniform who serve our country. Without them, I would not be free to write this story, and you would not be free to read it.
We owe everything to our Veterans. So, the least we can do is spread the word about their fight for justice, and support their efforts.
Aaron Bedard and The Equitas Society are still fighting in court for Canadian Veterans. The next step could be going to the Supreme Court.
Equitas is a grassroots organization, and they face up to $100,000 in ongoing legal costs. Because of that, they need help from Canadians to keep their efforts going.
Thatâs why I encourage you to click the link below, and donate whatever you can to help the Equitas Society.
We need millions of Canadians standing behind the Equitas Society and standing behind our Veterans. We need to make the pressure on the Trudeau government overwhelming, using public opinion to force them to make good on their promise to restore the lifelong pension.
Our Veterans fought for us. Now, all Canadians need to fight for them.
Photo – Aaron Bedard