Top Issue to Watch in Parliament: Veterans’ lifelong pensions and veterans’ services

February 21, 2018
Red poppies on monument.

Shortly before the holidays, the Liberal government announced it would reintroduce lifelong pensions as an option for Canada’s disabled veterans who retired after 2006. Now, 2018 is expected to be a year of preparation for their implementation. 

The current New Veterans Charter only allows for a lump-sum payment upon retirement, whereas former soldiers who had to stop working due to illness or injury under the pre-2006 Pension Act receive monthly pension payments for life. Veterans have complained that the charter provides them with less financial assistance over the long term than the old system.

The long-awaited new compensation plan, announced December 20, is also consolidating six existing income support benefits into one and is introducing a new benefit for veterans with “severe and permanent impairment” related to their military service.

The plan, titled “Pension for Life”, isn’t effective immediately; the government said it will come into effect on Apr. 1, 2019 and will apply retroactively.

Reaction to the new plan has been mixed, with critics saying the new plan still doesn’t bring compensation levels up to those under the old Pension Act. Government officials provided a few hypothetical scenarios in which catastrophically injured, younger veterans might get more money over their lifetime than under the old system, but Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said he can’t guarantee that will happen for the average veteran.

O’Regan acknowledged the new plan is “not going to please everyone” – but added no retiree will see a reduction in benefits as a result of the new model.

This isn’t some ‘mission accomplished’ moment. This, in many ways, is just the beginning,” he said.

Based on O’Regan’s comments in December, it’s expected the Department of Veterans Affairs will use 2018 to craft and table a bill – which then has to go through the regular legislative process. The minister said the department also has to prepare logistically to administer the new plan.

Another ongoing project for O’Regan, as outlined in his mandate letter from the prime minister, is to work with the minister of National Defence to “reduce complexity and strengthen partnerships” between the two departments.

The pensions are likely to become an area involving increased collaboration. O’Regan said in December that his department will undertake “a focused campaign to educate both clients of [Veterans Affairs] and serving members of the Canadian Forces” to ensure that “everyone will have the information they need to make the best decision for their well-being.”

The 2017 budget also announced funds for a new “centre of excellence” in veterans’ care, with a focus on PTSD and other mental conditions. 2018 is expected to be the initiation of the four-year funding rollout but the government has yet to share specifics about how that will happen.