Canadian Veterans Demand Reinstatement of the Pension Act?

Lee Berthiaume of the Canadian Press reports military veterans detail fight with feds to overhaul disability supports:

When his son was nearly killed by an anti-personnel mine in Afghanistan in 2010, Jim Scott had no idea he was about to embark on a multi-year legal battle with the federal government on behalf of his son and thousands of other modern-day veterans.

The battle took the form of a class-action lawsuit over a major overhaul of the benefits and services available to ill and injured veterans in 2006 that provided today’s ex-soldiers less in support and compensation than those in previous generations.

For Scott’s son Dan, that meant a one-time, $41,000 payment from Ottawa as compensation for having lost his kidney, spleen and part of his pancreas from the explosion rather than the lifelong pension provided to similarly disabled veterans since the First World War.

“And my son said to me: ‘You know, we’re all getting these letters for really small amounts and we have significant injuries,'” Jim recalls from his home in Vancouver.

After some early successes, the high-profile Equitas lawsuit would hit a wall when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in August 2018. But more than a decade after his son was injured, Scott and others say they are still fighting for equity and fairness for all veterans.

Parliament first adopted the Pension Act in 1919 to assist injured veterans and their loved ones. At the heart of the act was a lifelong pension for disabled veterans. Its value depended on the veterans’ injuries and their home situation.

It wasn’t until a new wave of troops started leaving the military for medical reasons in the early 2000s that advocates began to argue the existing system was not meeting the needs of modern veterans, including helping them re-enter civilian life.

The New Veterans Charter was unveiled in 2005. A radical overhaul, it replaced the pension with a lump-sum payment for service-related injuries as well as training and rehab programs to help veterans live better lives after leaving the military.

As the number of troops returning from Afghanistan with injuries started to increase, the charter was rushed through Parliament with unanimous consent from all parties but with what many now agree was insufficient vetting. Instead, Ottawa promised to revisit it regularly.

It wasn’t long before veterans started to complain about problems with the new system. Not only were many of the promised training and rehabilitation programs difficult to access, the charter did not provide nearly the same level of financial support as the Pension Act.

Successive federal governments under first Stephen Harper and then Justin Trudeau have since made numerous changes to new system. The Liberals renamed it the Pension for Life in 2019 during its most recent substantive adjustment.

Veterans, as well as the Royal Canadian Legion and others, say those supposed fixes have not addressed the underlying inequality between the two systems, or the current system’s lack of financial stability.

“We call it the elephant in the room,” says Brian Forbes, who is chairman of the executive committee at War Amps. He is also chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations, an umbrella organization that represents 68 veterans organizations across Canada.

“How is it possible the veterans who were injured prior to 2006 have a far better compensation package than those injured post-2006?”

The financial discrepancy is evident in a report prepared by the National Council of Veteran Associations. It shows an unmarried veteran with no kids who was completely disabled before 2006 could have received up to $6,441 per month under the old pension system.

For veterans with the same disability after 2006, that amount is $3,779 per month. The differences are even greater if the veteran is married and has kids to support. The old pension system accounted for those extra costs while the current system does not.

Both amounts do include money for attendant care and added expenses as a result of a service-related disability. Families and advocates have said the old system provided far more for attendants or caregivers than the current one does.

The Liberal government has pointed to the changes it made in 2019 as a significant improvement over the system in place under the previous Conservative government.

The parliamentary budget office in early 2019 confirmed the Liberals had added more benefits for most veterans.

But the PBO report also found “virtually all” veterans would be better off under the Pension Act, while the changes introduced by the Liberals severely shortchanged some severely injured ex-soldiers. At the same time, parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux showed returning to the old system would cost Ottawa billions more.

Matthew Kane, who served as an intelligence officer before retiring from the military in 2014 with PTSD, tinnitus and back, hip and neck problems, says he is receiving 16.4 per cent of what he would under the Pension Act.

“So it shows the discrepancy and the financial distress that this can put veterans in,” says Kane, who now lives in Vancouver and sits on the board of the Equitas Society, which continues to advocate for a “social covenant” between the government and its military members.

Trudeau promised during the 2015 election to end Ottawa’s fight with the Equitas lawsuit and bring back the old pensions. Two and a half years later, his government was still in court with veterans.

During a town hall-style event in Edmonton in February 2018, six months before the Supreme Court refused to hear the Equitas case, Afghan war veteran Brock Blaszczyk asked Trudeau why.

“Why are we still fighting against certain veterans groups in court?” the prime minister replied to Blaszczyk, who lost a leg in Afghanistan. “Because they are asking for more than we are able to give right now.”

That answer still rankles in many parts of the veterans community.

That doesn’t mean everyone wants the Pension Act reinstated in full. The National Council of Veteran Associations, the legion and others have instead been advocating for the old and new systems to be merged into one.

“You can’t have everything that’s in the Pension Act, and you can’t have everything that’s in the (Pension for Life), but you can take the very best of both worlds and marry them together,” says Ray McInnis, the legion’s director of veterans’ services.

“We’re always going to have the negative veteran community out there because ? you have two systems whereby (veterans) can be (injured) months apart in the same operation and one person’s under the Pension Act, and one person’s not.”

Scott worries the issue has fallen off the radar as Afghanistan fades into history, and that it will remain unresolved until the next group of young Canadian men and women return home from war.

“We’re going to have this new crop of young kids coming back and we’re going another Highway of Heroes, and what my position is is we’ve wasted all this time that we could have made a better system,” he says.

“When we see soldiers come back that are disabled and so on, when they’re not being very well taken care of, it hurts us all as a nation.”

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the US.

It's a day of reflection and honoring those who sacrificed so much so we enjoy our freedom and way of life.

On this day, I always think of my grandfather after whom I was named.

He left Crete at the age of 17, took a boat to the United States to work at a factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where they were making starch for shirts.

During World War I, he enlisted in the US Army, survived the horror of that war and came back to the US to work right outside Chicago in Argo, Illinois where he worked as a mechanic for a big company that made sewing machines (Pressinger).

After working for a few years in the US, he moved back to Iraklio, Crete where he met and married my grandmother and had two children (my father and my aunt).

During his golden years, he received a great pension from the US Army. When he died at the age of 83, my grandmother received that pension till she died.

I remember her distinctly speaking very fondly of the United States, telling me how the US Army pension really helped her get by after my grandfather passed away because inflation was high in Greece during those years.

I even remember seeing the checks from the US Army in US dollars which when converted to Greek drachmas, turned into a very decent pension which she added to a few income properties my grandfather left behind.

I share this story again this year just to remind myself of the humble beginnings of my own family and also to emphasize that behind every pension is a person who deserves to retire in dignity and security,

That brings me to the article above which I read and it irritated me.

Actually, it doesn't just irritate me, it infuriates me. 

This is Canada, we have incredible people serving our Armed Forces, why are we treating our veterans so poorly? (meanwhile, when the pandemic hit, the Liberals handed blank checks to everyone, which is fine, but why can't we afford more for our disabled veterans?).

A lot of our soldiers returned from Afghanistan wounded, physically or mentally, why aren't we treating them better?

I want to bring to your attention this part of the article:

The financial discrepancy is evident in a report prepared by the National Council of Veteran Associations. It shows an unmarried veteran with no kids who was completely disabled before 2006 could have received up to $6,441 per month under the old pension system.

For veterans with the same disability after 2006, that amount is $3,779 per month. The differences are even greater if the veteran is married and has kids to support. The old pension system accounted for those extra costs while the current system does not.

Why such a huge discrepancy in benefits for veterans with the same disability pre- and post 2006?

The article goes on to state the Pensions for Life act improved some things and it's best to merge it along with the Pension Act, but if you ask me, the original Pension Act is so much better, it provided decent and stable income for life.

And those pensions are managed by PSP Investments, which like CPP Investments is a large Crown corporation mandated to manage the pension benefits earned from April 1, 2000 by members of the public sector pension plans of the federal Public Service, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and, since March 1, 2007, the Reserve Force.

PSP is doing an outstanding job managing these pension assets at arm's length from the government.

You can read its recent news releases here.

Last week, I covered a symposium featuring Barbara Zvan, Inaugural President and Chief Executive Officer of University Pension Plan Ontario, and Eduard van Gelderen, Senior Vice President and Chief Investment Officer of PSP Investments. 

PSP has excellent leadership and investment professionals and they're doing their job supporting our veterans not only by managing their pension, but also through programs like their Veterans Integration program  launched last year:

In 2020, we launched our very own Veterans Integration Program at PSP Investments. The initiative is designed to provide veterans with opportunities to transition from military to civilian life and successfully leverage their skill sets to pivot towards future corporate employment opportunities within or beyond PSP. A year later, in the leadup to Remembrance Day, we caught up with our colleagues, Maxime Roy, the very first participant in the program, and Andrew Fenrich, who joined us last September. Thank you, Maxime and Andrew, for your service.

Pretty impressive, thank you Maxime Roy and Andrew Fenrich. I am glad to see they have integrated well into PSP and are adding important diversity and perspective to that organization. 

Below,CNB News' Rosemary Barton hosts special coverage of the national Remembrance Day service in Ottawa.

And take the time to listen to the latest CAAT Pension Plan Contributors podcast with John Ruffolo, the Founder and Managing Partner of Maverix Private Equity. Absolutely great discussion.