OTTAWA, Sept. 20 /CNW/ - The National Council of Veteran Associations (NCVA) calls Veterans Affairs Canada's announcement yesterday that it will increase its financial support for veterans a good first step in addressing the gaps and inequities identified in the New Veterans Charter, but adds there is still much to do.

VAC Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn announced a substantial financial increase in programs to assist seriously-injured veterans and lower-ranked members of the Forces, as well as additional improvements to be revealed in the coming weeks.  The improvements proposed yesterday include a "catastrophic allowance" of $1,000 a month for life for seriously-injured veterans unable to return to work; significant expansion of access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance for seriously-disabled veterans and an increase to the benefit for lost earnings veterans receive while in rehabilitation to provide a minimum annual income of $40,000.

As a major representative of many of the traditional veterans' organizations, with members suffering from serious disabilities, NCVA spearheaded the recommendation that the New Veterans Charter should be augmented to consider the plight of the Regular Force member who is medically disabled with a "catastrophic injury."  Although it is acknowledged that the combined effects of the Disability Award, the Earnings Loss Benefit and the Permanent Impairment Allowance will be potentially of assistance, NCVA strongly believes that further forms of compensation are required in order to fully recognize the significant incapacity suffered in these circumstances.  As such, NCVA was pleased to see that this was addressed in the initiatives announced yesterday.

"There is no doubt that the plight of the seriously-injured young private together with other seriously-disabled veterans deserves special attention insofar as the financial compensation available under the New Veterans Charter.  The proposed addition of a "catastrophic allowance" and the enhancements to the Earnings Loss Benefit and Permanent Impairment Allowance will improve the financial picture for these seriously-disabled veterans," said NCVA Secretary General Brian Forbes.

"As is often the case, however, the devil is in the details, and we will be monitoring the legislative and policy changes to be enacted by the Government to ensure the targets and objectives in the Minister's announcement are achieved," said Mr. Forbes

The 58 member-group NCVA sits on the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group together with other stakeholders, leading academics and governmental officials.  Over the last two and a half years, the Advisory Group has carried out a study of the new Charter and completed a report last summer which has been delivered to the VAC Minister.  It concluded that, although the New Charter has been reasonably effective in meeting the needs of some Regular Force members medically discharged with specific disabilities, there remain a number of substantial gaps and voids which require further legislative and regulatory amendments. 

A commitment was made by the Government, and particularly VAC, that the Charter would be considered a living document and that such revisions would be given appropriate consideration so as to fully satisfy the objectives of the new legislation.  This basic principle was fundamental to NCVA's support for the new Charter, and it had recently written to the VAC Minister indicating that it would call on the Government in furtherance of its commitment to address the substantial recommendations made by the Advisory Group through this recently released report.  Failure to do so would reflect, in NCVA's respectful submission, a serious betrayal of this commitment.

"This current initiative is helpful, but requires a more complete response to the recommendations of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the additional proposals made regarding the new Charter by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs," Mr. Forbes said.  "We will continue to work with VAC and the Department of National Defence in expediting the implementation of these remaining recommendations."

It remains NCVA's high priority as part and parcel of its involvement with the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group to ensure that VAC also fulfills the Government's commitment to traditional veterans and that the new Program's development does not lead to any reduction in future benefits and services provided to traditional veterans and their dependants.


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