OTTAWA - The federal government must be prodded to continue making improvements to its so-called veterans charter to ensure vulnerable former soldiers aren't left living in poverty, Canada's veterans ombudsman said Tuesday.
Guy Parent's long-awaited assessment of the government's so-called veterans charter found that veterans are receiving inadequate compensation from the government for their pain and suffering.
Hundreds of severely disabled veterans, in particular, will also take a financial hit once they retire because some of their benefits will end and they don't have military pensions, Parent says in the report.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has said the government will support a House of Commons committee as it looks at how changes to the charter enacted in 2011 have affected those benefits.
But additional changes are needed — and quickly, said Parent, who acknowledged that both his own office and veterans organizations across Canada must compel politicians to keep their promises to fix a broken system.
"We have been working on the veterans charter improvements for many years and so have many other veterans representative groups," he told a news conference in Ottawa.
"What is important here is to hold the parliamentarians to their promise when they first introduced it, that there will be continuous improvement.
"And it's very hard to believe that statement when in fact for six years there was nothing done about the charter."
The ombudsman's office carried out a detailed comparison of benefits and entitlements under the new veterans charter and those from the old pension-for-life system used since the end of the First World War.
The Conservatives overhauled the charter in 2011 following complaints that it was nowhere near as generous as the old system. Those enhancements, which included more money to replace lost income, will be reviewed by MPs this fall.
A review of Bill C-55, which enacted the enhancements made in 2011, is required by legislation.
But Fantino has already committed to a comprehensive review that will go beyond what is required, said spokesman Joshua Zanin.
"The report that has been put together by the ombudsman will specifically be used to inform the broader review that the minister has called for."
Parent dismissed the suggestion that improving benefits to veterans is a pricey proposition."The cost of doing nothing now will have a humongous human cost later on," he said.
Improving disability awards to veterans would cost taxpayers about $70 million, said the report.
In addition, access to allowances and supplements for permanent impairments is expected to run between $8 million and $10 million annually.
Concerns about gaps in compensation payments for veterans are nothing new, and the government has had ample time to correct the situation, said NDP defence critic Jack Harris.
"It should have and could have been done before,'' Harris said, adding that the time for more review is over.
It remains unclear just how Tuesday's report will impact an ongoing lawsuit by former service members who took part in the mission in Afghanistan.
The younger veterans argue that the new charter discriminates against them and provides less to them than soldiers who served in the Second World War, Korea and on peacekeeping operations.