Liberals target veterans vote with promise to return pensions for life

Pledge is part of a comprehensive pitch to woo disgruntled ex-soldiers

    BELLEVILLE, Ont. —  Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are promising to restore a system of lifetime pensions for injured veterans, if elected on Oct. 19.

    The pledge is part of a comprehensive pitch to woo disgruntled ex-soldiers, whom the Conservatives have long considered their natural constituency.

    Trudeau will deliver the promise Monday at an event in a southern Ontario community that hosts the largest and busiest military air base. The proposals give advocates, including the veterans ombudsman, everything they’ve been demanding.

    The treatment of ex-soldiers has been a political lightning rod for the Conservatives and the perceived mishandling of the files, along with nasty public exchanges, contributed to the demotion of Julian Fantino out of the veterans portfolio in January.

    The switch from lifetime pensions to a series of lump-sum payments under the new veterans charter, which was conceived under Paul Martin’s Liberals in 2005, is one of the biggest complaints among wounded soldiers.

    It has been at the heart of a class-action lawsuit launched by Afghan veterans, who say the old Pension Act system was more generous to Second World War and Korean soldiers than to those who served in recent years.

    The Liberal platform plank, obtained by The Canadian Press, offers the wounded a choice of either lump sum or pensions-for-life. They promise to re-instate the option during the current fiscal year.

    The proposal also offers to pump millions of dollars into further improving compensation and care.

    The Liberals say they will invest $25 million to expand access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance, which is given to the most seriously wounded and has been the subject of criticism by the veterans ombudsman, who has said eligibility criteria was too strict.

    Guy Parent found, in a 2014 study, that nearly half of the country’s most severely disabled ex-soldiers were not receiving the allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds.

    The Liberals also promise to invest $40 million to increase the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 per cent of a soldier’s pre-release salary, and index it to the cost of living. Right now, the benefit is set at 75 per cent _ something Parent has also complained about.

    There is a pledge to invest $80 million per year to create a new Veterans Education Benefit that provides full support for the cost of up to four years of college, university, or technical education for veterans after completion of service.

    Another $100 million per year would go toward expanded support for the families of veterans, including education, counselling, and training for families who are providing care and support for veterans. That might satisfy critics such as Jenny Migneault, who chased Fantino down a hall in Ottawa trying to get him to commit to improving caregiver services.

    The Liberals are also promising to reopen nine regional veterans affairs offices closed by the Conservatives and to hire an additional 400 staff to process claims.

    The Harper Conservatives have faced unrelenting criticism from the veterans community and responded earlier this year with a series of initiatives, including a family caregiver’s benefit and a one-time $70,000 lump sum payout to injured soldiers.


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