Millions of dollars lavished on a Parliament Hill hockey rink did not go unnoticed as veterans rallied in Ottawa to protest the government’s failed promise to fix their benefits, said Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.
Johns, who was recently appointed NDP critic for Veterans Affairs and spoke on the benefits issue in the House on Thursday, said the Liberals have failed to live up to the promises they made to Canadian veterans during the 2016 election.
“That failure for many vets is a lack of understanding by many people who are responsible for addressing their needs,” Johns said after attending the rally the veterans called Left Out in the Cold. A number of veterans camped out all week in the February chill as part of the protest.
The MP said his party is focused on the “transition gap,” the time it takes for retiring military and RCMP personnel to receive their benefits. Almost half of the 29,000 retirees entitled to retirement benefits must wait longer than the department’s goal of 16 weeks in order to receive them.
“It’s not just taking months but years in some cases,” Johns said. “That’s not acceptable.” Ideally, no one should have to leave the service without their benefits in place, benefits that affect military and RCMP families as a whole, he noted.
After Johns commented Thursday, a CBC report revealed that federal budget documents tabled in the House call for a financial bailout amounting to $622 million for the military’s long-term disability insurance plan. The Service Income Security Insurance Plan is in deficit, partly due to a spike in claims resulting from greater awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health. Veterans Affairs is also getting an additional $122 million top-up to cover veterans’ disability claims, which have also been higher than projected.
Veterans across the country have expressed a sense of deep betrayal by the Canadian government over what many say is the continued mishandling of their entitlements.
The Liberal government has promised to give veterans a choice between a lifetime pension and lump-sum payments, but veterans feel the proposed lifelong benefit falls short of what was promised two years ago. They want to be treated equally, Johns said.
Afghanistan veterans in particular feel unfairly treated and are challenging the government’s pension rules in court. While campaigning, the Liberals promised they would not be battling with veterans in court over benefits, he said.
All Canadians need to find time to support the VETERANS PROTEST, on the Hill, Ottawa, Thursday Feb 15, 10am to 4pm. @RoyalCdnLegion, where are your tweets for our best?
— Chejan28 (@chejan28) February 13, 2018
At a recent town hall in Edmonton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said veterans “are asking for more than we can give right now.”
Johns pointed to the irony of that statement as veterans rallied at the Canada 150 Hockey Rink, a temporary facility on the Hill that cost $8.2 million for three months of operation.