GUEST COMMENT: Government inaction disrespects efforts of all Canadian veterans

When it comes to providing the last offering of assistance any Canadian veteran will ever need – that being the financial assistance to cover the costs of their funeral and burial – what is the Canadian government waiting for?

The Royal Canadian Legion first identified this issue at its 2008 national Dominion Convention. Again in 2010 it was identified to government as a high priority issue. In 2012, the legion unanimously passed a resolution at Dominion Convention and presented a statement to the Minister of Veterans Affairs calling on the government to take any and all necessary action immediately to increase the Veterans Funeral and Burial Program services.

We are dismayed by the inaction of this government to bring the long overdue improvements to funeral and burial benefits for veterans and their families. Instead, it appears its priorities are out of sync with the desires of not only Canada’s veterans, but also of the public as a whole. The groundswell of public feedback to the media coverage of this issue over the past weeks is clear indication of this.

On Nov. 8, Veterans Affairs Canada was proud to announce it is spending $3.5 million on advertising campaigns, social media and “cool prizes” to promote Remembrance Day.

While it is important to keep the memory of Canada’s military service alive, this spending could not be more misplaced. If the average Canadian funeral costs $10,000, VAC’s advertising spend would help 350 veterans’ families with proper funeral and burial costs.

Let’s not even talk about the $28 million the government spent on promoting the War of 1812. Canada’s veterans are crumbling under the weight of disrespect shown to them by the government they served to uphold. There should be no doubt that the issue of adequate funeral and burial support is an urgent issue for  Second World War and Korean War veterans. The majority of these men and women are in their 90s; approximately 2,000 die each month.

There are three key issues which need to be resolved: the rate of $3,600 provided by The Last Post Fund is greatly inadequate and has not been increased since 2001; the eligibility for funeral and burial benefits should be granted to low income Canadian Forces veterans. These veterans were prepared to lay their lives on the line for our country and deserve a dignified funeral. It is the last, and most fitting tribute we as Canadians can provide them; and the survivor estate exemption was reduced in 1995 from approximately $24,030 to $12,015 as part of Veterans Affairs budget reductions. So this means that a veteran’s estate, if valued at more than $12,000, would not make that person’s surviving spouse eligible for support for a dignified and respectful funeral. This amount is considerably less than the poverty level and has not been adjusted since 1995.

Veterans Affairs Canada seems to have some very dull scissors when it comes to cutting the red tape on the issue of providing the greatest, and last, benefit every veteran deserves – a dignified and respectful funeral and burial.

What more does this government need? For the men and women who so proudly, so valiantly, served this country and for those who continue to serve so we can assure them of our everlasting gratitude, the legion asks what is the government waiting for?

Gordon Moore

Dominion president

Royal Canadian Legion

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