Veterans' programs under constant review, says MP
Tony Clement defends government’s handling of veteran’s burial fund
PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA - Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement is defending the federal government’s handling of a fund designed to assist veterans with funeral and burial costs.
“The government of Canada has made large investments to assist the most needy of veterans, and as the (prime minister) has recently stated, programs are under constant review and their sustainability will continue to be assessed going forward,” Clement stated.
Clement made the comment one day after the Conservative party came under fire after it was revealed that nearly two-thirds of applicants for a fund known as The Last Post Fund have been turned down 67 per cent of applications since 2006, because of narrow eligibility requirements.
The fund is administered by a non-profit organization that handles financial benefits for funeral expenses for eligible vets on behalf of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.
However, the funding from the government has been capped at $3,600 since 2001 and was last reviewed by the ministry in 2010, despite rising costs that have pushed typical funeral costs to more than twice that amount.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who told the national media on Nov. 11 that programs like the Last Post Fund are under continual review, stated that his government has spent billions to assist veterans through various programs, a sentiment echoed by Clement.
“The first point to make is that (we) freely and willingly, on behalf of the Canadian taxpayers, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into new programs designed to recognize veterans and their needs and that is the right thing to do. I believe that is money well spent.”
Clement said that the prime minister has “now signaled” that the Last Post Fund is under review, as are some other programs relating to veterans, although an official announcement had not been made as of Monday.
“I am in total agreement with that. I think it is the right thing to do, to review these programs so they can fulfill their mandate … it is always good to review these programs. Some of them have been in place for years, and decades, and there comes a time where it is advantageous to review them to see if they are fulfilling their original purpose. I am glad the PM has signaled that in this case.”
The Legion Dominion Command says it has long made the fund’s problems a point of contention, ever since 2008 at its national convention. But according to its chief official, the group has received little feedback from the government since then.
“The Royal Canadian Legion is dismayed by the inaction of this government to bring the long overdue improvements to funeral and burial benefits for veterans and their families,” Legion Dominion president Gordon Moore stated in a press release. “Instead, it appears the government’s 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 two weeks is clear indication of this.”
Moore went on the point out that while a plan by Veterans Affairs Canada to spend $3.5 million on advertising campaigns, social media and “cool prizes” to promote Remembrance Day was important to those who have served, the spending “could not be more misplaced,” pointing out that the money could have possibly assisted 350 veterans’ families with proper funeral and burial costs.
“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 World War Two and Korean War veterans. The majority of these men and women are in their 90s; approximately 2,000 pass on each month.”
Clement said he has never received a complaint from his constituents about issues with the Last Post Fund.
“If there is a veteran with a particular problem… I work with Veterans Affairs Canada to solve that problem, but I have not heard anything from this fund in the riding,” he said.
One Legion member this newspaper spoke to declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the fund, saying that all questions are to be addressed with the Legion Dominion office.
Clement said he didn’t know when such a review on the fund and related programs would begin.
“I will probably learn more when we finish our remembrance week and get back to Ottawa. I am sure we will be updated in the following weeks.”
The Legion says it is calling on the government to increase the $3,600 rate outlined in the Last Post Fund; revise eligibility requirements for funeral and burial benefits for low-income Canadian Forces veterans; and reduce the survivor estate exemption from approximately $24,030 to $12,015 to allow surviving spouses to become eligible for funeral cost support.
Moore, in his statement, wondered what the government is waiting for in addressing the issues surrounding the Last Post Fund.
“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 Royal Canadian Legion asks the government of Canada, ‘What are you waiting for?’”