OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Mar 7, 2013) - Since 1926 The Royal Canadian Legion has been a dedicated advocate of Veterans'' issues and we continue with this mission with the upmost pride and integrity. As the Dominion President, I am elected and committed to ensure that all Veterans and their families are treated with respect, dignity and fairness, and that they have access to the programs and benefits they deserve. Today, we are facing a situation where Canadian Veterans and their families are not receiving proper benefits at a time when they need it most.
In 1921, when the Last Post Fund was federally incorporated and began receiving Government funding, the Government of Canada assumed responsibility and obligation to ensure all veterans receive a dignified funeral. However today, The Royal Canadian Legion continues to be dismayed by the inaction of this Government to bring the long overdue improvements to funeral and burial benefits for Veterans and their families. 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 II and Korean War Veterans. The majority of these men and women are in their 90s. But it will also be an issue for today''s Veterans and those in the future.
On 31 January 2013, The Royal Canadian Legion launched a national letter writing campaign. Since the launch of our campaign, countless letters have gone to our Members of Parliament of all parties, by email, fax and mail. In response to our letters, the Government is saying that they are contributing more than $3,600 for a Veterans funeral, in some cases as high as $10,000. This is misleading Veterans and their families and the Canadian public. This issue is about the maximum amount provided for the funeral services grant which is $3,600 to cover the costs for a simple and dignified funeral service including: funeral service director, casket or urn, preparation of the body, the use of a room for viewing, the use of vehicle and gravesite services. This is not about the burial costs, as the government will provide reimbursement for the cheapest plot and as such this cost is not included in this grant. The Government should not be combining the two benefits. When the funeral services grant is added to the burial costs, this confuses the issue.
These are three key issues that need to be resolved:
1. The rate of $3,600 provided to cover the cost of funeral services is greatly inadequate and has not been increased since 2001. There is no cost of living increase provided. Thus the assistance provided from the Government does not meet the needs of Veterans and their families, especially in cases of financial difficulty. Also, the prescriptive nature of itemized amounts for specific aspects of funeral services is bureaucratic and overly complicated, delays reimbursement and denies flexibility in funeral planning for families. As this Government is so wont to say, "We need to reduce the red tape".
2. The survivor estate exemption was reduced in 1995 from $24,030 to $12,015 as part of Government budget reductions. The rate is too low and has no mechanism to adjust for cost of living increases. This means that a surviving spouse would not be eligible for benefits if the Veteran''s estate is valued at more than $12,015. Many Veterans and their families are excluded from this process as this amount is considerably less than the poverty level.
3. The eligibility for funeral and burial benefits should be granted to low income post-Korean War Veterans. The exclusion from eligibility of Veterans from this program is of grave concern to the Legion. These Veterans are prepared to lay their lives on the line for our country and they deserve a dignified funeral. It is the last and most fitting tribute we as Canadians can provide them. The case of this occurring to a homeless Veteran provides a very sad example. These few Veterans should not be left to fall through the cracks.
These three issues have been on the table since 2004:
- fully analysed in the Veterans Ombudsman''s 2009 Report (Serve with Honour, Depart with Dignity),
- fully supported by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs Report 2011 (Commemoration in the 21st Century),
- fully supported by 17 Veterans organizations that unanimously endorsed the requirement for immediate improvements in 2011 and 2012; and lastly
- fully supported by the over 330,000 members of The Royal Canadian Legion at our 2008, 2010 and 2012 national conventions as a high priority issue.
The Government says that they cannot afford to improve this program. The Legion believes the Government is unwilling to improve this program. While the war-time Veterans consisted of approximately one million Veterans in 1945, most served a six-year period and are of a concentrated age distribution. There are more than 594,500 veterans who have served since the Korean War and are represented by a broad age distribution. Additionally, many of these Veterans served as a career and are in receipt of Canadian Forces pensions and other benefits that would exclude them from consideration for insufficiency of funds.
Although expanded eligibility will require ongoing funding, the annual reference level will continue to drop dramatically over the next 5-7 years with the declining WWII and Korean War Veteran population. This means that from a financial perspective, making changes to this program will not be a tremendous ongoing burden to the Government. With an expanded eligibility to low income post-Korean War Veterans, over the longer term, there will not be the same annual demand on this benefit, again not a significant financial burden to the Government. In 2012 the Last Post Fund provided assistance to 1,326 war-time Veterans. However, in 2012 - only 12 CF Veterans, who are excluded from this program, were assisted with donations.
We welcome any and all Canadians who wish to support this campaign to send a letter to your Member of Parliament demanding government action to ensure a dignified funeral service is provided for our most vulnerable Veterans and to support their families in this time of need. A suggested letter is available on the Legion website at www.legion.ca. You can print this letter and mail it, or e-mail directly to your Member of Parliament. Our Veterans and their families deserve to be treated with respect and dignity for their service to our country. As a proud Canadian, I have not forgotten our Veterans and their families, and The Legion never will.
Lest We Forget,
The Royal Canadian Legion