PM says veterans’ programs 'under review' amid controversy over funeral fund
Published Saturday, November 10, 2012 5:24PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 10, 2012 10:36PM EST
The president of a Canadian veterans’ advocacy group said it is “unconscionable” that nearly two-thirds of families who apply for government funding to help cover the cost of veterans’ funerals are denied.
During an interview with CTV News Channel Saturday, Canadian Veterans Advocacy president Michael Blais said that the eligibility criteria for The Last Post Fund must be reviewed.
“Clearly the criteria has to be revisited with a sense of compassion, not just an insurance company mentality that’s ravishing Veterans affairs Canada right now,” said Blais, who himself served in the Armed Forces for 16 years. “These men deserve compassion.”
Currently the fund provides $3,600 to families of veterans who meet the means test.
According to a review by Veterans Affairs Canada, this amount has not changed in 12 years. It is also less than what some provinces pay to help provide funerals for the homeless and welfare recipients.
Speaking from the Philippines, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters the Conservatives continue to make veterans care a priority.
"Let me just say that government of Canada puts as you know a very high priority on care for our veterans. This government has made enormous, billions of dollars’ worth of investments in programs particularly for the most needy veterans," he said. “Those programs are under constant review and we will continue to assess their suitability going forward.”
Blais said the $3,600 amount is too low and the means test too arbitrary. For example, he argued, the test does not take into account factors such as whether or not a veteran had costly health care expenses before death.
The fund has also been criticized because it is not available for veterans from recent conflicts, including Afghanistan.
A expansion of the eligibility criteria and boost in the amount provided per funeral is estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million annually. By contrast, the government has earmarked $28 million to commemorate the War of 1812.
Blais accused the government of ignoring the needs of veterans and called for a policy ensuring a dignified burial for all of Canada’s veterans.
With files from The Canadian Press