The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

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The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Mon 02 Feb 2015, 20:18

With a federal election later this year, a full-scale battle is underway to win the hearts and minds of Canada’s veterans and convince the public the country’s former soldiers are well taken care of.

In one corner are the Conservatives, with what they hope is the support of those they view as the more traditional – and, some argue, more docile – veterans.

The government’s message is that the country’s veterans are being fairly treated.

In the other corner are some outspoken advocacy groups, made up mainly of modern-day veterans. They aren’t shy about publicly highlighting what they see as the government’s failure to provide for former soldiers.

Representatives from those latter groups – Veterans of Canada, Veteranvoice.info and Canadian Veterans Advocacy – found themselves frozen out in November from a Veterans Affairs Canada stakeholders’ advisory panel to which they had previously contributed.

The stakeholders’ panel, chaired by the deputy minister of Veterans Affairs, helps provide direction and feedback to the government on changes that could affect former military personnel. The minister at the time was Julian Fantino.

Last month, new Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole contacted Mike Blais, founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, with a message: Blais should change the structure of his group, known for organizing protests and vigorously challenging the Conservatives, to be more like the Royal Canadian Legion. O’Toole said he wanted to deal with organizations that have general meetings and a more official structure, “not just a Facebook page.” The Citizen confirmed the contents of O’Toole’s message.

“What he really wants is for us to shut up and toe the line,” said Blais.

“The message from the Conservatives is that they don’t want to deal with anyone who is criticizing them, especially in an election year,” said Sean Bruyea, an Ottawa veteran who has in the past represented Veterans of Canada at the advisory panel.

As word of the advisory panel cold shoulder hit the Internet, O’Toole went on Twitter, stating that “no one is cut off.” He also said he has reached out to different organizations and diverse veterans’ voices and will continue to do so.

In an email to the Citizen, O’Toole’s spokeswoman, Kayleigh Kanoza, said the minister’s contact with Canadian Veterans Advocacy indicates the organization is still considered one of the “stakeholders” on the veterans file.

Kanoza did not say why the three groups were excluded from the stakeholders’ panel in November, nor whether they would be asked back. O’Toole was not available for an interview.

But after some veterans and opposition MPs started questioning why Veterans Affairs seemed to be freezing out groups who didn’t agree with Conservative policy, O’Toole on Jan. 27 left Blais a message on the Canadian Veterans Advocacy Facebook page suggesting the group meet with his officials.

The political stakes are high for the Conservatives, who at one time enjoyed largely unqualified support from veterans. But changes to veterans’ benefits, in addition to the closures of nine of 32 Veterans Affairs district offices across the country, shook that support. The emergence of the advocacy groups – particularly Blais’s organization – has fuelled the discontent.

In the past, government officials have privately said they like dealing with the Legion as they feel it represents veterans’ interests. It also has a well-defined membership and holds official meetings.

The newer advocacy veterans groups counter that the Legion represents mainly elderly, retired military personnel who fought during the Second World War and in Korea.

Many of the advocacy veterans groups have less formal organization and varying participation; and unlike the Legion, they don’t charge membership fees. None of the groups has offices; instead they are run out of the homes of their volunteers.

At one point, Veteranvoice.info was sending its newsletter free to 100,000 registered subscribers until it couldn’t afford to continue. Veterans of Canada has more than 8,000 registered veterans members. Canadian Veterans Advocacy doesn’t count its supporters and doesn’t actively canvass for members.

Still, such groups are organized, technologically savvy, and can communicate quickly with fellow veterans and the public about government policy.

In 2010, Blais organized protests against the Conservative government in 15 cities, drawing several thousand veterans angry about delays in receiving services and inadequate benefits. The organizing efforts were done via the internet and phone and sent shock waves through government, which had never faced such widespread discontent in the veterans community. Other smaller rallies since have also been organized using social media.

Based on consultations with veterans by phone, email and Facebook, CVA has published a list of goals it is pursuing, including bringing changes to the New Veterans Charter and improving benefits for veterans’ widows. The registered non-profit group has also set up an online repository of difficult-to-find government information outlining specific programs and benefits for which veterans can apply.

Veteranvoice.info, formed in 2005 and run by four volunteer directors, has also set up a well-used online system that provides former military personnel details and tips about accessing benefits.

Veterans of Canada has also established an executive committee. It runs an online forum for veterans only, has connections with businesses that offer discounts for former soldiers, and provides analysis of government policies. Its founder, Don Leonardo, has also registered as a lobbyist for veterans’ issues.

But Tom Eagles, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, describes such organizations as “splinter groups,” adding he doesn’t pay much attention to them. “I’m not too sure about their membership,” he said. “Yes, they have a webpage, (but) does a webpage make you a veterans organization?”

Eagles pointed out that the Legion has 300,000 members. Of those, 100,000 are veterans. Most are Second World War or Korean War veterans. The rest are sons and daughters of veterans or members of the public. (The Legion doesn’t know how many are Afghan or Gulf war veterans. But one-third of its members are 75 or older. Another 50 per cent are aged between 54 and 69.)

Blais counters that O’Toole’s insistence that modern veterans groups be like the Legion, with offices and meetings, shows a lack of understanding about today’s veterans. The new generation of former soldiers communicates via Facebook and other social media outlets. They don’t pay membership dues. They are generally not “joiners,” Blais said.

“Look, we aren’t like the Legion and never will be,” said Blais, a former soldier who suffered a non-combat injury. “We are an advocacy group working to make things better for injured veterans. We aren’t a social club where we sit around drinking beer in the Legion hall.”

Don Leonardo of Veterans of Canada says the government is making a mistake by holding up the Legion as an example for other groups to emulate. The Legion has sat on the sidelines for years as veterans benefits have been cut and Veterans Affairs offices closed, he argues.

But Leonardo, whose group was also shut out of the veterans’ stakeholder panel in November, says he is willing to give the new minister the benefit of the doubt, noting O’Toole has a very short window to come up with improvements for veterans’ benefits. (O’Toole himself served in the military.)

Gulf War veteran Bruyea is less diplomatic. He says the Legion’s dominion command has become a government mouthpiece. He finds it ironic the Legion is now trying to convince the government to make changes to the controversial New Veterans Charter, since the organization initially backed it. The charter has prompted anger among modern-day veterans because it provides fewer benefits than those offered to military personnel from previous wars.

“The Legion was the government’s No. 1 supporter of the charter even as it was being warned that it would provide new veterans with less benefits,” said Bruyea, whose activities as a veterans advocate have angered Veterans Affairs and prompted department officials to closely monitor his activities. (In one instance, the federal privacy commissioner found that Veterans Affairs officials broke the law by their mishandling of his medical and psychological files. The Conservative government apologized to Bruyea in 2010 for the way he was treated.)

In addition, the Legion refused to support the creation of a veterans’ ombudsman, claiming it would just add more bureaucracy, Bruyea says. But the office has since been heralded as an important voice for righting wrongs against veterans.

Some modern-day veterans have complained they are not welcome at the Legion because they didn’t fight in so-called traditional wars.

Eagles said his organization doesn’t take orders from government and has been steadfast in its advocacy for veterans – but it does that advocacy quietly.

“We don’t stand on Parliament Hill and hoot and holler,” he explained. “I think you have to be on the inside.”

Eagles acknowledged that the Legion, along with some other veterans groups and political parties, supported the New Veterans Charter. But it did so with the idea the document could be changed, which is what the Legion is now working on, he added.

Eagles also admitted that in isolated incidents, some Afghan veterans have not been welcomed at some Legion halls, but at others they are full members. In addition, the Legion is trying to attract more modern veterans, he noted.

Eagles acknowledges that the protests and social media campaigns of the other veterans’ organizations have put the issue of the treatment of former soldiers back on both the public and political agenda.

But the Conservatives have more than just the veterans advocacy groups to contend with.

Modern veterans have not been shy on speaking out publicly. Wounded Afghan veterans booted from the military with few benefits have taken their cases directly to the news media.

Protests have sprung up in a number of cities over the government’s decision to shut down the nine Veterans Affairs offices.

Others have taken the legal route. In 2007, a class-action lawsuit was launched on behalf of injured soldier Dennis Manuge and 4,500 veterans, alleging the government had illegally clawed back their benefits. The veterans won the legal battle and the government will have to pay up to $800 million

In 2012, a group of disabled Afghan veterans filed a lawsuit against the government, arguing the New Veterans Charter is unconstitutional. The lawsuit further stoked the flames of discontent when government lawyers argued that Canada does not have a “social contract” to take care of its veterans. (For decades, veterans had assumed that Canada had the legal and social responsibility to take care of its former soldiers.)

Former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran said the widespread discontent among veterans makes it difficult for the Conservatives to portray the issue as one caused by a few dissidents.

“It’s not just a small group of veterans advocates,” said Stogran, a retired colonel and Afghan veteran. “There is real anger out there but the Conservatives seem to think they can solve the issue with their public relations spin. It’s not going to work.”

Some groups who support or advocate for veterans

Royal Canadian Legion

Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans (ANAVETs) in Canada

National Council of Veterans Associations (this group is an umbrella organization of some 60 distinct veterans associations, including the Dieppe Veterans and Prisoners of War Association and the War Amps)

Veterans of Canada

Veteranvoice.info

Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping

Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association

NATO Veterans Organization of Canada

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/the-battle-for-veterans-votes-conservatives-the-target-for-some-former-military

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by bigrex on Mon 09 Feb 2015, 12:38

What gets me, is the Tories have defended their cuts to Veterans Affairs by saying that the number of WWII and Korean Veterans are diminishing, as if that means that the need for full services from Veterans Affairs is also rapidly decreasing. But the numbers posted by VAC, on their own website contradicts that assertion.

Second World War - 88,400; their average age is 90.
Korean War - 9,800; their average age is 82.
CF Veterans (Regular Forces and Primary Reserves) - 599,200; their average age is 56.

That means that there are over 6 times the number of Veterans that are not classified as "traditional" Veterans, than those that are. Plus when you add on the 119000 active members of the Canadian Forces, it does not make any sense that they continue to disrespect Veterans by their actions.
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Mon 09 Feb 2015, 13:51

I guess I didn't read this post , I actually am wishing the government will get tired of the bad press and constant fighting and really try to improve things, just not say it. Actions speak louder than words and I can't help but think Harper is in some room with a calculator figuring out how much money VAC will save when those WW2 and Korean vets pass, prove me wrong Harper

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Jeffery M on Mon 09 Feb 2015, 14:34

Boy named Sue. Class of action. I'll double down.

A Canadian government has nothing on enemy combat action. They haven't experienced it to know, we can sit in the trenches longer then them.

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Tue 10 Feb 2015, 13:02

Well it's official MVA O'Toole has spoken - and he has publicly said that the NVC is here to stay.

Don't know if any of the other parties have said they would scrap the NVC if elected - so at this point don't really know if a change in government would change - or scrap the lump sum.

So I guess it is now up to the courts.

For those who support the NVC and are either receiving benefits from it - or are going to be receiving benefits from it, personally I agree that there are some benefits that comes from it, but the lump sum is what lies at the heart of the problem - it is my opinion that as long as the lump sum continues to be a part of the NVC, the NVC is bad for all Veterans, and it is also my opinion that the good that is in the NVC could have been implemented in the old PA.

So for those who continue to support it, good luck with that.

For those who continue to not support it, I am with you, and certainly hope that the courts works in your favor in eliminating the lump sum.

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by loggie on Tue 10 Feb 2015, 16:18

"With a federal election later this year, a full-scale battle is underway to win the hearts and minds of Canada’s veterans and convince the public the country’s former soldiers are well taken care of."
My godson is a serving army engr with almost 10 yrs of service AND as he says, he and his troops are also worried about the "afterlife" of military service. If we are being treated like shit now, how much more worse off will they be? Is it any wonder he has his resume polished up and ready to go now just in case something better comes along on civy street (Which is NOT his wish as he loves the uniform and all it stands for)? Always be prepared for the worst....and with this government...EXPECT IT!

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Teentitan on Tue 10 Feb 2015, 17:26

In my opinion I see the budget in April as a campaign budget. So will they at the very minimum continue ELB to the severly disabled beyond age 65? This would be a great financial relief for the severly injured going forward.

But from the interview on Canada AM this morning, and lately, the term "financial security" is not in the Cons dictionary.
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by bigrex on Tue 10 Feb 2015, 19:45

They could easily eliminate the lump sum, and replace it with monthly benefits again, without having to scrap the NVC. They just need to realize that it is for pain and suffering, and is not tied into past, present or future income. Even if they changed the PIA program, so that it is tax free, and automatically granted to everyone who is approved a disability award, it would be better than what most of the Vets are getting now. The PIA grade awarded should also be tied directly to your overall disability rating. Guys at or close to 100% disabled shouldn't be getting the lowest PIA allowable, because there are Veterans out there that are still relatively healthy, and collecting grade 1 PIA.
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Teentitan on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 00:12

Now Rex being logical only confuses the bureaucrats. LOL
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 18:00

Rex,

I am just wondering if it is that easy to just eliminate the lump sum and go back to the Monthly benefits.

I have wrote about this before in one of my past post.
Looking at it from a policy makers point of view, I am wondering how they will deal with those Veterans who have already been given the lump sum, and in the case of eliminating the lump sum, how will this be handled ?
What can they do in this situation that will not leave the door open for more Law suits ?

Personally, I think that one - or maybe the only reason why the government is not moving on the lump sum elimination, is simply that they fear consequences of taken such action, as it could be complex in how they handle those who have already received the lump sum.

Just Imagine if the Law suit is won - how will the Judge write the order ?

I could be way off here, but for discussion purposes, I thought I would post one of my thoughts on what I am thinking today with respect to the lump sum .

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by bigrex on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 18:38

Trooper. one would think that the obvious solution would be to simply award monthly benefits on a go forward basis. The lump sums already given, would simply eliminate any requirement for retro active payments. Sure, it may seem that those who received the lump sum award later, would benefit greater, but in all actuality, it should not matter if someone received $250000 several years ago, or last month, as long as they get the same monthly amount in the future. I don't think there would be too many vets balking at not receiving retro payments, as long as they started getting a monthly cheque.
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 19:33

Good point Rex - never thought of that.

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 20:24

ya im not thinking that would fly . sure the best and simplelest solution but im sure the GOC would be looking to recover any overpayments VIA the buyout (if the math works to their advantage ) thus im thinking paying retro and recovering overpayment VIA the many established pension payback methods already employed in the GOC including the military.

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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by bigrex on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 21:54

Except it wouldn't be an overpayment, because when those lump sum awards were given, that was what was legislated at the time. If the GoC changes back to a monthly compensation, on it's own accord, and then demanded repayment from Veterans who haven't been disabled as long, I think that would open them up to yet another lawsuit, because they cannot change legislation retroactively, just to suit them. And if the courts make the GoC change back to a monthly pension, the courts would never allow Veterans who are not directly in the lawsuit to be penalized by having to pay back all, or a portion of their lump sum awards.
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Re: The battle for veterans' votes: Conservatives a target for some former military

Post by Guest on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 07:37

on the first point I do agree however the GOC can pretty much legislate anything including applying a monthly pension on a going forward basis excluding those that have already collected a lump sum who will have the a time limit to opt into a monthly if they pay back the lump sum under whatever program they choose .

on the second point I agree as well but in the scenario I stated vets would not be penalized as in total they would end up receiving EXACTLY what they would have received had they been on the monthly the entire time . yes guys effected in 06 would get some retro and guys effected in 2014 would have to pay back and have the equivalent of an interest free loan but all vets in the country would have been treated equally given the exact monetary value relative to their disability percentage .

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