My last letter to you arrived immediately following the release of Budget 2017 this past March. It highlighted the progress made to enhance service delivery to Veterans in Budget 2016, and in the year preceding the release of Budget 2017.
Budget 2017 focuses on three important themes: ensuring the financial security for ill and injured Veterans; investing in education and career development to help Veterans transition into post-military life, and; supporting families.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, I want to underscore the important sacrifices that our women and men in uniform have made in service to our country. It is thanks to those who have served, and who serve today, that we are kept safe. For that, we are eternally grateful.
The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
This past April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Governor General David Johnston, and Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where Canada played a leading role alongside its allies in the fight for democracy and freedom.
Working together for the first time, four Canadian divisions stormed into battle at 5:30am on April 9, 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran German forces all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire. This brave showing by Canadian soldiers proved to be victorious, and was considered to have won the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Marking this special occasion, approximately 25,000 people gathered at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France this year, including a member of the Canadian Armed Forces from Fredericton and nine New Brunswickers.
We will never forget the significant sacrifices that our service women and men have made, and will continue to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their life in protection of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.
Budget 2017: Financial Security for Ill and Injured Veterans
One of the pillars of our government’s commitments to Veterans in Budget 2017 is ensuring financial security for ill and injured veterans. The financial stability of veterans and their families is at the core of a successful transition into post-military life.
Accordingly, the government increased the Disability Award to a maximum of $360, 000 for the most critically ill and injured Veterans. This increase is retroactively indexed to inflation which means anyone who ever received this benefit will get an increase which is available as of April 1, 2017. Some Veterans have still not received their payment because their banking information or mailing address is not up to date with Veterans Affairs Canada. I encourage Veterans to ensure that their information is current by calling 1-866-522-2122 or by visiting www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/e_services.
With an increase to the Earnings Loss Benefit, ill and injured Veterans who need income support during rehabilitation, or who cannot return to work as a result of an illness or injury, are also now receiving 90% of their pre-release salary, up from 75% previously.
Another topic that has come up in my conversations with Veterans is a monthly payment through the Disability Award as a pension for life option for ill and injured Veterans. Our government remains committed to fulfilling this commitment and we will finalize the details for this option in 2017. We need to deliver the right option for a monthly pension for life benefit through the Disability Award for ill and injured Veterans. Over the past 18 months, Veterans Affairs has been reviewing its current benefits and programs to ensure that the new benefit meets the needs of Veterans.
Lastly, fast and simple access to financial help must be available in the case that Veterans and their families are truly in need. A new Veteran Emergency Fund will provide Veterans with access to financial support, quickly and efficiently, to ensure their well-being in urgent circumstances.
The increased Disability Award, the continued work towards a pension option for the Award, and the Veterans Emergency Fund are important measures that mean greater financial security and peace-of-mind for veterans as they recover from service-related illnesses and injuries.
Additionally, the government has announced measures that will better support Veterans and their families as well as increase ease of transition from service for Veterans. Please visit http://bit.ly/2tDmPw9 to learn more about the services that will be offered and enhanced to help Veterans and their families achieve a successful transition.
Please also visit this http://bit.ly/2psqNcn to read an opinion article co-authored by myself and my colleague, Alaina Lockhart, Member of Parliament for Fundy Royal.
Cannabis for Medical Purposes
I would like to close by following-up on a focal point of my previous letter, which was the change in the reimbursement policy for cannabis for medical purposes.
This change, which came into effect on May 21, 2017, reduced the amount of cannabis for medical purposes reimbursed by VAC from 10g/day to 3g/day and requires that cannabis beyond 3g/day be authorized by a specialist for reimbursement from Veterans Affairs. Veterans are still able to purchase cannabis above the 3g/day if authorized by a doctor, but Veterans Affairs will require authorization from a specialist to reimburse for larger quantities.
Much concern has been expressed about this change and I want to assure you that I am listening and that I will continue to work with VAC and veterans on this file.
My office will continue to remain available should Veterans need help navigating this process. I encourage concerned Veterans to reach out to my office (1-506-452-4110) or to Veterans Affairs Canada (1-866-522-2122) should you require assistance in navigating this transition.
Our government has made important strides to improve supports and services for veterans and their families. We know that there is still important work to do in closing the gap for service members transitioning into civilian life, to ensure that veterans have access to the services and financial supports they need, and that families are considered in transition and post-military life. I remain committed to advancing this work with veterans in our communities and my colleagues in Ottawa.
As always, my door remains open. I look forward to continuing to represent and work for the Veterans of the Fredericton riding in Ottawa.
Matt DeCourcey, MP