The Harper government plans to launch an extensive review of its oft-maligned new veterans charter barely two years after the last major overhaul became law.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino made the surprise announcement on Thursday, just days ahead of a new report which is expected to show that the marquee legislation is leaving some of the most seriously wounded ex-soldiers out in the cold.
"We have already made dramatic improvements, and will continue to strive for enhancements, to ensure that the tools and assistance relied upon by Canada's veterans remain as effective, efficient and accessible as possible," Fantino said in a written statement.
The country's veterans ombudsman is expected to table the exhaustive analysis of the charter next week — something that could spell trouble for a government that has staked its political credibility on supporting soldiers.
Fantino said the review will look at the treatment of the charter's treatment of the most seriously injured as well as enhancements that were part of the 2011 overhaul, which sprinkled more money and support for the most severe cases.
It will also examine support for the families of veterans.
The review will be undertaken once Parliament resumes on Oct. 16, and Fantino called on the opposition to work with him to make changes.
"I look forward to working with my parliamentary colleagues to consider responsible changes in order to reach a common goal of better serving those who served Canada."
The review is an about-face for the Conservatives, who stated in the aftermath of the last overhaul that no additional changes would be considered until the mandatory five-year review in 2016.
But since then, veterans from the mission in Afghanistan launched a lawsuit challenging the charter and characterizing it as unfair and discriminatory. A Federal Court judge recently rejected arguments by government lawyers who wanted to have the case thrown out.
Since it was unanimously implemented by Parliament in 2006, the charter has been a lightning rod for ex-soldiers, who've seen the decades-old pension for life system replaced with a workers compensation-style approach of lump-sum awards and allowances.
Lawyers for the veterans argued that the federal government has a sacred obligation to care for those injured overseas — something the Justice Department attorneys denied in their written submission.
Three years ago, a previous study by the veterans ombudsman found that the lowest ranking, most severely disabled soldiers and their families were the biggest losers under the new charter.
The detailed actuarial report, commissioned by former ombudsman Pat Stogran, found senior officers, the ones at the highest end of the pay scale, benefited the most from the new system.
As a result, the Conservatives introduced a series of changes and allowances meant to offset the effect of the charter, but left the basic pillar of lump-sum payments in place.
The biggest concession made was to allow veterans the option whether to receive the payment all at once or in instalments over time. The dollar amounts, which many ex-soldiers complained were too low, were not adjusted.