Nova Scotia

Veterans critic has questions about boost to burial fund

The government said it would double the amount available to the Last Post Fund as part of Thursday's budget announcement, but who qualifies remains an issue.

NDP veterans critic says who qualifies for Last Post Fund still an issue

The latest budget would see the reimbursement rate for qualifying veterans increase from $3,600 to nearly $7,400 for funeral costs but questions remain. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The government said it would double the amount available to the Last Post Fund as part of Thursday’s budget announcement, but who qualifies remains an issue.

The budget commitment to enhance the funeral and burial program for veterans was an instant talking point for Conservatives.

"It’s virtually double the amount of money available for funeral services to see that our veterans are treated with dignity until the end," said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The latest budget would see the reimbursement rate increase from $3,600 to nearly $7,400. It is available to the estate of any veteran who dies after suffering a service-related disability or in cases of financial hardship.

However New Democrat veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer noted some details missing from the budget.

According to figures put before Parliament last fall, of the 29,853 requests made to the veterans funeral and burial program, 20,147 pleas for funding or 67.4 per cent were rejected.

They either did not meet the eligibility criteria, or failed a means test, which says a qualifying veteran's annual income must have been less than $12,010 per year.

"Is that estate exemption going to rise and if it is, to what?" asked Stoffer.

A spokesperson for Veterans Affairs said the $12,000-threshold remains unchanged.

"It’s a slap in the face to any veteran," said veteran Bill Maguire.

He said the means test disqualifies most families from taking advantage of the Last Post program.

He questions the government's sincerity.

"What sincerity? It’s just words sir, nothing more than words," said Maguire.

A spokesperson for Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney defended the federal program, comparing it to others around the world.

"Canada's funeral and burial program is the most generous amongst allied nations and exists to assist the families of all veterans who have a service related disability regardless of their military rank," Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, cemetery owner Bill Mont pledged to do his bit on Friday, promising to reduce the price of a burial plot from $1,500 to $500 for all service people.

The extra money will not become available to families until the budget passes in the fall.

The government has received an endorsement from the Funeral Service Association of Canada which said the old funding was inadequate and made it difficult to provide the dignified burials veterans deserve.