Liberals look to shore up veterans vote with transition cash

The Liberal government is pouring $135 million over six years into the system that attempts to smooth veterans’ transition from uniforms to civilian life.

Many vets abandoned the Conservatives in 2015. The Liberals are anxious to keep them on-side

Members of Canada's military parade through downtown Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008. The Trudeau government's new budget shows it's anxious to retain the votes of veterans. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is pouring $135 million over six years into the system that attempts to smooth veterans' transition from uniforms to civilian life.

It's one of a series of relatively small measures for the veterans community contained in Finance Minister Bill Morneau's new budget — the Trudeau government's last fiscal plan before this year's election.

The transition measures fall short of recommendations made by the former Canadian Forces ombudsman and, in some cases, those of the House of Commons veterans committee.

Other initiatives in the budget include a $150 million, five-year survivors fund for veterans' spouses who married over the age of 60, and long-awaited recognition for Metis who fought in the Second World War.

Both of those plans appear to be aimed at key demographics the Liberals hope to capture in the fall election.

More significant, though, is the fact that the budget put money behind many of the transition initiatives announced last fall by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and then-veterans minister Seamus O'Reagan.

Both the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs are focused on improving what has been described as a chaotic transition system — one which sometimes forces veterans to wait months for their military pensions, benefits and rehabilitation to kick in.

The budget contains a number of previously announced initiatives, including better training and a transition guide for retiring members.

What it doesn't contain is a specific reference to a personalized "consigner service," which would shepherd soldiers, sailors and aircrew through the complicated system of forms, benefits and eligibility rules involved in retiring from the military.

That's something former ombudsman Gary Walbourne recommended. The federal government has promised already to turn it into a pilot program, but there's no mention of a pilot in the budget document.

Disability benefits backlog

The budget also is silent on how to resolve an enormous backlog of disability benefits applications, which was estimated at roughly 40,000 files last November.

Instead, the budget offered a series of new, relatively small initiatives to underscore what the Liberal government has done for veterans. Many veterans abandoned the Conservatives in the last election but have grown increasingly restless and disillusioned since.

Prominent among the previously-announced plans in the new budget is the upcoming implementation of the so-called pension-for-life plan — a major promise made by the Liberals in the last election.

The $3.6 billion investment was announced in the 2018 budget, with a rollout scheduled for April 1, 2019.

Among the new proposals is a $150 million, five-year survivor's fund for the spouses of veterans who married after age 60.

And as part of its reconciliation effort with the aboriginal community, Ottawa has set aside $30 million to recognize Metis veterans who fought for Canada in the Second World War.

That plan has been the subject of long, detailed negotiations with the Metis community, which has urged the federal government to move quickly because of the dwindling number of living former soldiers.