Veterans ombudsman says more ex-soldiers will need assisted living help

Canada's veterans ombudsman says the Liberal government should overhaul the program meant to keep elderly ex-soldiers in their homes. Guy Parent released a new report that says the eligibility for the often-maligned veterans independence program are inflexible.

Elderly veterans program has rules 'too complex and difficult' to understand, says report by Guy Parent

Canadian Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent says in a new report that the Liberal government should overhaul the program meant to help keep elderly ex-soldiers in their homes. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's veterans ombudsman is calling on the Liberal government to make support and care for elderly ex-soldiers more comprehensive and less confusing.

Guy Parent's office released a report Tuesday that examines the federal programs meant to help aging veterans remain in their homes long past retirement.

The analysis concluded the existing Veterans Independence Program, which helps defray the cost of housekeeping, yard work and other small contracted expenses, may be "inadequate" in the coming years.

The concern is particularly relevant as military baby boomers — those who participated in Cold War and peacekeeping operations — enter retirement.

The report predicts the veterans affairs department will begin to see the major demographic shift — towards newly retired veterans — as soon as 2021.

There are currently 56,095 veterans receiving independence services and the department forecasts that will decline as Second World War and Korean War veterans pass away.

But Parent suggests the need will still be there and that access will be more difficult.

Eligibility criteria 'often too complex'

The independence program's existing "eligibility criteria are often too complex and difficult for veterans or their family members to understand," said the report, an advance copy of which was obtained by CBC News.

Parent said the rules need to be "transparent, understandable and based on the physical and mental health needs of the veteran."

The report by veterans ombudsman says the eligibility criteria for the often-maligned Veterans Independence Program are inflexible. (CBC)

Perhaps most disturbingly, Parent found entitlement to the program is often dictated by the "type of service rather than need."

For example, the report said, the current program will pay for someone to prepare meals for elderly and disabled ex-soldiers, as long as the person demonstrates no one else in the home is capable of doing it.

The yardstick seems to be that if a relative can do the work the independence program will not pay for outside help.

"Rather than recognizing the origin of the disability in service, and therefore covering what would normally be the veteran's share of these tasks had the disability not occurred, [Veterans Affairs Canada] has decided that an informal caregiver should take on this added burden," said the report.

Among the ombudsman's seven recommendations is the introduction of an additional benefit that would subsidize assisted-living options for ex-soldiers who cannot remain in their own home, but do not qualify for regular long-term care.

The Veterans Independence Program became a lightning rod in the final few years of the former Conservative government's mandate after it was revealed severely disabled soldiers — some of them missing limbs — had to requalify for the program every year and repeatedly prove their disability.

The former Conservative government introduced changes that mandated that a review take place every three years, as opposed to annually.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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