Benefit change gave wounded vets raises ranging from $1.39 to thousands a month: memo

A Liberal election promise to boost benefits for wounded veterans resulted in a wide range of monthly increases for retired soldiers, with the majority receiving a raise of at least $500 a month but a handful seeing less than $2 more a month.

Documents show government planned to reach out to 1,000 veterans who were to get less than $200 more a month

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr's department implemented an increase to the earnings loss benefit in October. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

A Liberal election promise to boost a monthly benefit for wounded veterans resulted in a range of increases for retired soldiers, with the majority receiving at least $500 a month more but a handful seeing less than $2 extra a month, according to government documents.

In an attempt to minimize backlash and confusion, bureaucrats at Veterans Affairs put together an extensive communications strategy, including a plan to call the approximately 1,000 veterans who would be receiving a minimal increase to explain the changes.

The earnings loss benefit previously ensured injured veterans received 75 per cent of their pre-release salary. After the Liberals came to power, they moved to keep their election promise and raised that to 90 per cent last October. 

According to a memo prepared for Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr and obtained by CBC under the Access to Information Act, the increase meant just a few dollars for some while a select few saw a boost in the thousands of dollars.

The document reveals that at least 165 veterans received a monthly increase of just $1.39; 28 received between $3 to $25; and 16 veterans received an increase of more that $2,000. The highest monthly increase was $5,536.37.

About 800 veterans receiving the earnings loss benefit are not included in the breakdown, because their calculations are so complex they have to be done manually.

Here is the limited breakdown:

  • 16 veterans received a monthly increase of more than $2,000, the highest being $5,536.37.
  • 839 received $1,000 - $1,999.
  • 2,187 ($750-$999).
  • 428 ($500-$749).
  • 753 ($201-$499).
  • 601 ($100-200).
  • 145 ($50-$99).
  • 74 ($25-49).
  • 28 ($3-$24).
  • 165 ($1.39).

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for the department said that when the earnings loss benefit is calculated "each veteran receives a unique amount based on when they [were] released, what their salary was at release, changes to the rates of inflation and if they have any other income."

The spokesman said some veterans who were receiving the benefit prior to the increase were already getting close to 90 per cent of their salary because of annual indexing, explaining why some only saw a slight increase.

The spokesperson said more than 3,400 veterans saw an increase of at least $500 a month.

Disparity in benefit amounts

The earnings loss benefit is available to veterans who are receiving rehabilitation services from Veterans Affairs or provides longer term support to veterans unable to work because of their injuries. It tops up their income after other benefits, such as the Canadian Armed Forces pension, employment or disability insurance and any income from current employment, are calculated.

The memo reveals that Veterans Affairs was prepared to call all those who were receiving a monthly increase of $200 or less to offer an explanation before they received an official notification letter of the increase. The memo says the department had prepared a "comprehensive communications plan" to respond to any concerns raised by veterans around the changes.

The memo outlines a variety of scenarios, including one that highlights the disparity between the increases being delivered.

In that example, a private, a sergeant and a colonel are all released from the forces on Oct. 1, 2016. At the time of their release, their respective monthly salaries are $2,806, $5,470 and $12,483.

If all three were awarded the earnings loss benefit, the monthly increases they would see to that benefit under the new policy would be $172, $820 and $1,873 respectively.

90 per cent 'better'

Wayne MacCulloch, a veteran and national president of the Canadian Associate of Veterans in UN Peacekeeping, said the increase to 90 per cent is an improvement, but he doesn't understand why the government won't ensure injured veterans get 100 per cent of their pre-release pay.

"I don't see anywhere where expenses actually go down as a result of a disability," MacCulloch said.

However, Sylvain Chartrand of Canadian Veterans Advocacy said that while he would prefer to see the benefit to be non-taxable, 90 per cent is good.

"The only step again would be 100 per cent, but 90 per cent is quite good. The problem is making sure that the people keep that benefit," he said, referring to rules around whether or not veterans can qualify and stay qualified for the benefit.

Wayne MacCulloch, centre, national president Canadian Association of Veterans in UN Peacekeeping, says the increase to the earnings loss Benefit is better but questions why it can't be 100 per cent. (The Canadian Press)

MacCulloch said the government still has a long way to go to ensure Canada's injured veterans are well taken care of.

"The one thing that was in the minister's letter from the prime minister was to look to provide lifelong financial well-being for veterans. And we haven't come anywhere near that yet," MacCulloch said.