March 18, 2015 - 7:00 AM
VANCOUVER - The latest initiatives in the Harper government's bridge rebuilding exercise with veterans comes with promises to improve access to an allowance for the most seriously wounded soldiers and to create a new benefit for caregivers.
Erin O'Toole, the new veterans minister, has been rolling out the changes and pledges over the last 10 days.
O'Toole announced expanded eligibility for the Permanent Impairment Allowance (PIA), which is life-long monthly financial support for badly injured soldiers whose career and earning prospects have been limited by their condition.
Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent found in a report last August that nearly half of the country's severely disabled troops were not getting the allowance because the eligibility criteria were too strict — or if they did receive the stipend, the rate was at the lowest level.
O'Toole also announced a proposed new Family Caregiver Relief Benefit, a tax-free grant of $7,238 per year that would allow caregivers to "to take a well-deserved break."
The plight of families caring for wounded came into sharp focus last spring after the wife of a soldier with post-traumatic stress, Jenny Migneault, was ignored by former veterans affairs minister Julian Fantino in a nasty confrontation that played out before the TV cameras.
Migneault had asked that spouses be given training and counselling on how to cope with loved ones with combat-related mental health issues and better access to retraining opportunities.
O'Toole has laid out a series of initiatives ahead of the federal budget and next fall's election and they include a proposed new retirement benefit for wounded soldiers without a pension and equal access for injured reservists to an earnings loss benefit program.
Each of the initiatives addresses long-standing complaints, particularly in the case of reserve, or part-time soldiers, whose plight has been highlighted repeatedly by not only the ombudsman but successive parliamentary committees.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015