HALIFAX – Veterans advocates in Nova Scotia are blasting the federal government for its inaction on a promise to re-introduce life-long pensions for those injured in uniform, and say the provinces aren’t doing enough to fight for needed health care resources.
During a news conference Friday at the provincial legislature, disabled veteran David MacLeod called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep a 2015 promise to restore life-long pensions that were replaced by a lump-sum payment.
“I’m going to start with a very radical statement that’s going to upset many Canadians,” said MacLeod, who served in Afghanistan.
“Don’t join the Canadian Armed Forces. If you get wounded or injured, Veterans Affairs Canada is unwilling or unable to help you.”
MacLeod said this week’s federal budget did not address systemic problems veterans face in dealing with Veterans Affairs, including a lack of access to benefits and services.
He said that has left veterans turning to the provinces to obtain what services they can, including health care.
MacLeod called on Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to help with the fight by pushing harder with other provinces to get more help from Ottawa.
He was joined in the call by Kim Davis and Natasha Mohr, both wives of veterans, and another former serviceman, Medric Cousineau.
Davis, whose husband Blair has PTSD after serving in Bosnia, said many veterans are struggling to find help from the provincial health system for such things as basic care and mental health services.
“Our veterans are being released out into their communities without primary care physicians,” Davis said. “This is a huge strain on the health care system in this province (Nova Scotia) … and they are relying on walk-in clinics.”
She said local emergency departments are not ready to handle the complex problems faced by some veterans and many “walk out the door frustrated.”
Cousineau, who has PTSD and requires a service dog, said it doesn’t make sense that veterans often have to battle a bureaucratic maze to be told, no we can’t help you.
“We can bring thousands of refugees from foreign countries in a matter of weeks and we can’t figure out how to get a military veteran and his family back into the community that they wish to live with the appropriate health-care supports in place? I’m sorry folks, I’m not buying that.”
McNeil, who is also Nova Scotia’s minister responsible for military relations, said his government continues to lobby for more help.
“I was pleased to hear in the budget that the federal government is moving towards a centre of excellence around PTSD and I believe that centre of excellence should be here,” said McNeil, who pointed out that all three branches of the military operate in Nova Scotia.
But he also agreed with veterans that more needs to be done.
“We need to continue to push that message,” said McNeil. “We know there are more supports required and we will continue to work with the federal government and veterans organizations to make sure the services they want and need are there.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s new fiscal plan did include new spending for veterans and their families, which would cost the government $624 million over five years if everyone who was eligible accessed the services right away.
While officials have said no decision has been made on the life-long pensions, it appears the lump-sum payment could simply end up spread out through monthly payments for life.
The maximum amount under the lump-sum payment is $360,000.