MANILA, Philippines - Stephen Harper offered no acknowledgment Saturday of concerns raised by veterans' groups, funeral home directors and many others that a federal burial fund for poor veterans is rejecting most applications for help.
The prime minister was asked how he felt about the fact that the Last Post Fund has turned down 67 per cent of applications since 2006 because of narrow eligibility requirements.
Harper is set to visit the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery in Hong Kong on Remembrance Day, a site that includes the graves of 283 Canadian soldiers from the Second World War.
"Let me just say that government of Canada puts as you know a very high priority on care for our veterans. This government has made enormous, billions of dollars worth of investments in programs particularly for the most needy veterans," Harper told reporters at a news conference with the Philippine president Benigno Aquino.
"Obviously those programs are under constant review and we will continue to assess their suitability going forward."
But Veterans Affairs Canada reviewed the Last Post Fund in 2010. The amount paid out through the fund — $3,600 — has not changed in 12 years, and is less than some provinces contribute to help defray the hefty costs of funerals for homeless people or those on welfare.
The executive director of the Last Post Fund, an independent agency, has been lobbying for changes to the eligibility requirements, which do not include veterans from the most recent conflicts including Afghanistan.
The fund is currently reviewing the case of a younger homeless veteran found on the streets of Calgary who does not strictly meet the current eligibility requirements.
Overhauling eligibility and increasing the funeral stipend, which hasn't been raised in a decade, could cost between $5-million and $7-million annually. By contrast, the government has put $28 million into commemorating the War of 1812.
The Last Post Fund is not the only sore spot for the Harper government on the veterans file.
Over the past several years, it has had to answer questions about breaches of privacy involving the medical files of veterans applying for benefits, over the new lump-sum payment system for veterans that replaced pensions for life, and its general attitude towards newer veterans as compared to those from the two World Wars and the Korean War.
On Thursday, a group of veterans and widows held a news conference on Parliament Hill to express their displeasure.
Meanwhile, the government has ended its legal fight to maintain tax clawbacks on disability payments for soldiers. It has also put money into "helmets-to-hardhats" programs to help former servicemen and women crack the workforce.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with veterans following Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk salutes after laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Soldiers parade in front of the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony Friday, November 11, 2011 in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)
A man wraps a thermal blanket around a veteran to fight off the cold as they take part in a Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Two Canadian soldiers comfort each other as they pay their respects to a fallen comrade at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field.
Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay lays a touches one of the plaques at the war memorial during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday, November 11, 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
A soldier pays his respects to fallen comrades at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.
Sgt, Renay Groves, from St. John's Nfld, 21 Elecrtonic Warfare Regiment, sheds a tear during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.
People come to a halt to observe a minute's silence as a lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on Nov. 11, 2011.
A lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection as cars and people come to a halt to observe a minute's silence on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on November 11, 2011.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh greets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, salutes during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London.
Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, notices the mascot of the 3rd and 4th battalions of The Mercian Regiment 'L/Col Watchman V', a staffordshire bull terrier, as he meets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.
Alrewas, United Kingdom
A veteran pays his respects as he takes part in the two minute silence at the National Memorial Arboretum on Armstice day on November 11, 2011 in Alrewas, United Kingdom. Sir James Hawley KCVO, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, led the list of dignitaries at the Armed Forces Memorial during Armistice Day commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.