In the 48 hours leading up to Michael Ferguson's fall report, the Conservatives — who have long prided themselves on supporting the troops — have promised hundreds of millions of additional dollars, a suite of improved programs and research.
But the question on the minds of many, in light of the recent controversy over $1.13 billion in so-called lapsed funding at Veterans Affairs, is this: How much of the newly earmarked cash will actually be spent?
Health Minister Rona Ambrose added to the funding windfall Monday with $5 million in new money for the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research.
The cash will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the private charity, True Patriot Love Foundation, and follows a $200-million, six-year commitment made Sunday in Halifax by no fewer than three federal ministers.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced an additional operational stress injury clinic for Halifax, along with several satellite offices elsewhere in the country.
They promised more money for peer support staff, greater access to clinics for former military members and their families and important research into mental illness caused by brain injury.
In addition to its focus on services for veterans, Ferguson's fall report is expected to explore the value and efficiency of the government's support for the automotive sector, its response to international humanitarian disasters and the management of the Nutrition North Canada program.
That program, overseen by Aboriginal Affairs, also received a pre-emptive injection of $11.4 million last week.
But it's the treatment of veterans, a core constituency for the Conservatives, that has received the most attention as the government defends itself over the billion dollars that went unspent at Veterans Affairs between 2006 and 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the debate Monday, saying governments are required to estimate in advance each year how much their programs and services will cost.
"What governments typically do — what we always do, what preceding governments have done — is you tend to over-estimate the amount to make sure you don't fall short during the year," Harper said in London, Ont.
"And that is a process we will continue."
Critics, including opposition parties and some veterans groups, say the under-spending is a politically driven government effort to balance the budget — a notion Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino characterized Sunday as "totally false."
There are a variety of ways departments can under-spend their allocations. Veterans Affairs has yet to provide a full, clear accounting of where its lapsed funding originated.
Cash doesn't get spent when program eligibility criteria is too tight, which is something veterans ombudsman Guy Parent complained about in a report earlier this year.
Access was being restricted to two major financial benefits, he said: the permanent impairment allowance and the permanent impairment supplement, which are meant to provide additional financial support to the most severely wounded.
As a result, benefits were either being restricted or denied entirely. "This is unfair and needs to be corrected," Parent complained last June.
A Commons committee echoed Parent's comments and recommended a specific fix, but the government said that while it agreed with "spirit and intent" of the recommendation, implementing it would have "fiscal and legal implications" and needed further study.
Another way a department can lapse funding is by not filling open staff positions.
In the days leading up to another damaging report by the Canadian Forces ombudsman, the Harper government in 2012 pre-emptively announced $11.4 million in additional funding specifically to fill long-standing vacancies involving psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers at National Defence.
It was only 18 months later — with the military dealing with a series of suicides by veterans — that defence officials began removing obstacles to hiring. Among the barriers was the government's deficit-fighting cap on full-time staff.
National Defence has never met its mental health staffing goal and the funds set aside for it have repeatedly lapsed and were eventually handed back to the federal treasury.
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