POLITICS

As Justin Trudeau Ushers In Invictus Games, Veterans Wait On His Pension Promise

The Liberals promised to reinstate lifelong disability pensions.

09/22/2017 11:22 EDT | Updated 09/22/2017 11:22 EDT
Dennis Van Tine/Abaca Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York City, on Sept. 21, 2017.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will join hundreds of disabled veterans from across Canada and more than a dozen other countries in Toronto on Saturday to help kick off this year's edition of the Invictus Games.

Yet even as those veterans prepare for a week of intense athletic competition, many others are anxiously waiting for Trudeau to make good on a major promise to them: reinstating lifelong disability pensions.

The Invictus Games were started by Prince Harry in 2014 and involve wounded or sick military personnel or veterans from different countries competing in a variety of sporting events.

During a preview event with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Ottawa earlier this week, Trudeau spoke of the importance of the Games and supporting Canada's "wounded warriors."

The Games, Trudeau said following a demonstration by Canada's wheelchair basketball team, are a way "to remember, to respect and to celebrate everyday folks who have served with everything they have."

But some disabled veterans say Trudeau's government has not lived up to such ideals, particularly when it comes to a still-unfulfilled election promise to bring back disability pensions.

The Liberals were the only party in the election to promise to re-introduce the pensions, which were replaced by a lump-sum payment, career training and targeted income-replacement programs in 2006.

We all understand that there is a political game going on and the politicians are going to come out for their pictures.

Many veterans have since grown frustrated as the government has dragged its feet on the issue; the most recent commitment in March was that it would provide more details by the end of the year.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan told The Canadian Press that remains the case, but he otherwise wouldn't provide any further insight into the government's thinking.

A quick look at the comments on O'Regan's Facebook page since he took over the veterans' file last month gives a sense of how important the promise to bring back disability pensions is to many injured ex-soldiers.

The fear for many is that rather than bring back the old pensions, as was promised, the government will simply offer to dole out the lump sum over a veterans' lifetime.

The lump-sum varies depending on the extent of injury, with the maximum amount being $360,000 for a veteran who is totally disabled, which works out to $1,000 a month if spread over 30 years.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Members of Team Canada hold a flag signed by Members of Parliament as they pose for a photo with Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O'Regan during a welcoming ceremony at Rideau Hall for athletes competing at the 2017 Toronto Invictus Games, in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2017.

"If it was going to be a good thing, they probably would have announced it already," Aaron Bedard said of the delay in getting details of the promised pension.

Bedard is one of six disabled Afghan veterans who have filed a class-action lawsuit against the government alleging veterans under the new system get less support than those who received pensions.

The five-year-old case appeared on the verge of being settled by the previous Conservative government, but the Liberals have continued to fight it in British Columbia Superior Court.

While he didn't want to take away from the importance of the Games to many veterans, Bedard worried the Liberals would use them to suggest the government is completely behind Canada's injured ex-soldiers.

Trudeau "will get all these wonderful photo opportunities and selfie opportunities through Invictus," Bedard said. "But the pension was his key promise, and they're kicking it down the road as far as they can."

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Retired master corporal David Desjardins was medically released from the military in 2010 because of a hip injury and will be on the wheelchair basketball team at the games.

He said having politicians involved in the Games helps draw attention to the event, which he is proud to participate in.

But it's also important not to lose sight of the issues affecting Canada's veterans.

"We all understand that there is a political game going on and the politicians are going to come out for their pictures. That's life. That's the way it goes," Desjardins said.

"But there needs to be a separation between the Invictus Games and veterans' affairs. There's a lot of work that has been done. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done."

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