POLITICS
04/13/2012 12:23 EDT | Updated 06/13/2012 05:12 EDT

NDP says provinces stand to lose millions of dollars for care of veterans

HALIFAX - Provinces stand to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for the care of veterans if Ottawa doesn't revise a policy to ensure that those who served after the Korean War are looked after, the NDP said Friday.

Veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer said the way the Veterans Health Care Regulations are currently laid out, the federal government will download the cost of long-term care beds for veterans to the provinces after all the veterans from the Second World War and Korean War die.

At a news conference in Halifax, Stoffer called on the government to change the regulation so that it covers long-term care beds for veterans of more recent conflicts.

The Nova Scotia MP used his province as an example of the potential lose of funding, saying the federal government spends $41 million annually to run 334 long-term care beds.

Stoffer said he has not been given figures for other provinces, but he adds they too can expect to bear a large burden.

"Imagine ... the download cost to Quebec, Ontario, B.C., with larger populations and larger veteran populations," Stoffer said.

"We find that absolutely the wrong way to go."

Stoffer added that he believes the federal government is morally responsible to provide funding for veterans' care, regardless of what war they served in.

But Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the government will continue to provide long-term care for veterans, including those who have served in more recent wars.

"We intend to clearly provide long-term care to our veterans as long as they need it, wherever they need it," Blaney said in an interview.

Blaney said as the veteran population declines, the number of beds in each province will be adjusted to fit the need.

"Over the last two years, we have unfortunately lost 40,000 of our traditional veterans," he said, referring to those who served in the Second World War and the Korean War.

"That's why we are adjusting to this reality but always maintaining the same level of service for all veterans in terms of long-term care."

Blaney's comments come as Ottawa plans to cut staff at Veterans Affairs.

A memo sent to staff at the federal department says 800 jobs will be slashed over the next three years as a result of the federal budget.

In the letter, obtained earlier this week by The Canadian Press, the department's deputy minister says the cuts are being made because the number of veterans being served is shrinking.

Veterans' advocates have long taken issue with that assertion, saying while there are fewer vets from 20th-century conflicts, there are thousands entering the system who served in Afghanistan.