07/09/2015 12:09 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 05:59 EDT

Guy Parent says there are still gaps in systems designed to aid veterans

OTTAWA - Veterans' families need better support — and in some cases direct compensation — as the primary caregivers to injured ex-soldiers, the country's veterans ombudsman is urging in a new report.

The issue of caregiver support should be a priority for the federal government as it looks at ways of improving the lives of impaired veterans, Guy Parent has written in a chronicle detailing his office's work over the past five years.

"When family members become the primary caregivers for severely impaired veterans, we, as a country, need to recognize their commitment in a tangible way," Parent said in his 44-page report, released Thursday.

"These families have already sacrificed more than we can imagine. They should not be penalized financially as well."

The Conservative government recently brought in a Family Caregiver Relief Benefit, providing veterans with a tax-free $7,238 annual grant, designed to give some relief to informal caregivers.

But the government needs to go beyond that benefit, said Parent.

Families need to be educated and trained to deal with disabled veterans, he said.

And when it becomes necessary for a family member to leave the workforce in order to care for a veteran, they should be paid, said Parent.

"What we're looking for is a complete package to compensate a spouse who sacrifices his or her career to look after the other one," he said in an interview.

"There should be some kind of a remuneration there."

Parent points to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Family Caregiver Program, which provides post-9-11 veterans with the option of receiving in-home care from a family member who is trained and paid as though they were working outside the home.

The family caregivers are also eligible for mental health services and access to health care insurance if they don't already qualify for government medicare.

The ombudsman also called on the government to come up with non-economic ways to compensate veterans for pain and suffering, such as cutting red tape, and better ways to help personnel transition from military to civilian life.

Parent added that the new Veterans Charter needs to be continually reviewed to make it work better as a "living" document.

His report also acknowledges that not all complaints can be addressed in favour of veterans.

But Parent said his office has had a direct impact on the lives of many veterans, even when the ex-service personnel weren't aware they were being helped.

He cited the case of a veteran who called his office in 2011, inquiring about his eligibility for an $1,348 per month allowance provided to pensioners who are exceptionally incapacitated.

When his office contacted Veterans Affairs Canada to discuss the case, they discovered that half of the 1,800 veterans who were potentially eligible for the allowance were not informed of its existence.

"As a result, close to 600 veterans were found to be eligible and received retroactive payments totalling $14 million," he said.