Veterans’ benefits tangled up in rules

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Appearing before the Senate veterans affairs committee (last week), veterans ombudsman Guy Parent said veteran benefits have become too tangled up in complex and “byzantine” rules and too little focused on outcomes we want to achieve for our veterans.
Unless that changes, he argued, “we will continue to disadvantage many of our veterans and their families, as we have done for almost 100 years.”
It would be hard to think of a better example of what Mr. Parent is saying than the sad case of Second World War veteran Harold Cameron and his wife Virginia.
They met and married during the war and have been inseparable for 70 years. But those byzantine Veterans Affairs rules won’t allow Mr. Cameron to receive long-term care benefits unless he lives separately from his wife — something he and his family understandably find unacceptable.
Harold and Virginia Cameron are both in their 90s and both are in need of 24-hour long-term care. He has Alzheimer’s and she is developing dementia. Mr. Cameron qualifies for care at Camp Hill Veterans Hospital, but Veterans Affairs says his wife does not, because she isn’t a veteran.
The agency won’t allow them to live at Camp Hill as a couple.
They are determined not to live apart.
Their loving loyalty to one another is something any family can understand. The injustice of making them suffer for an inflexible interpretation of a poorly-conceived rule is obvious as well.
Is this really the outcome the Government of Canada wants to achieve for frail, elderly married veterans — to destroy the love and support they can derive from the last few years of their marriages?
Last week, former New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer called upon Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr and Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine to do the right thing and to arrange for Mrs. Cameron to be admitted with her husband to Camp Hill.
We support that call wholeheartedly. The ministers should use their authority to provide the compassionate outcome Harold and Virginia Cameron deserve.
As Mr. Stoffer points out, the two governments have agreed in the past to allow non-veterans to use available Camp Hill beds and are doing so today.
And the Veterans Act clearly gives the minister that authority. It says his duties and functions “extend and apply to” not only the care and treatment of Canadian Forces and Merchant Marine personnel, but also “of any other person designated by the Governor in Council.” It also gives the minister authority over “the care of dependants or survivors.”
So Mr. Hehr either has the authority, or can obtain it from cabinet, to have Mrs. Cameron designated for care at Camp Hill.
Keeping the Camerons together is also in the spirit of the mandate letter Mr. Hehr received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Your overarching goal,” it proclaims, “will be to ensure that our government lives up to our sacred obligation to veterans and their families.”
“I expect you to ensure that veterans receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve.”
Harold and Virginia Cameron deserve to receive care at Camp Hill as the devoted couple they are. As Mr. Stoffer says, it is the right thing to do.
An editorial from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (distributed by The Canadian Press)

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