Pressure mounts on Harper government over funeral fund rejections for poor vets

The Canadian Press
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Liberal Sean Casey

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, who championed improvements to a federal burial fund for impoverished ex-soldiers, was put in the awkward position Monday of defending his own government’s inaction and the fact that over two-thirds of applicants are rejected.

The Last Post Fund, an independent agency that administers a federal funeral and grave-marker program for poor veterans, has turned down 67 per cent of the applications submitted since 2006.

Both the fund and Blaney’s own department have lobbied the Harper government to re-define the eligibility criteria and to increase the $3,600 stipend given to families who do qualify, but to no avail.

Blaney says unlike the previous Liberal government, the Conservatives have not cut the fund.

“This is a program for which we have maintained benefits, contrary to the former Liberal government, which made cuts to this program,” Blaney told reporters following a ceremony in the Senate to mark the beginning of veterans week. “Our firm intention is to maintain this program. We are covering all the funeral and burial costs and we will keep on this way.”

Just over 17 years ago, Jean Chretien’s government introduced changes to the Last Post Fund that were aimed at slowing its growth, measures that were later amended in 2000, the last time the federal government overhauled the program meant to give poor veterans a decent burial.

The fund has urged the Harper government to re-write the eligibility criteria, which limit payments to those who fought in the Second War War or Korea or were in receipt of veterans disability benefits, to include more modern veterans. It has also asked for an increase in the stipend.

Over the last two years, the veterans department has proposed an overhaul, estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million annually, only to be shot down by the cabinet committee that decides what goes into the budget.

The executive director of the fund has praised Blaney and blamed the government.

Ex-soldiers are outraged and Mike Blais, of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says that kind of penny-pinching treatment is not what members of the military expect when they enlist and put their lives on the line.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said Blais. “This is not a matter of cutting. It’s not a matter of adding. It’s a matter of fulfilling the obligation they have to these people.”

He said it’s outrageous that the agency has been forced to turn to private fundraising in order to cover the cost of funerals for needy veterans who do not qualify for federal assistance.

“That tells me the criteria needs to be changed immediately and it also tells me that there are Canadians ... that respect the sacred bond with veterans, even if our government does not,” said Blais.

The Liberals called the lack of support for the fund “a national disgrace” and pointed out that responses to written questions posed in the House of Commons before the last election said the government was reviewing the program. A year later, when the same question was asked by P.E.I. Liberal Sen. Percy Downe, the government said it was committed to “improvements in a fiscally prudent manner.”

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, the Liberal veterans critic, demanded the government set up a panel to review the level of federal support is appropriate for the families of poor veterans.

He was hotly dismissed by Blaney, who told the Liberals they should be “ashamed to ask this question” given their actions when in power.

New Democrat veterans critic Peter Stoffer said the government should improve the program and there’s no excuse not to, given the amount of money spent on photo-op friendly war monument restoration.


Organizations: Last Post Fund, Veterans Affairs, Conservatives Canadian Veterans Advocacy House of Commons

Geographic location: Korea

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Recent comments

    November 06, 2012 - 11:46

    It cost $28 Million to film The War Of 1812. We were not even a country then???$20 Million this year for security for our illustrious leader Harper while past Prime Ministers walked to work.God only knows what Economic Action Ads have cost us,a bill that should be paid by the Coservative Party as it is just party advertising.EI and OAS are being cut but we can send two armour plated cars to India for a one week visit by Dear Leader.Now we can't even bury are veterans with some small bit of honor but we can run splashy TV ads and Action signs to say how wonderful things are.How sad have we become?Next war let these jokers and their kids fill the front lines after all they seem to be keen on getting us embroiled in the Middle East conflict.

  • Veteran
    November 06, 2012 - 11:10

    As a Veteran who served in conflict away from our own soil, I don't understand why the government cannot show their final respect and gratitude to those who served to solve the problems in other countries where the politicians sent them. A serving politician's burial would be covered, and they are no more Canadian than any of us.

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    November 06, 2012 - 09:27

    JUST ANOTHER PHOTO OP. Casey gets to say how concerned he is about veterans but nothing gets changed. The status quo just carries on. You see in most other countries the leadership is usually a little fearful of the military for obvious reasons. That doesn't seem to be the case with Harper. Why? Because the UN treaties are already in place to deal with a military uprising in this country. They will bring in foreign troops to combat the military and civilian uprisings. Go and read about it. It's public domain. Why can justice never prevail anymore?

  • Veterans Wife
    November 06, 2012 - 07:12

    To Real Canadian Without our Veterans we wouldn't have Welfare and Health care, so you may want to rethink your comment. Verterans of yesterday and today struggle and this program is important to make sure we take care of the one's that let us live our lives the way we do today.

    • A Real Canadian
      November 06, 2012 - 13:09

      To you Veterans Wife I apologize for seeming ignorant. My comment was meant to be extremely sarcastic. I totally agree with you and thank both you and your husband for the sacrifices that you have made so that we can have the lives we have today. It is bullsh like this that really ticks me off. These veterans should be respected and given anything and everything they require, both while living and to help them Rest in Peace.

  • Sandra W
    November 05, 2012 - 21:54

    The money that Harper spends on this trip to India and Transporting our Car would go a long way to help with benefits for the Last Post fund. HARPER MUST GO.....NO QUESTION.

  • Veteran daughter
    November 05, 2012 - 20:45

    Get over it. There are not very many of the veteran left and we may never have had the wonderful lives we've enjoyed through the following generations. If Harper can have armored cars flown to India, then the veterans should have the respect of having the Last Post payment made toward their funeral and final resting places. I for one would never want to (or have any children of mine) to live in a trench filled with water, or have to brush snow off in the morning to preserve our freedom and quality of life. Shame on you Mr. Harper, don't play politics. Take the necessary money from some cockamamie scheme and do the honourable thing.

  • six years in
    November 05, 2012 - 20:03

    So we have 6 years of Harper in government and the world hasn't fallen apart but a lot of things in Canada have certainly sucked. We have also had 6 years of the Liberals under Dion, Ignatieff and Rae in opposition and they have been pathetically inept as critics of the government. I'm placing my vote with the NDP from here foreward. Sean Casey can take his millions from the family company that sells made-in-China cookware and go back to being one of a few hundred anonymous lawyers in PEI. I'll take an effective representative with an effective national party for my opposition to Harper any day.

  • SG
    November 05, 2012 - 18:44

    I agree the government should improve this program. ( the agency has been forced to turn to private fundraising in order to cover the cost of funerals for needy veterans who do not qualify for federal assistance.) It is shameful that needy Veterans would have to turn to private fundraising to cover the cost of funerals. As far a needy Veterans not qualifying for federal assistance why would they not qualify? Didn't they qualify for putting their lives on the line to protect others? Why wouldn't they qualify for federal assistance? Unbelievable that those who put their lives at risk to save others do not qualify for federal assistance! Who could be more worthy?

  • nitpicker
    November 05, 2012 - 18:33

    Did Blaney say anything else? Because referring to what the Liberals did or did not do does not address the questions posed today.

  • Moe
    November 05, 2012 - 18:29

    We will soon see how much Mr. Casey likes the spotlight when the names of people who benefited from PNP money is released and his name and his wife are at the top of the list. And he pretends he cares for the poor. They should give this clown an Oscar.

  • Ulfric
    November 05, 2012 - 18:28

    Harper, you would not be where you are today if these men and women didn't risk their lives for your Country. Many of them work up until they are 70 and/or they are unable to work and still can't afford to get a proper burial. You make me sick.

  • Island Veteran
    November 05, 2012 - 18:23

    What Harper and Blaney DO NOT understand is that veterans did their part and served Canada with an "unlimited liability" but the Harper Government now not only limit Canada's liability to the death of a veteran but,also limit Island veterans access to diability benefits by closing the PEI District Office!

  • a real Canadian
    November 05, 2012 - 18:18

    Maybe we should cancel this program altogether so that we can direct these funds to much more needed areas, such as providing new 'Canadians' with health care and welfare

  • liberals know where the disgrace is buried
    November 05, 2012 - 18:06

    The real disgrace is the MP's who tow party lines regardless of the effects for the electorate. Sure the Liberals can identify the bum files because they created them and all they did with DVA is stack it and ACOA with relatives and friends. Harper may well be a very hard nosed or mean man but Casey and Percy Downer are just a couple of blowhards. Did you ever see effects of Downe when in PMO or is he another party blowhard. What did he do for PEI? Ever?