The federal government may not see any pressing urgency to examine the Last Post Fund's funeral and burial program for veterans, but if that's the case, it would be at odds with the support that seems to be growing for improving the program.
For the sake of veterans and their families, Ottawa should address these concerns.
For years, the federal government has been under pressure to address what veterans' advocates insist are inadequacies in the Last Post Fund, a federal program set up to ensure dignified funerals and burials for former soldiers. The Royal Canadian Legion, which has been leading the charge on this, said late last year that two-thirds of applications for funding since 2006 have been rejected. This past December, when Veterans Affairs Canada didn't include the Last Post Fund on the agenda for an annual veterans conference in Charlottetown, Legion officials continued to press the issue anyway. Since then, support has been building, and last week, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey joined other MPs calling for action, a call that coincided with the Legion's letter-writing campaign.
According to the Legion's news release, there are three key issues: the need to increase the actual amount the fund pays to cover funeral services; ensuring eligibility to low-income Canadian Forces veterans; and raising the survivor estate exemption so that more surviving spouses would be eligible for funding.
Problems with the Last Post Fund didn't start this past fall, and they didn't originate with the federal Conservatives. For example, in 1995, while the federal Liberals were in power, the survivor estate exemption was reduced from about $24,000 to $12,000, meaning that if a veteran's estate was valued at more than $12,000, the spouse would be ineligible for support for funeral costs.
Nevertheless, that doesn't mean the governing Conservatives are off the hook. They may not have caused the problem, but they haven't rectified it either. And given their stated support for veterans, don't they have an obligation to do so? The federal government is justified in criticizing its predecessors for actions that reduced the eligibility of many veterans' families; but it's now in the driver's seat, and has the power to fix the program's shortcomings.
Most fair-minded Canadians would agree that a program set up to support veterans must be fundamentally flawed if it ends up rejecting two thirds of applications. Clearly the current estate cutoff level is not a realistic one. Neither is the modest $3,600 given to those whose applications are deemed eligible.
The Legion is now calling for improvements with the support of some MPs, and they make a convincing case. Most Canadians recognize the contribution and commitment of our soldiers and the importance of honouring on Remembrance Day our fallen soldiers and surviving veterans. Surely our commitment to them should extend beyond Remembrance Day to ensuring that upon their death they receive a dignified funeral and burial.
The timing of this latest appeal to improve the Last Post Fund is also significant. Ottawa is engaging in its pre-budget consultation talks with Canadians, presumably in an attempt to incorporate Canadians' concerns and priorities into the mix as it begins setting its own priorities for the spring budget. It should view addressing the inadequacies of the Last Post Fund as one of those priorities.