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Forgotten veterans

Financially strapped veterans deserve coverage for dignified burial, says Royal Canadian Legion

By James Jackson
For the Post

Days before Remembrance Day, the Royal Canadian Legion is calling on the federal government to increase funding to help cover the costs of burying Canada’s impoverished war veterans.

The Veterans Funeral and Burial Program, also known as the Last Post Fund, gives $3,600 to ex-soldiers who qualify, compared to $12,700 for those currently serving in the Canadian military.

“Funeral costs have skyrocketed,” said Gordon Moore, president of the Royal Canadian Legion. “What we’re trying to do here is to make sure that any veteran who needs the funding to be buried has a dignified burial and all expenses are paid, equal to our serving members.”

Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid said it’s time for his government to review the eligibility criteria.

“If there is a systematic problem, we need to fix it,” Braid said.

The government has offered no reason for the discrepancy, Moore said. He’s been working with Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney since taking office in June, but has seen no progress.

In 2010, the Legion passed a similar resolution requesting Veterans Affairs Canada take the necessary action to increase the burial funding program.

Last week, the Canadian Press reported that more than two-thirds of veterans who apply for the benefits are denied.

Of the 29,853 requests for funding made since 2006, more than 20,000 were rejected for failing to meet the criteria.

To qualify, a veteran with a spouse or dependent children must have a combined net asset value below $12,015. Single veterans are eligible if the net value of their estate fails to cover the funeral.

“The federal government had the responsibility to provide veterans and their families with the services and support they require,” said Liberal Veterans Affairs critic Sean Casey in a release Monday. “It is time to stop using our troops as props for their photo-ops and start treating them with the dignity and respect they have earned.”

Overhauling eligibility, including raising the stipend for the first time in a decade, could cost between $5 million and $7 million annually, the Canadian Press reported.

“Not all the veterans need the funding, it’s only the ones who are financially handcuffed,” said Moore.

Minister Blaney was unavailable for comment, but his office did respond with an e-mail.

“Like all programs, the department continues to review the funeral and burial program and explore options on how to improve the program.”

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