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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Major Campbell and the new VAC Charter


1.         The NVC is UNFAIR, and is a BAD deal for Canada’s new generation of disabled Vets.   It is particularly unfair to our most severely disabled vets who must rely upon VAC for income replacement.
- The NVC was “sold” by VAC to the government of CA and the DND as providing essential, improved benefits to our soldiers as they transitioned to more intense combat ops with the move South from Kabul to Kandahar in 2006.

- The reality is that the NVC provides 40%-90% less financial compensation than the former Pension Act (PA) does over the lifetime of a vet disabled after 1 Apr 06.  These figures are fully supported by a Queens University study conducted in 2011.  The wide variance is due to differing degrees of disability, terms of service, and rank/salary at the time of injury.  A severely disabled Career Officer such as myself will see a 40% reduction in his or her income.  A Reservist may receive up to 90% less that he/she would have been entitled to under the former PA.  The Equitas Society Position Paper (attached) details the financial impact of the NVC on disabled vet incomes and their families' associated standard of living.

- The tax-free, monthly income provided by the PA, combined with the member's untouched military pension, ensured that severely disabled vets and their families would not suffer a reduced income (and associated standard of living). 

- There is no tax-free medical pension under the NVC.  Only the most severely disabled (eg. those who are deemed by VAC to be unsuitable for vocational rehab or civilian employment), are entitled to a monthly "Earnings Loss Benefit" (ELB).  The ELB, by design, ensures that our most vulnerable and challenged new vets and their families will suffer a 40% drop in income and their associated standard of living.  The disabled vet's entire Military Pension, which he or she paid into throughout their entire career, gets clawed back as "earnings" by the Service-person's Income Security Insurance Plan, Long Term Disability (SISIP LTD).  All this for the privilege of having sacrificed at least 2 limbs (or eyes) in the service of Canada…..

2.         The NVC discriminates against Junior Ranks.

- Junior soldiers and leaders form the bulk of personnel exposed to danger on the battlefield.  Under the "Military Employment Model", the hierarchical nature of the military demands that those exposed to the most danger will be the lowest paid / lowest ranks. 

- Under the "Civilian Insurance Model" commonly applied to Worker's Compensation in Canada, it is understood that civilians are paid commensurate with the degree of risk involved with their job.  Therefore, a common formula can be applied to all workers wherein you receive 75% of your salary, tax-free.  This represents 100% of salary after taxation.

- The former PA bases financial compensation on the member's assessed degree of disability.  Rank, and salary have nothing to do with it, as they have no bearing on the challenges that the member will face going forward as a disabled civilian.  This approach makes sense, as it treats all disabled vets the same, regardless of rank and salary at the time of the injury.  A Corporal missing two legs receives the same as a Major missing two legs.

- The NVC bases financial compensation for those qualified to receive the monthly ELB, on the member's salary (salary = rank).  The NVC (which leans far too heavily on the SISIP military insurance program) applies the civilian "Insurance Model" in determining the monthly rate of compensation.  The assessed degree of disability is irrelevant where ELB is concerned.   Under the NVC, a Corporal missing two legs receives $40K (taxed) per year while a senior Major missing two legs gets $85K (taxed) per year.  How is that fair, given that the injuries occurred under the "Military Employment Model"? 

- As an added injury, once the NVC's ELB reduces a severely disabled vet's income by 25%, the remaining 75% (tax-free under the Civilian Insurance Model") gets fully taxed, leaving a severely disabled vet with 50% of his or her original income.  That multiple amputee's family will suffer a 40% reduction in their Standard of Living as a direct consequence of their personal sacrifice for Canada.

- The only tax-free benefit under the NVC is the Lump-Sum Award for Pain & Suffering.  The amount awarded is disability-based, but tops out at two limbs (or equivalent).  Any additional injuries are not recognized or compensated for Pain & Suffering.  Note that no compensation is paid for actual physical loss or impaired function of limbs and organs.

3.         The NVC disadvantages and discriminates against Reserve Force (Res F) soldiers injured while on full-time service.

- For ELB compensation purposes, the NVC assigns Res F personnel a flat-rate pre-injury income equal to that of a Regular Force (Reg F) Corporal – regardless of their actual rank and salary at the time of injury on full-time duty.  The flat-rate income is subject to full taxation under the NVC.  This discriminatory policy automatically places any Reservist and his or her family in a life-long position of financial hardship.  This applies even moreso to any Reservist who took a sabbatical from a highly-paid civilian profession to deploy in the service of Canada who is severely disabled and can no longer work.  The impact is catastrophic.

- Res F personnel share identical risks and hardships as the Reg F personnel they are integrated with for deployments abroad (eg.  A'stan).  The notion that a Reservist's life is somehow worth less than that of a Reg F soldier is utterly repulsive. 

- Res F contracts for full-time service are often deliberately broken up so that the member will not serve continuously over 180 days - the point where the Reservist becomes entitled to full Reg F  benefits.

4.         Improvements to the NVC are far too slow.  It is supposed to be a "living charter", readily adaptable to meet the needs of our new generation of disabled vets. 

- the NVC came into effect April 2006.  VAC bureaucrats to this day contend that there are no major problems with the NVC.  Yet as of Jun 2009, VAC's own internal NVC Advisory Group  had identified and tabled 41 recommendations for improved benefits and services.  VAC's own Special Needs Advisory Group (representing the most seriously disabled) tabled four very comprehensive annual reports with dozens of recommendations between 2008 and 2011. 

- Both of the above internal VAC Advisory Groups have been terminated.  

- All of the unresolved issues raised in this briefing note were captured in the Advisory Group reports.  Only one of 41 recommendations presented in the 2009 report has been enacted that may result in increased compensation for some seriously disabled vets.  Under Bill C-55 passed in 2011, disabled vets who can prove a "permanent and severe impairment" may be granted the otherwise seldom-approved "Permanennt Impairment Allowance".  I do not know how many (if any) additional vets have been able to access that particular financial benefit.     

- As always, the worst affected by VAC foot-dragging are the severely disabled whose families experience a 40% drop in their income and standard of living in addition to dealing with the disability itself.  This was clearly noted in the 2009 VAC NVC Advisory Group report, with clear recommendations for eliminating this disgusting state of affairs.


a.         VAC Management Is In (Deliberate?) Denial.  VAC senior management refuses to admit that there are any substantive problems with the NVC – both in their printed promotional material and in the "canned" briefings delivered by VAC bureaucrats to military units, the RCMP, and other unwitting interested parties.  The one-hour introductory briefing on the NVC is nothing more than a slick bit of propaganda with optimized case studies and timelines that make the NVC's financial compensation program look reasonable when it most certainly is not.

b.         The "Lump-Sum Award" is Grossly Inadequate.  The one-time $250K (indexed), tax-free Lump-Sum "awarded" for "Pain and Suffering" is an insulting and pathetically cheap gesture intended only to free VAC of long-term financial commitments while reducing costs on the backs of disabled vets.  Note that only the most severely disabled who are missing at least two limbs (or eyes/ears) receive the full $250K amount.  The average "award" is in the $40K range for less debilitating disabilities. 

            The calculation for amputees is based on $125K per limb to a maximum of two limbs ($250K).  Any additional disabilities are not "awarded" because the seriously disabled vet has reached the maximum settlement.  Yes, there are new combat vets from A'stan with three missing limbs who received the same "Lump Sum" to offset their lifetime of "pain and suffering" as a vet with two missing limbs.  Only VAC could proclaim the NVC as "a better deal for Canada's vets" – it is the polar opposite for our post-2006 vets with serious disabilities.

A final point worth noting about the Lump Sum is that Canada's principal allies provide their disabled vets with realistic amounts that allow the affected families to maintain their pre-injury standard of living with long-term financial security.  For example, the British Government provides a lump sum of approximately $3,000,000 CAD (1.900,000 GBP) to its most severely disabled vets.  That is 12 times Canada's shamefully paltry gesture.  

c.         Soldiers are Worth Far Less Than Civilians.  Not only are the NVC's disability benefits much less than those of the PA that it replaced, they are miniscule in comparison to Federal or Provincial worker's compensation settlements for identical injuries.  Why do our Armed Forces have the worst disability compensation package in Canada?  Given that they willingly put themselves at risk of serious injury or death in some of the most dangerous places on earth in the service of Canada, one would expect the CF to have the most generous disability coverage, not the most miserly.

d.         Military Families Don't Matter.  The families of our disabled vets are too often forgotten.  Their quality of life is directly tied to that of the disabled family member.  The NVC eliminated all financial compensation specifically directed towards the disabled vet's family members.  Under the former PA, spouses received an "Attendant Allowance" and an additional childs benefit based on the number of children in the family.  All of those tax-free family benefits are eliminated under the NVC with no equivalent replacement under the NVC.

e.         Compensation Is For "Pain & Suffering Only (Maximum Two Limbs).  VAC only compensates our new lower class of vets for the "Pain & Suffering" associated with approved disabilities up to the Lump-Sum's $250K max.  There is ZERO compensation for the "pain and suffering" associated with additional injuries above and beyond the $250K maximum.  Even more astounding is the fact that VAC provides ZERO compensation for the actual, physical loss of limbs or other body parts (eg. genitals), plus any associated health issues (eg.  impotence).  Shameful!
 f.         VAC Changed The Rules Mid-War.  As previously noted, the NVC's income replacement (ELB) for our most severely disabled new class of vets is 40% to 90% less than was previously provided under the PA.  How did VAC get away with unilaterally slashing disability benefits for wounded soldiers half-way through the war in A'stan?   How can Canada be the one and only Western nation in modern history to cut disability benefits for its soldiers during a time of war?  If you were a Policeman or Firefighter, how would you feel if half-way through your career the department suddenly cut your life insurance plan without bothering to tell you?  Welcome to the plight of the modern-day, new lower class of disabled vet. 

g          The NVC Constitutes A Critical Breach Of Trust.  VAC's unilateral reduction of disability compensation benefits for CF members is a fundamental breach of the unwritten but very real and necessary contract that exists between all Western volunteer soldiers and the democracies that they serve.  This contract of "unlimited liability" recognizes that the soldier will voluntarily lay his or her life on the line in the service of their country, secure in the understanding that the nation (via government) will adequately care for the soldier and/or their family should he or she become disabled or killed on duty.  The assurance that the government will "have the soldier's back" should he or she become disabled is critical to their ability to perform without distraction in life or death situations.  If that sacrosanct trust remains broken for much longer, then Canada's soldiers may just wake up and leave in droves.  At the very least, a nation which attempts to save money by cutting services to its most deserving, but vulnerable citizens (disabled vets) may just find itself absent willing volunteers the next time a fighting force is required. 

h.         Most Soldiers Still Don't Know.  Most serving CF members remain blissfully unaware that VAC unilaterally reduced the Canadian Forces' disability compensation by 40% to -90% in Apr 2006.  After all, who could possibly conceive of a supposedly supportive Veteran's Agency actually cutting disability benefits in the middle of a war without telling anyone…..especially without telling the soldiers actually in the fight? 

As a result, Canada's soldiers have been deploying into harm's way in Astan for the past six years mistakenly believing that they would enjoy the same or better financial compensation as the former PA provided for a serious disability prior to 2006.  I conducted several informal contact sessions with soldiers of all ages and ranks in two different units at CFB Edmonton in 2008 and was shocked to find that the level of awareness (let alone understanding) about the reduction of disability compensation under the NVC is extremely poor.  Most Officers and Non-Commissioned ranks still (falsely) believe that they will receive a tax-free monthly medical pension plus their full military pension should they become seriously disabled.  When informed of how the NVC actually applies to a severe disability, all were shocked and angry about having "been had" by VAC.

I deployed to Afghanistan twice – once under the PA and once under the NVC without knowing (based on VAC propaganda) that my there was any difference.  Little did I know that my long-term disability coverage under the NVC was 40% less on my second tour under the NVC in 2008 than it had been when I first deployed to A'stan in 2002 under the PA.  I found out only after I had lost both legs above the knee, a testicle, had severe genital and abdominal scarring, extensive skin-grafts, chronic neuropathic pain, a ruptured right eardrum, traumatic brain injury and a host of associated secondary and tertiary conditions – none of them pleasant.  My post-injury life has been akin to a waking nightmare about a slow-motion car-crash with my family in the starring role.  On top of dealing with the disability, I am about to lose 40% of my income with an associated drop in my family's accustomed standard of living as I transition from the CF to disabled civilian life.  My spouse has developed a permanent mental health disability related to my near-death and subsequent disability such that she can no longer work, depriving my family of a further 30% of our accustomed pre-injury income.  And the NVC is a "good deal for Canada's Vets"?  Tell that to my two children when "Mom & Dad" can't afford to help send them to university, let alone buy a first car, move out of the house, go on family vacation, or any of the other things that would have been financially possible before I became disabled in the service of CA.

i.          Moral Injury as an Added "Bonus".  Soldiers who have been seriously injured since April 2006 receive a "double-whammy" that compromises their mental and physical recovery at the worst possible time.  Not only does he or she get to wake up to missing or broken body parts and months of hospitalization; they also get to experience the slowly dawning horror of discovering that their disability compensation under the NVC is going to result in a lifetime of financial hardship with 40% less earnings and a massive drop in their family's standard of living.  There is no hope of improving the family's financial situation because by definition, the now severely disabled vet receiving the VAC ELB is incapable of securing gainful and meaningful civilian employment. 


1.  The soldiers thought they had a contract with the Government, but the terms regarding disability compensation were unilaterally changed in mid-term

2.  The legislation governing disability compensation changed without adequate consultation

3.  There was no "Grandfathering" provision, which is normal when a
major shift in personnel policy is implemented (eg.  the adoption of new Terms of Service (2003/2004) 

4.  The arbitrary changes resulted in a significant reduction in anticipated disability benefits for those who were seriously injured after April 2006

5.  The changes were imposed during a time of War and were poorly communicated

*(Courtesy of Mr, B. Archer, The Equitas Society (www.equitassociety.ca)

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