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Article Date01-10-2016
Record TYPEPeriodical
Article TitleThe Downfall of Bureau of Pension Advocates (BPA)
Article ContentFeature:   The Downfall of Bureau of Pension Advocates (BPA)
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Issue No: 201671
What is Downfall of BPAAdvisory GroupsHow you can help!Recommended
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The Downfall of BPA

Perry Grey
Chief Editor (VVi)

Once upon a time, VAC offered legal advice to Veterans. The Bureau of Pension Advocates helped Veterans understand the legalese contained in federal legislation and VAC policy, and represented Veterans at VRAB. The overall purpose of BPA was as follows:

If you seek assistance from BPA, you will be treated the same as if you were hiring a private lawyer to represent you. The solicitor-client relationship between you and your lawyer ensures that your confidentiality will be fully respected.

Now there were many problems with BPA including the fact that its employees worked for VAC. BPA also provided advice and assistance to other departmental committees, Members of Parliament, MLA's and client representatives, who have questions on behalf of their constituents.

More obvious to Veterans was the reduction in services provided by BPA. It stopped assisting Veterans in completing the multitude of VAC forms and advising on Veterans on the appeal system and filing complaints. VAC would often direct Veterans to VRAB rather than having BPA advise each Veteran on the choice about departmental reviews, VRAB appeals and other options.

One reason for the many changes was that there were not enough lawyers to handle the workload. This is obvious from the number of enquiries and the fact that of the 14 BPA offices some had only one lawyer (information from VAC website).
It was just another example of VAC reducing Veteran support while increasing “red tape”.

BPA will be as extinct as the Dodo and other species very soon.

Kent Hehr and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould decided to dismantle BPA which has existed since VAC was created. They agreed to transfer responsibility for providing VAC legal services to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) located in Ottawa.

Did Kent Hehr discuss this decision with Veterans? The answer is no. It has not been discussed at stakeholder summits, in VAC media releases or on the VAC website. Anyone using the VAC website will find plenty of information on ESDC, not surprising consider that Sue Foster is Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Oversight and Communications. She joined VAC on 3 November 2014 after a 30-year career with ESDC.

This is a decision that can not be blamed on the Conservative Party, as Kent Hehr tries to do with the Equitas Class Action. He decided to continue the process of downsizing and outsourcing VAC as proposed in the Keith Coulter report of 2010.

This is yet another example of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Sure a few hundred new employees may be hired, but legal services, IT services and other services are quietly transferred to other federal agencies. This is similar to the use of Service Canada as a call centre for Veterans. VAC is eliminating many of its special client services.

By Order in Council 2011-1348, ESDC may provide services on behalf of VAC.

So how long will it be before Veterans must go to ESDC, Service Canada and other generic agencies to get support?

The lists of “services” provided by these agencies is increasing. VAC is proud to list what they will do for Veterans:

Overall, VAC continues to fail in its most important function to support the Veterans Community. It is doing so deliberately and this is very depressing.

Veterans have yet another reason to be angry with the federal government.

Perry Gray is a Regular Force veteran, serving as the Chief Editor of VVi. Perry has been with VVi for 13 years.Advisory Groups

Perry Grey
Chief Editor (VVi)

VAC really is cheap when it comes to recruiting its advisers. It expects them to work for free. Why are advisers not offered a consulting fee? I shall never accept an “intern job” with VAC.

Reasonable Economic Security and Quality of Life

I have had several conversations with Walt Natynczyk about VAC policies. One of the words that he frequently uses is optics. This refers to how Canadians view VAC. VAC is too often perceived of doing too little to support the Veterans Community.

One of the major problems plaguing VAC is the patchwork of financial programs, which a Veteran may be entitled to receive. There are associated problems in how VAC determines what will be delivered and how much. Often the perception is deliver the minimum and also payout the minimum.

A good example is the lump sum. It has been increased since its introduction; however, the average payout is always much less than the maximum. Few Veterans receive 100%; most receive less than 20%. It does not matter how much is added to the lump sum, when VAC usually pays the minimum.

When compared to other countries, the lump sum is also perceived as a minimalist effort. For example,
Britain pays up to the equivalent of more than $1,000,000. Australia’s maximum lump-sum payment is in excess of $400,000 and Veterans can choose instead to receive a non-taxable, weekly pension. Lump sums are also given to children of disabled Australian Veterans, which does not happen in Canada.

To achieve reasonable economic security, VAC should develop radically different programs than it currently has. This is very unlikely because there is a lack of initiative to begin a revolution.

I shall use myself as an example of the ridiculous patchwork approach to providing financial assistance.

Since I qualified for a real pension (CFSA) and paid into SISIP, I receive monies from DND. As a disabled client of VAC, I receive monies from VAC. I qualify for support under the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter. Finally, I receive monies from Canadian Pension Plan (CPP). All of this income and supplement is divided into taxable and non-taxable categories.

Therefore each month, I receive several separate payments. I also have to keep track of reimbursements for expenses for travel and incidentals plus expenses covered by Veterans Independence Program (VIP).

My problem is that I need an accountant to complete my annual tax return because I do not have the knowledge to know what to pay and what to deduct. This does not mean the with Canadian Revenue Agency will approve my T4 and its supplements.

I am really a bad example to use as a model because I was an officer. Basically, I have achieved reasonable economic security. As with CF and RCMP pay scales, it is the entry level that needs adjustment not the upper echelons (senior NCM and officer pay).

What upsets me is that VAC is not doing enough for Veterans who did not have reasonable economic security before leaving the CF, RCMP or related organisations.

When the old charter was developed, there was more emphasis on ensuring reasonable economic security. It was not perfect, but certainly better than the current situation, which is why Veterans compare the old charter and the new charter.

There have also been comparisons made between VAC/DND financial assistance and other Canadian programs such as provincial workers compensation and government employee programs (municipal, provincial and federal).

A federal public servant is entitled to the following when disabled:

* up to 70 per cent of your insured annual salary;

* annual adjustment for cost of living, up to a maximum of 3 per cent; and

* CPP or QPP benefits.

At first glance, this is a lot simpler than a Veteran’s entitlements.

The gold standard of federal pensions is the parliamentary pensions for MP’s and senators. The federal government made changes to this plan — including tripling MP contributions and increasing retirement age — that took effect after the 2015 election. It remains a fairly lucrative deal when compared to most other pension plans, a minimum of $118,125 or 75 per cent of an MP’s base salary $157,500.

The starting point for the financial revolution has to be the minimum or entry level amounts. This was dropped from corporal to senior private in terms of Earning Loss Benefit (ELB). This should not have been done because it undercuts the increase from 75% to 90% approved by the government.

VAC usually boasts of increasing financial support every time that the Veterans Community and other Canadians complain about the miserly policies of VAC. Usually, the increases are so small as to be “next to nothing”.

While Canada does not have a recognised poverty line, there are statistics used as common indicators for lower class incomes. Too many Veterans fall into these categories.

In my opinion, the magic number is based on the average household income. Many families have two or more jobs contributing to the household income. If only one job is contributing, then the family may rank as lower class.

The model for any revolutionary reform is a severely disabled private, who will not receive a CFSA pension and is unemployable. His ELB plus supplements has to be given an exponential curve in annual increase to reflect a reasonable career progression. The long term objective is to ensure that this model private never falls below the “poverty line” regardless of where the private lives in Canada. This last point is important because of the significant variation in the cost of living in Canada.

In order to achieve reasonable economic security, DND and VAC must stop basing financial support on rank and length of service. Rank and service can be factors only when a Veteran has achieved reasonable economic security.

Critics of my proposal may argue that rank and service must always be factors, but this is not true. There are many exceptions to rules and laws including in the Canadian Bill of Rights. Parliamentarians are well aware of the “not withstanding” principle applied in legislation. Even CF and RCMP pay and pensions are examples of the differences existing within the federal public service (as are political pay and pensions).

The Pension Act uses various levels of disability to determine the support provided to Veterans. This is not based rank or service, but severity of disabilities. Even the lump sum is calculated on this principle.

There are problems with how VAC determines severity, but that is a topic for another article.

So what do I consider as a dollar value as a starting point to calculate reasonable economic security? This would be the median household income as calculated by Statistics Canada. In 2014, this was $78,870.

Statistics Canada numbers are proposed because the Liberal Party campaigned to re-introduce the long form census. So make use of recognised household information to determine reasonable economic security and quality of life.

The net income of our private has to be sufficient to cover ALL necessities. Currently, household income is reduced by taxes (42%) and living expenses – housing, food and clothing – (37%). So ELB and supplements must cover these deductions and still leave enough as a remainder for incidentals and others to achieve reasonable economic security. The remaining 21% of household income will determine the quality of life.

One major omission in VAC calculations is the role of family members who care for the Veteran as the equivalent of a full-time job. Their contributions must influence the calculation of financial support. This is the same principle that determines the calculation of VIP.

The family members are replacements for health care workers who would otherwise be employed to care for the Veteran. So it is reasonable to pay them for doing this work. VAC already knows that it is usually cheaper to keep Veterans in their homes than to house them in health care facilities.

I am sure that VAC has statistics on the monies saved if Veterans live at home.

Canadians would have much better appreciation for VAC (and the federal government), if there was much better support for the severely disabled Veteran used as the model above. After all it is similar to the standard social support given to all Canadians regardless of location and social status.

Before politicians get their gold-plated pension and other perks, may be they should ensure a better standard for the defenders of Canada, who ensure its citizens can strive for reasonable economic security and reasonable quality of life.

Perry Gray is a Regular Force veteran, serving as the Chief Editor of VVi. Perry has been with VVi for 13 years.You Can Help!
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Periodical Issue30-09-2016
Periodical No201671
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