Feds urged to boost funds to bury impoverished vets

HoC Speaker Andrew Scheer, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella lay a wreath during a Veterans' Week ceremony on Parliament Hill Nov. 5, 2012.

Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie


OTTAWA – The Conservative government is ignoring calls to boost funds and broaden the current “disgraceful” system to bury impoverished veterans with dignity, stakeholders say.

Critics argue the benchmark for access to the Last Post Fund - a 103-year-old, $10.2 million federal program for dignified funerals and burials of former soldiers fallen on hard times - is so restrictive that two-thirds of applicants are turned away.

In 2011-12, the fund received 3,125 applications for assistance and only approved 1,326.
Fund executive director Jean-Pierre Goyer said Monday most applicants either failed the means test – the cut-off is $12,015 annual income – or were modern day vets turned away based on stricter criteria set for them by the feds.

He estimated $5 million a year would be enough to meet current needs, including opening up the program to more soldiers who served after the Korean War.

“When is a veteran a veteran? They served our country, they go where the country wants them to go and then we deny many of them a dignified burial,” Goyer said.

“It's not the right thing to do, I don't think so. Not in a country like ours.”

He also said the $3,600 cap to cover funeral and burial expenses falls far short of the actual cost, leaving funeral directors across Canada helping with the tab.

“Our Last Post Fund counsellors have to wheel-and-deal with them on a regular basis, almost asking for charity,” he said, adding in his experience funeral directors - who were in Ottawa last month to lobby the government to boost funding to the program - are always willing to help.

Liberal veterans affairs critic Sean Casey called the current funding “stingy and cheap and hard-hearted,” and asked the feds Monday to create a task force to look into fixing the fund.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney shot down Casey's proposal as more unnecessary bureaucracy and jabbed the Liberals for halving the means test in 1995 from $24,034 to the current level.

“They're the ones who cut this program,” he said. “We've maintained the benefits.”

He added the concerns with the Last Post Fund were on his radar and the government was looking at ways to improve it, but said he was in no position to confirm any changes or offer any further details on the department's plans.
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