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Veterans disappointed with lack of delivery on Liberal campaign promises

Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr speaks with veterans at a stakeholder summit at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nine months after the Liberals came to power saying veterans would not have to fight the government for support and compensation, former soldiers say they are disappointed that so many commitments have yet to be fulfilled, including a promise of a free education for those who complete their service.

The failure of the government to quickly meet its promises on an education benefit, as well as on restoring the option of lifetime pensions to those with disabilities, are the two deepest disappointments for veterans, said Mike Blois, the former president of the Afghanistan Veterans Association of Canada.

"Betrayed is the way people feel," he said. "Veterans who generally vote very conservatively, lots of them voted Liberal because they thought the Liberal Party was going to do something for veterans."

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When the party was campaigning to form the government last fall, it promised to "invest $80-million every year to create a new veterans education benefit" that would cover the full cost of up to four years of college, university or technical education for those who have completed their military service.

But the promise that the education benefit would be available "every year" apparently did not include fiscal year 2016-17, since it was not part of the March federal budget. That has been a disappointment for veterans and those who are helping them to find jobs.

Many veterans say a free education would be especially helpful for the young men and women who served in the infantry. Their primary job was combat-related and they did the most difficult and dangerous assignments in places such as Afghanistan, but they didn't always emerge from the military with skills that translate to the private sector.

Mr. Blois was entitled to some educational assistance from the Veterans Affairs Department because a permanent brain injury forced his release from the service. But with a veterans education benefit, "I wouldn't have gone into significant debt to go through law school," he said.

The education benefit was to be modelled on the American G.I. Bill, which was introduced during the Second World War and currently provides any U.S. veteran with full tuition after three years of service, plus a monthly living allowance and a book stipend.

Sarah McMaster, a spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, said in an e-mail that the government is intent upon paying for veterans' education. "Understanding that some commitments will take more time than others, we are working hard to deliver on the remaining items – including the veterans education benefit," she said.

Canada Company, a charity founded in 2006, helps veterans find employment in Canadian corporations – in large part by helping employers understand how the skills acquired in military service would be valuable to their work force.

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Angela Mondou, its president, said she is excited by the fact that more than 360 veterans have obtained jobs since the start of 2016 with the help of her organization. But 6,000 veterans, reservists or serving members of the military remain registered on the group's website because they need help to make the transition to life after serving with the Canadian Armed Forces.

"Somebody may spend nine years in the infantry, serving their country and going to operations around the world, and come out with a huge amount of team-leading experience, the ability to work in high-risk scenarios, project-management skills, you name it, but they don't have the equivalent credentials in the business world," said Ms. Mondou, who did not direct any criticism toward the government. "So that's where this [educational] support would be very welcome."

Vince Fowler, a Calgary-based business coach who left the military with the rank of corporal in 1996, said the education benefit would have been an "excellent" tool for those who have been released from the Forces. Degrees, diplomas and technical training are the tickets many veterans need to get jobs that they consider meaningful, he said.

Help with educational expenses would mean veterans "can go get a ticket" to a new job, said Mr. Fowler, who is a guest speaker for Canada Company. "We gave up years of our lives, on purpose, for our country. … Help us on the way out so we can be productive citizens."

And $80-million "is just pocket change to the government," he said. "So just give it."

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole, who was the veterans affairs minister in the previous government, said he does not agree that Canada should create the equivalent of the American G.I. Bill.

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Soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who retire as a result of a service-related injury are already entitled to educational assistance, and not all able-bodied veterans need to have their full tuition paid for by the government, he said. The Conservatives would prefer that the limited resources in federal coffers be targeted to have as much of an impact as possible, he added.

But the veterans education benefit is a Liberal campaign promise that has gone unfulfilled, along with other promises to veterans, Mr. O'Toole said. "I think, sometimes, false hope is worse than nothing."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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