The relationship between disability and employment is slowly changing, and as much as we are mindful of developing trends in policy and law, we still have the obligation to recognize and respect disability from a cross sector perspective, including individuals who have served in the Canadian Forces, acquiring an injury as a result. There are a number of my colleagues that have served in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces and these veterans have shared with me their analysis of programs that have been amended by the current federal government that were intended to provide benefits, assist with the provision of care and to help with the transition into civilian life and employment. This article is timely because as Julian Fantino, the former minister of Veterans Affairs, was reshuffled, there has to be a broadening of our sense of the current treatment of veterans who exit service with a disability and how they embark on the transition into civilian life. Ultimately, it is the policy framework having changed significantly since 2005 that lends itself to scrutiny.
To provide background on the policies for service members who exited service prior to 2005, the Pension Act [i] was in place to provide a number of programs that veterans with disabilities could apply for. Among others, these programs took the form of a disability pension, spousal pension, children’s pension, survivor pension, clothing allowance, attendant care, prisoner of war compensation and exceptional incapacity allowance.[ii] These programs provided for a comprehensive network of support that could provide for veterans and family members, taking into account the experience of combat, imprisonment and disability.
In 2005 the government stance was that this program, comprehensive though it may be, did not provide avenues to reintegration or employment. In order to restructure and amend this, in 2006 the federal government put in place the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment Act, i.e. the New Veterans Charter, or the NVC. Under the NVC a new lump sum payout program was started that replaced the monthly pension installments and income became taxable whereas prior to the act’s installment, it was considered tax-free. The Job Placement Program contained within the NVC deals with the reintegration of veterans into the workforce and covers three key services which are, job search training, career counseling and job finding assistance [iii].
With the entry of the NVC, there was a substantial reframing of Canada’s overall responsibility towards its veterans that is seen as a change, from facilitating care and security, to marshalling re-integration and ultimately employment. Canada began treating veterans with disabilities with a re-orchestrated ceiling of care that was substantially lowered, and a proactive stance on veterans becoming self-sufficient.
We should already expect employment strategies that are inclusive of all people with disabilities, including veterans, and we should make a continuous effort to change the pervasive culture of exclusion in systems of employment. That being said, a large gap presents itself when evaluating employment mechanisms in the NVC versus the constantly changing nature of disability as a result of service. For instance, we have seen the rate of medical releases rise from 12 percent in 2001 to 25 percent due to service in Afghanistan.[iv] The use of terms such as operational stress injuries, and post traumatic stress disorder are now common place when discussing military policy for veterans, but applying services such as lump sum payments, job search training and career counseling to this population is a tool that lacks appropriate foresight, and, for a number of young veterans with disabilities, the current policies are untenable.
The Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs issued a report in June 2014 titled The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward [v]. Among other pertinent observations regarding the NVC, there are observations that relate to employment. According to the report, it is felt that the key to successful vocational rehabilitation is timely intervention, namely six weeks after the onset of service related disability. This point is clearly made, although the truth of the matter is that there is an assumption that veterans will return to their old jobs.
For those who were medically released, they cannot return to their employer, i.e. the Canadian Forces[vi]. Further, dealing with the implications of having a disability and leaving a highly structured environment to search for employment can amplify pressures that can feel insurmountable[vii]. The lump sum payouts that are meant to offset the negative impact of not being readily accepted into a new work force are problematic as well. It is a very risky form of financial security for individuals, who are young and whose mental health might be fragile[viii]. In fact, one of the charter arguments in a lawsuit about efficacy of the New Veterans Charter, Equitas Scott v. Canada[ix], is that forces members had been terminated and forced out of their jobs with the Canadian military, and were not able to obtain new work. On top of not being able to locate gainful employment, they were given substandard financial compensation that was insufficient in maintain a normal lifestyle comparable to that of someone who had a similar employment background.[x]
The cross cutting factor that unites people with disabilities is that fact that finding employment is made harder due to the disability itself and, when a forces member is discharged due to medical reasons, such as PTSD, the chances of him or her becoming employed are diminished because of associated barriers.
As disability discourse expands through the reconceptualization of terminology, policy and it’s application, we should be able to consider how disability can affect individuals who have worked in stressful environments, the likes of which are never replicated in civilian life. Also, we should someday be able to open the discourse of accessibility, inclusion and employment to include veterans with disabilities.
[ii] Alice Aiken, Amy Buitenhuis. (2011). Supporting Canadian Veterans with Disabilities. Available: http://www.queensu.ca/cidp/publications/claxtonpapers/Claxton13.pdf Last accessed 5th Jan 2015
[iii] Veterans Affairs Canada (2014) Career Transition Services. Available: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/about-us/reports/privacy-impact-assessment/pia_nvc_jpp Last accessed 5th Jan 2015.
[iv] Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, “A Timely Tune-up for the Living New Veterans Charter” (Parliament of Canada, 2010), 10
[v] The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward, Report on Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (House of Commons 2014)
[vi] The New Veterans Charter, 22
[ix] Justice Weatherill, (2013). Equitas Class Action Law Suit. Scott V. Canada (Attorney General) 2013 BCSC 1651. Available: http://mdlo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Equitas-Lawsuit.-The-key-points.pdf . Last accessed 5th Jan 2015
[x] Justice Weatherhill, 6