Roy Green: $12,015: The Maximum Allowable Worth of a Canadian Military Veteran’s Estate

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We are losing them at the rate of 500 per week. Members of the Greatest Generation and Canadian World War Two veterans. Even now with their numbers dwindling to “a precious few”, we cannot encourage or persuade Ottawa to appropriately honour their service to this nation.

For the wonderful Canadians who sacrificed youth and watched their contemporaries die on the field of battle, today’s best-case federal government scenario is?  Receipt of a monthly Ottawa “Old age Security” cheque.  A cheque so spending power challenged these men and women, now in their 80s and 90s, often must choose between adequate nourishment and clothing.  The monthly handout slightly north of $1,000 frequently leaves them shivering in the dark on a winter’s night.

Old age? Definitely. Security? Definitely not.

Just weeks ago the nation paused to honour WWII military veterans (as well as all others who with bravery and distinction wore the Canadian shoulder patch in places like Korea, the Middle East and Africa).  Canada, or most of it, paused for two minutes of reflection on the 11th hour of the 11th day, of the 11th month.  Two minutes. That’s what the Greatest Generation is afforded.

Sometimes the two minutes are deemed excessive, or the recipients unworthy.

For years I would broadcast my 9am to noon Remembrance Day program on CHML in Hamilton at the cenotaph. We would speak to the survivors of all conflicts engaging the Canadian military, but our focus was on the men and women who beat back the malevolence of Germany and Japan between 1939 and 1945. 

We heard their tales of the JUNO Beach landing on D-Day, June 6, 1944. My great friend and surrogate dad Ed Mahoney survived that sixth day of June at JUNO Beach in 1944. He spoke of the frenzy of moving forward, or attempting to, all the while under heavy fire from above, behind and in front. Ed and his comrades were intentional targets of German forces and unintentional victims of friendly fire originating from allied bombers and warships. Ed was 22 years of age at the time. As terrifying as the experience of D-Day proved to be, Ed Mahoney with generosity of spirit so typical of his generation said “I’d do it again”.

Ed was 80 when he spoke those words.

It was Ed Mahoney who in a letter asked me “why is it the big-shot politicians who attend Remembrance Day ceremonies are then driven off for a wonderful and expensive taxpayer funded lunch, while we the veterans who fought are sent packing, often without so much as a personal thank you.” Why indeed? A few phone calls to a handful of influential and caring people arranged for a post-service Veterans Luncheon to become a significant part of the November 11th ceremonies. The luncheon was also paid for by taxpayers. Voluntary personal and business contributions underwrote expenses, while politicians continued their “big shot” snacks. Their funding? General revenues most likely.

I befriended many World War Two veterans. 

Arnold was a Dieppe raid survivor. Of approximately 5,000 troops sent on this testing of German defences raid in August of 1942, 907 lost their lives and 583 were wounded. Arnold walked with some difficulty, a result of Dieppe. While making his way through the Hamilton public library with evident difficulty, Arnold was delaying a clearly impatient and well-dressed individual estimated in his 40s. Arnold turned to the younger man and apologized for his pace, explaining why.

“Too bad. No one forced you to go”.  And that was that.  How often had Arnold been thanked for his military service to Canada?  “Not often”. Was he surprised at the indifference of the 40-something individual?  “No.”

Sam Shore was a bravery-medaled veteran so dismayed at Canada’s indifferent treatment of its war veterans Sam petitioned the Government of the Netherlands to permit his ashes be interred in Holland where this country’s WWII military members are afforded hero status and school children assigned to honourably tend to the graves of Canadian troops killed while fighting to liberate Holland.  The Dutch government agreed to accept Sam’s ashes and that is where he rests today.

What so irritated Sam Shore?

Consider the system administered by The Last Post, described by Veterans Affairs Canada as “a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to ensure, insofar as possible, that no war veterans, military disability pensioners, or civilians who meet the wartime service eligibility criteria are denied a dignified funeral and burial for lack of sufficient funds.  The LPF operates in cooperation with, and is supported financially by Veterans Affairs Canada.”

So what does this mean, really?   If the deceased veteran has a spouse and/or dependant children the combined net assets of the couple are established, excluding the family home, one vehicle and any income earned during the month of death.  The costs of the funeral and burial are then covered by The Last Post Fund of Veterans Affairs Canada; unless net estate assets are deemed to exceed $12,015. Should that prove to be the case funeral and burial expenses remain the responsibility of the deceased’s survivors. 

Hypothetically then, if a deceased veteran and his/her spouse’s net assets are assessed at $20,000 and their financial liabilities assessed at $6,000 (including the costs of the funeral and burial and excluding the family home, one vehicle and any income earned during the month of death), that veteran’s funeral is ineligible for full financial support under The Last Post’s Fund because the combined net asset value of the deceased veteran and his/her spouse would be $14,000, exceeding the $12,015 maximum permitted by some $1,985.

Letters from widows of WWII veterans inform of a demand of repayment of funeral expenses by Veterans Affairs for their husbands because combined assets at the time of the veteran’s death were discovered to have exceeded $12,015, sometimes by just a few hundred dollars. 

Meanwhile, a crew of 308 MPs safeguard their outrageously self-serving retirement pensions which can and often do guarantee a defeated or retired former MP a six figure income for life, supplemented by an annual 10 per cent cost of living allowance increase.

On occasion, when public anger reaches the office of a sitting Minister of Veterans Affairs, or even the PMO, the Minister and/or Prime Minister of the day publicly and with what passes for studied determination assure each member of Canada’s military has earned a state paid funeral.  Shortly thereafter the statement and commitment is forgotten and the intolerable remains the standard.

While a patriotic warrior’s funeral expenses are ineligible for financial support if his or her estate exceeds $12,015, former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe is guaranteed a $140,765 annual pension. Duceppe’s mandated annual 10 per cent cost of living adjustment at just over $14,000 alone exceeds the $12,015 maximum lifetime net assets permitted a member of Canada’s armed forces requesting a state funded funeral.

Former MP and Speaker of the House Peter Milliken pockets $147,000 annually for life after 23 years in parliament.  Liberal Joe Volpe who registered dead people to vote for his party leadership campaign will receive $120,392 each year, while Chuck Strahl, former minister of transport and Conservative MP will struggle mightily at $119,320.  Strahl is 55 and should he live to age 80 will have banked $3,305,820. 

Members of parliament and their appointed cousins in the senate take wonderful care of their own needs, perceived and real.  As far as the remaining living survivors of JUNO Beach June 6, 1944, and indeed anyone who serves or served this nation in uniform and selflessly put his or her life at risk for Canada, your total net estate had best come up about $2,000 short of Gilles Duceppe’s annual cost of living allowance; a man whose primary mission in public life was the dissolution of this nation.

There’s a word MPs love to hurl across the house at each other.  A word which concludes this column perfectly. 

“Shame!” 

Roy Green is host of The Roy Green Show, a national program heard weekends on Corus Radio. Follow Roy on Twitter @theRoyGreenShow.

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