Snapshot: Canadian Veterans

Isabelle Lafontaine-Émond
Aboriginal Affairs and Social Development 

The programs and services the federal government offers to Canadian veterans have generated a lot of interest in recent years. How well do we know this important segment of the population and their needs?

This HillNote provides a snapshot of Canadian veterans. It presents some telling statistics and looks at key issues they face, in order to better understand their needs and the existing framework of policies and programs for veterans.

Today, Canadian veterans number about 700,000 men and women who participated in the Second World War, the Korean War, numerous peacekeeping and peacemaking missions around the world and, more recently, the Afghan conflict.

They fall into one of two categories:

  • War service veterans: those who served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. While all veterans of the First World War have passed away, most veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War are today aged 80 or older and account for about 14% of all veterans, according to 2014 statistics.
  • Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans: those who served between 1954 and the present. In 2014, their mean age was 56 and they accounted for 86% of all Canadian veterans. CAF veterans included Regular Force members as well as Reserve Force members. Full-time Class C reservists serve in the Regular Force or are deployed on domestic or international operations. Class B reservists, also full time, attend training or perform temporary duties. Class A reservists work part time and perform duties not done by Class A or B reservists.

A statistical look

Female representation: According to the Department of National Defence, women account for about 15% of CAF personnel, with more than 10,000 women currently serving. In 2013, women accounted for roughly 13% of Regular Force veterans released between 1998 and 2012 and just over 20% of Reserve Force veterans released between 2003 and 2012.

Mean age: Most veterans are young: Regular Force members released between the above years had a mean age of 44, Class C reservists had a mean age of 40, and Class A and B reservists had a mean age of 31.

Release type: As to the reasons for their release from the CAF, 52% of Regular Force veterans, 65% of Reserve Force Class C veterans and 76% of Reserve Force Class A/B veterans were released for voluntary reasons. Just over one-fifth (21%) of Regular Force veterans, 13% of Reserve Force Class C veterans and a very small number of Reserve Force Class A/B veterans were released for medical reasons. Other reasons for release are completion of service, retirement age reached and involuntary release.

Level of well-being: Figure 1 illustrates indicators of mental and physical health, adjustment to civilian life and life satisfaction. Findings were most worrisome for Regular Force veterans, followed by Class C reservists and then Class A/B reservists, whose results were much more positive and more in line with the general population.

Figure 1 – Physical Health, Mental Health, Transition to Civilian Life and Life Satisfaction of Regular Force Veterans Released Between 1998 and 2012 and Reserve Force Veterans Released Between 2003 and 2012 (%)

Figure 1 showing Physical Health, Mental Health, Transition to Civilian Life and Life Satisfaction of Regular Force Veterans Released Between 1998 and 2012 and Reserve Force Veterans Released Between 2003 and 2012, in percentages

Source: Veterans Affairs Canada, Health and Well-Being of Canadian Forces Veterans: Findings from the 2013 Life After Service Survey – Executive Summary

 

Veterans Affairs Canada

Not all 700,000 veterans use Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) services. Generally, only those experiencing difficulties ask for support from the department. Like the trends shown in the chart above, statistics show that, of the members released between 1998 and 2012, 35% of Regular Force veterans used VAC services, while 17% of Reserve Force Class C veterans and only 3% of Reserve Force Class A/B veterans were clients of the department in 2013.

VAC has two regimes for veterans programs and services. Individuals who applied for services or benefits before April 2006 receive them under the Pension Act. However, those who applied to VAC after 1 April 2006 are subject to the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, also known as the New Veterans Charter.

Main issues facing veterans 

Over the years, several reports from the Senate and House of Commons veterans affairs committees, the Veterans Ombudsman and veterans groups have highlighted serious gaps in the level of support offered to veterans and their families. The following issues appear regularly in these reports:

    • The earnings loss benefit, which provides income to veterans participating in a rehabilitation program and to those who are unable to engage in suitable gainful employment, up to the age of 65. This benefit is set at 75% of pre-release income and is subject to income tax. Moreover, it does not include increases corresponding to the progression of a military career if it had not been interrupted.
    • Shortfalls respecting support for veterans’ families, for example in terms of education, psychological support and training for families supporting a veteran who suffers from physical or mental health problems resulting from his or her service.
    • VAC administration, the subject of numerous recommendations to streamline the process for veterans requiring its services (e.g. regarding communications with veterans, human resources and the handling of files).
    • The Veterans Review and Appeal Board, which has also been the subject of concerns, including its transparency; its application of the principle that, when there is doubt, it must decide in favour of the veteran; and its proactive communication with veterans of its expectations of evidence.

Developments

Various statutory and regulatory initiatives have been introduced over the past decade to improve support for Canadian veterans. For example, changes were made to various programs and benefits under the New Veterans Charter.

A Veterans Ombudsman was created in 2007. New procedures were put in place to improve service delivery at Veterans Affairs Canada. In 2015, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act was passed to provide increased access to jobs in the federal public service for certain serving and former members.

Projects were launched across the country to help veterans find private sector jobs. A pilot project was introduced to give veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder, service dogs specially trained for their needs.

In addition, the new Liberal Government has committed to:

  • re-establish lifelong pensions for injured veterans and increase the value of the disability award;
  • increase the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90% of pre-release salary;
  • re-open the nine Veterans Affairs service offices closed in 2014 and hire hundreds of additional staff;
  • expand support for families of veterans and increase the survivor’s pension amount by 20%; and
  • implement all recommendations of the Auditor General to improve the delivery of mental health services for veterans.

Related resources 

Isabelle Lafontaine-Émond, The New Veterans Charter : Evolution since its adoption in 2006, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa (forthcoming).

J. M. Thompson et al., 2013 Synthesis of Life After Service Studies – Executive Summary, Research Directorate, Veterans Affairs Canada, 2014.

J. M. Thompson et al., Health and Well-Being of Canadian Forces Veterans: Findings from the 2013 Life After Service Survey – Executive Summary, Research Directorate, Veterans Affairs Canada, 2014.

Jean-Rodrigue Paré and Melissa Radford, Current Issues in Mental Health in Canada: Mental Health in the Canadian Forces and Among Veterans, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 1 October 2013.

Jean-Rodrigue Paré, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and the Mental Health of Military Personnel and Veterans, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 14 October 2011, revised 3 September 2013.