Layton promises action for veterans

New Democrat leader Jack Layton has vowed to protect veterans’ pensions, improve their benefits programs and reform the veterans’ compensation board. Surrounded by 800 placard-waving supporters, he announced his party’s platform for those who have served in Canada’s military and the RCMP.

NDP leader Jack Layton speaks to a group of 800 people at the Dartmouth Sportsplex (Justin Ling photo).

By Justin Ling

New Democrat leader Jack Layton has vowed to protect veterans’ pensions, improve their benefits programs and reform the veterans’ compensation board.  Surrounded by 800 placard-waving supporters, he announced his party’s platform for those who have served in Canada’s military and the RCMP.

The Saturday afternoon rally had veterans and voters packed into the Dartmouth Sportsplex. Also in attendance were Halifax MP Megan Leslie, Veterans’ Affairs critic Peter Stoffer and New Democratic candidates from across the province.

Layton used the campaign stop to rehash existing policies and introduce a few new ones in advance of his full platform launch, expected sometime this week. The bulk of the promises were to improve veterans’ access to their pensions and to reinstate the Service Income Security Insurance Plan.

“It’s time to do something for the veterans in Calgary who have to rely on a foodbank just to get by,” Layton said.

He also pledged to re-work the Veterans’ Review and Appeal Board which recently came under fire and had one of its rulings overturned by the Veterans’ Affairs minister. The board had decided to withhold pension benefits from a Nova Scotia veteran suffering from cancer. Layton’s plan would have the board staffed by veterans instead of bureaucrats.

The NDP leader also promised a public inquiry into the use of Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. Almost 2,000 veterans are suing the federal government for illness they claim are associated with the spraying of the toxic chemical at the base.

The event was advertised as having a surprise guest, who turned out to be  vocal ex-bureaucrat, Veterans’ Ombudsman Pat Stogran who was earlier informed that his three-year term would not be renewed by the Harper government. Many opposition MPs linked Stogran’s removal with his outspokenness regarding perceived inaction by the government.

“The promises of improvement were as shallow as Brian Dyck’s final breaths,” says Stogran.

Dyck served in the 1991 Gulf War and then entered the RCMP. The government denied health benefits to him because he suffered from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), which Veterans’ Affairs does not recognize as an illness linked to active duty.

Not long after the NDP plan was announced, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff vowed to invest in a $120-million program to pay for four years of university of college for veterans.