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No better time to ensure needy veterans are buried with respect.

Lest we forget

The idea that an impoverished veteran deserves a dignified funeral and burial has been around since 1908 when a veteran of the Boer War died on the street with nothing in his possession but his honourable discharge papers. His body was handed to science for medical research.

It's a principle, however, that successive federal governments have had trouble respecting.

The criteria for a federal fund that is supposed to ensure destitute veterans receive a proper funeral and burial are too limited and the program itself is underfunded.

Ottawa contributes $3,600 toward the funerals of needy veterans, an amount that hasn't increased in years and is inadequate for today's costs. To qualify for that meagre support, veterans' families must show their assets are under $12,015, not counting the family home and one vehicle. The test for single veterans is less onerous.

The service criteria are even more restrictive. The burial fund is only available to veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War. Other veterans may qualify if their families can prove they died as a result of a disability sustained in the Armed Forces.

The policy effectively excludes all those who served in uniform since the Korean war, including veterans of the Afghan conflict.

The program is administered by The Last Post Fund, a non-profit group that has had to dip into its donations to ensure some veterans receive dignified burials. Funeral directors have also subsidized the funerals of impoverished war veterans because the government's allowance doesn't cover the full cost.

The Last Post Fund has asked Ottawa to increase its cap for 12 years without success. The country's veterans deserve better, and there is no better time than now to ensure that needy veterans are buried with respect.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2012 A10

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

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