This past Veterans' Week, we paused to remember the sacrifices made by our veterans in retaining the liberties we enjoy. It is useful, now, to reflect on the needs of some veterans -- those in financial need at the time of death.
Those informed would know that the federal government's publicly funded Funeral and Burial Program, delivered by the Last Post Fund, does assist traditional and some modern-day veterans who are in financial need at the time of death. Unfortunately, only a few modern-day veterans are eligible for the publicly funded program; other veterans in need rely on the Last Post Fund donation money or on provincial social assistance programs to provide a dignified funeral.
Thus far in 2012, the Last Post Fund, using donation money, has assisted the survivors of six veterans with a dignified funeral and burial and there are now further requests for assistance. Despite the urging during the past decade of all veterans groups in Canada to include these veterans in the government's program, this has not occurred. A summary of the modern-day veteran cases assisted thus far with donation money would be informative for the reader and this is set forth below. Names and places are withheld out of respect for the veterans' families and privacy legislation.
-- In Nova Scotia, a 62-year-old veteran passed away with no financial means. The widow was also left with huge credit card debts and with little income to support herself and a Down syndrome daughter. Rather than seek welfare assistance, the widow asked for and received assistance from the fund. The debt to the funeral home was paid with donation money.
-- In Alberta, a veteran died and a parent asked for Last Post Fund assistance to provide a burial marker and to have the veteran's remains sent to a funeral home in P.E.I. The fund approved the provision of a marker and provided financial support (donation funds) for a dignified funeral.
-- Also in Alberta, a divorced and homeless veteran died on the streets and was removed to a morgue. The Last Post Fund provided donation money to facilitate cremation and transported the remains to a relative in New Brunswick for interment.
-- In New Brunswick, the family of a 65-year-old veteran arranged for the funeral and burial of the veteran, but unfortunately the family had insufficient funds to pay the funeral home bills and provincial social assistance was not available. The New Brunswick-P.E.I. Branch of the fund used donation funds to pay for this veteran's proper and dignified funeral.
-- In Ontario, a veteran died in a Toronto hospital with no financial means. The hospital contacted the sister of the veteran to claim the remains. Being ineligible for the federal government's program, the veteran's sister contacted the fund for assistance and a dignified funeral was arranged and paid for with donation money.
-- In Quebec, a veteran died in hospital. His estate had no funds and debts were many. The veteran's paraplegic mother is hospitalized. Because the survivors did not have the funds for a dignified funeral and burial, the hospital contacted the public trustee to claim the veteran's remains. The family contacted the Last Post Fund for assistance. This veteran was buried in the Last Post Fund National Field of Honour and a marker will be installed on his grave.
The fund has recently received requests from six more families to assist in the funerals and burials of veterans who are not eligible for the federal government's publicly funded Funeral and Burial Program. It would appear each case is one of financial need and the fund will assist with the provision of a dignified funeral and burial.
As cited in the Veterans Affairs ombudsman's reports, all modern-day veterans in financial need at the time of death deserve a dignified funeral. The ombudsman has recommended that all modern-day veterans who are financially challenged at the time of death be made eligible for the federal government's program. Thus far they are not. Surely a veteran is a veteran and modern-day veterans' funerals and burials ought to be provided in a way similar to what's given to eligible traditional veterans.
The Last Post Fund has embarked on a major fundraising campaign to garner sufficient funds for cases similar to the foregoing, to provide markers for the unmarked graves of veterans and to support the development of the National Field of Honour. This writer urges readers to contact their elected representatives and request the necessary changes in legislation, and if readers are able to provide a donation, they should contact the Last Post Fund in their area.
The mission of the Last Post Fund, supported financially by Veterans Affairs Canada and private donations, is to ensure no eligible veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone, due to insufficient funds.
Lt.-Gen. (retired) L.W.F. Cuppens is the treasurer of the Last Post Fund.