Government official says improvements being made to program
© Ancelene MacKinnon - Journal Pioneer
A veteran's widow, Marcella Cormier smiles at a picture of her husband, Paul, despite the difficulty she is experiencing with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Marcella Cormier doesn't think she's asking for much.
A veteran's widow of three years, she's now in her own battle - with Veterans Affairs Canada.
The 68-year-old said she needs the housekeeping service from their Veterans Independence Program, but is being unfairly denied.
"I guess the main reason is we didn't get it when my husband, Paul, was living. I was a little bit younger then and I felt I didn't need it at the time, but now I would certainly like to be able to get a bit of help."
Veterans' surviving spouses are eligible to receive the housekeeping and/or grounds keeping assistance through the program. However, not all widows are treated equally, depending on what benefits the veteran was receiving at the time of death.
The rules state, a widow can continue to have both services after the death of her husband and if a veteran and his wife weren't receiving either benefit, a low-income widow can obtain both after application.
But like Cormier's situation, if a veteran and his wife received only one, his widow can never apply for the second, regardless of health status and if she is low-income.
Cormier said her predicament will unfortunately remain the same until the rules and regulations are changed.
She said what she requires is a reasonable request.
"I'm not asking for a whole lot, only a couple of hours a week or every other week."
The service would make a positive difference in her life.
"It would make my life easier for sure when I'm not feeling up to par. It would be a big help for me."
Leroy Gamble is the service officer for the Summerside Legion and said this is an emotional topic for him.
"When I see a veteran's widow and speak to them about this and have to say I can't do anything about this because the legislation isn't relaxed enough to give you another facet of that particular VIP program. Marcella is only one of many and she's fighting."
The widows aren't able to do the regular work they could 20 years ago and the legion is asking the government to respond with something that is fair for all, said Gamble.
"Marcella for instance can't go out and shovel snow, but she is covered to get her driveway ploughed, but she sure as heck can't climb up and wash her ceilings either or move furniture to vacuum and clean."
The widows are entitled to something, he said.
"We have to provide for the people who fought to keep this country free. Those widows were there to look after all those people who helped us. They're the next in line to get some help."
Gamble said he knew Cormier's husband very well.
"And now he's gone and his widow is sitting in a position where she can't get the assistance she needs."
Niklaus Schwenker, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada, said while they cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns, improvements have been made for widows.
"We have opened the VIP program to veterans' widows to receive the same benefits that their service-injured veteran was receiving before their passing and over 38,000 Veterans' widows are making use of this important program," said Schwenker.
He said they wanted to make changes so the benefits would carry over to the widows.
"We expanded the program significantly."
Senator Catherine Callbeck said she believes all widows should be treated the same way and thinks what's happening now is "grossly unfair."
"I don't think it's right and some people are missing out on what they deserve," said Callbeck.
She has been working to make a change and has brought it up in the Senate during Question Period on more than one occasion and has written to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Steven Blaney, to correct this injustice.
"It's an issue I'm going to continue to work on."
What the widows are going through makes her "very sad", she said.
"Here we have these people who put their lives on the line for us and their spouses aren't being treated the same way with respect."
Cormier said a lot of widows are going through what she is and she sees no reason why they can't all get the services.
"I feel I should be entitled to it. Everybody has different needs and we can always use more help."