Lawrence MacAulay

Despite criticism from several national media outlets Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay defends a $105 million surplus in the federal department’s 2018-19 budget.

The budget was set at $4.42 billion.

“There always needs to be a surplus because the benefits are demand-driven. What you have to do is an estimate, what is the cost?” Mr MacAulay said.

The Veterans Affairs website shows 24 service standards the department meets for veterans. Of those 15 were not met in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the most recently reported.

One service standard is Community War Memorial funding under the Commemorative Partnership Program. The target VAC has is 80 per cent of applications having a decision on funding within 12 weeks. The result in 2017-2018 is 23 per cent.

The site notes demand for the funding “greatly exceeded” what was available.

Mr MacAulay said funding for VAC is subdivided for each service standard and that money cannot be moved from one account to another.

“The funding is designated for a specific program,” he said. “These dollars are for benefits for veterans.”

During the previous Steven Harper PC government, approximately 1,000 employees were cut from VAC. Mr MacAulay said the process of rehiring staff has been laborous.

“That really put us behind,” Mr MacAulay said, adding most of those employees have been rehired.

At the end of the fiscal year, any surplus funds in the VAC budget are returned to the federal government’s framework but are earmarked for VAC in the next federal budget.

Veterans Affairs Canada has $4.33 billion budgeted for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Initial applications to VAC for disability benefits increased from 19,383 in 2014-2015 to 37,654 in 2018-2019.

None of the Legion representatives contacted by The Graphic would comment citing the fact they didn’t have sufficient information.

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