Yukon Housing should leave veterans’ benefits alone: NDP

More than two years after she first started asking about it, the NDP's veterans critic says she still has questions about the way Yukon Housing deals with veterans and their spouses.

More than two years after she first started asking about it, the NDP’s veterans critic says she still has questions about the way Yukon Housing deals with veterans and their spouses.

Kate White disagrees with the Yukon Housing practice of counting a veteran’s disability pension towards their “income” when calculating the amount they should pay for housing.

The disability pension given by Veterans Affairs Canada is given to veterans – including Canadian Armed Forces and members of the RCMP – who were disabled on the job.

“Yukon Housing uses that as part of their rent calculation. So it’s considered income,” White said.

“But it should not be considered income because it’s a payment for pain and suffering. It’s a payment for what was sacrificed. It’s not an income.”

White was first alerted to the problem in 2012 thanks to Yukon couple Earl and Luella Arnold.

Luella’s first husband was injured in the Second World War.

“In World War II he was shot in the face and the bullet travelled down his throat and came out his chest. It affected his life from then on. He died quite young,” White said.

She continued to receive that pension for the rest of her life and used it to help raise her family, White said.

When Earl and Luella moved into social housing in 2007, their rent was calculated based on their income, including the disability pension Luella was receiving.

According to a letter from then-housing minister Scott Kent, rents are set at 25 per cent of the household income.

“My two lovely little seniors paid almost $1,300 a month in rent to Yukon Housing. They did not live large,” White said.

In 2012, a federal judge ruled that Ottawa needed to stop taking back disability benefits from veterans.

In a class-action lawsuit that lasted five years, the lawyers said that veterans’ long-term disability benefits were being reduced by the amount of their disability pensions.

Part of their argument was that benefits were being unjustly taken back because the payments were unfairly being considered income.

In the end a $887-million settlement was reached.

“The practical consequences of the claimed offset is to substantially reduce or to extinguish the long-term disability coverage promised to members,” Justice Robert Barnes said in his decision.

He later added: “That is an outcome that could not reasonably have been intended and I reject it unreservedly.”

In the Yukon, the Arnolds had hoped that the same argument could be made when it came to their rent payment to Yukon Housing.

They appealed to have their rent reduced. But the housing committee denied their appeal.

The appeal committee pointed to the lease signed by the couple, which defines income as “money or monies received from any source…” with only a few exceptions.

The committee recognized the confusion caused by the class-action judgment. However, they said the federal court decision is not transferable to other situations. It was a decision based only on insurance law, they said, quoting from an early letter from Justice Minister Mike Nixon.

The Arnolds considered taking their case to the Yukon’s ombudsperson, White said, but that never materialized.

Luella passed away two years ago and Earl passed away this August.

Even after their appeal was denied by Yukon Housing, White brought the issue up in the Yukon legislature.

In November 2012 she asked for Yukon Housing’s policy to be changed.

In his response, Premier Darrell Pasloski said the issue is something that should be looked at.

Yukon Housing spokesperson Doug Caldwell said the policy hasn’t changed. He said his department would have to wait for direction from the Finance Department before making any changes.

He couldn’t say how many Yukon Housing clients are also recipients of the veterans disability pension.

Questions to the cabinet office were not answered in time for today’s deadline.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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