The COVID-19 crisis has pinched every corner of society.
For Reginald Wise, that pinch means a cancelled surgery.
The former Royal Marine needs cataract surgery. Without it, he says he can’t drive, read, or paint. Wise says he needs to see in order to maintain some semblance of a normal life.
He’s not so broken up over not being able to drive, but he’s normally a voracious reader and he uses painting as a way to cope with his PTSD. He usually paints for hours and devours historical fiction, books on military history, books on medicine, and, of course, the news.
“I read a helluva lot,” said Wise. “I’m quite an avid reader. And with the Legion closed, I don’t get out much now.”
Wise has been unable to read properly since about March 2019. He first went to his doctor in April. He used a large magnifying glass to help read for a few months, but even that doesn’t help now.
“It took until October before I could see a specialist,” he said. “Then I got my surgery scheduled for June this year, but that was cancelled when they stopped doing surgeries at Langley hospital for anyone over 75 because of the virus.”
Over the last few months, since about Remembrance Day, his eyesight has gotten worse.
“It’s really deteriorated. I can’t drive anymore and I can’t read the Cloverdale Reporter, even with my magnifying glass.”
With his surgery cancelled indefinitely, Wise wants to go through a private clinic — which would cost him $5,000 — but on his meagre income, it’s something he can’t afford.
So he turned to Veterans Affairs Canada, but he received no help.
But Wise’s gripe isn’t whether they’d cover his cataract surgery at a private clinic or not. It’s that they offer no help or support whatsoever to many Allied veterans.
“I had to pay $4,500 out of my own pocket for hearing aids, because it’s not covered by medical or by veterans affairs,” said Wise.
He added he pays for his own glasses, hearing aids, and dental work — all things that he says would be free for him if he was still in England.
“I’ve lived in Canada since 1951, become a citizen, and paid taxes for decades and decades and decades. Veterans Affairs takes care of the Canadian veterans. Now I’m a Canadian and a veteran, but I’m not a Canadian veteran because I served in the British forces.”
Veteran Affairs Canada provides support programs for veterans in three main categories.
VAC’s programs are: the War Veterans Allowance (WVA), the War Veterans Allowance Assistance Fund (WVAAF), and the Veterans Emergency Fund (VEF). Only former Canadian Forces soldiers qualify for the VEF and only vets that have already qualified for the WVA may apply for the emergency WVAAF.
But qualifying for the WVA is another matter.
“(VAC) has an overseas chap, I’ve contacted him many times, but he says I’m not entitled to any benefits. I have to pay my own way. The British VA won’t help because I’m a Canadian citizen and the VA won’t help because I was in the British military.”
So Wise feels he’s caught in the middle.
“I’m not the only one. There are a number of Commonwealth veterans at the Legion and we’re all in the same boat. I talk to civilians and they think all the veterans in Canada are Canadian military veterans – that they’re looked after — but that’s not the case.”
And Wise asks bigger questions too.
“How many vets out there don’t have any support? And what is the Canadian government’s responsibility to foreign veterans that became Canadian citizens?”
The Cloverdale Reporter reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada and spoke to an “inquiry analyst” who confirmed Allied vets have to have an extremely low income in order to qualify for assistance.
He said any other soldiers from foreign countries that fought in other wars qualify for a disability payment based only on their injury, whether that be physical or mental.
“The War Veterans Allowance is what is called an income-tested benefit and a vet’s income is taken into account,” said the analyst, who requested to remain anonymous.
According to the VAC website, “Income is assessed using the same standard for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which is based on the Income Tax Act. Annual income exemptions, such as the casual earnings exemption and the interest exemption, are considered at the time of your assessment.”
“But the threshold to qualify is quite low,” the analyst added.
“A single veteran has to have a household income of less than $1,653.81 per month and a married veteran has to have a household income of less than $2,464.61 per month.”
That means a single vet like Wise must be earning less than $19,845.72 a year in order to qualify for the WVA.
“I make $26,000 a year. When you have to pay out $4,500 for hearing aids, it’s quite a bite. That’s one-sixth of my income,” explained Wise. “If that disqualifies me from getting help from Veterans Affairs for medical expenses, then something is wrong here. How low do I have to go?”
From time to time, Wise questions his service over the lack of health funding.
“I get so mad sometimes. Why did I spend those years in the military? It was all meaningless. To the government, it doesn’t mean anything. A Canadian MP, with six-years of experience gets a $28,000 pension, but a Canadian, who’s worked for 30 years gets less? There’s something wrong with that.”
And Wise can’t qualify for any emergency funding because he doesn’t qualify for the WVA and he’s not a former member of the CAF.
“How long will this virus go on for? It could be a bloody long time,” Wise asked, wondering when, if ever, his cataract surgery will be rescheduled.
“I’m 95. So they probably think, ‘he’ll be dead soon,’” he said laughing.