Good afternoon. My name is Tracy Lee Evanshen. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I had the pleasure of speaking before this committee before and recognize some familiar faces. Hello. To the new faces, it's a pleasure to meet you.
Last time, I gave a brief outline of what a weekend looks like for us when my children are visiting and of the minefields we must navigate to do so. I will not go through that again, but will give you some other insights into our lives.
Having met Kevin at a program for veterans and active military members suffering from PTSD, I knew that there would be some hurdles in our lives. I truly didn't know there would be this many. I sometimes ask what I have gotten myself into. Honestly, that thought lasts less than a heartbeat. This man has given me and my children everything he possibly can. Being his wife is amazing, frustrating, angering and full of love, and I would not want anything else. Would I like to see it be different? Absolutely, but we are dealing with the crappy hand we have been dealt. It's a hand we did not ask for, nor do we deserve it.
He willingly joined the military to fight for his country and to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. He did that not once, but twice. He gave of himself only to have the country he fought for turn its back on him, give him grief and make things so difficult that he often thought of ending it.
Why? It's because the government decided to. They would say that they were looking into those claims and that they would create a study and spend millions on it. How about giving the millions to the veterans, spouses and their families?
This ridiculous clause was written in 1901. Are you serious? Twice, Prime Minister Trudeau said they'd get rid of it, yet it's still here.
The majority of veterans and/or spouses are living just above the poverty level, if not below it. We are not asking for much, just what we deserve and were promised. We don't want to struggle with how to pay the phone bill or the mortgage this month, or whether we'll eat hotdogs or peanut butter sandwiches.
You may think I'm joking, but this is a serious dilemma for some veterans. At the end of the veteran's days, when he or she gave it all for his or her country, his or her spouse will be destitute because they are not entitled to his or her benefits if they found love after the age of 60. I ask you, if any of you are over 60 and have a significant other, how would you feel if you wouldn't be able to care for them after you're gone?
I can tell you that my husband cried over the fact that he will be unable to financially provide for me once he's gone. He feels like less than a man, useless, less than dirt and worthless. How dare this government make him and others feel that way?
For example, when Kevin turned 65, his take-home monies were cut by 20%. I guess life ends for a veteran at 65. When they need help the most, they get thrown out with the bathwater. He was unceremoniously released from the military because he was considered old. Sixty is not old.
We are on the phone daily to VAC, the ombudsman's office and human rights to try to get straightforward answers. Those answers are rarely given. We receive responses that go in circles. We are not uneducated people, but feel that way each time we get such asinine responses. Yes, I said “responses”, as they are never answers to the questions. The responses seem to change like the weatherman's predictions.
We need things to be easier. Things are made so much harder. Nobody seems to want to be accountable. Someone has to be. Someone must initiate the change. Please be that someone.
When I was his common-law partner, we figured out that I was entitled to his VAC benefits but not his military benefits. How does that make sense? We found out that if a veteran is not married by 60, any partnership after 60 will not be recognized. He never knew this clause existed. Once married, we had a year to submit the paperwork in order for me to be able to get his military benefits, i.e., pension, but we had to pay into it from what little money we now have coming in.
Veterans Affairs returns upwards of $150 million a year to the government. This money could be used to support veterans and their families, no matter what the family unit looks like.
Please know that I am new to this life and I would not change it. Veterans have to chase people for help, but it isn't help. It's more trouble. They give up. They are tired of being marginalized, cast aside and forgotten.
If he wants to ensure that I, as his wife, have some of his pension, we must pay back into a pension he is already paying back into because he re-enlisted for Afghanistan at the age of 53. If we do that, we will have next to nothing to live on. Let that sink in, please.
Please help us. Help change this archaic clause and give veterans and their families the help they deserve.