OTTAWA — Canadian funeral directors say they’re routinely subsidizing
the burials of this country’s most impoverished war veterans because
the federal government pays so little for the service.Veterans Affairs Canada provides eligible veterans with up to $3,600 for funeral services through the Last Post Fund.
But that amount — it has remained unchanged for more than a decade —
now covers only about half the cost of a veteran’s funeral, according to
the Funeral Service Association of Canada.“It’s mostly the members of our association, or the families
themselves, that are making up the difference,” said Phil Fredette, the
association’s government relations chair.Depending on the province, Fredette said, it now costs between $6,500
and $9,000 to provide the funeral services mandated under the Veterans
Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program.Among other things, the program requires funeral directors to bury war veterans in wooden caskets of a specified quality.
Some provinces, Fredette said, now pay as much or more for funeral services through social assistance.
Nova Scotia, for instance, offers $3,800 to cover the cost of a funeral and related services for a qualifying welfare recipient.
In Ontario, many municipalities pay funeral service rates of $4,000
to $5,000 for eligible social service recipients. Ottawa increased its
rates last year to $4,366.Jean-Pierre Goyer, executive director of the non-profit Last Post
Fund, said “some funeral directors are not calling us anymore, they’re
going right to social services.”In other cases, he said, fund administrators have to wheel and deal
with funeral directors to find a way to deliver the services for the set
price.“That’s what we’re confronted with more and more,” he said.
Goyer said his organization has petitioned the government for 12 consecutive years to raise its cap on funeral costs.
“This is something that has long been in discussion but never clears the final hurdle,” he said.
A veteran’s family or estate must meet a means test in order to
qualify for assistance from the Last Post Fund. Veterans of the Second
World War, Korean War, and any retired soldier who died of a
service-related disability are eligible.Serving members of the Canadian Forces receive up to $12,700 for funeral expenses.
The Last Post Fund provides assistance to about 1,800 veterans each
year. Each one of those funerals costs Canadian funeral directors money,
Fredette said.“You won’t find a single funeral director in Canada who will refuse
to do a veteran’s funeral regardless of what the government pays: it’s a
service to our country. All we want is fairness.”The association will hold a board meeting in Ottawa this week, during which time it will meet with 20 MPs to press their case.
“We think it’s important to give veterans the dignified funeral and burial services that they deserve,” Fredette said.