National Security Minister Wayne Caines told MPs on Friday that the Progressive Labour Party administration will increase pension benefits for Bermuda’s war veterans to give them “the respect and recognition they deserve”.
In a Ministerial Statement delivered on the floor of the House on Friday, Mr Caines reminded his parliamentary colleagues that Bermuda had a “long history of military and war involvement”.
“Unfortunately our veterans have not always gotten the respect and recognition they deserve due to a myriad of racial and economic injustices that were inscribed into the laws and policies of the day,” he said.
He noted that pension problems arose for veterans who had volunteered their service but were not sent overseas.
“Until amendments to the [War Pensions] Act in 2007 brought forth by the then PLP Administration, these soldiers were denied benefits and even the title of war veterans,” he said.
“Pension issues arose for those soldiers who served at home in later wars. These Bermudians volunteered for service, but were not sent overseas for a number of reasons,” said the Minister.
“Volunteers in reserved occupations including masons, builders, engineers, shipwrights, carpenters, and police were kept in Bermuda as their skills would be required if the Island came under attack.
“Men with families were not sent overseas. Soldiers who remained to guard Bermuda, some for over six years, included members of the Bermuda Militia Artillery, the Bermuda Militia Engineers, Bermuda Militia Infantry and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Company.
“They comprise both black and white veterans: but until amendments to the Act in 2007 brought forth by the then PLP administration, these soldiers were denied benefits and even the title of War Veterans,” said Mr Caines.
“It is especially disheartening that these men and women, and their widows and widowers have had to fight for their just recognition as they are seniors in our community.”
Reaffirming the Government’s commitment “to advancing policies that help to right this wrong”, he said the War Pension Commissioners had submitted a proposal to increase the monthly benefit from $800 to $1,000 in 2019.
The Government has accepted the recommendation and the proposed increase would cost about $162,000 in fiscal year 2019-20.
“Partial budgetary provision has already been made within the Budget allocation for the war vets programme administered by the Department of Social Insurance.
“The additional cost will be funded from savings within the current Ministry of Finance Budget allocation.”
While noting that the Government was “sympathetic” to the financial needs of veterans, he added: “These men, and some women, served their country in this capacity because it was the right thing to do.
“They have never sought handouts and deserve to be honoured at every opportunity.
“The Government is hopeful that this increase will assist not only the veterans themselves, but will also offer some relief to the family members who care for them.”
On that note, he said: “I am pleased to share that the Government has accepted the recommendation of the Commissioners and intends to continue to honour those who fought for the people of Bermuda in previous years by introducing an additional increase to the Pensions Benefit.
“The reality is that, over time, the living expense for war veterans has increased. It is intended that this pension increase will provide additional assistance to our veterans and their families.
“The rate of pensions for war veterans are prescribed in accordance with section 16A of the Pensions and Gratuities (War Service) Act 1947. Later today, as the Minister of National Security with responsibility for Defence, I will table the Pensions (War Service) Order 2019 that will formally amend the rate.
“The cost to Government for the proposed increase in pensions will be approximately $162,000 in fiscal year 2019/20. Partial budgetary provision has already been made within the budget allocation for the war vets programme administered by the Department of Social Insurance. The additional cost will be funded from savings within the current Ministry of Finance budget allocation.”
In addition to the pension benefit, he said: “In addition to the pension benefit, war veterans also receive various medical benefits which include, all expenses for treatment at KEMH including vision care; unlimited prescription drugs; medical office visits to GP’s and specialist and limited denture coverage. Funeral expenses up to $5,000 are also covered under the Act.
“Even with the various pulls on the Government purse, the Government is committed to ensuring that our veterans are adequately supported. We remain sympathetic to the financial needs of the island’s veteran population. These men, and some women, served their country in this capacity because it was the right thing to do. They have never sought hand-outs, and deserve to be honoured at every opportunity.”
Ultimately, he said: “The Government is hopeful that this increase will assist not only the veterans themselves, but will also offer some relief to the family members who care for them.
The Minister concluded: “We pay tribute to Bermuda’s military veterans, including those of all ethnicities who made the ultimate sacrifice to help provide the peace and freedoms we enjoy today.”