Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise this Honourable House of the Government’s intention to increase the Pension Benefit for Bermuda’s war veterans.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will be aware that Bermuda has 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.
Mr. Speaker, during the First World War the Bermuda soldiers were members of the Bermuda Militia Artillery, and as it was decided that they were too small and inexperienced as a unit to be involved in combat, they served as essential support staff behind the lines in Italy and Egypt . The 1919 War Pensions Act stipulated service overseas to receive a pension, so these particular soldiers did not have issue.
Mr. Speaker, 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. 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.
Mr. Speaker, 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. This Government is committed to advancing policies that help to right this wrong.
Mr. Speaker, recently, the War Pension Commissioners, a group of former military members, submitted a proposal to increase the pensions for War Veterans benefit recipients. There has been no increase to war veteran pensions’ since April 2007, when the monthly benefit was increased from $400 to $800. For 2019, the Commissioners recommended a further $200 increase from $800 to $1000 per month.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members are reminded that 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.
Mr. Speaker, 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. 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.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.