Canada’s veterans will once again have a tangible way to prove their service to their country with a special photo identification card.
Veterans Affairs Canada announced Tuesday at an event in Ottawa the return of the Veterans Service Card, which was discontinued by the previous Conservative government in 2015.
The new cards will look virtually the same as the previous card, known as the NDI 75, and will include a photo, name, date of birth, as well as the veteran’s service number, rank on release and their years of service. The new cards will also have no expiry date.
Starting immediately, the new service card will be available to any Canadian Forces member who has completed basic training and has been honourably released — a major change from the old card that was only available to veterans who served 10 years or more.
Starting in December, veterans who left the military between April and September 2018 can apply for the card and by summer 2019 the cards will be available as a reissue to all veterans who may have lost their NDI 75 or would just like a new card.
At Tuesday’s announcement, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said when he began holding town hall events for veterans across Canada in January he was shocked at just how often veterans called for the return of these cards.
“Every single town hall I go to, one veteran will stand up sometime around halfway through the meeting and say ‘can you just bring back the veterans ID card’ and the place goes up — the applause just rains,” he said.
“This is something that veterans want. It is tangible, it is in their hand, it is recognition, it something they can show their family and their friends and their comrades, something they could present at the store and get a discount. As small as that may be, it’s recognition and it’s recognition that, in their mind, was taken from them.”
Halifax veteran Gus Cameron, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 26 years, is one of the many veterans who has been calling for the return for the NDI 75. Last June, Cameron launched a federal e-petition — sponsored by Halifax MP Andy Fillmore — calling for a new veterans service card, which received more than 1,700 signatures from across Canada. The petition was tabled in Parliament last November.
Though the federal government did not say if Cameron’s petition played a part in the decision to bring the cards back, Cameron said he had spoken to O’Regan directly about the issue, and noted that his petition had a deadline of Nov. 10, 2018 — just two months from Tuesday’s announcement.
Speaking with The Chronicle Herald, Cameron said he welcomes the return of the service card and is pleased to see the new version being expanded to all veterans regardless of how long they have served.
Cameron said he hopes the card can someday be upgraded to include a chip that contains information about the veteran — for example medical information that can be accessed in an emergency — and hopes it might be used to keep track of Canada’s service men and women and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.
At Tuesday’s announcement, O’Regan said there could be room for those kinds of upgrades in the future, but in the meantime, he just wanted to get the card back in the hands of veterans.
When the NDI 75 was discontinued, a discount card called the CF One card issued by Canex, Canada’s military store, was made available to veterans and offered some discounts for veterans who cared to apply. But Cameron, who still carries around a laminated photocopy of his old NDI 75 out of fear of losing the original, refused to get one. He said for him and many others a discount card just wasn’t the same as a government-issued certificate.
While there is no official list of benefits or discounts for the new Veterans Service Card, both O’Regan and defence minister Harjit Sajjan, who was also at Tuesday’s announcement, said veterans will be able to use them to prove their service to the many companies that already offer discounts for veterans. They also said that the federal government will be imploring the private sector to offer more in the future.
Cameron said while it’s nice to be able to get half off a meal, get free checked baggage on Air Canada or free passenger fare to Newfoundland on the Marine Atlantic, the card is about more than that.
“When (a company) says ‘you know what, I’m going to give you your meal for half price’ what they’re really saying is ‘thank you for all those hours that you worked extra over there in Afghanistan, or Bosnia or Croatia. Thank you for doing what you did, and here’s a little treat for you,’ ” Cameron said.
“It’s a small token of appreciation from the Canadian government and maybe the Canadian population that you can put in your wallet or your purse that reminds you of your own service to this great country.”