Veterans Affairs Canada has been overestimating the number of Canadian veterans for decades – and newly released census figures suggest there may be 25% fewer veterans than the federal government previously thought.
Statistics Canada and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) are working to reconcile the difference between their numbers, CBC News has learned.
According to the 2021 census, there are 461,240 veterans in Canada, a significant drop from the 617,800 ex-military veterans projected by VAC.
The explanation may lie in the way VAC and Statistics Canada count veterans.
The most recent census included a question on military service for the first time in 50 years. Respondents aged 17 or older on May 11, 2021 were asked if they had ever served in the Canadian military.
VAC, for its part, arrives at its annual veteran population projection using a mathematical model based on 1971 Census data, the 1988 Labor Force Survey and annual survival rates from Statistics Canada. .
“This has caused VAC and Statistics Canada to reassess the estimates we’ve used for decades for the estimated veteran population,” VAC spokesman Josh Bueckert said in an email.
Other factors could hamper efforts to paint an accurate picture of the veteran population.
One of these factors is the incomplete picture provided by the 1951, 1961 and 1971 censuses on which ACC partially bases its estimates. Previously, according to Statistics Canada, the census only asked men aged 35 and over if they had served in the Canadian army or other allied forces.
The 2021 Census Short Form, which was sent to all households, expanded its question to include anyone 17 and older, regardless of gender. He asked them if they were serving or currently serving in the military.
According to Statistics Canada, a person can be defined as someone who served in the Canadian military if they served in the “Regular Force or Primary Reserve as an officer or non-commissioned member”.
VAC is rethinking the way it counts veterans
VAC’s estimates were based on their definition of a veteran, meaning anyone who has completed basic training and been honorably discharged from the forces.
The census is also based on self-declaration. A VAC spokesperson said this approach could also provide an incomplete picture, as some people who technically qualify as veterans may not have identified themselves as veterans.
The discrepancy does not affect funding for Veterans Affairs Canada because its funding model is not based on the number of veterans in the country, said an official in the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay. The revised numbers, however, could affect how the department plans policy going forward.
In a media statement, VAC told CBC News it would not provide any further updates on the number of veterans until it re-evaluates how it counts military veterans.
“Our department is working with Statistics Canada on ongoing verification of data collected in the 2021 Census, with the goal of producing the most accurate and comprehensive view possible of Canada’s veteran population,” the statement said.
This is not the first time that Veterans Affairs has had problems with its calculations.
An accounting error decades ago led to the department stripping former soldiers of disability benefits for a number of years — a mistake that ultimately cost the federal government more than $165 million to correct.