Veterans' benefits still withheld

Despite Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s June 15th pledge to uphold a federal court ruling reinstating disabled veterans’ access to clawed-back long-term disability benefits, many of the most severely injured former Canadian Forces soldiers have yet to see their payments resumed.

After a five-year battle, the Halifax court ruled in favour of approximately 4,500 veterans in the class action lawsuit, ruling that a benefit cap equalling 75% of their military salary illegally conflated pain and suffering payments with other pension and disability income.

In late May, MacKay announced that the government would not appeal the ruling, which stated that policy of deducting the payments violated the reasonable expectations of disabled veterans. He followed up two weeks later with a statement that the clawbacks would end July 1st.

According to The Canadian Press (“Veterans’ pensions still clawed back despite ruling,” 9 July 2012), not all eligible veterans are seeing the fruits of the new policy:

Ron Cundell, who receives a Canada Pension Plan disability benefit, a military pension and a pain and suffering award from Veterans Affairs, said his long-term disability payment has not been reinstated.

“The most severely injured — we’re getting squat,” he said from his home in Angus, Ont.

“It’s being used as a negotiation piece between the law firm and the Department of Justice. The most severely injured Canadian soldier is a pawn.”

Cundell, 50, said he would likely receive an additional $1,400 a month in long-term disability from the military’s insurance program, the Service Income Security Insurance Plan.

But like many other veterans, his other payments exceeded the limit of 75 per cent of his military salary, so he received nothing in long-term disability through the income security plan.

Other veterans whose benefits haven’t exceeded the 75 per cent cap have seen their payments reinstated, as MacKay said they would.

But veterans’ advocates argue those with most grievous injuries should see an immediate reinstatement of the benefits, particularly since many can’t work and rely solely on pain and suffering awards.

Peter Stoffer, the NDP’s veterans affairs critic, said the federal government could easily start the payments that he says the former military members are due.

“The government should be saying whatever it takes to fix this system, fix it,” he said.

In an email to The Canadian Press on [July 6th], a spokesman for National Defence said the government “has begun discussions with the claimants’ legal team to resolve all outstanding issues.”

Veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea echoes Stoffer’s frustration:

“This is a perfect example as to how bureaucratic red tape results in needless suffering,” he said in an email.

“This bureaucratic inability to see people through the process, especially highly marginalized and vulnerable disabled Canadian Forces veterans and their families, is unnecessary and illegal.”

An estimated $320 to $600 million is at stake, including potential retroactive payments still under negotiation.

Further reading:

Sean Bruyea, “Class Action Negotiations for Disabled Canadian Forces Soldiers: Let’s Not Forget People in the Process Please,” Defence Watch Blog (Ottawa Citizen), 13 July 2012

Photo credit: DND

Tags: Canadian Forces, Canadian Press, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Disability clawback, Peter Stoffer, Sean Bruyea, veterans