Wounded Soldier, ex-Ombudsman challenging CF 'Universality of Service' policy

Cpl. Ryan Elrick, a Canadian soldier who lost his legs in Afghanistan, is taking the federal government to court, saying the policy known as Universality of Service is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Elrick spent three years training as an intelligence officer following his wounding but has since been discharged from the military due to the policy, which states that all soldiers must be able to go into combat.

The lawsuit comes amid calls by Pat Stogran, the former Veteran’s Ombudsman, to keep wounded soldiers in the ranks.  He points to inconsistency in applying the rule and to the superior treatment of wounded veterans in the United States. “I could walk down the halls of [headquarters] and show you people with no medals on their chest who are not deployable, either because they’re overweight or because they’ve got family problems or whatever and no one challenges them.” Strogran explains that wounded soldiers would be the first to admit what they can and cannot do, “but there are still all sorts of jobs that some fat plugs at [headquarters] who are not deployable, who are not universally fit for service, are now doing.”

Rear Admiral Andy Smith, chief of military personnel, says the CF are prepared to offer wounded veterans jobs either training cadets or providing administrative work for that organization. Additionally, there are jobs supporting the Canadian Rangers, the reserve force that operates in the Arctic. However, no jobs would be offered with the regular forces.

Elrick alleges he was forced out of the military in March because the Canadian Forces determined his disability made him unfit for service. He says he is angry. He told the CBC, “I truly truly feel Canadian veterans — people wounded in combat —deserve much much better than what we’re getting.” At the time of the incident, Elrick claims that former Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier assured him that his injuries wouldn’t prevent him from maintaining a job with the Forces.” His performance reviews in 2009 and 2010 indicated that he should be promoted, that he had leadership potential and that he was fulfilling duties normally reserved for a sergeant. (David Pugliese, “Military turns blind eye to unfit soldiers at headquarters, ex-ombudsman says,” Ottawa Citizen, 19 June 2011 and Allan Woods, “Wounded soldier sues over military discharge,” Toronto Star, 18 June 2011.)

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