Making the right choice for injured soldiers

Five reports from two different DND ombudsmen called the deductions ‘profoundly’ and ‘fundamentally unfair’ while the latest ombudsman Yves Cote indicates ‘the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation

 By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-September 24, 2007

OTTAWA–For a soldier, the battlefield is often rendered in black and white in order to minimize the time to make that crucial decision which saves lives. For a disabled soldier, the grey and convoluted world of disability programs becomes a life-threatening obstacle course of attrition and shame. This is precisely why the unfair deductions from a soldier’s long-term disability plan known as SISIP (Service Income Security Insurance Plan) has become such a banner cause: it is a wrong which is clearly wrong.

Five reports from two different DND ombudsmen called the deductions “profoundly” and “fundamentally unfair” while the latest ombudsman Yves Cote indicates “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation.” Parliament has passed a motion and all parties have unanimously urged a cessation to these deductions.

Meanwhile, federal bureaucrats have played a strategy of defence. As each of the bureaucratic excuses to avoid righting this wrong has been defeated in the court of public opinion, the bureaucrats have erected a new defence creating a Maginot Line of sorts. The first obstacle erected was the successful attempt to avoid any consultation or discussion on the issue. Delays eventually forced court action which provided the bureaucrats with further excuses to avoid doing the right thing.

Eventually the defence increased in density to the point where bureaucrats attempted to smother any intention to resolve the issue. This was quickly topped up with predictions of financial Armageddon should the government actually do what is right and provide the financial compensation that is necessary and fair. In this case, André Bouchard, president of SISIP, reported that the cost of doing the right thing had ballooned from $5-million annually as reported by the prior president, Pierre Lemay, to $320-million to remedy the entire problem of the unfair deductions.

Therein lies the real obstacle: money. But, is it really an obstacle? An unexplained $320-million would certainly paralyse any government. Certainly $5-million would create fewer obstacles.

Why the difference? First, SISIP was forced to reduce the amount to $275-million from $295-million by the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions. This amount, however, includes seven years of retroactivity as well as all costs going forward until disabled soldiers are no longer eligible for the SISIP payments at age 65. Assuming the average age of soldiers affected is 45 years old now, the plan would pay out for about 20 more years.

To get a rough idea, one merely needs to divide the seven years of retroactivity plus the 20 years going forward into $275-million to arrive at an annual cost of approximately $10-million.

When that $10-million is divided by the approximately 4,000 soldiers affected, the average annual cost is $2,500 per soldier per year for the next 20 years. Deputy ministers earn about 20 times that amount in their annual bonus.

Therefore, the unfair deductions could be stopped right now for far less than the annual cost of the salaries and bonuses of all the 50 or so deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers combined.

For many despondent disabled soldiers, especially those suffering psychological injuries, each day they must make the unwanted choice between taking a shower or taking their lives. Often, such epic personal battles are fought in quiet struggles, attempting to reintegrate into a world so very different from the military which promised to care for the soldier, no matter what.

Lately, however, many soldiers wonder why they sacrificed their health and the stability of their families. Such sacrifices seem hardly justified. Disabled soldiers must unnecessarily endure intransigent bureaucrats wearing down feckless attempts of successive governments while haphazardly creating discriminatory disability policy for the soldiers without the input of the injured soldiers. These are the same senior bureaucrats and Members of Parliament whose disability plan is free at the taxpayers’ expense and their plan is not allowed to deduct pension act disability payments.

It is time to go around the Maginot Line of excuses as disabled soldiers will never win the war against hardened and entrenched bureaucrats. Perhaps those senior Canadian officials can think about the choices a disabled soldier is making today in Halifax, Trois Rivières, Prince Albert, or, Chilliwack and then the bureaucrats can make the right choice by stopping the unfair deductions immediately.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces. He currently volunteers as an advocate for other disabled veterans.

The Hill Times