Cheating our veterans

 

By Sean Bruyea-THE NATIONAL POST-February 14, 2008.

This Valentine’s Day, thousands of cards and good wishes will be sent to soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan. But back home, a very different sentiment is being shown to more than 4,200 injured soldiers. While Canadians honour and thank our soldiers serving abroad, many disabled military members are forgotten once their uniforms come off.

Since October, 2000, Canadian law stipulates that a wounded soldier can collect his full salary as well as pain and suffering payments. If a soldier is so wounded as to be unemployable, he must be forced out of the military and paid a salary reduced to 75% of his previous income — with pain-and-suffering payments deducted from the new, lower income. The injustice of this deduction policy attracted the attention of the standing committee on national defence and veterans affairs in 2003, which passed a motion imploring the minister of national defence to stop the deductions. Ironically, the current minister of national defence, Peter MacKay, as well as the current prime minister, president of the treasury board and minister of veterans affairs were all associate members of that committee when the motion was passed.

And yet nothing has been done to right this wrong. The reason is simple: The bureaucrats standing in the way of a just policy have little idea what it means to serve in the military. Ironically, these same senior bureaucrats receive free disability plans, paid for by Canadian taxpayers — and their plan does not deduct pain and suffering payments.

Since Tuesday, a Halifax courtroom has been hearing a request to certify a class-action lawsuit that would force the federal government to stop deducting pain-and-suffering payments from disabled soldiers’ long-term disability plans. The judge has read an affidavit from Andre Bouchard, the president of the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP), the disability plan mandatory for all Canadian forces personnel. Mr. Bouchard, who in fact served in the military for almost 30 years, claims that should the SISIP plan stop deducting pain and suffering payments, the result would be “exorbitant premiums which would impose significant hardship on the members of the Canadian Forces.”

But how much more expensive would the higher premiums actually be? Currently, a corporal in the military pays approximately $9.40 per month for the long-term disability policy. Mr. Bouchard predicts that premiums would increase by 40%, or just $3.76 per month– the price of a latte.

Mr. Bouchard makes further excuses, claiming that disabled soldiers “could effectively receive more than 100% of their former income” were the policy to be changed. But a senior federal public servant on rehabilitation can earn up to 100% of his former income – - and still collect veterans affairs payments if previously injured in the military. Why the double standard?

Such obvious discrimination led the previous department of national defence ombudsman Yves Cote to state “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation, as well as the protection of the equality provisions set out in section 15 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

Canada must renew the broken trust with our forgotten soldiers and give them back the money that has been wrongfully taken from them. Only then will the soldiers consider trusting the very society for which they have sacrificed so much.

seankis@rogers.com – Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

Credit: National Post

Copyright National Post Company Feb 14, 2008