Veterans fighting feds over disability deductions

By Janice Tibbetts-REGINA LEADER POST-January 21, 2010. pg. A.8

Dennis Manuge, a former soldier who served in Bosnia before he was medically released from the military, gets his day in the Supreme Court of Canada today to fight a federal policy of clawing back disability payments to thousands of injured veterans.
“We are fighting our toughest battle here in Canada against our own government,” Manuge, the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the government, told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
The former corporal will seek the court’s approval for up to 6,500 veterans — more than half of them with mental-health problems — to sue the federal government to recoup millions of dollars in deductions from their long-term disability cheques.

“Pardon me for not wearing my medals today but I returned them to the Governor General last summer in protest,” said Manuge, of Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., a recipient of a Canadian Forces Peacekeeping Medal and NATO Services Medal.

Manuge, a former military mechanic who injured his back at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., and suffered subsequent depression, began receiving a monthly pension for pain and suffering from Veterans Affairs Canada while he was still in the Forces.

When he was medically released in 2003 after nine years of service, he was eligible for long-term disability insurance benefits comprising 75 per cent of his pay — but the government deducted the almost $400 a month he was receiving for pain and suffering.

The deduction does not apply to military members who can still work. They collect their salary on top of their injury supplement.
Another veteran, Ottawa resident Sean Bruyea, told the news conference that no other disability plan in Canada deducts the veteran affairs pension.

“For many injured soldiers, the horrific wars of the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan are bearable for one reason and one reason only: They expect to return to a supportive Canada,” said Bruyea.
The former military intelligence officer returned from the Persian Gulf in 1991 suffering from what is known as Gulf War Syndrome — a combination of physical symptoms and post-traumatic stress.

The military insurance policy for long-term disability benefits dates back to the 1960s. The federal government, in a brief filed in Supreme Court, said the clawback for those receiving other disability payments was designed “to keep premiums as low as possible” and that such deductions were a common feature of public and private plans at the time.

Veterans estimate that repealing the clawback would cost approximately $275 million — about
$75 million retroactively and another $200 million for the next 20 years.

The case does not affect veterans who were injured after 2007, when veterans affairs began awarding lump-sum pain and suffering payments that are not deducted from long-term disability.

The government wants the class-action lawsuit stayed and is asking the Supreme Court to uphold a 2008 ruling in the Federal Court of Appeal that the proper legal venue to challenge the policy is through a judicial review in Federal Court.

Credit: Janice Tibbetts; Canwest News Service
Copyright Southam Publications Inc. Jan 21, 2010