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Afghan vets battle for compensation
« on: April 01, 2012, 09:05:34 PM »
Afghan vets battle for compensation

Lump-sum deals grossly inadequate, many soldiers say
By Kent Spencer, Vancouver Province; Postmedia News March 2, 2012 3:09 AM

Former infantryman Kevin Berry, similar to many soldiers who took part in the conflict, believes the government isn't doing enough to compensate veterans.
Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Province, Postmedia News , Vancouver Province; Postmedia News


Day 1: Who are Canada's Afghan vets?

Day 2: Searching for civilian jobs; Shelter in a storm

Day 3: Families: Coping in war and peace

Day 4: Changing military towns

TODAY: A new battle: Compensation / A8

Day 6: Reclaiming wounded minds

Day 7: Technology and rehab; Canada's warrior women

Day 8: The mission that hasn't ended

Jim Scott has taken up the cause of Canada's Afghan war veterans with $20,000 of his own money, a cellphone and a non-profit society that meets in his basement.

It's a shoestring operation the Vancouver-area father hopes will one day help compel the federal government to greatly increase payments to injured Afghan veterans.

"Every soldier has the right to be properly compensated for their injuries while serving their country," says Scott, whose son, Dan, received $41,412 for the loss of his kidney, spleen and part of his pancreas in the conflict.

Some of Dan's friends are not as lucky.

"Many of these kids wanted to become policemen. Some are ruined for life because they can barely walk. One soldier had both legs shattered and was given $13,500. What can you do with that?" Jim Scott asks.

"I know that is a very low settlement by workers' standards in Canada. I have shared the information with an insurance company and a law firm and come back with an average $200,000 settlement. The Canadian government is not treating all citizens the same."

Jim Scott, 51, is on his cellphone three hours a day, talking with injured vets and drumming up support, a commitment that eats into his full-time job as a Vancouver police officer.

His non-profit organization, the Equitas Society, has several dozen members after a few months of operation. Equitas is preparing to file a suit against the government that will challenge the fairness of the relatively low lump-sum payments for injured vets.

The society is attempting to raise $250,000 to cover court-related startup costs, but Jim Scott says he has already scored a huge victory.

Miller Thomson, a large national law firm, says it will provide lawyers at no cost to try a case which could take four years.

"Doing this has been a steep learning curve," says Jim Scott, who has called upon his organizing experience as a riding association president with the federal Conservative party. The Department of National Defence says 158 Canadian soldiers were killed and 2,047 injured in Afghanistan. A study from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., says thousands more suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.

Dan Scott is still dealing with injuries suffered in a friendly-fire incident in 2010, after being called up as a part-time reservist. On a routine training mission, a discharge from a Canadian mine tore into his belly.

"It was a parent's worst nightmare," says Jim Scott. "Dan's commanding officer showed up at our door . . . . After a nine-hour operation, we were told he had survived."

Dan's friend, Cpl. Joshua Baker, died in the helicopter en route to the hospital.

Dan's $41,412 payout came as a result of a new set of regulations called the New Veterans Charter. His father says an insurance company told him Dan could have received $1,350 per month through them.

"If Dan's $41,412 was placed into an annuity, it would produce $141 per month, or about one-tenth," says Jim Scott.

The New Veterans Charter is a relatively new statute that was enacted in 2006 at the height of the bloody Afghan conflict.

Introduced by Paul Martin's Liberal government and endorsed by the NDP and Conservatives, it replaced a set of regulations called the Pension Act.

Supporters say the new regulations provide additional benefits such as re-education and priority hiring in the federal government. The regulations have flaws, but are better than previous ones, says New Brunswick MP Peter Stoffer, the NDP's veterans affairs critic.

"Lump sum payments are one of the biggest (problems) in this program. If you took them out, the program would be pretty good. The big problem is the Gordian knot of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy. They deny people benefits and hope they go away."

Stoffer admits that some severely injured veterans lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime, as shown in a 2011 Queen's University study that found that severely injured Afghan veterans, post-2006, will receive an average one-third less from Veterans Affairs Canada than those coming under pre-2006 regulations.

Study author Alice Aiken says the payments are usually one-time lump sums, rather than monthly cheques that actually work out to a lot more money over the course of a lifetime.

Documents obtained by Postmedia News indicate that Veteran Affairs bureaucrats expected to save $40 million over a six-year period under New Veterans regulations.

"New veterans pensioned under the New Veterans Charter are at a financial disadvantage compared to those pensioned under the Pension Act," says Aiken.

The auditor general's office in Ottawa plans to investigate issues such as the lump-sum payments and report to Parliament in the fall of 2012.

Veterans add their criticism

Former infantryman Kevin Berry, 28, banged up his knees, damaged his hearing and suffered PTSD while carrying a machine gun with the Royal Canadian Regiment.

"We're getting pennies on the dollar for what civilians get," says Berry, who was given a lump-sum payment of $27,000 for his stress disorder but collects $619 a month for injuries received pre-2006.

"The lump sums are an absolute betrayal of the obligation between soldiers and civilians. The government is walking away. It's about saving money," he says.

Capt. Wayne Johnston of Brookline, Ont., 53, calls himself the funeral director because he handled mortuary arrangements in Ontario for many dead soldiers.

"This is about security and dignity. Average Canadians think $284,000 (the maximum lump sum payment) is a s-load of money. If Canadians actually knew how quickly it runs out, they would think it un-Canadian," says Johnston, who runs a website at

"I think about children who will never bring their Grade 9 report card to their dad," he says.

"I've cried a lot. I still do. I mourn them every day."

Maj. Mike Campbell of Edmonton, 47, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, was given a lump-sum payment of $263,000. "I received the maximum disability (at the time). I can't wait to get out of the army.

"The impact was devastating. My son went from a Grade A student to failing every class. I'm not ashamed to say the last three years have been a living hell."

Veterans Affairs defends the change in focus in 2006 to emphasize veterans' re-integration into society. "The old pension system was one-dimensional: 'Here's some money and hope you go away for life,' " says Bernard Butler, Veterans Affairs director general of policy and research.

"The New Veterans Charter is based on modern disability management and a wellness model," he says.

New programs include rehabilitation, a 75-per-cent earnings-loss benefit while retraining, permanent impairment allowance and supplementary retirement benefit.

Butler says the department has recently reduced average wait times from 24 to 16 weeks and seen federal funding boosted by $184 million over five years.

Michael Blais of Niagara Falls, Ont., 57, a former soldier on disability pension, says Veteran Affairs is being "completely disingenuous."

Blais, who is president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says retraining programs and permanent impairment allowances have always been available, they were just called different names.

As for wait times, he says Veterans Affairs staff are completely backed up. "We heard from a case manager in B.C. who was backlogged with 1,200 files. She can't keep up. If Veterans Affairs doesn't have the staff in place, they're not fulfilling their obligations."

Blais says the proof lies with two Royal Canadian Regiment vets who both lost their legs in Afghanistan, one pre-2006 and one post-2006. Each is around 25 years old with a wife and two kids.

One veteran, pensioned under the old rules, receives $4,000 a month.

The other, dealt with under the new rules, received a one-time payment of $288,000.

The first vet will earn $2.16 million if he lives until age 80.
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