Author Topic: Justice Department, National Defence reviewing Federal Court’s decision on veter  (Read 1813 times)

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Mike Blais

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Photographs by Jake Wright, The Hill Times

By BEA VONGDOUANGCHANH |
Published: Monday, 05/14/2012 12:00 am EDT

The Hill Times


It would be “cruel” and “disheartening” if the federal government appeals a Federal Court ruling stating that veterans are entitled to pain and suffering payments under the Department of National Defence’s Service Income Security Insurance Plan, say opposition critics.

“It is unfortunate that veterans had to go to court for five years on that, but now the simple solution for the government is quite clear, stop the legal proceedings, end the charade that you can actually win this one, save the taxpayers some money through legal fees and sit down with Peter Driscoll and Dennis Manuge and the entire legal team of the veterans and come up with a compromise that will be beneficial to both sides,” NDP MP Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore, N.S.) told The Hill Times last week.

More than 6,000 veterans took the federal government to court when their pain and suffering payments were clawed back through SISIP. The insurance plan pays 75 per cent of a person’s salary if they are medically discharged from the Canadian Forces, but at the same time deducts any additional payments the veteran receives for pain and suffering.

Federal Court Justice Robert Barnes ruled on May 1 that the federal government was wrong to claw back this benefit to veterans who were injured in the line of duty. The court case took five years to complete.

“This is about our dignity—yes, money is something that each of us has an amount attached to us—it’s about the dignity and knowing that when you sign on the dotted line and give service to Canada, that Canada has your back,” lead plaintiff, Mr. Manuge told Postmedia News recently.

But opposition MPs and veterans last week said they were worried that the federal government would appeal the ruling, further delaying veterans from receiving their benefits.

Mr. Stoffer, his party’s veterans critic, said the government “has a habit of delaying things” and could likely do that in this case as well. “This is cruel to say but a lot of veterans believe it—if they appeal some veterans may pass on and thus they wouldn’t get a benefit. I mean, some veterans believe that. I don’t think they can be that cruel or disheartening, but I honestly would encourage them to do the right thing,” Mr. Stoffer said. “If they appeal this decision, they’re sending a clear message to all veterans and their families that, ‘We don’t care about you, we’re going to fight you in court every step of the way.’ I don’t think any government, no matter what party you are, wants that image so I encourage Harper to do the right thing, tell his ministers to stop the appeal, give the money that they so rightfully deserve and let’s all move forward.”

Liberal MP Sean Casey (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), a lawyer and his party’s veterans critic, said the decision was a “slam dunk” one for veterans, adding that he thinks there is no reason the government should appeal it.

“I don’t understand why the federal government lawyers didn’t sit down with the plaintiffs and settle the case out of court. It was very clear in the judge’s decision that this wasn’t a close call. This was a slam dunk in favour of the veterans. So, as far as I’m concerned, the right thing to do now is to pay up and move on,” he said last week. “Reading the decision on its own, it strikes me the decision was made basically on a stated case, with an agreed statement of facts so it’s purely a question of law. So, my sense is that if they decide to appeal, it would be solely for strategic purposes not because they think they’re going to win. If they do that, that’s despicable.”

Mr. Casey asked Defence Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) in Question Period whether the government would commit to not appealing the decision on May 1. At the time, Mr. MacKay said that the Justice Department and DND will review the case. “Until such time, would be inappropriate to comment further,” he said.

Mr. MacKay’s office told The Hill Times last week that the departments are still reviewing the decision.

Mr. Stoffer said it’s important for the veterans to receive the extra money because they rely on it for prescriptions, and professional help such as physiotherapists and mental health specialists. “Don’t forget many of them have been medically released. They lost the dignity of a long-term career in the military,” he said. “This is what they did. They loved serving in the armed forces. That is now taken away because of an injury either mental or physical. Why would you then punish them even further by taking money away that’s rightfully theirs?”

Mr. Casey said that it’s time to move on. “There’s a bunch of cases that the Federal Court should be dealing with, not this one. It’s unfair to the veterans, it’s expensive for the taxpayer, it’s a waste of the court’s time. It’s time to put it behind us,” he said.

bvongdou@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times