Categories: National News

Disabled vets will have more money in their pockets

Disabled military veterans will soon receive more government funds for their ailments now that the Conservatives have decided to end controversial benefit clawbacks.

Effective immediately, the federal government will no longer reduce the amount of earnings loss benefit or Canadian Forces income support benefit as a result of the veteran receiving a disability pension.

“We are doing everything we can to provide real support to our veterans when they require it,” said Steven Blaney, veterans affairs minister.

Last May, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of a group of veterans who challenged the Department of National Defence on its decision to reduce disability benefits by the amount of pension received.

This came after the New Veterans Charter, which was passed in 2006, considered disability pension as income and deducted it from the benefit allowance, successfully lowering benefit payments.

“We are making the necessary changes now to improve service to our veterans across the country,” Blaney said.

Sturgeon County’s Maj. Mark Campbell has long pleaded with the government for adequate disability compensation for troops and veterans.

Campbell, 47, lost both legs, a testicle, hearing in his right ear and some short-term memory when he stepped on an improvised explosive devise while on his second tour in Afghanistan in June 2008. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

“Anything that puts more money in the pockets of people who, quite frankly, are probably not being compensated adequately, is good news,” he said, adding this announcement fails to address several other problems with the New Veterans Charter.

The charter replaced the Pension Act in 2006 and Campbell said it cuts compensation by at least 40 per cent for disabled troops.

He is part of a class-action lawsuit taking shape in British Columbia that is seeking to ensure military personnel are adequately compensated for their injuries under the charter.

“We are literally prisoners of our freaking disabilities,” Campbell said. “I don’t run; I don’t walk, so let’s call a spade a spade … I’ve got to live within that prison and so does my family, because they share my prison cell.”

Upon injury, Campbell received a lump-sum payment and collects a monthly allowance for clothing, lawn care and housecleaning — all of which he said is inadequate.

He said he expects to be medically released within the year – after serving in the Canadian Forces for 31 years – and said he expects to collect the earnings loss benefit as well as the permanent impairment allowance.

The earnings loss benefit ensures a veteran’s income does not fall below 75 per cent of his gross pre-release military salary, with a minimum pre-tax salary of $40,000 annually.

The permanent impairment allowance is a monthly taxable allowance, capped at $1,348.57, for individuals who have lost job opportunities as a result of their impairment. An additional $1,000 taxable benefit is also available for those not capable of gainful employment.

Campbell said if his compensation was governed under the Pension Act, he would have collected close to $300,000 in military pension since his injury four years ago.

Court proceedings

Blaney said the compensation issue went to federal court because the government needed clarity.

“We, as a government, needed to seek clarity to make our fiscal and financial decision on a sound, judicial basis,” he said. “Instead of challenging the decision, we decided that we would not only move forward and accept the decision, but go beyond the decision.”

The changes will cost the government $177.7 million over the next five years and is estimated to affect 2,500 families. Blaney said payments could potentially be made retroactive, although he didn’t give a definitive answer.

Affected veterans will be contacted in the coming few weeks with updated payment information.

Blaney said the government also plans to make changes to the War Veterans Allowance Act for veterans who left the military prior to the 2006 charter.

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