The father of a young Canadian soldier wounded in Afghanistan says a legal challenge seeking fairer compensation for wounded veterans could soon become a class action lawsuit.
Jim Scott of Surrey, B.C., claims wounded soldiers are losing out on help when they're paid lump sum settlements, rather than ongoing benefits.
Scott's son, Dan, was 24 years old and on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010 when he was hit by part of a mine during a friendly fire incident that killed a friend and fellow soldier.
His son received just over $40,000 for his injuries, but Scott claims some of them weren't covered after the federal government changed compensation with the New Veterans Charter in 2006.
"He got nothing for his spleen, nothing for his pancreas and a small settlement for his kidney."
Scott says similar injuries would be entitled to $1,400 a month for life, both tax-free and indexed for inflation, under the provincial workers compensation program.
'If it was just for him, I wouldn't be pursuing this, but the issue was a lot of soldiers came back with injuries which are much more [debilitating] than my son's.' —Jim Scott, father of wounded soldier
But his son's $40,000 lump sum payment is only worth about $140 a month of taxable and unindexed income, if he converted it to an annuity, he says.
"If it was just for him, I wouldn't be pursuing this, but the issue was a lot of soldiers came back with injuries which are much more [debilitating] than my son's. In other words, they're lower-leg injuries, pins and rods put in their legs, or they're missing parts of their legs and so on. And they have had very low settlements."
Edmonton veteran Mark Campbell, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, has also joined the lawsuit. Campbell says while he has adjusted to his injuries, he says he wasn’t prepared for the fight to get his benefits.
He says the changes mean soldiers wounded after 2006 would receive cuts of around 40 per cent to their lifetime benefits. He fears it would have the greatest impact on younger soldiers who find themselves wounded.
Society seeks fairer compensation
Jim Scott says too many soldiers are not getting enough financial compensation for their injuries, and that is why he is trying to launch the class action.
"The soldiers were right. They still come up significantly short-changed, even when you add up all the benefit programs which are being announced by the government."
After talking to other veterans and studying all the benefits advertised by Ottawa, Scott founded the Equitas Disabled Soldiers Funding Society to seek fairer compensation for the veterans.
Vancouver law firm Miller Thomson took up the case on a pro bono basis earlier this year and plans to have the paperwork filed by the end of the month with the B.C. Supreme Court, with the intention of having it certified as a class action, said Scott.
Lump sums replaced pensions for life
For many decades, an injured war veteran from Canada received a pension for life. But since the implementation of the New Veterans Charter six years ago, the monthly disability payments were replaced with a one-time payment to a maximum of $276,089.
According to the Veterans Affairs Canada website, the revised charter "shifts the focus from a lifetime of disability to encouraging ‘wellness.’"
Michael Blais, founder and president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says the lump-sum payment can actually harm an injured soldier, who would receive a large amount of money at a time when he or she may not be equipped to deal with it.
A monthly pension gives veterans of all ages long-term financial security, making it easier for them to get loans, he points out.