About one-sixth of Canadian Forces soldiers discharged from the military due to medical reasons are released before qualifying for their pension, CBC News has learned, leading some to fear that soldiers may be hiding health problems to protect their income.
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Documents obtained through a CBC/Radio-Canada access to information request show that approximately 1,100 of the 6,200 soldiers discharged because of health conditions since 2009 left the military before serving the years required to collect a full pension.
Glen Kirkland, a former corporal and designated marksman who served in Afghanistan, said that many soldiers continue to suffer from physical and mental injury in silence for fear of losing their source of income, and that the consequences of the Canadian Forces’ pension policy could be dire.
"People are battling with a decision: if they speak up, then they lose their ability to keep food on the table," said Kirkland.
Kirkland himself sustained a serious brain injury and lost most of his hearing when a vehicle convoy he was travelling with in Afghanistan was ambushed and struck with a rocket in 2008, shortly before his deployment was due to end. Three of five soldiers travelling with Kirkland were killed.
He subsequently received notice that he would be discharged from the military. But after speaking out publicly and testifying before MPs to the Standing Committee on National Defence last year, Kirkland received a rare offer to stay in the Canadian Forces until he completed the ten year service term required to collect his pension.
"I couldn't accept something that wasn't offered to everybody else," said Kirkland who refused the offer and as a result was medically discharged like thousands of others.
But top officials within the Canadian Forces deny the policy could be causing wounded soldiers to suffer in silence.
"So far we've found no indication that such a policy is causing additional problems, mental health problems or causing people not to present for mental health care,” said Brig.-Gen. Jean-Robert Bernier.