A new charity aiming to help veterans take the government to court launched Friday morning in Ottawa.
Former MP and NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer is on the board of the Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation, and says he has often seen veterans exhaust their options while trying to get veteran benefits.
"So many veterans who are arguing their cases, after fighting for so many years, most of them just say, 'Frig it, I'm not going to fight these people any more, I give up,'" he said.
The fund will operate on a $1 million endowment that comes from a 2013 settlement the federal government paid after a class action suit led by Nova Scotian veteran Dennis Manuge.
Manuge said he's pleased to see the money being used for a legal assistance fund.
"Anything that gives veterans a little better position and leverage to kind of wage the bureaucratic wars," he said. "They now have a means to get help."
The settlement was worth $887 million. The law firms that handled the case received $35 million; McInnes Cooper of Halifax and Branch MacMaster of Vancouver set aside the money to operate the foundation.
Court costs can exceed $50K
Stoffer says the charity will pay the legal bill for veterans who have already taken their case to the veterans appeal board or Veterans Affairs and aren't satisfied with the decision, but can't afford a lawyer to take the case further.
"Their final recourse after that would be to seek a federal court action on their concern. That usually costs anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000, sometimes up to $50,000, depending on the length of time it takes to be heard at the federal court," Stoffer said.
"I believe that veterans and their organizations across the country will be very pleased to see this, because it really is another tool in the toolbox to help veterans and their families make a case for what they believe is a rightful claim to a benefit they believe they deserve."
Stoffer and a board of volunteers, including legal representatives from McInnes Cooper and Branch MacMaster, will determine which cases will be covered by the charity.