CBC News Online | Oct. 10, 2006
Regardless of rank, any soldier on duty in the same mission receives the same operational allowance, also known as "danger pay."
The rate changes depending on the tour and the amount of risk involved. For instance, a corporal on his second rotation in Kandahar, Afghanistan, receives an additional $2,111 a month on top of salary to compensate for being away from home and for mission hardships or risks. If it were a first rotation in Kandahar, that same corporal would receive danger pay closer to $1,900 a month.
For most soldiers, these benefits can boost monthly pay by more than 30 per cent.
Department of National Defence spokesman John Knoll adds that soldiers who are engaged in high-risk missions are also given an income-tax exemption of up to $6,647 a month.
However, once an injured soldier returns to Canada or Germany's Landstuhl hospital for medical treatment, they are no longer entitled to the "operational allowance" and lose their tax-free status.
If the military wishes, it can continue giving the allowance to a soldier for another 25 days after he or she leaves Afghanistan. After that period, though, all the financial perks disappear. "It's true that of course once you're back in Canada, you're no longer under those [risky] conditions, so it no longer applies," Knoll said.
Etienne Allard, a spokesman for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, said the current policy that bans returning soldiers from operational allowance has been in place since 1995 under the previous Liberal government.
Speaking to reporters on Oct. 6, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed that Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor will re-examine the policy. "We do understand the source of the concerns and we are going to take a look at the matter," he said.
In what has been described as a "danger pay" system, the Tim Hortons employees working at the Kandahar military base outlet reportedly earn an extra $1,800 a month stipend (tax free) on top of their free room and board.
So what do wounded soldiers get?
Through Veterans Affairs Canada, an injured soldier is eligible for a tax-free lump sum disability award of up to $250,000, depending on the severity of the disability, says Department of National Defence spokesman John Knoll.
"Like people in a lot of occupations, they still continue to receive full salary and benefits while injured," Knoll said. That includes 100 per cent medical coverage and a "return-to-work program" designed to restore physical and mental health.
Social support programs for families of those suffering from operational post-traumatic stress are available as well. "If you look at the whole package, the base rates of pay, the allowances, the medical care, the benefits, other programs available through veteran affairs Canada, the whole package would compare favourably to any military anywhere," Knoll said.
A soldier injured by hostile fire is eligible for a "wound stripe" — a narrow piece of gold braid sewn onto a uniform. Recently, the increasing death toll in Afghanistan of Canadian soldiers has prompted veterans to lobby the Conservative government to introduce a medal to recognize injured soldiers, similar to the Purple Heart decoration created in the U.S. "The wound stripe would be the closest thing we have to the American Purple Heart," Knoll said.
Other danger-pay disputes
Weary Ontario nurses working in the front lines during the SARS crisis of summer 2003 began demanding danger pay for hospital staff working closely with patients infected by the mysterious pandemic. Dozens of Toronto health care workers became infected while caring for patients stricken with the disease. Toronto nurses Tecla-Lai Yin Lin, 58, and Nelia Laroza, 51, both succumbed to the flu-like illness.
- In March 2006, the Ontario Medical Association also asked for danger pay or insurance for doctors who work during high-risk situations such as a pandemic.
- In July 2005, several thousand people working in the prison system were threatened with the loss of their danger pay (known as Penological Factor Allowance). The members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada working for Correctional Services Canada argued the government did not recognize they work in hazardous circumstances by being in close contact with offenders who have committed violence and serious crimes. They pointed to the case of Yellowknife parole officer Louise Pargeter, who was killed in October 2004 by an inmate who had been granted parole following a manslaughter conviction.