Calgary

Major who lost legs in IED bashes veteran benefits

A major who lost both his legs in Afghanistan says the Harper government's financial treatment of injured war veterans is an "abject betrayal" of a new generation of soldiers.

A major who lost both his legs in Afghanistan says the Harper government's financial treatment of injured war veterans is an "abject betrayal" of a new generation of soldiers.

Maj. Mark Campbell, who stepped on a bomb in June 2008 near a Canadian base west of Kandahar city, says the New Veteran's Charter established in 2006 robs wounded soldiers of about 40 per cent of their income.

"They made the announcements last fall ... for the most seriously wounded," he said Tuesday. "When you think seriously wounded, picture Mark Campbell in your mind," said the major, pointing to where his legs used to be.

"This is about as bad as it gets without being dead."

A study commissioned by the veterans ombudsman took aim at existing lump-sum payments, which can be up to $276,000 for the most severe injuries. It concluded that the one-time payments — a hallmark of the New Veteran's Charter — short-changed low-income soldiers and the most severely disabled veterans.

Injured soldiers are given a cash payout and a monthly income replacement cheque while they are in rehabilitation. The cheques stop when they move to a civilian job.

It's been suggested the monthly income replacement could be increased to help soldiers of the lowest rank. The replacement cheque amounts to 75 per cent of a soldier's pre-injury salary.

"This New Veteran's Charter is a grotesque travesty. It is an abject betrayal by the government of Canada to our new generation of disabled and wounded veterans," said Campbell, who was attending the opening of the Afghanistan exhibit at Calgary's Museum of the Regiments.

"What kind of deal is that? The people of Canada should be outraged."

Lump sum doesn't stack up to pension: Campbell

Campbell believes the new lump-sum payments and income replacement pale in comparison to the practice after the Second World War of granting lifetime pensions.

He said the changes announced last fall are akin to putting patches on a leaky tire. The $250,000 he received wouldn't be enough to pay for one day in his shoes, he suggested.

"Why are we saying people who sacrificed limbs in the service of their country should be subjected to a 25 per cent reduction in their families' means of living? It's ridiculous," he said.

"I didn't end up this way just so I could earn 25 per cent less than I did before I lost my legs."

The charter changes include a five-year plan with an additional $200 million for veterans who can't ever go back to work because of their injuries. Those veterans will get an extra $1,000 each month for the rest of their lives. That amount will be on top of the 75 per cent of their salaries and a permanent monthly allowance of between $536 to $1,609.

Younger soldiers benefit: Minister

Veteran Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said the changes protect younger soldiers who need assistance.

"It is important to remember that before the New Veteran's Charter was created, all Veterans Affairs Canada could offer a young veteran was a monthly disability pension and related health care. Most pensions were insufficient to provide an adequate income for seriously disabled veterans," said Blackburn in an email to The Canadian Press.

"I introduced legislative changes to address gaps in the New Veteran's Charter and significantly improve financial support for injured Canadian Forces members and veterans. Bill C-55, along with other proposed changes, would ensure veterans with the most severe injuries receive a minimum of $58,000 a year," he added.

Campbell said it's not too late for the federal government to make changes.

"I would like to see immediately a reversion to the old Pension Act right off the bat. Junk the New Veteran's Charter. It's crap.

"As far as I'm concerned, the enhanced benefits that come with the new charter [are] all window-dressing. Show me the ... money and, more importantly, show my former subordinates, who are missing arms and legs the ... money."