Judge rules in favour of class action launched by special operations veteran
Decision could mean bump in disability benefits for thousands of injured Canadian veterans
Thousands of injured Canadian military veterans who served under especially arduous conditions are entitled to higher disability payments after a judge ruled Tuesday in favour of a former special operations soldier who challenged how the support is calculated.
The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit against the federal government is Simon Logan, who served in Afghanistan and was a warrant officer when he received an involuntary medical release from the Canadian Forces in 2016 following a 28-year career.
The military calculates long-term disability at 75 per cent of a member's monthly pay, but the Department of National Defence had only used Logan's base salary to determine his payments, and did not include an allowance he earned as a "special operations assaulter." It meant Logan received only $5,100 per month in disability payments, instead of nearly $8,000.
The case was heard in Federal Court in Halifax in February. In a decision this week, Justice Richard Southcott ruled in favour of Logan and other former military members in similar situations, writing that monthly allowances should be used in disability calculations.
"When you're in the military, you're kind of handcuffed in what you can say or do," Logan, 58, who lives in the Ottawa area, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "But when I became a civilian, I just wanted to take matters that I thought were unjust and try and fix it."
He said the court's decision "means a lot for a lot of people" who earned allowances for working in particularly difficult environments, but didn't see that recognized when they were injured while serving under those conditions.
Logan said he wanted to keep private the nature of the injuries that led to his medical discharge and that he was not permitted to describe his role in special operations.
The Canadian Forces says special operations assaulters include personnel trained to perform counterterrorism missions, hostage rescues, special operations patrols and special reconnaissance and surveillance.
Halifax lawyer Daniel Wallace, who helped launched the class action on behalf of Logan, said there are roughly 6,800 former Canadian military personnel who received monthly allowances on top of their salaries and were involuntarily medically released from the Forces.
Allowances include payments to certain specialized groups like paratroopers, rescue specialists and divers, and for conditions like isolation, work on submarines or serving on a flight crew. There are also allowances covering things such as being posted to an area with a high cost of living.
Wallace said he can't estimate how much disability money members of the class action would be owed, but said it should be retroactive for members who were released after 1999, when the current policy was adopted.
"We hope that now that the court has heard the arguments on both sides and decided in favour of the class, we hope that the federal government will accept that decision," he said in an interview.
If there's no appeal, he said the next stage would involve sorting out interest and the timing of payments.
'Dramatic drop in pay'
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said in statement the federal government is now reviewing the decision and will determine next steps in consultation with the Department of Justice.
"The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to ensuring that all Regular and Reserve Force military members receive their due benefits," the statement said. "Taking care of our members is our utmost priority and we will continue to take steps to improve services."
At the time of his discharge, Logan was earning $10,665 a month, of which $3,730 was a "special operations assaulter allowance."
He said he subsequently learned of other veterans who had earned allowances while serving but had received less than they thought they were owed in disability payments.
"It's a dramatic drop in pay from what I was making. My expenses didn't go down, my mortgage didn't change," he said. "I know I made good money when I was in the military, I'm not denying that. But to take such a drastic change in income — doesn't matter how much money you make, that's a big deal, dropping 40 per cent, 50 per cent."