Navy's $51K clawback of sailor's pay 'deplorable,' wife says

A Nova Scotia military wife is speaking out about what she says is unfair treatment by the Canadian Forces.

N.S. woman says family being forced to pay back $51K because they live just outside an arbitrary boundary

Leah Rissesco says her family is in dire financial straits because their home, located about 50 kilometres outside of Halifax, is just 300 metres from an arbitrary boundary that determines entitlement to a living allowance. (CBC)

Nova Scotia military wife Leah Rissesco says the military is unfairly clawing back $51,000 from her husband, Leading Seaman Jeffrey Rissesco, to recover a living supplement the military says he received but was not entitled.

In 2001, Rissesco started collecting a housing allowance called the “posted living differential," a housing allowance available to qualifying members who live in higher density areas where expenses are higher.

There was never a problem with the supplement for the Rissesco's until 2012.

Leading Seaman Jeffrey Rissesco bought the home in 1993, before the 'posted living differential' was in place. (CBC)
“Just a couple of years away from retirement, guess who's not retiring,” she said.

Rissesco said her family is now in dire financial straits because their home on New Ross Road in Vaughan, located about 50 kilometres outside of Halifax, is just a short distance from an arbitrary boundary.

“Less than 300 metres, give or take, from our house and are you gonna quibble over 300 metres? Apparently they are,” she said.

Rissesco’s husband bought the home in 1993, before the housing allowance called the “posted living differential” was in place and boundaries were set.

When the boundary was reassessed in 2008, the family still qualified for the living allowance.

$51K clawback puts family 'on the brink'

Then, in 2012, Rissesco said, not only was the family’s living allowance cancelled, the military began clawing back money it had paid out to the tune of $51,000.

Rissesco was forced to sign over the $25,000 severance he is entitled to once he leaves the military and also had his pay garnisheed.

After 30 years of naval service, Rissesco said, it's a harsh about-face for the family.

“Why should we commit ourselves to anything if this is going to be the end result, a big ol' giant slap in the face?” she said.

“It’s deplorable. The very basic human rights that our guys go overseas to fight for in every skirmish are denied to them once they get home.”

She said the financial toll has been immense. To make ends meet the family grows some of their own food, raising chickens and tending a vegetable garden. In the winter, they chop their own wood to heat the home. Rissesco has started housekeeping and taking home-care jobs to make money.

She said the whole ordeal is putting a strain on her marriage.

“I’ve been on the brink a number of times of leaving, but we're from a family that doesn't throw things out when it's broken. We try to fix it, and that's what we've been trying to do, because it's their mistake not ours,” said Rissesco.

In an email to CBC News, Capt. Peter Ryan, with public affairs for Maritime Forces Atlantic, said he could not comment on the specifics of the case since it is currently in front of the Military Grievance External Review Committee.

“We are going to very seriously consider selling the house before it gets too much worse,” said Rissesco.



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