Troops on pandemic duty to get same benefits paid to soldiers serving abroad

Canadian soldiers serving in the Ontario and Quebec long-term care homes hit by the pandemic are now eligible for the same hazard benefits paid to troops serving overseas, says the country's top military commander.

The policy decision is expected to mean hazard pay for pandemic duty

Canadian Armed Forces personnel arrive at the Villa Val des Arbes seniors residence, Monday, April 20, 2020 in Laval, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Canadian soldiers serving in the Ontario and Quebec long-term care homes hit hard by the pandemic are now eligible for the same benefits paid to troops serving overseas, the country's top military commander said today.

In his weekly letter to the troops posted online this evening, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said both the defence and veterans ministers have designated the deployment as a "special duty operation."

The designation "ensures that [Canadian Armed Forces] members have the timeliest access to disability and pension programs," Vance said.

It's also expected to mean hazard pay for Canadian Forces members on pandemic duty, although that was not made clear in the general's statement.

The initiative will be backdated to when the troops began training for the deployment earlier in the spring and will continue until they return to their home units.

40 Forces members on deployment have been infected

As of Thursday, 40 members of the military serving in long-term care homes — 25 in Quebec and 15 in Ontario — have tested positive for COVID-19.

There are 1,675 troops — a mixture of medical technicians and general purpose soldiers — deployed to backstop staff in the facilities, many of which have become virus hotspots in both provinces.

A veterans' group has been pushing the Liberal government to declare the deployment a special duty operation, especially given the fact that so little is known about the possible long-term health effects for those infected.

"We have been fighting for this since they were deployed," said Mike Blais, president and founder of Canadians Veterans Advocacy. "And we are pleased to see troops' efforts respected with a special duty operation."

The Department of National Defence has insisted it is doing all it can to protect the soldiers, some of whom are caring for seniors directly. Multiple senior commanders have said they believe the troops have enough protective equipment and are sufficiently trained in how to use it to avoid infection.

The horrific condition of some of the homes and the poor treatment of elderly patients was painstakingly documented by the military in reports presented to the federal government and both provinces.

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