Politics

Benefits paperwork couriered to ex-soldier left without income for months

National Defence has taken action after CBC News shared the story of a former military police officer whose pension, severance and veterans benefits have been stuck in the system. Not only has the military moved along her paperwork, but strangers have reached out to help.

People have 'reached out just to say thank you for speaking up,' says single mom caught in pension pinch

Retired corporal Pamela McArthur left the Canadian Armed Forces in mid-October and is still waiting for her severance, military pension and veterans benefits. (Pamela McArthur)

A single mother who has been without income since she was released from the military for medical reasons 2½ months ago has received an outpouring of public support — as well as a bit of help from the military — since CBC News shared her story.  

Pamela McArthur, a retired corporal and former military police officer who was released in mid-October without severance pay, military pension or disability benefits, spoke to CBC News last week about her frustration in dealing with National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

On the same day CBC News shared her story, officials at the Defence Department couriered the documents she'll need to speed along the delivery of her pension.

McArthur says she's received overwhelming support from both people still in uniform and recently retired members.

"A lot of people have reached out just to say thank you for speaking up," she said Friday. "Not a lot of people are willing — or can — put their face out there."

VETS Canada, a national organization that deals with soldiers in crisis, has been helping to cover some of her expenses and has received specific offers of support from the public.

When you get out, you're on your own. You're helpless at the mercy of the system.- Pamela McArthur

The Liberal government promised to create a smoother exit system for soldiers being released from the military, but documents obtained by CBC News show it will be up to three years before all of the changes are implemented.

Those who retire or are released on medical grounds face a dizzying amount of paperwork and delays of up to a year for benefits and services from both Defence and Veterans Affairs.

There are also backlogs for paying severance and military pensions.

Changes recommended

More and more ex-service members have been left with no income and paying out of pocket for treatment and medications while they wait for Veterans Affairs to decide whether the government will cover their conditions.

A draft implementation plan to overhaul the transition system, obtained by CBC News, shows many recommendations made by the military ombudsman, and some from the veterans ombudsman, are expected to be ignored.

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent, right, and Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne have proposed many reforms to help Canadian Forces members make the transition to civilian life. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Gary Walbourne, the Canadian Forces ombudsman, has repeatedly insisted that Veterans Affairs should automatically accept the military medical diagnosis that ends a soldier's career.

Legislation requires that the department force ex-soldiers to submit to a second medical assessment to determine their eligibility for benefits — and whether their condition was caused by military service.

Walbourne says veterans are sometimes denied benefits for conditions that ended their careers in uniform.

He also says soldiers shouldn't be released until their benefits are set up, including pension and severance payments.

McArthur said many of the offices she's dealt with in both departments are "overwhelmed and they tell you they're overwhelmed."

But for veterans who are used to a steady paycheque and the structure of military life, being dropped into the civilian world is a disorienting and frightening experience.

"When you get out, you're on your own," she said. "You're helpless at the mercy of the system."

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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