A new White Rock-based organization – Equitas – says Canada’s recently disabled soldiers are being shortchanged by the federal government.
Chaired by former Conservative Electoral District Association president Jim Scott – whose own son Dan is a disabled veteran as a result of a second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010 – Equitas has been formed to provide crucial interim funding for veterans while legal services to ensure fair compensation go forward.
“Starting in 2006 with the new Veterans Charter, newly disabled Canadian soldiers receive a lump sum payment in lieu of a disability pension,” Scott explained.
Federal lump sum payments to disabled veterans provide only a fraction of what federal employees or provincial workers would receive given the same injuries, he said.
The organization is campaigning to level the field, he added – hence the name of the society, ‘equality’ in Latin.
Equitas will hold its first fundraising event Friday (Oct. 14), 7:30 p.m. at Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club. For a $25 donation, participants can sample hors d’oevres, listen to entertainment and bid on auction items.
It will also feature an video presentation and a chance to meet some of the veterans whose lives can be helped significantly by supporting the organization.
The event will be MC’d by Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg, who said he is concerned with the issue.
“That inequity doesn’t fit with what my values say,” he said.
Although cases differ, Jim Scott offered one example of the monetary impact for veterans.
“A soldier who has had a fair amount of internal trauma and lost multiple organs would receive a $41,000 lump sum,” he said.
“With an annuity purchased in this amount, the soldier would receive $141 per month. But if the same person was a provincial worker, or a logger or a tree-faller covered by our WorkSafe program… that person would receive $1,400 per month, tax free. Why is it so different?”
Scott said that, as the result of his own personal appeal, the national law firm Miller Thomson has agreed to take this issue to the courts on a pro-bono basis, even though the Veterans Charter section on Crown liability prevents soldiers going into courts to seek redress.
“We believe the Canadian Charter of Rights has supremacy over other acts,” Scott said.
Scott said the firm is prepared to launch a class-action suit on behalf of the veterans, but prior to deciding the legal approach is still researching soldiers’ claims from across the country.
“So far, they’re discovering the same thing we have, that there’s a great discrepancy,” he said.
He noted that while the federal government’s Bill C-55 amending the Veterans Charter made adjustments to compensation for the most severely injured, the discrepancy seems to hold true in most cases.
As well as raising awareness, Equitas is intended to raise money to provide legal disbursement funds for soldiers and provide support while they are awaiting the outcome of legal actions.
He said the fact is that most recently-disabled veterans – except for the most severe cases – are struggling because they are having to support themselves while paying for their own post-service education and retraining.
“I don’t think the act (Veteran’s Charter) was malicious – it’s the unforseen consequences of it that we’re seeing,” Scott said. “I think there’s a denial right now.”
Scott expressed his gratitude for Hogg’s support, noting it was the MLA’s suggestion to compare funding for disabled veterans with workers’ compensation cases.
Hogg said he has no hesitation in supporting Equitas, both from knowing the Scotts, and from his conversations with veterans.
“It’s a matter of values and principles – it doesn’t seem right to me, when they are fighting for our country and doing what we have asked them to do, “ he said.
Hogg said he believes most Canadians would agree disabled soldiers deserve “at least” the same benefits as injured workers.
Scott acknowledges that some feel that most soldiers have served only a couple of years and “just because a soldier got shot, they shouldn’t be winning the lottery.”
But Scott said he feels there is a standard of care for the injured that is universal across Canada.
“The question is, why the military has been able to evade that standard of care,” he said, adding that people will be able to judge for themselves when they meet disabled veterans Friday.
“They’ll be showing people they haven’t won the lotto,” he said.