Veterans support group mulls party promises

White Rock-based Equitas Society seeks compensation for veterans as lawsuit looms.

Jim Scott is president of Equitas Society.

Jim Scott is president of Equitas Society.

With the federal election just weeks away, a White Rock-based veterans-support group is eager to learn which party will lead the country after Oct. 19, and what impact that will have on a class-action lawsuit against the government.

Jim Scott, president of Equitas Society, told Peace Arch News that an agreement between the group and the Canadian government made in May of this year suspended the lawsuit until May 2016, after the new government’s “settling-in period.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2012 on behalf of six disabled Canadian soldiers, challenges the disproportionately low benefits they are receiving under the New Veterans Charter, which replaced the Pension Act in April 2006. The suit is currently before the B.C. Court of Appeal, and Scott said that if a settlement cannot be reached before May 2016, the lawsuit will proceed.

“Unless we see significant movement on this issue, it looks like we’ll be back in court in the spring,” Scott said. “This is the perfect opportunity for the parties to say how they’re going to deal with this out of court.”

One of the major aspects of the New Veterans Charter that Equitas Society has taken issue with is its treatment of “mildly disabled” veterans. Scott said these former soldiers – many of whom are missing limbs, rendering them unable to continue working in the Canadian Forces – are given lump-sum payments, provided transitional programs and then released from duty. Under the pension act, those veterans would have received a life-long pension.

This was one of the “gaps in the New Veterans Charter” that changes made in June 2015 with the adoption of Bill C-58 did not address, Scott said.

“There are still some major outstanding issues,” Scott said. “A lot of these soldiers had plans to work for the RCMP or corrections after their duty, but because of their impairments, they’re having a hard time getting employment. If you’re going to fire someone for being injured, you have to take better care of them.”

In a news release issued by Equitas Monday – to coincide with NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s announcement of his plan to spend $454 million to improve veterans’ services – the group highlighted the parties’ campaign promises.

According the the release, the NDP would not return to the Pension Act, however they are supportive of fixing “gaps” in the New Veterans Charter and would update its policy after review.

The Conservatives, who enacted Bill C-58 in an effort to address concerns with the New Veterans Act, have stated that they will maintain the tax-free, lump-sum payment and bundle other taxable benefits with the Canadian Pension Plan and the Canadian Forces Superannuation as a life-long pension.

The Liberals, according to the release, would not return to the Pension Act, but have promised to increase the tax-free lump-sum payment, and to provide a life-long pension model for all disabled veterans, not just the severely disabled.

The Green Party has advocated for a return to the Pension Act, and the repeal of the lump-sum payments for disability awards.

Equitas states in the release that although none of the parties address the gaps created by the New Veterans Charter, the reforms promised by the Liberals best address the problems with veterans’ benefits under the current charter.