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UBC head seeks deal with veterans on long-term disability benefits

UBC President Stephen Toope at UBC in Vancouver September 28, 2006. John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

The federal government has appointed the president of the University of British Columbia to help resolve a dispute with Canadian Forces veterans over long-term disability benefits.

Stephen Toope, a former dean of law at McGill University, will serve as the federal representative in talks to resolve a class-action lawsuit that aims to stop federal benefit clawbacks.

"The well-being of both our serving and retired members is important for our government," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement.

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"This appointment further underlines our intent to work towards a positive resolution in this matter."

A Federal Court ruling in May found Ottawa was acting illegally by clawing back long-term disability benefits from veterans who were also receiving payments for pain and suffering and other awards.

The clawbacks ended in July, and the "vast majority" of those affected have seen the results reflected in their benefit cheques, Mr. MacKay said during a news conference last week in New Brunswick.

Not everyone is satisfied, however. Veterans whose additional rewards and payments exceed the limit of 75 per cent of their military salary – often those who were most severely injured – say they're still not being treated fairly.

Advocates for veterans' rights have said those former soldiers with the most grievous injuries are entitled to receive the maximum benefit, particularly since many can't work and must rely solely on the pain-and-suffering awards they already receive.

"There are some who were in a different category and there is ongoing negotiations, as you know, to put into effect that decision," Mr. MacKay said.

"It was a very complicated issue that went back 10 years or more, and so to reverse that, that situation, it does require further negotiations. We're moving forward as quickly as possible."

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Dennis Manuge, a Halifax veteran, launched the class-action suit in 2007 to end the clawback, arguing it was unjust to treat pain-and-suffering awards as income.

Any out-of-court settlement reached by the parties would require the approval of the Federal Court, the Canadian Forces said in a news release.

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