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Disabled vets still pushing for reinstatment of lifelong pensions

Major Mark Campbell at home in Sturgeon County, Alberta on Monday, March 9, 2014. Campbell lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2008 and now the Canadian Government is pressuring him to accept a lump sum payment.

AMBER BRACKEN/The Globe and Mail

As Canadians pause to remember the soldiers who died in the service of their country, some veterans say they hope the federal government will also remember the promises it made to those who were left permanently disabled.

Mark Campbell and Aaron Bedard, two of the six injured veterans who launched a lawsuit against the government five years ago, are in Ottawa this week and will be attending the Remembrance Day ceremony Saturday at the National War Memorial.

"We focus on sacrifice, particularly remembering those who can't be here. But I would suggest that we also need to remember those who are here but are broken, whose suffering continues for the remainder of their lives," Mr. Campbell said Friday in an interview. "Quite frankly, the way that the government of Canada can honour its obligation to the sacrifice is to reinstate the lifelong pension."

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The suit, known as Equitas, demands that disabled veterans who were discharged after 2006, when the New Veterans Charter took effect, receive compensation equivalent to that which was awarded under the old Pension Act. In particular, they want to receive the lifetime pensions that were replaced with lump-sum awards and other benefits.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned in 2015 with the Equitas vets and promised to bring back the lifetime pensions. But two years after his party was victorious, that has yet to happen.

The most recent federal budget promised those lifetime pensions would be offered to disabled veterans before the end of this year. And Seamus O'Regan, who became Veterans Affairs Minister in August, told a Newfoundland radio station on Friday that the pensions would "be ready in the next few weeks because that was the promise we made."

But Mr. Campbell, a retired infantry major whose legs were blown off when he walked over an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in June, 2008, said his meetings with government officials this week gave him little assurance.

His biggest fear, and that of the other Equitas vets, is that Ottawa will simply offer to spread the lump-sum payments out over a disabled veteran's lifetime. The Conservative government tried something similar in 2010 and veterans made it clear that it was an unacceptable compromise.

"We have heard nothing [about the lifetime pensions] in response to any of our interviews or discussions to date. That said, the government still has a month to make an announcement," Mr. Campbell said.

But Christmas is not far away and the holiday season can be a difficult time for veterans in crisis, he said. "If the news coming out of the government regarding pensions for life is not positive, if they don't achieve parity with the Pension Act to include tax-free status, to include no clawback of the military pension, then it's going to be an ugly Christmas season."

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The Liberal government has spent billions of dollars on improving benefits for disabled veterans since taking office two years ago. Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, said earlier this year that the New Veterans Charter is more generous than most people think.

But Mr. Campbell said the fact that Ottawa has been fighting the veterans in court since 2012, that the government argues it has no social contract or covenant with veterans, and that the promise of the lifetime pensions has yet to be fulfilled, is what will be running through his mind as he sits through the Remembrance Day ceremony.

100-year-old veteran shares memories of Dieppe (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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