County soldier takes on government to fight for soldiers’ rights
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 06:00 am | By Kevin Ma | St. Albert Gazette
WOUNDED – Major Mark Campbell, formerly of St. Albert, lost both his legs in Afghanistan. He is now part of an upcoming class-action lawsuit against the federal government that alleges that the New Veterans Charter illegally discriminates against veterans by giving them less compensation for their injuries than they would get if they were not soldiers.
Campbell estimates that he is receiving about 40 per cent less compensation under the charter than he would under the old Pension Act, which the charter replaced.
Maj. Mark Campbell is a very angry man.
On June 2, 2008, he had both of his legs blown off by an improvised explosive device during an ambush in Afghanistan. The blast cost him both legs above the knee, most of hearing in his right ear, some of his short-term memory, and one of his testicles. “I can’t describe the agony I was in,” he says.
And when he was recovering in hospital, he says he got another shock: under the New Veterans Charter, he would get about 40 per cent less compensation from the federal government for his injuries than he would have had he received them prior to 2006.
He gestures widely and thumps the table as he talks about it, often in a raised voice. “It’s just unjust. It makes no sense. Halfway through a war, and you cut disability benefits in half.”
Years of lobbying MPs and bureaucrats for help have gotten him nowhere, he says, so he’s turning to the courts. The Sturgeon County resident is one of a growing number of soldiers who have teamed up with the B.C.-based Equitas Society to start a class-action lawsuit against the federal government.
Canadian troops put their lives on the line for their country, Campbell says, and Canada has a moral obligation to care for them when they’re hurt.
“The government of Canada has broken faith with the defenders of Canada,” he says, furious. “We’ve been betrayed.”
A complex case
This is a complex issue, says Brian Archer, executive director of Equitas, a group created to lobby for changes to the charter, and the suit itself is still in development.
But it boils down to how soldiers are compensated for their injuries, he explains. Prior to 2006, this was governed by the Pension Act, which offered troops lifetime, tax-free pensions as well as supplements to support family members.
In 2005, the Martin government, with all-party support, replaced the act with the New Veterans Charter. The new act, which kicked in the following year, replaced lifetime pensions with a single lump-sum payment, eliminates many of its family supports and makes some of its benefits taxable.
Severely injured veterans get up to 30 per cent less compensation under the charter than they would under the Pension Act, Archer says, citing numerous case studies by Equitas. Moderately injured ones get about 65 per cent less. Some reservists can get up to 90 per cent less.
A 2011 Queen’s University study found that injured vets would get about 31 to 42 per cent less money under the charter than the old act. A 2010 report from Veterans Affairs Canada suggested a similar drop in compensation for moderately disabled veterans.
Soldiers also get far less compensation for their wounds than civilians, Archer continues. He cited one case of a reservist who lost a kidney, spleen and 1.5 litres of blood after being struck by a claymore mine. The reservist got $41,500 — about $630,000 less than he would have gotten had he received the same injuries at a civilian job in B.C. “What’s going on here?”
Campbell says he received the maximum amount of money permitted under the charter for his injuries (about $260,000), almost all of which had to be spent on making his home and car wheelchair-accessible.
“That’s supposed to compensate my family for their pain and suffering? The fact that I’ll never throw a ball in the backyard with my son again?”
It’s even worse for younger veterans, he argues. The charter bases its compensation on rank, which means a major gets more money for a lost leg than a private.
“The young guys are really getting screwed,” he says. “You want to see young guys rattling tin cups … keep the New Veterans Charter going.”
Don Sorochan, the lawyer for the law firm Miller Thomson LLP who has taken on the case for free, says the lawsuit will be based on Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives all Canadians equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.
The group still hopes this can be solved outside of the courts, Archer says, as a lawsuit could drag out for years. He called on Parliament to do the right thing and scrap or substantially revise the New Veterans Charter.
Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth, who sits on the federal defence and veterans committees, says he was unfamiliar with the class-action suit or Campbell’s concerns, and that they were not a prominent concern during a recent review of the charter. What the review committee did hear was a call for the charter’s payments to be made more flexible, which the government did by allowing troops to get them over time instead of all at once.
“Nothing is ever going to be perfect,” he says, and the charter is meant to be a living document — one that was passed, he adds, at the request of veterans dissatisfied with the Pension Act.
“There will be another review of the veterans’ charter in the future, and we’ll be more than happy to look at some of these issues.”
Campbell says he can take being legless, but what he can’t take is the effect this issue has had on his family.
“My family’s standard of living is going to drop about 50 per cent.”
His wife has developed a mental illness due to the stress of dealing with the bureaucracy, and his kids’ grades are suffering. “I don’t know how much more we can suffer before we fly apart.”
He pauses to wipe away tears. “What they’re doing to us is just not right.”