VANCOUVER - A group of Afghanistan war veterans has filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, saying the disability payment regime under the New Veterans Charter violates their human rights.
The lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday claims disability payments are decided arbitrarily and aren't enough to support soldiers who have been injured.
"There's no other group of people who can be ordered to put their life on the line for their country," said Don Sorochan, the Vancouver lawyer representing six current and former soldiers named in the suit.
In return, there is a social covenant between those men and women and the citizens of this country to take care of them if they are injured, he said.
"It's a promise by us, as the people of Canada, that we will look after those who put their lives on the line for us and who put their bodies on the line for us.
"Unfortunately, the bureaucrats don't think it is binding on them."
The lawsuit claims the new charter is a breach of the fiduciary duty owed to injured soldiers, and it seeks damages as well as a declaration that disabled veterans have been discriminated against.
The disability payments for injured and disabled soldiers are "paltry" in comparison to awards handed out in Canadian civil courts and by workers' compensation boards, Sorochan said.
Among the six soldiers named in the lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada is Maj. Mark Douglas Campbell, 47, a 32-year veteran of the Canadian Forces who served in Cyprus, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
On June 2, 2008, Campbell, a member of the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, was mentoring an Afghan National Army battalion that was hit by an IED and Taliban ambush. He lost both legs above the knee, one testicle, suffered numerous lacerations and a ruptured eardrum.
He has since been diagnosed with depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Campbell received a lump sum payment for pain and suffering of $260,000.
Still a serving member of the forces, he will receive taxable monthly payments of $10,787.50 when he retires, almost half of it from his regular military annuity. The rest will come from an earnings loss benefit reduced to account for the annuity, a permanent impairment allowance because of his lost job opportunities due to permanent impairment, and a supplement because he is entirely unable to work.
It will leave him in a net earnings loss, the lawsuit claims.
"Mr. Campbell suffered a catastrophic injury that ended his upwards career as a senior decorated Canadian Forces member," says the lawsuit.
"He is incapable of earning a gainful income and will most certainly suffer financial distress in the future as family needs far exceed their reduced means."
Cpl. Bradley Darren Quast, 23, was part of a light armoured patrol hit by an IED on Dec. 30, 2009. Four soldiers and Canadian journalist Michelle Lang were killed.
"Mr. Quast was extremely disoriented following the blast. He found himself lying amongst deceased and dismembered victims of the blast," the lawsuit says. "People were screaming and Mr. Quast saw injured and dying comrades strewn about the blast (site)."
Quast, a reservist in the South Alberta Light Horse Regiment, suffered severe injuries to his leg and foot. He's undergone numerous surgeries and has another scheduled for spring of next year.
Quast, who has been told he will be medically discharged but has not been given a date, received an initial $55,000 lump sum payment for pain and suffering and another $43,000 last year.
In May, he received another $102,000 lump sum payment for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.
Quast, who wanted to pursue a career as a police officer, may never be able to meet the physical requirements, the lawsuit says.
The other soldiers named in the suit include a Port Moody soldier who suffered injuries to his knees patrolling the streets of Kabul and a Vancouver reservist hit by a tree felled to clear out fields of fire around a remote outpost in Kandahar province.
Bombadier Daniel Christopher Scott, a reservist from Surrey, B.C., was injured in a February 2010 training accident at the Kankala Range in Kandahar province.
Scott, 26, suffered a leg fracture, collapsed lung and damage to his kidney, spleen and pancreas when a claymore mine exploded close to his platoon. Another soldier died en route with him to the hospital at Kandahar Air Field.
Two officers in charge and a warrant officer who detonated the mine faced court-martial over the accident.
Scott received a $41,000 lump sum payment in lieu of a disability pension, an amount the lawsuit said is insufficient to cover damages for the permanent injuries he suffered and the loss of earning capacity.
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
It's not the first lawsuit launched over the New Veterans Charter, which was adopted unanimously by Parliament and came into effect in 2006.
Earlier this month, Veterans Affairs ended a policy of clawing back benefit payments of disabled veterans after a Federal Court rejected the practice.
It is the "honour of the Crown" that is at stake, said Sorochan, who has taken on the case pro bono.
He said he is always hopeful that disputes can be resolved without a long court fight. A class-action lawsuit can take years to wind its way through the courts.
"The New Veterans Charter was thought, unanimously, by all politicians then in Parliament, to be a good thing. They were wrong. And now we're using this lawsuit as a mechanism to try and get it across that they were wrong," he said.
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