POLITICS

Military Veterans Challenge Denial Of Disability Benefits In New Court Battle With Ottawa

02/24/2016 09:48 EST | Updated 02/24/2017 05:12 EST

HALIFAX — A decorated war veteran says he never expected to be fighting the federal government in court over benefits he and other disabled former military members claim they were wrongly denied after years of service.

Using a cane, Stephane Hebert walked into Federal Court in Halifax on Wednesday for the first day of a legal hearing over whether the dispute should be certified as a class action for possibly dozens of veterans.

"It's really sad because after my 21 years of career, I'm still here fighting for my rights,'' he said outside the courtroom, with several military medals pinned on his lapel.

"It was important for me and my wife to be here...I'm here to let others know they're not alone in this quest.''

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A member of the Canadian Armed Forces walks along the rows of grave stones at the National Military Cemetery during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)

The veterans, who were medically released from the military, say they were told by the Forces' insurer that they would receive little to no disability benefits after calculations were done taking their salary and pensions into account.

Many decided not to go through the lengthy and costly process of applying for the payments when they learned they wouldn't receive any money.

But a Federal Court judge ruled in another case led by veteran Dennis Manuge and involving a larger group of disabled vets that the formula used to determine disability benefits was flawed and should be overturned. The case ended when Ottawa settled with about 7,500 claimants in the $887.8-million class-action lawsuit in 2013 over their clawed back pension benefits.

Dan Wallace, the lawyer handling this latest case, said that when Hebert and others applied for the benefits following the Manuge ruling they were denied because they missed a 120-day deadline.

“The unfortunate part of this is the more disabled you are, the more money you're out.”

"The government is relying on a technicality time limit to say, 'You're out of luck for these benefits that you've paid for your entire career and that you are eligible for,''' he said outside court.

"The unfortunate part of this is the more disabled you are, the more money you're out.''

The Crown did not want to comment on the case, but a Defence spokeswoman said it is opposing the judicial review because it "does not meet the test for certification of a class.''

Wallace said most of the veterans who have come forward in this case suffer from PTSD, with some so severely disabled that they have not worked since being medically released from the Forces.

Hebert, a 48-year-old father of a young daughter, suffers from PTSD and was medically released in 2007 after serving in Yugoslavia in 1992.

Wallace didn't know the dollar value of the case, but estimates Hebert would stand to receive about $50,000.

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