02/16/2015 03:50 EST | Updated 04/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Former Part-Time Soldiers Waiting Up To 2 Years For Severance Pay

OTTAWA - Nicholas Vanderplas, a former corporal and part-time member of the infantry, says he's used to shoddy paperwork in the army, but waiting nearly two years for $4,500 in severance pay has exhausted his patience.

He is not alone.

As of last week, there was a backlog of 2,754 severance payment cases waiting to be processed.

And those part-time soldiers who are on the list now, having just left the military, face longer waits than those just a few years ago.

According to the department, it takes up to 21 months in some cases to process reservist severance claims through a old, inefficient system the Department of National Defence had promised to fix.

"I am just so disgusted with everything that's been done there," said Vanderplas, 24, of London, Ont., who quit in May 2013 after dislocating his shoulder in a helicopter rappelling exercise, an injury that left him unable to do other training.

"I've faced a plethora of the most horrible excuses that you can't take from any other employer. If you did, you could report them to the province or take them to the Better Business Bureau."

By comparison, members of the regular — or full-time — force waited 18 weeks for severance.

Former military ombudsman Pierre Daigle investigated a series of complaints in the late summer and early fall of 2013 when reservists, unlike their full-time counterparts, were waiting between nine and 17 months to receive the stipulated payouts after shedding their uniforms.

But Maj. Cindy Tessier, spokeswoman for the personnel and legal branch of National Defence, said processing a part-timer's severance takes longer because each personnel file undergoes an audit to verify eligible service.

That said, the department understands the frustration of former reservists, Tessier indicated.

"The CAF recognizes the significant number of months that Reserve Force members wait for severance payment and has recently re-organized the section responsible for making severance payments in an attempt to gain efficiencies," she said in an email.

A significant contributor to the current backlog was a one-time offer between April 2013 and September 2014 when reservists were given the option of taking payment-in-lieu of severance. During that time, 12,300 applications were processed.

But multiple sources at National Defence said the branch that processes the payments was gearing up to address the accumulation of files when it was hit with a round of cuts under the Harper government's Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

Gary Walbourne, the new military ombudsman, said under those circumstances, a slowdown should be expected.

"When you remove resources from the environment, but keep the same practises and processes, there's got to be an impact," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "If you're going to change something and bring new tools that are more efficient and effective to bear, then I think you can mitigate that. But to do the same thing with less, there's got to be a ripple effect."

Walbourne said he's spoken to the chief of military personnel and "they are bringing resources to bear."

But Vanderplas, who freely admits to butting heads with brass at 4th Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment over his injuries and inability to attend training, said he's not impressed.

"During my time there, I was almost never paid on time," said Vanderplas, who works for his father's plumbing company in civilian life.

"I was lucky to have that to fall back on, but my injuries have affected what I can do. I am a Conservative, but you think I'm voting that way next time?"

Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray called the backlog "utterly outrageous," saying she's heard stories from other reservists who were forced to rely on the generosity of the Royal Canadian Legion to spot them some cash to pay bills until the government came through.

The Legion's marketing director, Scott Ferris, said there has always been a big gap between how regular and reserve members are treated, something the government has failed to address.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "There should be equality."

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