03/31/2015 17:31 EDT | Updated 05/31/2015 01:12 EDT

Lawsuit veterans expecting more out of Ottawa in benefits overhaul

OTTAWA - Veterans at the centre of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government are waiting to see whether legislation introduced this week by the Harper government to improve benefits is the beginning, or the end, of reforms to the system.If it's the end, the lawyer for the ex-soldiers says the politically embarrassing court fight is, in all likelihood, back on.Don Sorochan says he will have to consult his clients, but his view is that the measures announced by the Harper government over the last month represent easy fixes and that more is to come."If it is the end of it, I would think the answer would be pretty simple: It's not enough," he said.The lawsuit, which argues that modern-day soldiers are discriminated against compared with troops who fought the two world wars and Korea, was put on a hold earlier this year as the two sides entered settlement talks.Sorochan says it is possible the government, or the opposition parties, could promise more during the coming election campaign, but the ex-soldiers will have to make decisions based upon what's in front of them.The time-out in the lawsuit ends on April 15, but the two sides could elect to extend it if they believe there's value in continuing discussions.The lawsuit has been a black eye for the Conservatives, who pride themselves on supporting the troops and Sorochan says the government had been insisting that it be dropped immediately in light of the recent improvements."We are certainly interested in continuing the talks, but we will have to reassess where we are in the lawsuit, given the reforms," said Sorochan. "We've already done some analysis, but the point is, these weren't supposed to be the end of the reforms."Since the beginning of March, the new veterans minister, Erin O'Toole, has announced a series of measures, including a new $70,000 pain and suffering award that appears aimed at the physically injured. There is also a new proposed retirement income security benefit for moderately and severely wounded soldiers without military pensions and new programs for caregivers.The government has also expanded access to the permanent impairment allowance, which gives the most severely disabled veterans up to $2,800 a month in tax-free income for life.In their statement of defence against the lawsuit, government lawyers offended veterans by saying the government has no extraordinary obligation towards soldiers and that the current government cannot be bound by political promises made by previous governments, notably by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden during the First World War.The Conservatives pledged to include a recognition of that so-called "sacred obligation" in the preamble to the new legislation, which was tabled Monday in the House of Commons.Bill C-58 says its purpose "is to recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. This obligation includes providing services, assistance and compensation to members and veterans who have been injured or have died as a result of military service and extends to their spouses or common-law partners or survivors and orphans."It also says legislation should be "liberally interpreted."