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Injured War Veterans Sue Canada

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Disabled war veterans claim in a class action that Canada unfairly compensates them for combat and non-combat related injuries and pain and suffering.

Lead plaintiff Daniel Christopher Scott claims in British Columbia Supreme Court that Canada's "New Veterans Charter" of 2005 limits compensation for injuries during service, paying out lump sums that pale in comparison to payments under provincial workers' compensation schemes.

"A severely disabled worker under current provincial workers' compensation programs would be compensated with approximately $2.0 million dollars in tax-free income benefits from their twenties to age 65," the complaint states.

"Members of the Class with the same disabilities receive substantially reduced benefits under the New Veterans Charter."

According to the complaint: "The New Veterans Charter was the most significant change in how veterans were to be compensated for their injuries in more than 90 years, but the bill received less than one minute of discussion in the House of Commons for second and third readings."

Canadian courts, meanwhile, routinely award substantially more to people injured in tort cases, but injured soldiers are left with much less under the New Veterans Charter, according to the complaint.

"Disabled members of the Class are left to derive annual income from the investment of their lump sum payout despite their own reduced ability to work and earn income," the complaint states. "The plaintiffs say that their onetime payouts are, in addition to the awards being less than those awarded by the courts, disproportionately small because the method of settlement does not factor future wage losses, loss of capacity, or future cost of care."

The 53-page complaint describes the seven named plaintiffs' histories, and the evolving role of Canada's military since World War I.

Scott says he was injured in a training exercise after his platoon suffered casualties from an improvised explosive device during his second tour in Afghanistan.

During the exercise, Canadian soldiers improperly detonated a C19 mine while Scott and other soldiers were in the mine's destructive path. He was hit by the mine's metal balls and his rib was fractured and he suffered a collapsed lung, according to the complaint.

He was awarded just over $41,000 for his injuries, an amount which is "an inadequate reflection of his pain and suffering," the complaint states.

Plaintiff Gavin Flett's leg was injured in Afghanistan when a tree fell on him. He says he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was awarded $13,000 for his leg injury and $82,000 for his PTSD claim.

He now walks with a limp, his wife broke off their marriage and he was evicted from his Canadian Forces housing unit when the army terminated his full-time status, the complaint states. Flett says he putting himself through university without government help, and he can no longer pursue a career in law enforcement, as he had planned.

Campbell, who served in the Canadian Forces for more than 30 years, had his legs blown off by an IED while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. He was also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, major depression and PTSD. He was awarded $260,000 for his injuries, which later was increased, but the increase didn't matter since the charter caps compensation at $250,000, according to the complaint. He also expects to receive just over $10,000 a month in taxable monthly compensation.

"Mr. Campbell suffered a catastrophic injury that ended his upwards career as a senior decorated Canadian Forces Member," the complaint states. "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."

Plaintiff Kevin Barry turned 20 a month before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. Berry says he injured his knees dismounting from a jeep while on patrol in the war-torn country.

"Mr. Berry was required to patrol the streets of Kabul in knee braces carrying 15 kilograms of mission-critical equipment and supplies, 30 kilograms of body armour, fighting order, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, radios, and other equipment," the complaint states.

"As a result of Mr. Berry's duties, there was long-term damage done to his knees including, but not limited to, patella-femoral pain syndrome and osteoarthritis. In addition, Mr. Berry suffered from tinnitus in his ears."

In 2009, he suffered panic attacks and flashbacks and began abusing alcohol. He receives a modest pension and received lump sum payments for PTSD totaling about $85,000, but he went into debt while waiting for the payments due to "numerous delays" processing the payments.

Bradley Quast was injured in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2009. The explosion killed four soldiers, journalist Michelle Lang, and injured five others, including him. His right foot was injured and he "could see bones sticking out of his skin" after removing his boot. For his injuries, including PTSD, Quast received three lump sum payments totaling more than $200,000.

Aaron Bedard suffered whiplash when the vehicle he was in triggered an anti-tank mine. He suffered constant headaches but served out the rest of his tour in Afghanistan, where he was involved in two more explosions with his unit. Upon medical release from the army, he returned home, began abusing alcohol and contemplating suicide daily. He received $199,000 for his injuries and receives $42,000 yearly for long-term disability.

"A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to 'the Government of Canada,' for an amount of 'up to and including their life,'" the complaint states. "This commitment to make the ultimate sacrifice reflects their honour in the service of their country.

"Potential recruits may well reconsider the choice of a physically challenging and potentially hazardous military occupation if it becomes evident to them that an injury or illness may result in the termination of one's career without appropriate compensation or provision for adequate training and preparation for a return to civilian employment. Similarly, serving members are likely to me much less eager to place themselves in harm's way if they perceive that a resulting injury, disability, and release from the Canadian Forces does not, with certainty, result in immediate treatment and adequate compensation."

They seek equitable remedies, aggravated damages and costs. They are represented by Donald Sorochan, with Miller Thomson, of Vancouver.

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