November 17, 2014 5:30 pm
Updated: November 27, 2014 2:36 pm

Reservists like Nathan Cirillo are worth $1.8M less to the feds. Why?

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WATCH: Global News has learned Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s family wasn’t going to be entitled to the same death benefits other soldiers get because he was a reservist. Jacques Bourbeau reports. 

How do you put a price on the life of someone serving in Canada’s military?

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Both Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo were honoured in Ottawa and across the country in Remembrance Day ceremonies last week.

Each will have a military base named after him.

But according to the federal government’s rules, the two men’s lives are valued very differently.

Cirillo was a Class B reservist with fewer than 180 days of service under his belt this year. As such, according to government policy, his survivors – including his five-year-old child Marcus – are officially entitled to far less than those of any regular force members.

Global News spent much of last week trying to find out what the exact difference is between the benefits given to the survivors of regular force members and benefits given to the survivors of various classes of reservists. We got no straight answer from ministry spokespersons (although some of the responses are excerpted below).

Late Monday afternoon, spokespersons for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said they can’t speak about specific financial benefits either the Cirillo or Vincent families will receive.

But “[o]ur Government directed Veterans Affairs and National Defence to provide the entire suite of benefits and programs that are available to the dependent families of regular service members to the dependent family members of these two remarkable Canadian Veterans.”

Giving Cirillo’s family the more generous benefits available to families of regular service members means the feds are effectively bending their own rules: According to official figures obtained by Global News, a person in Cirillo’s position would not have been entitled to a supplementary death benefit, worth $113,136 for regular force corporals, and would have received, at most, a negligible superannuation survivor benefit, which is worth $2,828 annually for regular force corporals until the decedent would have turned 65.

Survivors of a person in Cirillo’s position would also receive a lower supplementary retirement benefit – $17,000 compared to $41,833.

Most significantly, however, they would receive substantially less of an Earnings Loss Benefit – upwards of 70 per cent less over the lifetime of the benefit, which in his case would be $24,300 a year until he would have turned 65; by comparison, a regular force corporal’s earnings loss benefit begins at $42,426 and increases by 2 per cent annually.

By the time these benefits expire for a person of Cirillo’s age and rank, the survivors of a regular force corporal of the same age who died the same year would have received about $1.8 million more, in total, than Cirillo’s beneficiaries.

“My position has always been, a soldier’s a soldier: Once you put a uniform on, you’re in service to Canada. And if you get hurt while you’re in uniform, serving Canada, so you should be treated as a soldier,” said Armed Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne.

“I don’t understand why … when a soldier is injured or killed, why there should be any discrepancy. It really doesn’t make any sense to me.”

This inequity has been pointed out before: One of the recommendations of a report on Ottawa’s new Veterans’ Charter was to eliminate those ongoing inequalities between reservists and regular force members, on everything from disability to death benefits.

READ MORE: Veterans’ families get counselling; better disability payments on hold

And it was one of several recommendations Fantino said he’d look into, but wasn’t prepared to implement at the time.

“The government … has taken steps to address distinctions between veterans of the regular and reserve force,” Fantino’s response reads. “The government of Canada continues to address distinctions in benefits.”

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The issue has been raised multiple times in the past. A 2008 investigation found inequities in the treatment of, and care for, reservists had been an issue “for decades.”

A seemingly simple question with no simple answers

Global News first posted this question to Veterans Affairs at about 6 a.m. the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 11. We said our deadline was end-of-day:

What benefits do families of reservists receive when the reservist dies? How does that compare to the families of regular forces members? 

I know the Minister mentioned this as something he’d look into changing in future in light of recommendations coming out of the Veterans Charter report – would he consider making the benefits equal? When might that happen?

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, we received the following response:

In the event of a serious service related injury, a reservist or regular force member will receive the best medical and rehabilitation treatment available in addition to robust financial income on a monthly basis.

In the event of their death, compensation to dependent families includes a significant death benefit, monthly financial benefits, education and retraining for the widow and dependent children along with access to medical benefit coverage.

While there are many classes of reservists, those dependent families of a member who are class B and C receive an equal death benefit to that of a regular force member in the event of a service related injury or death.

To which we responded, at 6:43 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 13:

To clarify: What is the maximum dollar amount due the families/dependents of each class of reservists? What is the maximum dollar amount due the families/dependents of regular force members?

We received this answer at 4:51 p.m. that day:

Surviving spouses and dependent children of a Class A or Class B Reservist may be eligible to receive up to $301,275.26 through the Death Benefit. They may also be entitled to receive up to $301,275.26 through the Disability Award for those service-related illness/injuries that the Veteran could have applied for, while living.

Additionally, the surviving spouse may participate in rehabilitation services and be eligible for $75,800 in re-training assistance. Other benefits, such as the Earnings Loss may be applicable, which amounts $2,025 per month. Dependent children are also entitled to benefits including monthly financial support, university and college compensation in addition to health care coverage.

It was our Government who made changes to the Sentry program to ensure that Class A reservists standing guard at the National War Memorial were considered Class B – this significantly increases both the pay and benefits available to them and their families.

And, at 4:55 p.m., we asked the following…

What’s the difference between Class A and Class B? What other classes are there, and what is their maximum entitlement?

What is the maximum dollar amount for which surviving family members or dependents of regular forces members are eligible?

…but received no response until we asked at about 12:55 p.m. Monday about the numbers we’d obtained independently.

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