About 330,000 veterans receiving disability payments from the federal government might soon receive their share of a multi-million-dollar settlement after lawyers identified accounting errors in the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) payment process.
On Nov. 8, a final settlement agreement was signed on behalf of the veterans and their estates with VAC for a “miscalculation of benefits”, which dated back about 20 years.
Dennis Manuge, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran living in Ostrea Lake, N.S., said he felt “a sense of relief” when he heard the news.
“I’m one of the few Canadians, I believe, that have brought two class-actions against the Government of Canada to a successful conclusion,” he said, referring to the integral role he played in a previous winning settlement against the federal government in 2013 regarding military pension claw-backs.
The 53-year-old said he’s spent the last decade working to recover from injuries he suffered during his service. He said this recent victory, is “about legacy and standing up for what’s right.”
“They (Veterans Affairs Canada) are incredibly slow learners. I think that’s any government bureaucracy, it’s so big, so cumbersome,” he said.
Daniel Wallace, a Halifax-based lawyer working on the case, said although the total repayment amount is dependent on how many veterans submit a claim. He estimates the total figure could be as much as $817 million.
“People were underpaid for such a long period of time,” he said.
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He said the process that resulted in this recent correction began in 2018 when the veteran ombudsman identified a payment error that took place between 2003 and 2007, leading the federal government to make a “corrective payment.”
Following the first payment, Wallace said it was noted that the government’s process didn’t include the interest accrued throughout the years, and upon a further investigation, lawyers identified additional errors in how the original calculation was made.
“The fact that these errors were made for such a long time, … and no one was compensated until eight years later, was a problem.”
Wallace, who said he’s resolved several cases regarding veterans benefits over the past decade, called the findings “disappointing” and said veterans, along with the general public, have a “right to know” if the process used to determine these payment amounts are done inaccurately.
“Veterans Affairs Canada is there for a reason. It’s to make sure these people get what they deserve and what they’re entitled to and when that’s not the case, there’s a bit of distrust and disappointment,” he said, adding he hopes this resolution provides veterans with newfound confidence they’ll be receiving the correct payment amounts moving forward.
When asked to comment on the settlement agreement, a spokesperson from the office of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs Canada provided an emailed statement to Global News.
“Veterans have given so much to this country and they deserve our greatest recognition and respect for their contributions and sacrifices,” the statement read.
Wallace said the amount each claimant will receive is about 2 per cent of the respective veteran’s affected benefits throughout the 20-year period, and is also based on the payment they currently collect.
“The more severely disabled you are, the more you were underpaid, which is one of the really disappointing things about this,” he said. “But I think the average will be approximately two to four thousand dollars.”
Peter Stoffer, a veteran’s advocate, said he wishes the federal government would “sit down” and engage in more discussions with veterans and their families in order to reach a reasonable conclusion, without having to go through an extensive legal process.
“I think if they did that, they’d come up with a much better solution that respects the dignity of the men and women that served, and all respect the tax dollar at the same time,” he said.
Stoffer said the process for veterans to access what they’re rightfully owed should be simplified.
“These are our honoured heroes of our country and their families,” he said. “All they’re asking for is dignity and respect, and you would encourage the government and departments to do the same thing.”
As for what’s next, Wallace said the recent settlement agreement will need to receive approval during a court hearing in Ottawa on December 18.
And if everything goes according to plan for Manuge, Wallace, and the rest of the plaintiffs, all eligible veterans who submit a claim should receive their portion of the payout within the following year.
“It’s all designed to be as clear as possible,” Wallace said about the projected repayment process. “This is important for financial reasons but it’s also important because of what the money represents … and as much as possible as money can do it, it’s to recognize the sacrifices these people have made,” he said.
Mengue said now that multiple successful legal actions brought forth by veterans have resulted in large settlements, he hopes Veterans Affairs Canada will “do better” in future circumstances.
“At the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for … adapt, change, evolve,” he said.