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RCMP Veterans call on Ottawa

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RCMP Veterans call on Ottawa

Post by puddleduk2 on Tue 16 Jul 2013, 19:46

RCMP veterans call on Ottawa to end clawback

Alison Auld, The Canadian Press at 15:00 on July 14, 2013, EDT.

HALIFAX - David White turns off the phone in a small meeting room and makes sure cellphones are silenced to help quiet the piercing sounds that have afflicted him since he was an RCMP officer in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

It's a ritual he has to go through routinely to deal with the constant ringing and acute sound sensitivity in his ears since his hearing was damaged in two service-related accidents in the mid-1990s and 2001.

The incidents led to his involuntary release from the RCMP in 2002, for which he was given a pain and suffering pension from Veterans Affairs and long-term disability for several hearing impairments linked to his 30 years of service.

But White and other injured RCMP members say most of that money is clawed back under a system similar to one that a judge deemed harsh and unfair in a class-action lawsuit by military veterans, but which still applies to the police veterans.

White, now 61, is hoping to end the disputed practice through a proposed class-action suit against the federal government, which has so far not sat down to try to come up with a settlement in the almost identical case.

And as months drag on, he says aging and injured RCMP veterans are dying before they see any money returned to them.

"It's disappointing," White said at his lawyer's office in downtown Halifax.

"Some of our veterans are suffering and the clawback being stopped is definitely going to help them. They're getting older and it would be nice to have it resolved before too long."

Dan Wallace, White's lawyer, plans to meet with federal attorneys Monday in the hopes of crafting a deal for injured RCMP veterans who have seen their awards heavily skimmed off since 1975.

Wallace, who also handled the protracted military veterans' case, said several meetings with Justice Department lawyers have been cancelled over the last year and a settlement has not been proposed for a class that could number around 800 people.

He says it's not clear why Ottawa has allowed the case to drag on after a Federal Court judge ruled in May 2012 that Canadian Forces veterans should not have their awards clawed back because the money is not income.

"People need the money and people are dying, so it would be nice for them to see the day when it ends," Wallace said.

"It's really a question of dignity for a lot of these folks, so we hope the government will do the right thing."

The need to move it along became clear in 2009 with the death of Gerard Buote, the man who initiated the case a year earlier. Soon after, White took over as the lead plaintiff.

Wallace says if the meeting fails to produce proposals to settle the matter and end the clawback, the group will head to court in the fall to have the case certified as a class action. He says he's heard from about 200 people so far who want to join.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesman with the Treasury Board, said in an email that he wouldn't comment on the case because it is before the courts.

Both the Royal Canadian Legion and the Veterans Ombudsman have urged Ottawa to end the practice, calling it unfair and unnecessary in the wake of the Federal Court decision.

White was diagnosed with tinnitus, which causes a steady ringing in his ears, hearing loss and hyperacusis, which effectively makes every sound like the turning of a page or water dripping extremely loud.

White wears several devices, including hearing aids, earplugs and a machine, to deaden the sound but says nothing can take away the steady thrum in his ears.

"I deal with this every day," he says. "I was medically discharged from the RCMP, I was unable to work, I can't go to large sporting events or anything where there's noise. But the income that I'm supposed to get from a disability pension is considered wage loss ... and I lose it and that doesn't make sense to me."

White was assessed by Veterans Affairs at being 42 per cent disabled and has $1,297 deducted each month in what's deemed a wage loss replacement. He estimates that he's lost $100,000 since he was released from the force.

Wallace says he will ask for a return of all money that was clawed back, with interest.

About 8,000 wounded military veterans were awarded a $887.8-million dollar settlement after former army sergeant Dennis Manuge launched a class-action suit against Ottawa in 2007.
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