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Veterans Return to Court to Defend Pension Act

The federal government made a decision earlier this month to take veterans, part of the Equitas case, back to court. This decision has been seen as a shock and a major setback for many veterans who were expecting the case to be settled out-of-court.

The six veterans part of this case, fighting on behalf of the veteran community, want the government to return the Pension Act to receive a pension for life. Currently, under the New Veterans Charter (NVC), veterans are given a lump sum amount.

“The bottom line to why we’re doing this is equality to the Pension Act pre-2006 because it (NVC) is not equitable to what was being received before ’06 and the delivery of a lump sum is done horribly. It is given out to people with serious mental health problems, who are self-medicating at very young ages, 18, 19, 20, who have never even had a full-time job before, until they got into the military, and are being thrown a bag of money while they’re going off the rails,” said veteran Aaron Bedard, and lead-plaintiff in the case.

Bedard, who served in Afghanistan and received multiple injuries and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says currently under the NVC he has to file for eight different programs to receive compensation, programs that are reviewed constantly. While other, more severely injured veterans sometimes must file dozens more.

“At least with the pension it was carved into stone. Okay, you get a pension. Your wife, your kids, get a certain amount and you’re done. If it’s reviewed every couple years that’s okay because it’s one program,” said Bedard.

Bedard also says the eligibility criteria is stringent and mental health is a huge grey area.

“The way they’ve designed the NVC is that you’ve become the ultimate administrative burden, and they force you to come back, again and again, to beg for what should be laid out for you.

“I’m speaking on behalf of everyone in the program. Everyone that got wounded in Afghanistan is being treated like welfare recipients,” said Bedard.

The Class Action Lawsuit for disabled soldiers receiving lower settlements under the NVC was first filed in the B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 30, 2012, against the Harper government, who introduced the NVC.

Last spring the case was taken off the docket as both parties reached a sort of an agreement to postpone the case until after the elections. That agreement expired on Sunday, May 15.

Since 2012, the Equitas veterans have been arguing that the government has a sacred obligation, a “social contract,” to provide fair compensation to those that served their country. A point-of-view the Liberal government adopted in their party platform during election season.

Bedard says he worked alongside Liberals like Andrew Leslie and Harjit Sajjan to get the party to adopt some of the Equitas platforms. He believed settling the case would be simple.Taking veterans back to court is seen as the Liberal government going back on their word, a major setback for the veteran community.

“We were trying to help them to make sure make the right choices. We opened the door for them to just simply reiterate in writing the mandate. That was basically it, and the case is done.

“They’re stabbing the veteran community right in the heart doing that,” stated Bedard.

He also believes that the Liberals will lose support from the veteran community, who are typically majority conservative and switched camps when frustrated with the NVC.

“Going south like this on the court case, making us go back to the courts, causing mental setbacks for all of us, the whole right-wing that helped them to get a majority is gone. It’ll be gone within the month I guarantee it,” affirmed Bedard.

As the Equitas case returns to court, Bedard says this is a moment for the plaintiffs to be a role model for the rest of the veteran community and be professional in order to make a long-lasting, meaningful change.

“This is about policy changing. You can’t just bang on drums and protest to make a  policy change. The only way you can get a policy changed properly is to work with the people that write policy,” said Bedard.

Bedard and the other plaintiffs are waiting for the judge to make a ruling on arguments made last year. Regardless of the outcome, Bedard believes the case will likely end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

**Feature Image courtesy of Equitas Society Facebook page.

For more information visit the Equitas Society website.

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MIshall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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