Posted: Friday, April 3, 2015 6:57 pm | Updated: 7:36 pm, Fri Apr 3, 2015.
Don Plant | 0 comments
The Harper government is offering another new lump-sum benefit to Canada's most critically wounded soldiers, but most of them don't qualify for it, says a Kelowna veteran.
Patrick Wilkins served 20 years in the military, including two tours in Bosnia and one in Afghanistan. Even though he's considered 92 per cent disabled, the new $70,000 benefit unveiled this week by Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole will elude him.
"The criteria is so narrow," Wilkins said. "Anyone who's listed as permanently disabled, unless it's a one-time physical injury, won't qualify. If it's an injury over any length of time, like a chronic or psychological injury, you'll be denied because it's something that was accumulated."
At 44, Wilkins is considered permanently impaired. He suffers from chronic back pain after he fell out of a helicopter during a combat exercise when he was 19. He has irritable bowel syndrome, two bad knees, an anxiety disorder and erectile dysfunction.
He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder during his mission in Afghanistan in 2006-07. He now operates a part-time business taking people on sidecar tours but is unable to work steadily and relies on his wife Dorothy to care for him.
Once Parliament approves the legislation, Conservatives hope the critical-injury payment will complement the existing lump-sum awards system, vilified by soldiers and veterans since it was introduced in 2006.
A Commons committee has said the disability awards system is less generous to wounded soldiers than the courts are to civilians hurt in workplace accidents. Wilkins suspects the new one-time award is meant to appease critics before this year's federal election.
"There's nothing that gets people's hearts and minds moving more than seeing someone stand up there with medals on their chest who fought for their country calling someone else a liar," he said. "It changes people's perception, even if you're a strong Conservative."
Wilkins collects a small pension based on his years of service and CPP disability.
He received $247,000 in lump-sum payments, an amount that sounds substantial but doesn't carry over a lifetime, he said.
Dorothy Wilkins estimates the money adds up to what the couple would receive as a full pension over four years.
"When he was injured, I was working for the Workers' Compensation Board in Alberta. I saw the difference between what military gets and what WCB pays out for people, and it's a big difference," she said.
If houses cost just $200,000, the lump-sum awards would be sufficient, said Patrick. The couple invested most of his payout in their house but struggle to make ends meet.
"I never planned on making the only trips in my life to the hospital to get medication because we can't afford to do anything else," he said.
The system of lump-sum payments for pain and suffering has been a lightning rod of controversy for the Conservatives. It's one reason angry veterans of the mission in Afghanistan launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government.
The military recognizes an injured veteran affects the spouse. But Dorothy fails to qualify for benefits to caregivers who give up work to stay at home because she suffered a breakdown caused by Wilkins' PTSD and can't return to work, he said.
If the government brought back monthly disability pensions, the lives of most wounded veterans would improve, Wilkins said. Instead, too many have squandered the large sums they received all at once.
"They weren't healed yet. They wasted it," he said. "I have friends who pissed it away — drank it, bought trucks, and now they have nothing.
"People say they should have known better, and they're right. A 19-year-old kid — you give him $180,000 for PTSD, the only thing he can think about doing is drinking and partying to relieve some of the pain and stress. . . . He's trying to forget."
— With files from The Canadian Press
ARTICLE: Fewer caseworkers left to help veterans http://www.kelownadailycourier.ca/news/article_e4e927a8-da6e-11e4-abf3-a3793d53c5e9.html
?ARTICLE: Kelowna lawyer has BC veterans' backs http://www.kelownadailycourier.ca/news/article_95bff260-783a-11e4-9b5f-1bf9f04da57d.html
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