Veterans

Veterans challenge Ottawa over disability benefits

PTSD-sufferers seek class-action suit to make up for lost wages

Hebert and wife
Stephane Hebert seeks disability benefits in court to support his family.   Adina Bresge

Some military veterans fighting for disability-related payments took their fight for benefits to court on Wednesday.

The group of around a dozen says Ottawa wrongfully denied them support payment related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Stephane Hebert, who served in the Canadian Forces for 21 years, sat in Federal Court in Halifax wearing his military decorations for a certification hearing on a proposed class-action lawsuit.

“If I was given my benefits on time, I probably could have pursued my life with a little bit more dignity,” he said outside the courtroom.

After serving in Yugoslavia, Hebert, 48, was medically released from the Forces in 2007.

He suffers from PTSD, which he says prevents him from working. He says it’s been difficult for him and his wife to support their 13-year-old daughter.

“I have no choice to be here today,” he said. “It’s for my family.”

Lawyer Daniel Wallace said the Canadian Forces led his clients to believe they were ineligible for support payments due to a flawed calculation.

When the service members did apply, their claims were denied because they exceeded the 120-day application period.

“The reason they didn’t apply is because they were told they weren’t going to get anything, so it’s a … catch-22,” Wallace told reporters.

Liberals ‘have not been supportive’

Wallace and his legal team won an $887.8-million settlement for around 7,000 veterans in a similar case in 2013.

The Liberal party supported that case, led by veteran Dennis Manuge, but Wallace says the federal government has not made things easy this time around.

“The Liberals were very supportive of the Manuge case while they were in opposition, and we certainly appreciated that support,” Wallace said.

“They have not been supportive now that they’re in power of this very similar case.”

Other veterans coming forward

Wallace says only the government knows how many veterans’ benefits were affected by the insurance miscalculation.

“I just received an email this morning saying there may be a couple more dozen,” he said during a break.

Crown lawyers had no comment on the proceedings. The Department of National Defence has said it will be opposing certification.

Judge Luc Martineau reserved his decision, and will rule on whether to certify the suit within the next few months.