Judge says lawsuit accusing government of failing to notify eligible veterans of benefits can continue

A judge has ruled that a class action lawsuit alleging that Veterans Affairs Canada failed to inform former members of the Canadian Armed Forces of the benefits to which they were entitled could proceed.

At the heart of the case is the department’s handling of the former Supplementary Retirement Benefit, a program intended to compensate for declining pension and benefits income for veterans unable to find gainful employment due to service-related injuries.

Veterans lawyer Sean Bruyea – who filed the class action lawsuit in October 2020 – had been eligible for the benefit before it was consolidated into another program by the Liberal government as part of its benefits reform for veterans. veterans, which came into force in April 2019.

According to the court filing, Bruyea could have received a lump sum payment – ​​equal to 69 months of the Supplementary Retirement Benefit (SRB) – “if he had been properly informed by the ministry of the eligibility requirements” of the program.

Sean Bruyea, retired Royal Canadian Air Force captain and veterans advocate, in 2013. (Radio Canada)

The lawsuit estimates that up to 10,000 eligible veterans may not have received the benefit. He accuses the federal government of not proactively informing veterans of the benefit.

In a ruling on Monday, a federal judge ruled that the class action lawsuit against the government can proceed.

“We have sacrificed so much, and in return, we ask that Canada recognize this sacrifice, at the very least, by having the duty to inform in a meaningful way our veterans and their families of the benefits to which they are entitled because of these sacrifices,” Bruyea said. in a statement to the media.

CBC contacted Veterans Affairs Canada for a statement, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Documents filed by the government in the case include an affidavit from the Department of Veterans Affairs stating that “veterans are encouraged to be proactive in the benefits and services available to them.”

“Generally, veterans have a responsibility to stay informed and actively participate in their programs and benefits,” the document says.

The lawsuit touches on one of the most common complaints from disabled veterans – that it can be nearly impossible for them to determine what benefits they are entitled to when the rules have changed so often over the past 15 years.

There have been three major overhauls to the Veterans Benefits system since 2005 – changes that resulted in confusing eligibility criteria and programs that worked for several years only to be replaced, changed to something else or outright cancelled.

In 2015, the Liberal government promised to fix the system and said as a statement of principle that no veteran should have to fight the federal government in court to get their benefits.

He also pledged to spend more money on programs and to communicate clearly with ex-servicemen about their options.

In 2019, the government launched a Veterans Benefits Browser, an online tool intended to distil the range of federal government veterans benefit programs into personalized reading that suggests options.

It took Veterans Affairs nearly a decade to deliver the interactive tool. It was first recommended by Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman in 2010.

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