Sunday, June 18, 2006

Single, serving and second class

The relatives of Private Scott Woodfield found out the hard way that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't believe single service members are the entitled to the same benefits as married or common-law members.

Media reports last month said relatives of Pte. Braun Scott Woodfield, who died in a military vehicle accident in November, would be sharing a $250,000 tax-free payment specially authorized by cabinet to compensate for his death while on duty.

At the time, a family member said the money was welcome and that they "appreciate the thought."

But records released under the Access to Information Act indicate Woodfield's family was excluded from the cabinet order, which gave a total of $1 million to four other families grieving over military deaths.
The cabinet order had been made after it was discovered that members of the CF who were killed in action before April 1st, 2006 but after May 13th, 2005 were not covered by the death benefit provided in the Veterans Charter. While there was no legal requirement to provide the one-time payment, to not have done so would have been grossly unfair. The government made payments based on the language in the Veterans Charter, which means single service members with no dependents are not entitled to the VAC death benefit.

The problem is not the cabinet order; the problem is the Veterans Charter and the decision not to recognize single serving members as equal.

The death benefit is a tax-free, lump sum payment of $250,000. It is paid to a spouse or common-law partner, and dependent children, if a CF member is:

- killed while in service; or

- injured while in service and dies within 30 days of the injury.
So, why is the single serving member not entitled to this benefit? Nobody seems to know, except that this gross inequality made it through committee and into law without being seriously challenged.

There was a time in the services when single members suffered considerable inequalities. They were paid less than married members, they endured worse periods of duty and they were denied annual leave during prime periods when married members received precedence. There was even a time when single members were required to pay for rations and quarters whether they lived in barracks or not. And in the days when the services had apprentice soldiers and sailors, young single men were required to allot a portion of their pay to their parents.

All of that ended in the early 1970s and single CF personnel saw their pay increase as their basic levels came up to those of married members. Leave was still a problem but many single members fought and won the right to be included in summer leave schedules. Rations and quarters charges were discontinued if a single member chose not to live in barracks. In short, the inequalities were done away with. Until now.

The assumption that a single serving member of the CF is not providing support to members of his family is not only erronious, but outside the province of the Canadian government. To have written legislation which denies the families of a killed-in-action son or daughter the financial benefit provided married or common-law members should never have been written into law.

National Defence spokesman John Knoll said the Forces also pay supplementary death benefits - two years of salary, tax-free - to the estate of the member or to his or her designated beneficiary. The military will also provide severance pay to the estate or designated beneficiary, seven days' pay for each year of service.
Don't get too excited about this. It's life insurance and the member pays a premium for it. The severance and superannuation payout is the member's money.

This legislation is just plain wrong and I have doubts that it would survive a Supreme Court challenge.

On the other hand, don't expect it to change too quickly.

(H/T reader Cat)

No comments: