October 20, 2022

Updated: For CBC Coverage of this class action see: Judge says lawsuit accusing government of failing to tell eligible veterans about benefits can proceed

On October 17, 2022, the Federal Court of Canada certified a class action against the Government of Canada on behalf of approximately 10,000 Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. The action is brought by representative plaintiff, Sean Bruyea, on behalf of Veterans who suffered debilitating injuries and illnesses as a result of their service in the Canadian Armed Forces. The action alleges that Canada provided erroneous advice to these Veterans in its administration of the Earnings Loss Benefit and the Supplementary Retirement Benefit, causing loss to the Veterans and their dependants.

The Supplementary Retirement Benefit program was established by the Government of Canada to compensate for lower pension earnings and retirement benefits payable to Veterans who were unable to engage in suitable gainful employment because of service-related injuries and disabilities that rendered them totally and permanently incapacitated. The Minister of Veterans Affairs is the sponsor and administrator of the Supplementary Retirement Benefit program.

This class action touches on one of the most common complaints of Veterans and their families – that the benefits scheme available to Veterans is unduly complex and difficult to navigate. This is especially true for Veterans suffering from cognitive and psychological injuries and illnesses – who find it almost impossible to determine which benefits they are entitled to.

The class action alleges that employees of Veterans Affairs Canada – who were assigned to help ill and injured Veterans – lacked sufficient training, expertise, and awareness of the various benefit programs, including the Supplementary Retirement Benefit program, to explain and communicate such programs to Veterans. As a result, Veterans received erroneous advice about the Supplementary Retirement Benefit and related benefits and, consequently, did not receive the full value of the benefits to which they were entitled.

This class action is brought on behalf of all former members of the Canadian Armed Forces who received the Supplementary Retirement Benefit upon termination of the program, but who received less for the Supplementary Retirement Benefit than they would have received had they been properly advised of the Supplementary Retirement Benefit and how it was calculated.

On May 13, 2020, the Veterans Ombudsman issued a report about the Supplementary Retirement Benefit payout. The Ombudsman concluded that there were possible systemic issues relating to the way that Veterans were counselled (or not counselled) regarding Supplementary Retirement Benefit eligibility at the time it was introduced. The Ombudsman determined that the complex eligibility criteria for the Supplementary Retirement Benefit was difficult for both Veterans Affairs Canada (“VAC”) staff and Veterans to understand, and that VAC did not provide clear, easy-to-understand information which would enable Veterans to make an informed decision on program application.

The hearing took place in Ottawa on June 6-8, 2022, and the Court’s decision was released on October 17, 2022.

A copy of the Certification Order can be found here: https://bit.ly/3TAqpnn

As representative plaintiff, Sean Bruyea, notes,

This class action is, at its heart, about addressing the overwhelming and discouraging bureaucratic complexity in benefits for Canada’s disabled Veterans. We sacrificed so much, and in return, we ask that Canada recognize that sacrifice, at the very least, by having a duty to meaningfully inform our Veterans and their families of the benefits they are entitled to because of those sacrifices.

I feel a profound honour to represent so many vulnerable Veterans who, but for this class action, would not be given access to justice. I am so deeply relieved that Justice Kane did not side with the government’s position that Canada owes no duty of care to our most disabled Veterans.

Angela Bespflug and Janelle O’Connor of our office have been working on this matter from the beginning. As Class Counsel, Angela Bespflug had this to say about the decision:

“On October 17, 2022, the Federal Court certified this action as a class proceeding. The action seeks justice for over 10,000 Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces who selflessly risked their lives in service to their country and who sustained severe physical and psychological injuries as a result. The action alleges that these Veterans received less in income-replacement benefits than they were entitled to receive because Canada failed to reasonably inform them of the benefits available to them and, in fact, provided erroneous advice to them with respect to these benefits.

In light of the Federal Court’s decision, we encourage Canada to stop fighting Veterans who are totally and permanently incapacitated. Canada should resolve the issues in this litigation in a manner that recognizes the extraordinary sacrifices that these Veterans have made for our country.

This case is a humbling reminder of the selfless sacrifices that Veterans have made. We’ll continue to fight for the rights of Canada’s Veterans who sustained life-altering injuries while serving their country.”

For more details on this action or to arrange an interview, contact Janelle O’Connor at [email protected].

To learn more about the class action and what to do if you think you have been affected visit: Supplemental Retirement Benefits Class Action.

 

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