Gravely injured troops are being booted from the military before they qualify for a pension, despite assurances to the contrary from the federal government.
A former reserve combat engineer was let go last Friday on a medical discharge after begging for months to remain until hitting the 10-year mark.
Corporal David Hawkins is about a year shy of being eligible for an indexed pension, but was released because his post-traumatic stress means he is unable to deploy overseas.
Cpl. Glen Kirkland is also among those leaving. His plea to remain in the army last June was answered by former defence minister Peter MacKay with a pledge he could stay until September, 2015 – and that no members are released until they are ready.
But the offer turned out to be exclusive to Cpl. Kirkland, who chose within the last few days to leave rather than be given special treatment.
“I joined as a member of a team, as a family,” Cpl. Kirkland said in an interview from Shilo, Man. “So, when I was offered an opportunity when no one else was, it just goes against everything I joined for.”
He will be formally discharged in March.
Cpl. Kirkland was left with damaged hearing, post-traumatic stress, and injuries that affect his insulin levels, all the result of a 2008 Taliban bombing that killed three of his comrades.
Both he and Cpl. Hawkins do not meet the military’s universality of service rule, which requires members to be fit to deploy at a moment’s notice. But they also fall under a system whereby a member must serve 10 years to qualify for an indexed pension. If they don’t, they’re refunded their contributions.
Cpl. Hawkins, from London, Ont., spent his tour between September, 2008, and April, 2009, as a member of a quick-reaction force of soldiers called out of a forward operating base to deal with suicide attacks and roadside bombings.
The stress started creeping up on him overseas, and he went from sleeping in a light armoured vehicle, ready to combat the Taliban, to sleeping in his truck near London because it was the only place he felt comfortable.
Cpl. Hawkins was prescribed 13 medications for his disorder while being processed at the military’s operational stress injury centre. He said he wanted to remain in the Forces to re-qualify as a firefighter once he felt better.
But there is a time limit for recovery under universality of service and he was eventually given an ultimatum.
“They were just trying to push me through the system, even though I had told them I wasn’t ready,” Cpl. Hawkins said. “I was told, ‘No, you’re going to have to go back to work, or we can drop your funding right now.’ ”
As a reservist, Cpl. Hawkins faces a different set of entitlements and rules from Cpl. Kirkland, who is a member of the regular force. Now that he is out of the military, Cpl. Hawkins is eligible for benefits under Veterans Affairs, including retraining.
But he says his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis will be a black mark as he looks for work.
Last spring, Mr. MacKay was emphatic in the House of Commons that no one would be forced out.
“In fact, all injured members are not released from the military until they are prepared to do so. Until they are prepared for release, they work with members of the Canadian Forces on their transition plan, and when it is appropriate for their families and they are ready to make a shift into the private sector,” he said on June 11.
A spokeswoman for newly appointed Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Cpl. Hawkins’s case is under review.
“We thank Cpl. Hawkins for his service and sacrifice for Canada,” Julie Di Mambro said in an e-mail. “We are aware of the issue and are looking into it further.”
Cpl. Kirkland said he is disillusioned by his experience with the government, and by what happened to Cpl. Hawkins.
“I don’t have very much faith in the politicians who are pulling the strings,” he said.
“There needs to be some serious change. I mean, who would join? Would you tell your kids to join knowing that if they get disabled they won’t be looked after?”
The Conservative government has poured millions of dollars into veterans programs, and recently underscored its commitment to ex-soldiers in the Throne Speech.
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