The family of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan won't be getting a generous cash settlement from the government after all.
Media reports last month said relatives of Private 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 that Pte. Woodfield's family was excluded from the cabinet order, which gave a total of $1-million to four other families grieving over military deaths.
That order was made on April 6, after Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson persuaded his cabinet colleagues to dole out the cash as ex gratia payments -- that is as a gift or favour made out of compassion rather than because of any legal requirement.
The payments were made to the families of soldiers who died between May 13, 2005, and March 31, 2006, a period that placed them in a legal and administrative limbo.
That's because Canada's new Veterans Charter, which for the first time provides a non-taxable $250,000 death benefit, was passed by Parliament on May 13 last year, but did not come into effect until April 1 of this year. Deaths that occurred in the interim were not covered by the charter.
Mr. Thompson called cabinet's unpublicized decision a "heartwarming" gesture.
But Pte. Woodfield's family will not get a cent because under the Veterans Charter, only "survivors" can receive the $250,000 death benefit. And because survivors are defined only as dependent children, spouses or common-law partners, Pte. Woodfield -- a single man with no children -- had no "survivors" to receive any cash.
Instead, the cabinet order provided the money to the surviving spouses, common-law partners and children of three men killed in Afghanistan, as well as to the two daughters of Warrant Officer Charles Sheppard, who died in a parachuting accident at Trenton, Ont., on Oct. 3, 2005.
"Pte. Woodfield is not eligible because he does not have a survivor or any dependent children," Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Pamela Price confirmed in an interview.
Pte. Woodfield's mother said the Veterans Charter policy should be changed to help the next-of-kin of unattached soldiers.
"In a sense, you felt that my son was less of a person as a single person," Beverley Woodfield of Cow Bay, N.S., said in an interview.
Pte. Woodfield, 24, sometimes financially supported his sister Lyndi, she noted.
The simpler social world of 50 years ago has changed dramatically, and soldiers now may have complex obligations beyond spouses and children, she added.
"I'd like to see a universal entitlement of the benefits, and let the member decide where the benefits should go," Ms. Woodfield said.
The death benefit under the Veterans Charter is unusual because of its restriction to so-called "survivors," since single soldiers with no children have long been unconditionally eligible for almost all other death benefits provided by the military. For example, the Canadian Forces pays for the funerals and burials of all serving members killed on duty, as it did for Pte. Woodfield.
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.