Three years after Master Cpl. Bryan Gagne was shot in northern Iraq while trying to help save a fellow Canadian special forces soldier. He found himself transferred to a transitional military unit, with a medal for bravery on his record, but with his mind and body severely damaged.
Little did he know it at the time, but that move between units that would lead to a return to civilian life would have significant financial repercussions down the line, denying him a sizable payout from a recently settled $283 million class-action lawsuit involving military disability benefits.
“If I had the means at that moment to say, ‘Hey guys, I think this is going to ruin me in the future, we should check on my release status,’ I would have done that,” Gagne said.
Earlier this year, the federal government agreed to pay additional benefits to more than 8,000 injured former members of the Canadian Forces, along with retroactive payments.
A 2020 ruling by the Federal Court in Halifax found that the military should have taken into account supplementary allowances paid for certain difficult jobs, such as serving on submarines or in special operations, or for being deployed to costly areas, when calculating disability benefits. at 75 percent of the monthly salary.
For many injured veterans who served under particularly arduous conditions, the settlement is likely worth hundreds or even a couple thousand dollars a month in additional benefits. For at least a handful of others, like Gagne, it’s not worth a dime.
The agreement only applies to those who were receiving monthly allowances when they were discharged for medical reasons. But several wounded former special forces soldiers who spoke or corresponded with Breaking: said they do not qualify because their assignments were withdrawn when they were moved to a transition unit before their discharge.
The Joint Personnel Service Unit was intended to care for and support sick and wounded service members, helping them return to work or transition to civilian life.
It is unclear how many former special forces soldiers do not qualify for the settlement because they were medically discharged through the unit. Daniel Wallace, the Halifax lawyer who led the class-action lawsuit, said his firm has heard from several, but isn’t keeping track.
The Department of National Defense said in a statement Friday that the class-action settlement agreement does not allow the government to change who qualifies for the additional benefits or make exceptions.
“It would help in many ways”
Matthew Smith, who said he served in the Canadian Special Operations Regiment from 2006 to 2017, including four tours in Afghanistan, said he agreed to go to the transitional unit while dealing with mental health issues. He was later medically discharged from the military.
The 42-year-old father of three said his work with the special forces took him away from his family for long periods. He is not the same person, physically or mentally, that he was before he went to war, but he is trying to make up for the time he lost with his children.
A little extra disability money would help, he said.
“Ask anyone how much an extra thousand dollars a month would help. It would be a huge help,” Smith said.
Gagne, who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., earned a monthly allowance of $1,926 in addition to his regular military salary while serving in the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, including four tours in Afghanistan. His total annual salary, including allowances, was about $86,000 a year.
In 2015, he was part of a team helping Kurdish forces fight ISIS in northern Iraq when Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron was killed by friendly fire as his unit returned to an observation post in the dark.
Gagne drew attention to convince the Kurdish soldiers of their identities, while another soldier exposed himself to fire while trying to help Doiron. Both Gagne and the other soldier earned bravery medals.
In 2018, Gagne was in the transition unit suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and several physical injuries. He said he spent seven months there and lost his assignment along the way.
Years later, he realizes the implications of that and believes that he and others like him are entitled to higher disability benefits.
“We made that money,” he said.