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Fantino challenged on claim of veterans receiving $10,000 per month

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OTTAWA - Only four of Canada's 521 severely wounded Canadian veterans might be eligible to receive up $10,000 per month in allowances and benefits under the Conservative government's beefed-up veteran's charter.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino recently cited the dollar figure to illustrate the Conservative government's generosity towards ex-service members.

"The seriously injured veteran is eligible for thousands of dollars each month, up to and including after age 65," Fantino told the Commons veterans committee last month.

"In some cases, a veteran can receive over $10,000 a month in financial compensation. This is in addition to two major tax-free award payments totalling in excess of up to a half-million dollars."

However, statistics released by Fantino's own department show payments of that size would be rare indeed — and maybe even purely theoretical.

The vast majority of the wounded —92 per cent — collect far less each month under the permanent impairment allowance, the permanent impairment supplement and the earnings loss benefit.

Also, according to the department, the calculation of the $10,000 figure includes the monthly Canadian Forces pension, a payment that's made whether a soldier was injured or not.

Calculating precise amounts can be a head-spinning exercise, given the cross-section of benefits, stipends and supplementary payments available to all veterans.

Asked how many wounded soldiers receive anything close to $10,000 per month, department officials would only say the figure represents a "scenario" of a severely wounded major released after 27 years of service and that four soldiers receive the top tier of allowances.

They did not answer the question directly.

"The amount of financial support provided to a veteran is based on an individual calculation that considers their unique circumstances including factors such as pre-release salary, years of service, and the degree of injury, illness," spokewoman Janice Summerby said in an email.

Rank, pre-release salary, number of years of service and severity of injury all go into the calculation, she said.

Figuring out what the average wounded veteran receives is also difficult, but the numbers range between $4,000 and $6,000 per month, departmental figures suggest.

But officials say those numbers do not take into account ancillary benefits such as vocational rehabilitation, treatment assistance or the lump-sum award for pain and suffering, which can be paid in monthly instalments.

David Pierce, a spokesman for the minister, said Fantino stands by what he said.

"Minister Fantino accurately stated that a seriously injured veteran is eligible for thousands of dollars each month and in some cases, the veteran's income may exceed $10,000 a month," Pierce said in an email.

"Canadians and veterans need to know that the government of Canada provides a full suite of benefits available to injured veterans and their families which consist of robust monthly payments; significant financial upfront benefits as well as rehabilitation, educational and medical support to help transition to civilian life."

But outspoken veterans advocate Sean Bruyea said the comment leaves the public with the impression that ex-soldiers, many of them who lost limbs, have somehow won the lottery.

"It's an attempt to cast veterans as greedy and as whiners and complainers," said Bruyea, best known for his long privacy battle with the federal government after his personal medical information was leaked.

"The thinking is they should have nothing to complain about and I really hope the public doesn't accept this lie that veterans are getting $10,000 per month."

The pre-release salary is key to the calculation, Bruyea said.

In order to get anywhere near the top tier, the wounded veteran would not only have to be severely disabled and missing multiple limbs, but also be a senior officer, Bruyea noted.

"They would have to be a full colonel, or above, who is 100 per cent bed-ridden and disabled," he said. "Those kind of injuries are sustained on the front line and among non-commissioned members."

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