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Allowance cut worries Canadian Forces members, angers opposition

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A controversial new policy is causing anxiety for some members of the Canadian Armed Forces who risk losing monthly allowances they receive for high readiness and high risk duties.

Such salary top-ups will now be terminated if personnel are sick or injured and cannot return to active service after more than 180 days, as CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson first reported Wednesday.

“Why would you take away monies that their family relies upon as part of their income when they’re at their most vulnerable, when they’re broken and trying to mend,” said veterans advocate Mark Campbell.

Under this new policy, Canada’s most elite commandos could stand to be docked more than $23,000 over six months. But the new rules also apply to more than just Special Operations Forces members — injured or ill soldiers and sailors could take a hit of almost $5,000 while for air crews, $3,700 is at stake.

“It may in some cases mean that people hide their injuries and not come forward because they want those additional funds to be there for their families and themselves,” said Phil Ralph of Wounded Warriors Canada.

The military, however, insists that it will take steps to avoid imposing financial hardship.

“The chain of command themselves, we’ll get involved with the pay system, the folks that run it, to make sure the recovery is done in a proper way that does not cause grief to soldiers by putting too much of a burden at the front,” Lieutenant-General Charles Lamarre told CTV News.

Although the policy took effect on Sept. 1, the Department of National Defence has been slow to roll it out. But because the policy is retroactive, allowances already paid will be clawed back.

“I would be hard pressed to stand behind retroactivity,” National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne said of the policy. “I think if we’re going to do this, we need to draw a line in the sand and say from this day forward and to allow people the opportunity to best prepare for the change.”

During question period today, the opposition went on the attack.

“This disgraceful decision to remove benefits from those who put their lives on the line for us is nothing short of cold and heartless,” Conservative house leader Candice Bergen said.

The government is defending the change, promising a six month grace period that gives affected troops sufficient time to adjust to their new financial reality. The military says they are being responsible to tax payers.

“Our previous policies were unclear and needed to be formalized,” the Canadian Forces said in a statement released Thursday night. “Simply put, if a CAF member is no longer able to perform a specific duty that qualifies for an allowance, they [are] no longer entitled to the extra allowance.”

With a report from CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson

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Allowance cut worries Canadian Forces members, angers opposition

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