New fund helps Canadian veterans take government to court

OTTAWA -- Military veterans fighting the federal government for benefits have another avenue for potential legal help under a new Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation.

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The fund will pay the legal bills for qualifying vets who can't afford a lawyer, but want to go to court to fight decisions made by the Veterans Affairs Department or the veterans appeal board.

The foundation has received seed money through a $1 million endowment from two law firms that won a 2013 settlement against the federal government after a class action suit led by veteran Dennis Manuge.

The settlement was worth more than $900 million and the law firms that fought the seven-year case were awarded approximately $35 million.

Peter Stoffer, the former New Democrat MP and veterans affairs critic who lost his Nova Scotia seat in the October election, will sit on the board of the foundation.

Stoffer says many veterans simply give up the fight for benefits, because the legal and medical bills often add up to more than the benefits are worth.

"Right now a Federal Court claim can be anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in many cases," said Stoffer.

"And many, many veterans just simply don't have the wherewithal or the money to carry on their discussion to the Federal Court."

A board of volunteers, including Stoffer and representatives from the law firms McInnes Cooper of Halifax and Branch MacMaster of Vancouver, will decide which cases to pay for.

Ward Branch of Branch MacMaster said he hopes veterans use the foundation to get the benefits they deserve.

"For veterans who don't have the resources to hire a lawyer, or to hire a doctor to move their case forward, we're hoping that they consult with their lawyers and then eventually find their way through to us," he said.

The Manuge class action was filed in early 2007 on behalf of disabled veterans whose long-term disability benefits were reduced by the amount of the monthly Veterans Affairs Canada disability pension they received.

The Federal Court of Canada ruled that the federal government acted illegally in making the deductions.

Funding for the foundation was originally announced in 2013 as part of the class-action settlement



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