From today’s Toronto Star:
Moved by the stories of Canada’s wounded soldiers who’ve come home only to be forced to fight the federal government for benefits, Ontario’s trial lawyers say they’ll represent injured veterans for free.
And in Ottawa, sources tell the Star that the Liberals will present legislation Tuesday that, if passed, would elevate the Office of the Veterans’ Ombudsman so that it reports to Parliament, and not the minister of national defence, as is currently the case.
A recent Star series entitled Our Wounded Warriors exposed the fight Canada’s 1,500 injured soldiers — many disabled and traumatized after serving in Afghanistan — face when they return home.
The 1,100-member Ontario Trial Lawyers Association told the Star it is astounded by the “hurdles, the runarounds and the hardships” Canada’s veterans face when they try to collect federal military service and disability benefits.
“These veterans fight for our country and they really should not have to fight for these benefits,” said lawyer Patrick Brown, chair of the new initiative called Trial Lawyers for Veterans.
“If we can help out, we will,” said Brown. “The commitment from our volunteers is to offer free services. It is all pro bono.”
After suffering devastating injuries from roadside or suicide bombers, missile attacks, vehicle rollovers or gunshot wounds, the veterans are often stunned when they find themselves battling Ottawa for money, for a job and for respect.
The Star series, plus a suggestion from lawyer and mediator Paul Torrie, prompted the executive of the association to ask its members if they would consider helping the injured soldiers. Trial lawyers specialize in disability claims, injuries and fatalities.
Association president Dale Orlando said the response from the province’s lawyers was “remarkable.”
“We had all read the stories in the Star, so we had a little bit of background, and we did a little bit of investigating and we did find that Canadian veterans — to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude — were having to navigate a maze of government red tape in order to receive compensation,” Orlando said.
“We heard some horror stories about the roadblocks they were facing.
“We thought, that is what we do in our day-to-day jobs — fight for victims so they do receive fair compensation. There was a natural fit for our organization.”