National Newswatch

HALIFAX - A long-awaited settlement has been reached between a group of RCMP officers with disabilities and the federal government, but the lead plaintiff in the case says the benefits of the agreement apply beyond the 1,000 class members whose disability payments were clawed back.

David White said he's pleased with the proposed class-action settlement, which could total $31 million, plus interest, if it's approved by the Federal Court.

The case involves RCMP officers who have their long-term disability payments reduced by the amount they received every month in disability pension payments from the Veterans Affairs Department.

But the proposed agreement also means the reduction would end for all RCMP veterans now receiving benefits and Mounties who are medically released in the future.

"That is something that RCMP veterans can do for serving members today, and it's a good thing all around," White said Friday from Bridgewater, N.S.

The case was launched in 2008 by Gerard Buote, but was taken over by White after Buote died from cancer the following year.

It's an example of why the other class members didn't have any time to waste, said White.

"A lot of our veterans are getting older and obviously this decision will improve their quality of life now rather than later," he said in a phone interview. "I'm very pleased that we've been able to resolve this matter right now."

White, 61, was involuntarily released from the RCMP in 2002 after suffering two service-related accidents in the mid-1990s and 2001.

He was given a pain and suffering pension from Veterans Affairs and placed on long-term disability for several hearing impairments linked to his 30 years of service.

White said he has about $1,308 deducted each month in what's deemed a wage loss replacement. He estimates that he has lost $130,000 since he was released from the force.

Dan Wallace, White's lawyer, said the settlement is fair and other class members are relieved.

"They're very happy that this is over and that their monthly benefits won't be reduced when the court approves the settlement," said Wallace from Halifax.

The Federal Court is scheduled to consider approval of the settlement in Halifax on June 20. The lawyers that represent the class members say if it is approved, RCMP officers whose benefits have been offset since 1975 could receive their refund within six months.

The case is almost identical to one that a judge deemed harsh and unfair in a class-action lawsuit by military veterans.

About 8,000 wounded military veterans were awarded a $887.8-million settlement after former army sergeant Dennis Manuge launched a class-action suit against Ottawa in 2007.

Lawyer Peter Driscoll said after that case was settled, the federal government promptly started working to resolve the RCMP's similar dispute.

"It's hard to criticize, when after the first case was resolved, they did begin discussions with us almost immediately," said Driscoll, who worked with Wallace on the case.

"It took awhile but... we're happy with the resolution."

No one from the federal government was available to comment.

The Canadian Press
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