DND halts millions in benefits



The Canadian military says an error at the Department of National Defence resulted in tens of millions of dollars worth of benefit payments paid to up to 7,000 service members over the last five years.

The benefits include the Defence Department's use of taxpayer dollars to bring families of fallen soldiers killed in Afghanistan to repatriation ceremonies, which did not receive proper approval from the Treasury Board.

The DND payments will be cut off at midnight Tuesday while the military reviews the benefit assessments and payment process, said Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, vice-chief of the defence staff.

In a hastily arranged news conference at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Donaldson said an internal review determined DND officials mistakenly changed internal eligibility policies for benefits offered to military posted outside Canada and their next of kin.

The unauthorized benefits also include next-of-kin visits to Afghanistan, travel fee reimbursements for troops deployed to different parts of Canada, bonuses for overseas postings and allowances for soldiers assigned away from families.
'We didn't do our homework'

Donaldson stressed the error was the result of an "interpretation" by military administrators over eligibility for payments, and servicemen and women who received the benefits did not do anything wrong.

"Canadian Forces members are not to be blamed for this oversight," Donaldson said. "We didn't do our homework."

The military is now seeking Treasury Board approval for these costs. In addition, the costs for any future next-of-kin visits will be paid out of a non-public fund.

Donaldson stressed Canadian servicemen and women will not see cuts on their paycheques, but acknowledged they will have to wait for future payments until the process is sorted out.

He added he believes it will have a minimal impact on soldiers currently deployed to Afghanistan.

"Every effort is being made to rectify this situation," Donaldson said.

So far, no one is facing disciplinary action, he added.
Jay Paxton, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said that while the minister's priority is to provide support to military members and their families, the payments must cease until they are approved by the Treasury Board.

"The [Canadian Forces] leadership have informed Minister MacKay these payments were made in good faith and that a process has been initiated to rectify the situation quickly and minimize any impact the cessation of payments may have on individual members of the Forces," he said.