DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN CANADIAN TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN HIT BY PAY PROBLEMS

Red tape ties up paycheques for reservists fighting in Afghanistan; Soldiers whose contracts expired overseas also worried about health coverage, benefits

The Ottawa Citizen

Feb 14 2009

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

Some reserve soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have had their pay cut off because their contracts with the army expired while they were serving overseas.

The troops continue to serve, but some have told the Citizen they are worried they will not be covered by health insurance and other benefits if they are injured in battle.

Military staff in Afghanistan have told the reservists they can sort out the problems once they return to their home units in Canada. However, the soldiers are worried they will face an uphill battle with the military bureaucracy for entitlements such as leave and benefits. They are also concerned that if they are injured overseas, their families will have to fight the bureaucracy for assistance.

At the heart of the problem are the contracts the part-time soldiers have signed with the military.

The contracts, for temporary full-time employment for either a six-month or nine-month period, are supposed to be monitored so they do not expire while a reservist is in the middle of a tour in Afghanistan.

But that hasn’t happened in some cases and as contracts expired, the pay for troops was cut off.

It is not clear how many reservists are in that predicament. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of Canada’s military force assigned to Afghanistan is drawn from reserve units.

According to soldiers in Kandahar, the head of the army, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, has directed that all of the contracts in question be extended to cover the rest of a soldier’s tour. However, the response in Kandahar has been slow and some troops are still having problems, these soldiers say.

The army declined to provide a spokesman to discuss the issue.

However, an e-mail sent from the army confirmed that there have been problems, but it claimed that “at no time were the members’ pay and benefits at risk.”

According to the e-mail, when the issue was first identified in December, immediate action was taken to extend the contracts of the reservists in question.

There have been some “administrative” delays in processing the extensions for all the soldiers, the e-mail acknowledged.

“There were some disruptions in January and February pay for some, but the administrative supervisor in-theatre was aware of this and was able to provide emergency financial assistance to anyone who needed it while the error was being fixed,” the e-mail said, adding, “All outstanding pay issues have now been dealt with.”

In the past, the Canadian Forces ombudsman’s office has raised concerns that reservists, particularly those who have been injured in Afghanistan, were falling through the cracks of the military bureaucracy.

In 2006, then-ombudsman Yves Côté launched an investigation into what he warned was a lack of services and inconsistent care available to members of the reserves when they are injured on overseas missions or during training at home.

The investigation, which was completed in April, revealed numerous problems for reservists who were injured in the course of their duty to Canada and subsequently required health care.

The federal government has promised to take care of injured reservists.

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