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RCMP, military clawback deal ruling reserved

HALIFAX - A group of disabled RCMP veterans are anxiously awaiting a decision on a multimillion-dollar class-action settlement, the lead plaintiff said Friday as a Federal Court judge reserved his decision in the case and another involving military veterans with disabilities.

Lawyers for the veterans and the federal government were in court in Halifax seeking the approval of settlements worth $70 million for disabled RCMP officers and $38.6 million for military veterans.

The RCMP case involves officers whose long-term disability payments were cut by the same amount they received in monthly disability pension payments through Veterans Affairs.

David White, the lead plaintiff in the RCMP class-action, said the roughly 1,000 retired Mounties with disabilities who would be covered by their agreement are supportive of the deal and are eager to close the case.

"If the proposed settlement agreement is approved, it's going to be a great day for our disabled RCMP veterans," White said outside court. "When they receive this income, it's going to make a huge difference."

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

The benefits of the agreement would extend beyond the members of the class-action, said White.

He said the $70-million agreement would mean that the clawback would end for all RCMP veterans now receiving benefits and Mounties who are medically released in the future.

"Serving members won't be subject to the clawback like I was," said White. "It's been awhile, but we're really pleased and hopefully we'll get the judge's decision before too long."

Dan Wallace, one of White's lawyer, said members would receive a lump sum within six months of the judge's order of the settlement for retroactive payments. Going forward, they would see their monthly benefits increase, he said.

The $38.6-million settlement in the lawsuit involving military veterans was reached on the cost of living provisions with veterans who were awarded an $887.8-million settlement last year.

At issue in that case was a long-standing federal practice of clawing back the military pensions of injured soldiers by the amount of disability payments they received.

Peter Driscoll, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case, said his team found what they determined to be a miscalculation in the way the federal government determined the cost of living allowance for military veterans.

It wasn't included as part of the original settlement because there wasn't enough time and the two sides agreed to deal with it at a later date so it didn't hold up the process, another lawyer said in court.

Dennis Manuge, the lead plaintiff, said the approval of the settlement will be the final step for members in putting the case behind them.

"It's been resolved reasonably and fairly," Manuge said outside court. "It's been stressful at times, frustrating at times, but it's very rewarding today. For me personally, I feel like I have the weight of the world off of my shoulders."

The original class-action involved 8,000 people, but the 38.6-million settlement includes another 6,000 veterans who were not subject to a wrongful offset of their benefits, but whose cost of living allowances were also miscalculated, said Driscoll.

Driscoll said the payments would begin in January 2015 and would be paid out over a year.

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