After veteran's death, government demands $581 benefits repayment
Just days after the funeral of a Canadian veteran who died of suicide on Christmas Day, her husband received a letter from Veterans Affairs saying the family must repay a portion of her monthly disability cheque.
The letter, dated Jan. 9 -- a day after retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern’s husband publicly revealed that her death was in fact a suicide -- expresses condolences to the family while asking for a repayment of $581.67.
In an email to CTV News, Tom MacEachern called it “a slap in the face.”
“(I) didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…was breathless actually,” he said.
The letter from Veterans Affairs begins with: “We have recently been advised of the death of Mrs. MacEachern. Our most sincere sympathy is extended to you and your family at this time.”
It goes on to say that “Earnings Loss benefits paid under the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act are payable up to the day of Mrs. MacEachern’s death.
“Therefore, an overpayment of $581.67 has been created for December 2013.”
The letter says the family will be contacted by the “Overpayment Unit in the near future.”
On Tuesday, the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino told CTV News that the decision to collect the money has been reversed.
“Minister Fantino has directed the department to not collect any money from the estate or the family of Mrs. MacEachern,” it said in a statement.
“He sends his deepest condolences to MacEachern family during this difficult time.”
After learning of the reversal, Tom MacEachern said that if the condolences “count as an apology, then I guess we will have to accept it at face value.”
“Of course it’s a very small amount of money considering a life was lost that should have been saved,” he said in an email.
MacEachern, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, died on Dec. 25, 2013 when she intentionally drove her car into an oncoming transport truck on the Trans-Canada highway near Calgary.
The 51-year-old mother had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Her husband and family were critical of the services offered to MacEachern to treat her PTSD, and said that she had slipped through the cracks of a system that barely exists.
The letter from Veterans Affairs about the $581 repayment “shows Canadians how this department trivializes the humanity of these situations,” her husband said.
Liberal veterans’ affairs critic Jim Karygiannis said the letter "only shows the callousness of this government.
“They should be ashamed of themselves. I'm just horrified.”
With a report from CTV's Richard Madan