His military days are long behind him, but Chuck Murray continues to battle Veterans Affairs Canada for the disability benefits he feels he deserves.
The 79-year-old Comox man endured three accidents during 23 years of service as an engine mechanic in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The first occurred in a hangar in the mid-1950s in Claresholm, Alta. When an aircraft turned the wrong way, Murray ran and tripped into a piece of machinery and was knocked out. When he awoke, he was draped over the hood of a towing tractor en route to the hospital.
In the second incident in Macdonald, Man., he was blindsided when playing flag football and again knocked out — and again admitted to hospital.
“If you get hurt in the military, they’re obligated to make a report,” Murray said. “But there’s no accident report, therefore it never happened.”
In a third incident, he broke his ankle after slipping off an aircraft.
“It’s not my job to make out that paperwork. Therefore, if the paperwork’s not done, according to the department of Veteran’s Affairs, it never happened.”
Later in life, Murray has experienced various health problems. The doctor’s report from the football injury describes an avulsion fracture that upsets the vagus nerve, a pathway between the brain and organs.
“I pass out because it upsets the whole rhythmic system of the heart. It sets off an electrical storm in my head. It’s like having lightning in your head.”
Considering his injuries, Murray feels he’s entitled to more than his monthly pension of about $1,000. Having never passed a medical, he has not been able to work after his military career.
“Financially it’s been hard,” said Murray, who raised two children with his wife, Gemma. “We’re not poor but we could have done better if I had my health back.”
He hasn’t resolved anything on the several occasions he has requested information from VAC. But they finally relented when he inquired through the office of Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan.
Government has changed the rules allowing veterans to access documentation to which they had not been privy.
“It would be fair to say that in cases like this, veterans can see documents today that they could not have seen previously,” Duncan said. “There’s still some bureaucracy involved because they have to file a request. But we’ll help in that process if people are so inclined.”
Though they left out records from Murray’s four years in Manitoba, VAC released several ‘protected’ documents. Portions of a doctor’s letter dated 1993 have been redacted.
A memo from the Pensions Medical Advisory Directorate says: “There is absolutely no record of injury or accident corroborated by a report of injuries, etc. during RF service. The claimed condition was first manifest during his RF service, however, one is unable to relate the condition to the exigencies of RF service.”
Another memo from 1995 says: “There have been no injuries to the spine during the regular force service.”
Neither VAC nor the Bureau of Pensions Advocates Canada could comment on Murray’s case due to privacy. The latter is an organization of lawyers with VAC that provides free legal help for people who are dissatisfied with decisions about claims for disability benefits.
“There should be no need for a veteran to get legal advice,” said Murray, who feels the VAC system is “broken.”
“The DVA was not acting as my advocate from the beginning. They just out and out bloody lied to me. If it’s not documented then it never happened. They just say ‘prove it,’ so all the onus is shifted onto the veterans. They’re (military) required by law to document what happened to a person.”
Last week, Murray attended a meeting hosted by the Veterans Ombudsman, which works to ensure that veterans and other clients of VAC are treated respectfully, and receive services and benefits they require. The Ombudsman’s office could not speak to a specific case.
Murray also spoke with the Privacy Commission, which told him to go back to VAC.
“When you’re 79 years of age you don’t have much time to wait another 33 years for things to happen,” he said.