Left owing thousands in back taxes, an Alberta veteran calls for federal changes

An Alberta veteran and his volunteer advocate say a lack of communication between federal government departments is causing unnecessary harm to disabled vets and they’re calling for change.

Joseph Lafortune, 49, is haunted by numerous physical and emotional scars including PTSD, hearing loss, foot problems and long-term complications from a broken back after serving on UN-sanctioned missions in Cambodia and Bosnia.

Unable to work, his only income is a disability pension through Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and a long-term disability payment through a private insurer.

But three years ago, he began owing thousands in taxes and started paying it off a few hundred dollars at a time.

By August of 2018, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) notified him he owed $17,502.92 in back taxes and, according to Lafortune, the government agency threatened to garnish roughly half of his monthly disability pension cheque.

“I served my country but now my country is punishing me,” said Lafortune who has been couch surfing for three years and is so fragile he breaks down when asked about his military service.

“I can’t afford [it]. I just can’t,” he said. 

With the help of Allan Hunter — a volunteer advocate with the non-profit group Veterans Canada — Lafortune recently discovered that a psychologist failed to fill out paperwork required by the CRA to asses his application for the disability tax credit.

The department stopped approving the credit and his taxes went up.

Definition of ‘disability’ not consistent

There is no universal definition of ‘disabled’ within the federal government.

That means just because someone qualifies as disabled through Veterans Affairs Canada, that doesn’t mean they qualify for the disability tax credit through the Canada Revenue Agency. Canadians have to apply for that separately.

And that is what is so infuriating to Hunter.

“If you’re totally disabled that shouldn’t change from department to department to department. That’s absolutely ludicrous,” he said.

“That is symptomatic of a dysfunctional system that is there only to serve the bureaucracy and not the citizens.”

Calls for change

Hunter, who recently spoke out at a Calgary townhall with Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, is calling on the government to overhaul a complicated system that he says can trigger PTSD symptoms.

“Every year there’s veterans across the country that have to prove their legs didn’t grow back,” said Hunter who wants communication between the two government departments improved so that once a veteran is deemed permanently disabled by VAC, they don’t have to keep proving their disability to the Canada Revenue Agency to receive tax relief.

“The system is so broken that these people don’t know how to navigate it.”

Federal Minister aware of concern

A spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada tells CBC News that Seamus O’Regan is aware of the concern and will bring it up — along with other issues he’s heard from veterans — with those in charge of the CRA.

“I will continue speaking with my cabinet colleagues, including the minister of national revenue, to ensure we are best assisting Veterans and all Canadians,” O’Regan said in a written statement provided to CBC News.

For its part, the CRA said in an emailed statement, it is “wholeheartedly committed to ensuring that all Canadians receive the credits and benefits to which they are entitled, including the Disability Tax Credit.”

The CRA  says it is working to improve access to the tax credit to all those who are eligible by increasing outreach. The CRA says it also collaborates with other departments that provide disability benefits and credits, including veterans affairs.

Pyschological impact

Meanwhile, Hunter says when he discovered a psychologist had failed to submit paperwork for Lafortune’s disability tax credit, he spoke to the CRA and it has agreed to hold off on garnishing his cheque.

But he worries about other veterans, struggling to cope with PTSD, who may not have someone to step in and help.

“The heartbreaking thing to me is how many guys to we lose to suicide or homelessness or drug addiction because they couldn’t fight through this? he said. 

For Joseph Lafortune, who is still haunted by his time in the military, it has been an overwhelming process — one that he hopes  other veterans can avoid in the future.

“They wonder why vets, why we take our lives,” he said. “I gave everything to my country and it means nothing.”



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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

Originally posted 2018-09-10 06:13:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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