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Lying in hospital bed, trooper learns he's losing 'danger pay'

Gloria Galloway, Globe & Mail, 6 Oct 06


OTTAWA -- Trooper Jeffrey Hunter was lying in his hospital bed in Germany yesterday, pumped with morphine to dull the pain in his legs that had been torn apart by a missile this week in Afghanistan.


A senior officer arrived in his room to give him bad news -- not about his health -- but his finances. The bonus of $2,111 a month, tax free, that he would have received for the extra risks incurred while fighting the Taliban, had been cut off.


Earlier in the day, 23-year-old Trooper Hunter had called his parents in Aurora, Ont., to say he wanted to be transferred to a hospital in Toronto so he could be close to his family. The military wanted to send him to Ottawa.


Now he was calling back to say the extra money he had counted on would not be coming because his injury was so severe he had to leave the mission.


"He was all upset because they told him they were taking his danger pay away from him," his father, Bill Hunter, said in a telephone interview yesterday.


"Jeffrey is on morphine. He is not in a state of mind that they should be communicating this stuff to him. He is extremely upset. My wife answered the call. He said 'Mom, I've done my part. I nearly lost my legs and now they're taking my pay away from me.' "


Mr. Hunter said the promise of the extra money did not influence his son's decision to go to Afghanistan, but it would have gone a long way toward paying the bills at the townhouse in Petawawa, Ont., he shares with his girlfriend.


"He says, 'My danger's not over yet.' He says, 'I'm probably going to have a long time in recuperation and everything.' "


Mr. Hunter is a friend of Liberal MP Dan Mc Teague who raised this issue publicly this week. Mr. Mc Teague first learned that danger pay is docked from wounded soldiers after his cousin's son was gravely injured in Afghanistan during the summer. The Conservatives point out that the policy originated with the Liberals in 1995; they reaffirmed yesterday that they have no plans to change it.


But Mr. Mc Teague said he has heard from many constituents who are livid about the matter.


"Most people are shocked. Most people were unaware that this is the kind of treatment we give to people who have sacrificed themselves for the country."


The government has already set aside the amount needed to give everyone sent to Afghanistan their danger pay -- and has used the pay as an enticement to get people to join the military and sign up for dangerous missions, Mr. Mc Teague said.


So a wounded soldier ends up being "a savings to the government," he said.


Some people say it doesn't make sense to give danger pay to a wounded soldier who is no longer in a danger zone, Mr. Mc Teague said, "but the fact is they have already paid the ultimate price and there, but for fate, were not killed."


The government can use the excuse that the policy was brought in by the Liberals, he said.


"By not changing it, they are defending what the Liberals did in 1995," Mr. Mc Teague said. "But that's not what this is about. Some people are shocked that this is becoming a partisan issue. These are supra-issues that go beyond whether we question the mission or whether we take a particular political perspective."

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