Charitable fund will pay for bereaved family visits to Kandahar

Memorial visits to Kandahar by the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan will continue, but they’ll be financed by non-public funds, the Defence Department said Wednesday.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Memorial visits to Kandahar by the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan will continue, but they’ll be financed by non-public funds, the Defence Department said Wednesday.

A department spokesman said the visits, which had been briefly in limbo, won’t be billed to the taxpayer until new spending rules are in place.

In the meantime, costs can be covered from the military families fund, which is financed by private donations and various fund-raisers, Andrew McKelvey, a department communications adviser, said in an email.

“The military families fund is an agile and responsive fund with a broad mandate to assist families, especially where there is no authorized public program, benefit or service to do this,” he said.

“Given the intent to seek public approval for (next-of-kin) travel, it is anticipated that the support required from the military families fund will be short term.”

In recent years, the Canadian Forces has flown families of soldiers to Kandahar Airfield so they can see where their loved ones fought and lived and died. A family visit is planned for this month and another in March.

Etched into a memorial in the base’s Canadian compound are the images of the 154 soldiers, two aid workers, a journalist and a diplomat who have died as part of the Afghan mission.

The family flights were not clearly defined in spending guidelines and the military suspended the practice this week after the Defence Department discovered it has been paying out millions of dollars in benefits without proper authorization.

The embarrassing gaffe was revealed Tuesday by the military’s second-in-command, who promised to quickly push for a rewrite of regulations to include a host of items that have cost the treasury “tens of millions of dollars” over the last five years.

“We’ve got to stop. We’ve got to sort it out as soon as possible,” Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, the vice chief of defence staff, told a snap news conference at National Defence Headquarters.

The benefits fall into four general categories, including bonuses for out-of-country postings, separation allowances for soldiers with long-term assignments away from families, travel costs and expenses paid for relatives of soldiers killed overseas.

Up to 7,000 members of the regular and reserve force receive these perks regularly, but Donaldson said it should have minimal impact on troops in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the department will continue transporting next of kin to repatriation ceremonies until the accounting rules are cleared up.

“Any next of kin travel or transport to repatriation ceremonies will be covered by DND during the period that the CF works this out,” said Jay Paxton.

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