Authorities must prioritize benefits claims by the neediest veterans, says Veterans Ombudsman Colonel (Ret’d) Nishika Jardine. Tens of thousands of former soldiers, sailors and air crew remain on waiting lists for disability benefits.
“Understand who is the person applying for this benefit,” said Jardine: “Does this person have a family doctor? Is this person in financial difficulty? Do they have access to the public service health care plan?”
The Department of Veterans Affairs in 2021 counted a backlog of 41,541 claims from veterans citing disability as a result of service. Wait times for the initial review of first-time applications averaged more than 300 days. Petitions for reassessments averaged another 140 days, with 340 days for further review.
“Which veterans need a decision faster than other veterans?” Ombudsman Jardine told the Commons veterans affairs committee. “A veteran who has a full pension, access to the public service health care plan and has secured a second job after they have left the Canadian Armed Forces may not need that decision as quickly as the veteran who does not have a pension, who cannot qualify for public service health care, doesn’t have access to rehabilitation programs but was broken by the Canadian Armed Forces and has walked out the door with their little baggie of three months’ worth of medications for a condition that is related to their service, and they have to wait.”
Jardine noted the department did prioritize veterans over 80 or those who “self-identify as having a life threatening condition” but made few other attempts to prioritize claims according to need. “It is the thing that disturbs me the most and it is the reason for my comments,” said Jardine. “We can get lost in the statistics and the numbers and how many weeks and how long.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay on Friday told the Commons his department was doing its best. “We recognize more needs to be done,” said MacAulay, who earlier remarked that veterans’ paperwork was so onerous “I mightn’t be great at it myself.”
“You know this difficulty,” MacAulay testified at 2020 hearings of the veterans affairs committee. “You know about filling out forms. I mightn’t be great at it myself.”
“But the thing is you need the people that know how to fill out the forms,” said MacAulay. “The problem that you have with the forms is there’s something missing, something vitally important that could be missing, and you have to make sure that it is all there.”
Conservative MP Frank Caputo (Kamloops-Thompson, B.C.) told the committee Friday that claimants “are all veterans who have unique circumstances.” Proposals to ease the backlog date back five years.
“You can’t really tell a check box on a form that you are broken, and conversely a check box on a form can’t see that you’re broken,” said MP Caputo. “That’s one of the biggest problems I really see with this.”