Canadian Veterans Waiting Too Long For Disability Benefits, Auditor General Says

Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan holds a news conference following the tabling of the Auditor General’s report in Ottawa on May 31.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Auditor General says Canadian veterans are waiting too long to receive compensation for injuries sustained while serving, despite efforts by Veterans Affairs Canada to reduce waiting times for disability benefit applications.

A report released by Parliament’s office on Tuesday found that veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time have waited nearly 10 months for a decision, while applications from some sub-groups, such as women and RCMP veterans, took even longer. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Auditor General Karen Hogan said the government’s failure to deliver on its promise to support injured veterans has a “real consequence” for the well-being of former military and RCMP members. , as well as their families.

“It is time to find a more sustainable solution that will allow veterans to receive their benefits in a timely manner,” Ms Hogan said after the tabling of the audit, which was part of a batch of spring reports to Parliament. “The government should do better with them.”

Veterans Affairs Canada has a service standard for processing disability benefit applications within 16 weeks, 80% of the time. The report found that the department has failed to meet this service standard for seven years. He said veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time waited an average of 39 weeks for a decision.

According to the audit, women veterans faced particularly long processing times of 47 weeks for initial applications, compared to 38 weeks for men. The report says unintentional gender bias on the disability benefit application form contributed to the problem. Veterans who have changed their name must provide proof of identity, but since the form does not have space to include a woman’s maiden name, these applications may take longer to process.

The report also found that RCMP veterans had to wait 51 weeks for their first application, compared to 37 weeks for Canadian Armed Forces veterans. The RCMP funds RCMP disability benefits by transferring money to Veterans Affairs. The report found that the amount the RCMP was paying Veterans Affairs for processing did not match the number of applications and recommended that the organizations work together to determine the appropriate level of funding.

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The audit found that Veterans Affairs’ data on how it handles disability benefit applications was poor, and as a result the department didn’t know if its efforts to improve wait times were working. He recommended that the department address weaknesses in its data collection and create a long-term resourcing plan so that Veterans Affairs Canada has enough staff to deal with the backlog of applications.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay welcomed the recommendations on Tuesday. He said the report is a “snapshot of a moment,” noting that Ottawa has reduced the backlog over the past two years. In the spring of 2020, there were more than 23,000 applications pending processing beyond the 16-week service standard, he said, up from 10,649 as of May 25.

“Still too many, I know, but a marked improvement from where we were,” Mr MacAulay said.

Veterans’ advocacy groups said the report’s findings were sadly not surprising.

Bruce Julian, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, said the organization has seen the desperation and anger of veterans and hopes the report will provide the momentum needed to end “unreasonable” wait times.

The Veterans Transition Network said veterans need help the moment they ask for it, so long processing times only add insult to injury. Executive director Oliver Thorne said while wait times are daunting for veterans, they can get immediate coverage for certain mental health conditions as soon as they apply for the disability benefit. The government announced the coverage in April.

Conservative veterans spokesman Frank Caputo said the slow processing times are “an abysmal disappointment for our women and men in uniform”, and the party will advocate for a long-term solution to ensure that veterans are treated with respect and dignity.

NDP Veterans Critic Rachel Blaney said the Liberal government had failed in its duty to veterans and their families and had no clear plan to address the issues identified by the Auditor General.

“It will be impossible to eliminate backlogs and fix wait times until the ministry is able to collect accurate data and create a long-term sustainable resourcing plan to process applications in a timely manner” , she said.

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