The Royal Canadian Legion writes a letter to the Prime Minister to eliminate the backlog of veterans’ disability benefits

The Royal Canadian Legion, a community support organization for veterans, wrote a letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to eliminate the backlog of disability benefits that many of its members are waiting for.

John Sluggett, service officer at Victory Legion Branch 317 in London, Ont., says many veterans are in dire need of financial support.

“These gentlemen have pledged to defend Canada with their lives, but now that they need financial support, it’s taking too long,” he said.

Disability benefits provide veterans with financial compensation for medical and health-related services, as well as treatment for any physical or mental illness.

Sluggett, who is also a former employee of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), says such backlogs are not uncommon, but the onset of the pandemic has only made the problem worse.

A pandemic-induced staffing shortage at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has caused them to cut some departments, and restrictions have prevented staff from conducting in-person assessments with veterans, further delaying supports.

“Before COVID, they reduced the wait to a reasonable amount of time, which was about 9-10 weeks, but now they haven’t gone into an office and are unable to interview veterans,” said he declared.

Changing Claims Complexity

Sluggett says the biggest change to the system has been the increasing complexity of claims, making it difficult for people to receive proper diagnoses.

“We used to deal with physical issues, and now you don’t see physical disabilities as much as you do mental disabilities, which are harder to diagnose and control,” he added.

In a statement to CBC, a VAC spokesperson said “the current processing times for disability benefits are unacceptable, and reducing them remains our top priority.”

The department has hired more than 350 temporary employees and has been able to reduce the backlog to less than 13,000 veterans who are still waiting, down 44% since 2020.

According to Sluggett, once a veteran is approved for the benefit, they can choose how to receive it, whether it’s a one-time lump sum payment or monthly installments.

A single, single application can still be processed within nine weeks, but linking additional applications to it, a common case for many veterans, can increase wait times by up to two years, he added.

Funding announced to clear arrears

On Wednesday, Lawrence MacAuley, Minister of Veterans Affairs, announced $139.6 million in funding over two years to extend temporary positions at VAC to reduce processing times.

“Nothing is more important right now than making sure veterans get their benefits in a timely manner,” he said. “With this investment, VAC staff can continue to make decisions faster and get the backlog under control.

Sluggett says while veterans are aware of the long wait times to apply, the Legion continues to boost morale.

“I tell them ‘it’s like a war… we’re going to win this battle, but the war is never over’,” he said.

VAC says it plans to halve the number of applications backlogged for more than 16 weeks by the end of March.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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