Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Medically discharged veteran Dawn Dussault has been waiting for disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada
By Ann Bergeron-Oliver and Ben Cousins
OTTAWA -- Thousands of Canadian veterans have been left waiting for disability benefits because of a growing delay in processing applications, leading to increased frustration and stress among those who served this country.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, nearly 19,000 applications for disability benefits sit in a backlog, which is actually an improvement from the roughly 21,000-claim backlog as of June, but the department admits only 37 per cent of claims are addressed within its own 16-week standard time frame.
These delays can lead to real-world problems for veterans, including Dawn Dussault, who was medically released from the military in 2016 with post-traumatic stress disorder and a back injury.
She told CTV News that for many veterans, herself included, acute issues become chronic ones while waiting for claims to be processed.
“They have hundreds of pages of medical records to prove I was actually diagnosed with complex trauma and I’ve yet to see anything on that, and I know they just keep asking me for more information and more paperwork,” she told CTV News.
They just keep asking me for more information and more paperwork
Fellow veteran Charles Scott is taking his frustrations directly to Ottawa. He and other veterans are writing an open letter calling for the resignation of Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay.
“We want to create awareness, we want to let the minister and prime minister know they must be accountable,” he said. “When you make promises you must fulfill those promises. Enough is enough.”
In the draft letter, which will be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and MacAulay later this week, the group says veterans should have timely access to services meant to help deal with injuries suffered while serving in the Canadian military and that “two years is too long to wait.”
“We do not make this request lightly,” the group wrote in the letter. “We make it only after the repeated failure of the honourable minister to address the crisis-level backlog.”
Two year is too long to wait
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux has said that getting through the backlog without additional funding will take at least five years.
“If the government maintained the same level of resources it would cost about $105 million over five years,” Giroux said. “That would only reduce the backlog by 10,000 applications.”
MacAulay declined an interview request for this story, but in a statement called the backlog “unacceptable” and pointed to the department’s recent investment of $200 million, which is being used to hire nearly 500 new staff members to process claims.
The department is also implementing new protocols meant to speed up the process, including the creation of benefit teams to promote information sharing, especially in the early stages of the application process.
“(This) will allow the Department to get the backlog under control and ensure that veterans receive the benefits they’re entitled to in a timely manner,” the statement reads.
Although he feels let down by what he considers to be a “broken” and “complicated” system, Scott says he remains hopeful real and meaningful change is still possible.
“If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t be here,” Scott said. “I’m putting myself out there along with many other veterans to bring this awareness out and I’m very hopeful that in time, Canadians will speak up.”