Ex-soldier and cancer survivor evicted during wait for military pension
'I felt like I was pushed through the cracks,' says single mother facing delay in military benefits
In receiving her second cancer diagnosis within the span of two years, Tricia Beauchamp's doctor said something that stuck with her.
"It's called unlucky," she recalls him saying.
Beauchamp is a retired air force sergeant and single mother who spent 27 years in the military's logistics branch as a traffic technician. In that role, it was her job to get supplies and equipment where they were needed with no fuss or muss.
Within the span of six years, she says, she endured a botched surgery and, as a result, failed a physical fitness test by nine seconds. That triggered her medical release, which she fought unsuccessfully to prevent. She was denied a civil service job on her last day in the military. And she survived two bouts of cancer, one of which included 26 radiation treatments.
But perhaps the most difficult, frustrating battle is the one she's fought with the Defence and Veterans Affairs departments.
Beauchamp was released to civilian life last summer and, like thousands of other ex-soldiers and air crew, she was forced to wait for her military severance, pension and veterans benefits.
"I felt like I was pushed through the cracks," Beauchamp told CBC News. "I have been so stressed it's unreal. I'm lucky I have kids that understand."
Evicted from her home
She said she barely scraped by through the summer, fall and early winter with virtually no income except nominal support payments from her ex-spouse.
But because of the wait, she was evicted in November from the house she was renting in a small community outside of Ottawa.
"They [the landlord] thought I was lying about my pension and severance," said Beauchamp, who managed to find another place to rent nearby with no down payment.
Groups like Vets Canada, an organization that deals with soldiers in crisis, stepped in to help, but life was a constant struggle.
"I have my baby bonus [Canada child benefit] that came in on the 20th of every month that kept me afloat," said Beauchamp, who served on six overseas deployments including Somalia, Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan.
Just before Christmas — five months after her release — the military came through with both her severance pay and pension.
Waiting on Veterans Affairs
What could be more important, though, is that her veterans affairs disability and other medical benefits remain stuck in the system.
Beauchamp was told last month that veterans officials were only working on claims that had been submitted last March. Her paperwork went in last September because Veterans Affairs required her to go for a separate round of medical tests — something the military ombudsman has complained about.
How do you expect a mother, a veteran who has served this country, to raise children on a baby bonus cheque? That's absolutely ludicrous.- Gary Walbourne, military ombudsman
"They just said, 'We're backlogged and we can't do anything about it and we're sorry,'" said Beauchamp. "We should not be in this state. It is money that is owed to us. We worked so hard throughout our careers."
Last fall, CBC News reported that Veteran Affairs faced a backlog of more than 11,500 disability claims, a mountain of paperwork that officials insist they are whittling down.
- Backlog of applications for veterans benefits still greater than 11,500
- Military watchdog blasts pension wait times after daily complaints by soldiers
Full-time members of the military wait at least 14 weeks after their departure to receive their severance pay, according to figures compiled last year by the military ombudsman's office. For reserve members that wait can go up to 36 weeks.
The backlog in paying out military pensions was as high as 13,000 files last year, prompting a flood of complaints.
Late Thursday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan called the situation "tragic" and said the government is working on rebuilding a system torn down in the former Conservative government's drive to tame the deficit.
"We've actually put in resources to deal with some of the backlog," he said. "It's not exactly what we'd like just right now. And you know, when you take — cut services, it actually takes time to build things up, so I can't put an actual time on it, but I can assure you we are working on it."
Beauchamp's case left military ombudsman Gary Walbourne sputtering.
"This is what I have been talking about almost until I'm sick of talking about it," said Walbourne, who has recommended repeatedly that the military hold on to members until all payments, benefits and post-uniform care are arranged.
"How do you expect a mother, a veteran who has served this country, to raise children on a baby bonus cheque? That's absolutely ludicrous."
National Defence and Veterans Affairs say they are working together to overhaul the military release system, but documents obtained by CBC News last month show it will be up to three years before all of the changes are implemented.
A slide deck presentation, obtained by CBC News, shows that officials have set the goal of making sure a departed soldier receives all payments within 30 days.
But the recommendation to delay releasing a soldier appears to be getting no traction.
A spokeswoman for National Defence said the government appreciates the ombudsman's recommendation but made no commitment to change.
Defence and veterans affairs officials "continue to work together to find solutions to address the delivery of our collective services," said Suzanne Parker, a spokeswoman for the Defence Department's legal branch.
"We are working together to reduce complexity, overhaul and streamline service delivery, and strengthen partnerships between our respective departments."
But with each case coming to the public attention, Walbourne said, trust in the institution is rapidly eroding.
"When I walked in the door as deputy veterans ombudsman, the first day we talked medical transition," he said. "Today, seven years later, guess what I am talking about? So, what is it going to take to have something to change?"
Beauchamp said she is wondering the same thing.
- This story has been edited from an earlier version that incorrectly stated Ms. Beauchamp's surgery occurred in the military health system. In fact, the surgery was done in a provincial hospital.Mar 31, 2017 3:47 PM ET