Veterans Affairs rejects 94-year-old war hero's request for care

Veterans Affairs Canada has repeatedly denied 94-year-old Petter Blindheim's application for long-term health care in a Halifax facility, saying the decorated war hero's service isn't eligible for benefits.

Petter Blindheim applied for long-term care under Allied Veteran program 1 year ago

Petter Blindheim, 94, wants to move to a veterans' hospital in Halifax. His family is battling Ottawa to get care for the war hero. 0:56

At 94, a Norwegian-Canadian war hero wants to live the rest of his life in a Halifax facility for veterans, but one thing is getting in the way.

The Canadian government has denied Petter Blindheim's request to stay there, as well as access to long-term care assistance, saying his war service doesn't make him eligible.

Blindheim is the last Norwegian veteran living in Canada, says his son, Peter Blendheim. (Blindheim's wife changed the spelling of their son's name to make it sound more English.)

Blindheim received six war medals while serving with the Royal Norwegian Navy. Allied veterans are entitled to benefits under the War Veterans Allowance (WVA).

During one particular battle in 1942 aboard the Montbretia, a Norwegian corvette, he was honoured for saving the lives of his fellow crewmen in between torpedo attacks.

"He removed the primer of his depth charge after the ship was torpedoed. A second torpedo hit that ship shortly after. He was one of 27 survivors out of a crew of 74," his son told CBC's Information Morning.

Petter Blindheim, 94, has been rejected for long-term care by Veterans Affairs Canada. He wants to spend his final days at Camp Hill Veterans' Memorial Hospital in Halifax after serving with the Royal Norwegian Navy. (Peter Blendheim)

The effects of that deadly attack sent the remaining crew to Camp Norway in Lunenburg, N.S., where Blindheim returned immediately after the war in 1945. He settled in Halifax years later and still lives there.

Not an eligible veteran

Blindheim always planned to spend his final days at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital, his son says. But Veterans Affairs rejected his application.

"They sent us a letter explaining that he was not an eligible veteran," said his son. "I appealed on the grounds that he was in the Royal Norwegian Navy. I provided more documentation and they came back, 'not eligible.'"

Petter Blindheim's family is fighting with Veteran Affairs Canada over access to long-term care. (Peter Blendheim)

His son believes the problem hinges on a single document dating back to 1939.

"Because they say he was in the Merchant Navy, he should have signed this T124 agreement. Well, I can tell you, he was not in the Merchant Navy first off—he was in the Royal Norwegian Navy," Blendheim says.

"I have documentation from his war book."

Veterans Affairs rejection

Veterans Affairs has a narrow window of eligibility for former members of the Norwegian Armed Forces, between April 8, 1940, the date Norway was invaded by Germany, and June 9, 1940, when Germany formally occupied Norway.

"Any service with the Norwegian Armed Forces during the period of its occupation, i.e. from June 10, 1940 to May 8, 1945 (the date World War II terminated in the European theatre), is deemed resistance service and, as such, is not considered qualifying service for WVA purposes," the federal department said Wednesday in an email.

The department said that because of privacy reasons, it couldn't comment on specific cases, and declined an interview request.

The 94-year-old's family has stacks of documents showing his service with the Royal Norwegian Navy. Veterans Affairs Canada has stated in rejection letters that Blindheim was in the Merchant Navy instead. (Peter Blendheim)

Blindheim has accessed veteran benefits from Norway for decades. Most recently, he has used daily provincial home care services. His son argues that Camp Hill is the ideal place for him, given his current medical condition.

In the last year, his father sprained his back and broke his arm, and Blindheim's 73-year-old wife can no longer manage his care on her own.

"He always thought Camp Hill was an option, and my father can't understand why he's being denied," said Blendheim.

Norway's war contribution 

To make matters worse, the rejection letters to Blindheim also indicate Norway wasn't a member of the Allied Forces.

"They are saying that—and this upsets my family in Norway—they say Norway surrendered in World War Two," said Blendheim.

"My understanding is the king fled to London [as did] the legitimate government they had there," Blendheim said.

The government continued to operate in exile from London during the war, he said.

Blindheim also escaped to Britain, where he enlisted in the Royal Norwegian Navy at age 18.

Time running out

Family members have been told once the file is closed, the only option will be to take Veterans Affairs Canada to court — a route they're not prepared to follow.

"I know how many Norwegian 94-year-old veterans are left, and my father is the only one in Canada. But in terms of how many other veterans are left, who would have the capacity at that age to even go to court?" Blendheim said.

With files from Information Morning Halifax