Veterans Affairs reverses decision, opens beds for Allied war vets

Veterans Affairs will expand access to Halifax’s Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital after a veteran was denied access because his wartime service wasn’t with the Canadian military. Now the minister of veterans affairs says 25 beds will be opened to Allied and modern-day veterans.

Minister says more beds needed for Allied vets as population of WW II, Korean War vets decreases

The family of Second World War veteran Gordon Smith said Veterans Affairs denied him access to Halifax's Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital because he served in WW II with the British Royal Navy. But Veterans Affairs now says it will expand access by making over two dozen beds available for Allied and modern-day veterans. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Veterans Affairs Canada says it will expand access to Halifax's Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital by making more than two dozen beds available for Allied and modern-day veterans.

The decision comes in the wake of widespread outrage over news that a veteran was denied access because his wartime service wasn't with the Canadian military.

Gordon Smith's family said Veterans Affairs denied him access to Camp Hill because he served in the Second World War with the British Royal Navy. After the war, he immigrated to Canada and served nearly two decades with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He went on to volunteer for another 20 years with the Royal Canadian Legion, visiting veterans in long-term care.

The majority of beds at Camp Hill are set aside for Canadian war veterans. CBC News learned 29 of those beds are empty.  

Now, Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O'Regan says 25 of them will be opened to Allied veterans, like Smith, and modern-day veterans. The remaining four will continue to be reserved for Second World War and Korean War veterans who served with the Canadian military.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan says the focus needs to turn to more community long-term care beds for Allied and modern-day veterans as the population of WW II and Korean War vets decreases. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"As the population of Second World and Korean War veterans who are eligible for a contract bed in these former Veterans facilities decreases, we need to turn our focus to more community long-term care beds for Allied and modern-day Veterans," O'Regan said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

In 2016, after another veteran struggled to gain access, 25 beds were set aside for any veteran who is eligible for care, including Allied veterans. The government's latest move will bring that number to 50. O'Regan said it will immediately reduce the wait list.

Wait list reduced

"I think that's great news," said Gordon Smith's granddaughter, Sabrina Smith. "I think that's great news for everybody who is on the wait list."

There were 30 people already waiting, so it doesn't mean Smith will automatically get a bed at Camp Hill, but his chances have significantly improved.   

His granddaughter says that when his story went public, she heard from people across the country expressing their support, some who said they were contacting their members of Parliament to demand change, and others who provided contact information for people they thought could help.  

"I think it just goes to speak to the value that Canadians put on veterans," said Sabrina Smith.

"To see that [support] coming from all corners of Canada, from all political stripes, was really heartening."

About the Author

Kayla Hounsell

Senior reporter

Kayla Hounsell is a Network Reporter with CBC News based in Halifax. She covers the Maritime provinces for CBC national news on television, radio and online. She welcomes story ideas at kayla.hounsell@cbc.ca.