Veterans Affairs top-heavy, says union
Bureaucracy at the Department of Veterans Affairs is being streamlined, says the head of the local union in Charlottetown, and trimming should include the elimination of some high-ranking positions.
Ian LeClair, president of the Charlottetown head office local for the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees, took questions from CBC News following comments from the department's ombudsman, Pat Stogran, regarding red tape and poor treatment of veterans.
"Streamlining processes will hopefully alleviate a lot of the unnecessary checks and balances, that may be a lot of the time delay," said LeClair.
It can take up to six months for an injured veteran to get their first disability cheque, Stogran has said, if their claim is accepted. The department is working on cutting that wait in half. Delays on the phone should be reduced as well with a new phone system that will route calls to the first available DVA agent in the country.
At the same time, DVA is looking at streamlining staff. The union says in the last six months 125 vacancies across the country haven't been filled. LeClair said his workers are already feeling the crunch and said he hopes some of the cuts will target higher management positions.
"I think it's top-heavy," LeClair said of the department.
"Perhaps [there] could be some streamlining done there rather than employees. Employees have to get the work done."
Department being reviewed
Operations at the department are being continually reviewed, said Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn.
"It's in the law that every five years, we have to re-evaluate its function," said Blackburn.
One relatively new practice of the department that came under criticism by Stogran is providing a lump sum payment to disabled veterans in place of long-term pensions. Blackburn said he responded to those complaints by ordering a survey of veterans who had received the lump sum payments.
"This survey showed that 69 per cent of veterans appreciate to obtain this lump sum payment," he said.
"After a moment of reflection, I said, 'Well that's nice, but there are still three in 10 who would like to have something different.' So I have asked the department to prepare some options."
Several workers at the Veterans Affairs office in Charlottetown said morale is good, despite talk of more cuts and Stogran's description of the treatment of some veterans as deplorable.
"I don't really have an opinion on his comments. He has a role and that's what he's doing," said Jill MacFarlane, a contract buyer at DVA.
"I'm not in the program side of the house. I feel they do a really good job. And I'm proud of our veterans, and anyone that works here works for the veterans — does everything they can."
Stogran met with Veterans Affair employees in Charlottetown Thursday. He would not provide details of who he met with or what was discussed, but said the meetings were productive and the employees understood what he was trying to do.