POWER & POLITICS

Liberal gov't making little progress on backlogged veterans' disability claims

New numbers provided to Power & Politics by Veterans Affairs Canada show the number of former soldiers waiting over a year to have their disability claim applications processed is now higher than it was in 2017-18.

News follows Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan's claim that things are getting better

A sign is placed on a truck windshield as members of the advocacy group Banished Veterans protest outside the Veterans Affairs office in Halifax on Thursday, June 16, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is not making much progress on whittling the down the backlog of veterans' disability claims, despite its promises to do so.

Updated figures from Veterans Affairs Canada, released Friday to CBC's Power & Politics, show the number of former soldiers waiting for over a year to have their applications processed is currently higher than it was in 2017-18.

The statistics show that, as of Nov. 30, there were 3,356 veterans whose claims have taken more than a year to be put through the system.

That's an increase over the 3,110 cases reported in the last budget year.

Veteran Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Responding to a CBC News story on Monday about the initial set of numbers, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan claimed an investment of $42 million by the Liberal government and the subsequent hiring of 470 staff members were making things better, but offered only anecdotal evidence.

He claimed he didn't have up-to-date figures for the current year.

"The numbers ... we don't have the numbers yet," O'Regan told host Vassy Kapelos

"We'll wait and see. We'll have a better gauge on whether or not we're seeing something different."

The up-to-date statistics were released by the minister's office after repeated requests by CBC News.

The department says it strives to decide on benefit applications from veterans within four months. It was unable to do so in more than 50 per cent of the cases last year.

The numbers for the current year show not much has improved and the department appears on track to receive more claims than it did last year.

As of Friday, there were 27,107 claims in the system. Of those, 15,421 — 57 per cent — have waited more than four months.

The executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada said the backlog is something that both the current and former governments have tried to address, without success.

'I'm working as fast as I can to right this ship,' says the Minister of Veterans Affairs. 7:09

"This is something that we've heard time and time again," said Scott Maxwell. "Year over year, government to government, as a common theme of something that veterans and their families would like to see fixed going forward."

He said he believes it's not something the veterans department can solve by itself, that National Defence needs to be involved at an earlier stage — before a soldier is released — so that applications can be submitted sooner. 

The former Canadian Forces ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, recommended on a number of occasions that members not be allowed to turn in their uniforms until all of their veterans benefits are in place and approved.

Both the defence and veterans departments are working together on what they describe as a plan for a "seamless transition" of members from service to civilian life.

That plan, according to documents obtained by CBC News two years ago, was not going to be fully implemented until 2019 at the earliest.

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