Ombudsman slams 'deceptive' Veterans Affairs

Canada's outgoing ombudsman for veterans has expressed fury over the federal government's treatment of servicemen and women and the thwarting of his work by an obstructive bureaucracy.
Veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran expressed his fury at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday over the federal government's treatment of servicemen and women. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's outgoing ombudsman for veterans expressed his fury Tuesday over the federal government's treatment of servicemen and women and the thwarting of his work by an obstructive bureaucracy.

Pat Stogran said at a news conference in Ottawa that he was not going to comment on the Conservative government's decision not to appoint him to a second term.

Stogran said it's the "government's prerogative" and that he will leave it to the government to defend its decision, though he said his non-renewal is likely a sign he was doing his job, and that he sees it as a mark of success.

Stogran said that as ombudsman, he was "impeded by a bureacracy that was deliberately obstructive and deceptive," and that information given to bureaucrats isn't reaching the minister of veterans affairs.

Stogran said he was speaking out in order to highlight how badly many veterans are treated and to ask Canadians to stand up for their "sons and daughters." He vowed to use his remaining three months as ombudsman to continue trying to get Canadians to take notice.

The ombudsman acts as the voice of veterans and their families, helping them access support services and benefits and fielding complaints.

Stogran was notified early last week that his appointment will not be renewed, according to federal government sources. Word of his anticipated removal leaked late Friday.

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At Tuesday's news conference, Stogran was joined by a number of veterans representing those with physical and mental health issues, as well as those taking the government to court over pension clawbacks.

"If you're not willing to stand behind the troops, then feel free to stand in front of them," said Brian Dyck, a veteran who suffers from ALS and is fighting the government over denied health claims.

At a separate news conference, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that his government has invested money in programs for veterans.

"If the ombudsman has concerns or suggestions, the government remains open and is always open to hearing those suggestions and incorporating them into our future programs, but we are hoping that he can continue to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs," Harper said in French.

Joins list of departed watchdogs

Stogran met with Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn over the weekend, but has refused to comment about the outcome of their discussion. A spokeswoman for the minister also declined to comment.

Never one to mince words, Stogran has harshly criticized the federal bureaucracy's treatment of injured soldiers and policies, such as the replacement of pensions with lump-sum payments and disability stipends.

He has said Veterans Affairs has adopted a "penny-pinching, insurance-company mentality" toward its clients.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Stogran should be praised, not let go, for doing his job and making sure Canada's veterans are treated properly.

Garneau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that Stogran joins a long list of arm's-length advocates — including former military police complaints commissioner Peter Tinsley and ex-RCMP watchdog Paul Kennedy — who were "sacked because they are telling the government the truth, instead of parroting."

Blackburn sparked the ire of veterans groups and opposition critics in recent weeks by suggesting that the department he heads will get smaller as more Second World War vets, the department's biggest client base, die.