Wounded soldiers face extra bureaucratic hurdle on way to benefits
Forces ombudsman says system of determining benefits 'defies logic' and must be changed
The country's military ombudsman says it should be up to National Defence, not Veterans Affairs, to define whether a soldier's injury took place in the line of duty.
Gary Walbourne issued a report Tuesday about one of the most long-standing, contentious issues facing veterans who are frustrated with the benefits system.
"Common sense suggests that [the military] is best placed to know whether a member's physical or mental health condition is caused or aggravated by their military service," Walbourne said in the report.
Much of the public criticism, including recent reports by the auditor general, have focused on the glacial process and frustrating appeals veterans face once they're in the system.
Walbourne's latest report focuses on those trying to get into the system by having their condition recognized in the first place.
Soldiers whose careers end as a result of physical or mental wounds face two layers of often conflicting bureaucracy.
The military medical system is the first to determine if members' injuries prevent them from performing their duties to the fullest. A soldier has three years to recover before the medical release system kicks into gear.
Once a soldier is clear of the military, Veterans Affairs then make its own determination — with its own doctors and a separate diagnosis — whether the injury is related to service.
There have been many cases where soldiers were let go from the military on medical grounds only to have Veterans Affairs deny them benefits for the same condition.
"This begs the question of why a protracted bureaucratic process is required for [Veterans Affairs] to review records prepared by the [Canadian Armed Forces] when it is possible for the CAF to determine whether a medically releasing member's condition is related to or aggravated by military service," Walbourne said.
We are also working together to reduce complexity, overhaul and streamline service delivery, and strengthen partnerships between our respective departments.– Sarah McMaster , spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr
"Members and veterans are frustrated by the heavy administration, the duplication of effort, the lack of clarity, the onus placed on them to gather the proof from [Canadian Armed Forces] for [Veterans Affairs] to determine their entitlements, and the resulting delays in receiving their benefits. From a practical perspective, this has very real consequences on the lives of our medically releasing members."
Duplication and delay
Walbourne has been arguing the case — unsuccessfully — for a couple of years.
He told a Senate committee in February 2015 that the current system doesn't make sense.
"To have a process to determine what is already been determined, for me, just defies logic," he said during testimony about legislation, introduced by the former Conservative government, to give ex-soldiers a fast-track into the civil service.
The Senate veterans committee was told, at the time, that it takes Veterans Affairs as long as six month to decide whether an injury is the result of military service. That delays not only job applications, but also the distribution of benefits, Walbourne testified.
The former Conservative government chose not to amend its legislation to address the ombudsman's concerns.
A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said the government welcomed the report and that both departments are working to simplify and consolidate ways in which veterans apply for and receive disability benefits.
"We are also working together to reduce complexity, overhaul and streamline service delivery, and strengthen partnerships between our respective departments," Sarah McMaster said in a statement.
National Defence controls records
Walbourne says the military controls the service records of soldiers and is responsible for their health throughout their careers.
The decision to release someone on medical grounds is presumably made on evidence and there is nothing in legislation to prevent the military taking charge, Walbourne said Tuesday.