Veterans minister vows to improve information on benefits

Canada's veterans affairs minister says former soldiers denied disability benefits will no longer be given vague or unclear reasons for the decision, following criticism from the ombudsman.

Canada's veterans affairs minister says former soldiers who are denied disability benefits will no longer be given vague or unclear reasons for the decision.

Steven Blaney says he is prepared to adopt all the recommendations in a report from veterans ombudsman Guy Parent, who said the government is failing one-time members of the Armed Forces.

"We accept his recommendations and we intend to move forward with these recommendations so we can better serve our veterans," Blaney said Tuesday.

The ombudsman's report, which was released Monday, examined 213 disability benefit letters that were sent to veterans between 2001 and 2010. It found none of the letters clearly stated the reasons behind a decision to award or deny benefits.

About one in five gave enough detail for veterans to attempt to deduce the rationale, but the remainder came up entirely short.

Parent said providing information to support a decision is different from simply providing a reason for a decision.

The lack of information violates the Veterans Bill of Rights and makes it harder for veterans to appeal, because they have no idea what was the basis for a decision, his report said.

New format for letters

Blaney outlined a new format for such letters that includes separate sections listing the evidence that was examined, the reasons for a decision and the conclusion. Information in each section must be clearly spelled out.

"We are now breaking the letters into specific items," Blaney said.

Veterans will also be given information on how they can appeal their case if they are unhappy with the decision.

As well, department staff will be given an online program to guide them through everything they must consider when veterans apply for benefits.

Parent did say in his report he didn't think the department has been deliberately trying to confuse former soldiers.

Problems with communicating benefit decisions have existed for more than a decade. The issue was raised by the auditor general in 1998. Internal evaluations flagged it again in 2004 and in 2010.

This time, improvements will be made, Blaney said.

"This is ... the outcome of more than 12 months of work on making sure that we are reshaping our letter in plain language."