Veterans Affairs Canada is the department of government that's meant to look after the needs of Canada's military and RCMP veterans. These days, actual war veterans numbers are dramatically falling, while soldiers injured and hurt in normal duties is on the rise. Part of that is awareness of mental health issues like PTSD and/or Serious Depressive Disorder. Often referred to as "operational stress injury". However, the vast majority of injuries are of the physical nature. Currently there are just over 3000 civilian employees at Veterans Affairs administering the needs of people that the department refers to as "clients".
It's come to my attention that the new Veteran's Affairs Minister O'Toole has been heavily canvassing VAC staff to seek answers for making the system run smoother. One answer he appeared to receive was the need for more case managers. I would argue here that is the response of the bureaucracy seeking to help the bureaucracy and not the veteran. By way of example, it was three years into the process before I even new a case manager was assigned to me. I found out when a central VAC operator transferred me to him by mistake. Has it helped a lot since I found him. Not really. The case manager can't do a thing to speed up decision making on benefits, or anything similar to that. That process is highly centralized in certain centres in Quebec, and the Maritimes.
Where I believe Minister O'Toole is being lead astray is that the bureaucracy is more concerned with making its job easier, rather than making Veterans lives easier. The two are not necessarily the same. To understand Veteran's Affairs you need to realize that the department is heavily politicized. Not just by the current government. In fact the New Veterans Charter was brought in by the Martin Liberal government. It's sole purpose was to strip the right of injured Veterans to receive a proper disability pension, and instead give a one time payment. In other words, instead of a Veteran receiving over a million dollars over a life time on pension, he would receive on average $40,000.00 and cut loose. The Rehab program provides a stop gap measure for the most seriously injured, but there are not guarantees with it like there is with a pension.
Here are some steps that I believe would depoliticize Veterans Affairs and make it better for Veterans:
1. Disband Veterans Affairs Review and Appeal Boards. These two levels of appeal boards are all political appointees. Many are failed political candidates, party fund raisers, etc. Almost none are ex military, and even less have medical training. They are viewed, for reason, as persons delaying and denying Veterans benefits.
2. Replace the Review and Appeal Boards with single judges. Singular judges can be placed in each province or region, depending on demand. Judges are more likely to understand the evidence and the legislation. They are professional decision makers. They are required to be apolitical. When a Veteran can't get a positive decision at the review and then appeal level, he/she must go to Federal Court in any case, and all the Federal Court is currently empowered to do is refer the matter back to the same process a soldier just came out of - the review and/or appeal boards. A never ending bureaucratic ride that only serves to employ civil servants and delay/deny veterans. The result would be a judicial system, showing judicial respect, and a vast reduction in matters going as far as the Federal Court.
3. Amend the Canada Health Act to require doctors to conduct medical examinations, and complete paper work as required or face sanction for refusing to do so. Many Veterans find that doctors simply want nothing to do with the huge paperwork required of VAC, and therefore refuse Veterans a proper examination and most importantly the filling out of currently needed paperwork. An alternative to this is a massive reduction of the paperwork to two simple doctoral requirements: 1) Is there a diagnosis; and 2) If the answer is yes can it be contributed to military service. Pure and simple.
4. Do away with the massive amount of nitty-gritty medical analyses currently numbing the system. The system of awarding dollars or benefits based on fifths of an injury. If a soldier is injured he is injured. It doesn't matter whether three fifths or five fifths is attributable to military service. If he was injured during service that's it. Whether or not he can wipe his own arse, whether or not he can drive, etc. People with no legs can drive. Does that mean they are only partially disabled? Drop all these massive manuals defining this degree of injury or that definition of injury. It's an injury. Full stop. Simplify so that the system meets the legislation, which means the soldier is given the "benefit of the doubt" by a "grateful nation". Not the soldier is given "what we have no choice to give him" by a "stingy nation".
5. Require that all injury claims be administered, adjudged, and settled no later than 1 year after application. With a massively reduced paperwork/bureaucratic trail, there is no reason why a soldier should have to wait for more than a year to finalize all his financial/benefit determinations. After which the soldier may or may not need further or life long care, but the dollars and cents that will stabilize his life and give the family peace of mind will be in place fast. In my own case it's been 5 years, and I'm not finished yet - which to me is bizarre. I know there are others that have been in the system for longer than that.
6. Institute a Triage System. Major injuries get priority handling, meaning they are expedited within weeks. Lesser injuries that are not considered major can be somewhat less. By way of example, if one soldier has injuries that could result in loss of life or ability to work, then it takes priority. Lesser injuries like arthritic pain in a limb are secondary for priority, but all must still be dealt with in a year.
7. Layoff some staff and hire others. By massively simplifying paperwork, eliminating fifths of injury and other minute nitty-gritty diagnosis requirements, the government can massively reduce the work force in Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs salaries alone constitute about a quarter of a billion dollars. By reducing the administrative portion of VAC and refocusing it from an administrative organization to a "response" organization, the government can actually save money in pension and salaries to civil servants. In other words a complete culture change. We aren't "clients". We are Vets. We served our country. We didn't go to Walmart.
It's an old saying in the military: "KISS - Keep it Simple Stupid". Veterans Affairs doesn't need nips and tucks. Veterans Affairs need radical surgery. It's NOT the fault of this government. Veterans have been getting short shafted for decades. Where it's becoming an issue for this government is due to its continuation of the system, not the creation of it. That is understood by all Vets I believe. Certainly those of us who had parents serve in the Second World War understand that. The Canadian public needs to understand it as well. Transformation to serve the Veteran is what is necessary. Whether labour unions like or dislike the loss of membership is irrelevant. Treat the men and women with the respect and dedication they served with. Show them Canada cares, and not that Canada just does the bare minimum..or less. That's how to fix Veterans Affairs Canada.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)