Problems at Veterans Affairs are Systematic

Reports that the personal information of Canada’s veterans, such as medical and psychiatric records, widely circulated in the Department of Veterans Affairs, have New Democrats calling for a full inquiry into the policies and practices of the department. Former Veterans Ombudsman, Pat Stogran, has fingered the bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs as being responsible for a lot of the problems our veterans face today.

While the government lurches from crisis to crisis in the department, veteran’s widows are still fighting for pensions, wounded vets from Afghanistan are being handed the equivalent of buy-outs with no pension in the future, and some veterans are finding themselves having to use food banks to get by. Does this sound like the way we should be treating the people who risked life and limb for us? I say no way.

At a press conference held when he was leaving his position as Veterans Ombudsman, Mr. Stogran had this to say about the way Canada treats the veterans and their widows. “It is beyond my comprehension how the system could knowingly deny so many of our veterans the services and benefits that the people and the government of Canada recognized a long, long time ago as being their obligation to provide.” Those are damning comments from someone who made a point of putting veterans first.

Stogran also ripped into the government’s new policy for wounded soldiers returning from service – in places like Afghanistan. He said that giving someone a huge sum of money when they return home injured from combat, often with Post-Traumatic-Stress disorder, is the wrong thing to do. Claiming that many of these soldiers had developed dependencies on alcohol and drugs, Stogran indicated that the one-time payment is inappropriate for soldiers who may not be making the wisest personal decisions at this point in their recovery. The government relented on this point this week, but only a little. They said they would spread the payments out over a few years. Many are calling for these wounded soldiers to receive appropriate pensions instead of what seems like a buyout.

Pensions are an issue that is raised continually, whenever I speak with veterans. Whether it’s the fight to have disabilities recognized or to extend pensions to spouses that veterans married after the age of 60, the subject is a constant sticking point that illustrates the difficulties people are having with the department and the government’s policies.

With critics lining up to weigh in, the ball is, again, in the government’s court. Had they listened to critics at the time, they would have delivered a Veterans Charter that addressed the issues that come up time and again. They didn’t and now there is the need for an inquiry into a department that seems to be getting more brick-bats than bouquets these days.

Soon we will be gathering for Remembrance Day ceremonies in communities all across Canada. There is no question that Canadians cherish the heavy lifting veterans did on their behalf. The government needs to both understand this and do something about the problems that plague the department of Veterans Affairs and the policies that fuel them.