Disabled Veterans Call for Ottawa Indulgence
One of Canada’s largest veterans’ organizations is urging the federal government to automatically approve the approximately 44,000 outstanding claims for disability benefits to help these veterans who are already struggling through the pandemic.
The National Council of Veteran Associations, which represents more than 60 veterans organizations across the country, recalls that this pandemic is taking a heavy toll on veterans who are already struggling with physical injuries or mental health issues.
Veterans Affairs Canada says that officials continue to process requests, teleworking from home, and that there are no immediate plans to automatically approve requests to clear the backlog. The ministry recently noted that more than 18,000 of the 44,000 pending requests were “incomplete”.
Many veterans already waited years for support – even before COVID-19. But the current crisis is not helping matters, said National Council President Brian Forbes, who is also director of Canada’s War Amps and a member of the policy advisory committee to Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay. “You have the perfect storm: things just don’t happen anymore.”
Forbes cites, for example, the fact that some veterans must be assessed by a doctor before their request is processed. However, these days, many doctors no longer see their patients in person, except in exceptional circumstances.
The federal government has long been under pressure to automatically approve applications for disability benefits for veterans, even if it means checking their eligibility later. Furthermore, approval rates are extremely high for most categories of disability, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Forbes finds it illogical that veterans have to wait for months while the government releases tens of billions of dollars to help Canadians and businesses – much of which should be paid quickly and checked later.
Veterans Affairs responded that, over the past week, more public servants assigned to disability claims have continued to work from home. “We encourage public servants to work more efficiently, using the available evidence to make the decision as quickly as possible,” ministry spokesman Josh Bueckert also said in an email.
In addition, many veterans with physical injuries can no longer obtain physiotherapy or rehabilitation because of social distancing measures. And the containment guidelines go against a key message repeated to veterans who suffer from PTSD or other mental health issues: don’t isolate yourself.