The case for a VAC ombudsman

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The case for a VAC ombudsman

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:03

The case for a VAC ombudsman

By Sean Bruyea-ESPRIT DE CORPS- July 2005-pg.13

Canada declared 2005 the year of the Veteran in honour of the almost 700,000 veterans and approximately 80,000 active members of the Canadian Forces. On March 30, 2005, Andre Marin left the office of Ombudsman for National Defence and the Canadian Forces after almost seven years of groundbreaking work.

The irony is that healthy, (for the most part) employable soldiers in DND have an independent ombudsman while disabled and often unemployable veterans do not.

This “gap in oversight” did not escape the attention of Mr. Marin: “Denying to veterans access to the Ombudsman … makes little practical sense. The door should not close on them once the scope of their problem reaches into the realm of Veterans Affairs Canada.”

This reality appears lost on many in the bureaucracy of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). When someone has been disabled as a result of his/her service to Canada while serving in the Canadian Forces, he or she has a right to assistance.

In the early 1990s, processing times for favourable decisions at VAC were approaching 18 months. This sparked a public scandal resulting in a complete overhaul of the department in 1995. Although VAC has since accelerated claim process times, the real story is not quite that simple.

The modern disabled veteran often suffers from complex medical conditions with which VAC is unfamiliar. The result: initial pension awards are often far below the reality of the disabilities suffered. Minimal awards of 20 per cent or $400/ month have been quite common for disabilities that have rendered a veteran unemployable. As a consequence, psychologically and/or physically disabled veterans are forced to enter an indescribably demoralizing review and appeal process, frequently requiring three to five years or more before receiving adequate compensation.

In spite of Auditor General reports, many veterans who receive unfavourable decisions are still being directed to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) when other more efficient, less costly, and less traumatic avenues are available.

VRAB heard 6,500 cases last year, 3,400 of which received favourable decisions. Impressive numbers, but what about the more than 3,000 other cases?

A VAC ombudsman would report on systemic problems in the department, which resulted in the veteran being forced into the difficult VRAB process in the first place. An ombudsman would have the authority to investigate complaints where other mechanisms are not available, while cutting through much of the bureaucracy for the sake of not just an individual case but for the benefit of hundreds, if not thousands, of veterans to follow.

Unfortunately, the 210,000 clients of VAC do not have an ombudsman to protect them from this confusing bureaucratic steamroller. Much of the process at VAC and VRAB is far from transparent or rife with apparent conflicts of interest. For example, a veteran is represented at the VRAB hearings by a lawyer working for and responsible to VAC, consulting files maintained by National Defence and defending the case to a board, whose members are recommended by VAC. It is in this environment that an ombudsman’s office would excel.

Ironically, the main obstacle to the creation of a VAC ombudsman comes from the Royal Canadian Legion, which claims it is the only ombudsman for all veterans. Andre Marin made a distinction between the strong advocacy of the Legion and the legal mandate of an ombudsman: “To be sure, the Canadian Legion is a magnificent organization … but it is not an institutionalized ombudsman. It does not have the powers of proactive investigation, the resources, nor the professional staff, nor does it have the power to report officially to the government and the public.”

Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of veterans do not officially belong to the Legion nor to any of the more than 100 Canadian veteran organisations. A VAC ombudsman would not replace any of these organizations, but would coexist along side them, likely enhancing the value of all while simultaneously increasing the efficiency of VAC and VRAB.

Veterans Affairs regularly responds to the veteran pleading his or her case publicly with claims that they are isolated incidents while quickly moving to put out the fire. Perhaps VAC should stop putting out fires and go after the guy with the matches.

This is what an ombudsman does best.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2005/07/the-case-for-a-vac-ombudsman/


Last edited by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:06; edited 1 time in total
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Robbing veterans of their rights

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:05

by Sean Bruyea and Tom Hoppe-THE NATIONAL POST-April 3, 2006-pg. A.14

An open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Sixty years ago, our fathers and grandfathers returned from war. In recognition of their service, they were provided with comprehensive veteran benefits. As the years passed, Canadian Forces (CF) members may have received less than Second World War veterans. But still, they were given the dignity of a lifelong pension if disabled, as well as rehabilitation and income support for their disabilities.

But the new veterans bill, C-45, which came into effect on April 1, will give less to the disabled soldier returning from Afghanistan than his father and grandfather received at the end of the two World Wars or Korea.

Under this new legislation, disabled veterans, including those returning from Afghanistan, will not be entitled to a pension, but instead will receive a lump-sum payment. The lump sum is something the veteran community opposes. It is nothing more than a callous cost-saving measure by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, the new veterans bill no longer provides a lifetime disability award payable to widows of disabled veterans.

The new bill also removes all income support for disabled veterans and their survivors after age 65. What income support is available in the new legislation pays out less than $1,200 a month and claws back other income. Since CF veterans qualify for CPP after 65, this program is an empty decoration.

Moreover, the Canadian Forces veteran will, under this new legislation, no longer have access to government-subsidized university education. Furthermore, the new bill does not address issues such as disabled veterans’ ability to qualify for mortgage and insurance benefits that average Canadians regard as essential. Previous generations of veterans were provided such assistance for reintegration into civilian life merely because they were veterans – - they did not have to be disabled. Surely CF members who serve in the hostile environments of the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and were wounded, are equally deserving of such support.

The new legislation essentially ends nine decades of social conscious in caring for disabled veterans and their families for life.

Veterans, like most Canadians, realize the means of government are not endless. But one must question why the Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan will receive dramatically less than previous generations while suffering the same disabilities. We may have changed the name for war by calling it peacekeeping, but bullets and bombs cause the same damage in Afghanistan as they did on Vimy Ridge or in Normandy.

There is a critical link between the care of veterans and the ongoing operations of the Canadian Forces. CF personnel are not naive; and many know they can no longer trust the government to care for them should they become disabled.

We ask you not to implement the bill until a detailed consultation with those most directly affected by the legislation has taken place.

Sean Bruyea, Nepean, Ont.; Tom Hoppe, Kingston, Ont.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2006/04/robbing-veterans-of-their-rights/
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Dishonouring disabled vets

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:08

While politicians heap praise on our troops, Canadian soldiers disabled in Afghanistan will receive far less than those who fought in World War II

by Robert Smol and Sean Bruyea-THE TORONTO STAR-June 19, 2006-pg. A.17

Young Canadian men and women are at war in Afghanistan. Over here, many immigrants from strife-torn regions understand all too well what war is – just as do the thousands of veterans who have served in areas such as Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Korea, and France to name only a few.

But what is difficult for many Canadians, and especially young Canadian veterans, to comprehend are the reasons for what amounts to the single biggest retreat by the Canadian government in its commitment to provide benefits to disabled Canadian Forces’ veterans.

This change was implemented by the Harper government on April 1 and represents the most regressive step taken by any Canadian government in dishonouring our men and women in uniform. Under this new legislation, Canadian soldiers disabled in Afghanistan will receive far less than their fathers and grandfathers received when they returned from the battlefields of World War II.

Gone, forever, are the pensions that older disabled veterans were once entitled to receive.

As of April 2006, the disabled soldier limping back from Afghanistan or some future military operation will, instead of a pension, receive a lump sum payment up to a maximum of $250,000, something many in the veteran community fiercely oppose.

Why do so many veterans oppose such a “buyout?”

First, the $250,000 figure only applies to the former soldier who is classified as 100 per cent disabled, which, in lay terms, means that he or she must be totally incapacitated and in no way able to actively continue with his or her life in any meaningful way.

However, the bureaucracy expects and plans to pay at an average rate of only 14 per cent, or $35,000 per disabled soldier.

To add insult to injury, for today’s veterans to receive family health care and income support, they are forced to work in a government-controlled work placement or lose all benefits.

Little wonder that the new veterans’ program is quickly earning the nickname “Canadian Forces workfare.”

Added to this burden is the fact that the new veterans’ “benefits” no longer provide for a lifetime monthly disability award payable to the widows of veterans once disabled.

Also gone is income support for disabled veterans and their survivors after they have reached age 65 – an indignity older generations of Canadian veterans did not have to endure.

What income support is available in the new legislation pays out less than $1,200 a month and claws back all other income. Since most people and all Canadian Forces veterans qualify for CPP after 65, this program is nothing more than an empty decoration.

Also gone with this new legislation are programs that would allow disabled veterans to qualify for mortgage and insurance benefits that average Canadians regard as essential.

Indeed, prior generations of veterans from the two world wars and Korea could rely on such assistance merely because they were veterans – they did not have to be disabled.

If veterans of the two world wars, who served in Canada for as little as six months – and never heard a shot fired in anger – qualified for education, mortgage and insurance benefits merely because they wore a uniform, surely CF members who were wounded while serving in the hostile environments of the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan are equally deserving of such support? How could the veteran community have stood by and allowed the government to pass such draconian legislation?

Simply put we, like the rest of the Canadian public, were deliberately kept in the dark on the details of the legislation. In a perversion of parliamentary custom and convention, the new veterans’ bill was fast-tracked through the House of Commons with absolutely no debate.

In addition, the former government refused to have this new bill reviewed by committee in the Commons where its potential impact could have been scrutinized and stakeholders, including veterans, their families and the medical doctors who treat them, would have had a chance to address their concerns.

In its defence, Veterans Affairs boasted that there was adequate consultation with the veteran community on the new legislation.

What actually happened was that a carefully selected representative from each of only six veterans’ organizations were given a car salesman version of the bill – essentially a press release – after which they were sworn to secrecy. They were not able to discuss the new legislation with their membership.

Is this consultation? Do six individuals from only six veterans’ organizations who could not consult their membership have the authority to represent the wishes of the majority of veterans?

Even if these six organizations had consulted their entire membership, they represent fewer than 20 per cent of the almost 837,000 veterans and serving members, and approximately 7 per cent of the total Canadian Forces veteran and serving member population of almost 580,000.

Furthermore, the largest of these six organizations which supported the bill, the Royal Canadian Legion, today consists mainly of people who have never served in the military. Only approximately one-third of legion membership ever wore a Canadian uniform and the new benefits do not apply to them.

Perhaps, if a veterans’ ombudsman existed, such injustice could have been avoided. The current government has promised the “immediate” creation of such an office.

However, in a bizarre twist, the bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs has been given the task of writing up the plans for a veterans’ Bill of Rights and an ombudsman.

As the saying goes, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. Giving this job to the very bureaucracy that requires oversight is unjust and wrong.

The inmates are running the asylum and the foxes are in charge of the hen house.

Robert Smol is a former member of the Canadian Forces. Capt (ret’d) Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who advocates for disabled veterans.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2006/06/dishonouring-disabled-vets/



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The New Veterans Charter: setting limits for vets

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:27

by Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol-ESPRIT DE CORPS-Jan 2007-pg. 12

Over the last year we have seen the funerals of far too many Canadian soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, over 200 soldiers were wounded in Operation Athena. These newly-disabled soldiers will join the ranks of the over 150,000 serving and former Canadian Forces members who are dealing with physical and mental disabilities resulting from their military service. But those who may become disabled as a result of their service in Afghanistan will, on average, receive far less from the Canadian government than older generations of veterans.

Last year the Conservative government implemented the New Veterans Charter, which was tabled by the previous Liberal government. This new legislation is unique in that it represents the biggest single reversal by any Canadian government in caring for disabled veterans and their families.

Today, instead of a lifelong tax-free disability pension paid to disabled veterans before April 1, 2006, the Canadian soldier limping back from Afghanistan will receive a one-time lump sum payment of up to $250,000, an amount sure to widen most eyes. However, this maximum payout only applies to the soldier who is 100 per cent disabled, meaning he or she has likely lost the capacity for self-care. In Orwellian absurdity, bureaucrats have actually planned for the level of disability to be suffered by those wounded at around 14.2 per cent, which equates to a not-so-golden handshake of $35,598.

Also terminated under this new legislation is the lifetime monthly tax-free disability award paid to widows of disabled veterans. Furthermore, today’s newly-disabled veteran will no longer be entitled to income support for themselves and their survivors after they have reached age 65. Indeed, what income support is available after age 65 in the new legislation pays out less than $1,200 a month and claws back all other income including investment and interest income from what little the veteran or survivor may have saved from the modest lump-sum payment.

Since most people and all Canadian Forces veterans also qualify for CPP after 65, the program post-65 is nothing more than a facade. In the new charter, all income support is tied to participating in a government-controlled work rehabilitation plan that does not provide free university, unlike previous veterans’ programs. Veterans and their families must continue to abide by such demeaning intrusions into their dignity until age 65. It is no surprise that this part of the new legislation has earned the well-deserved nickname “CF Workfare.”

So how could the veteran community have stood by and allowed the government to pass such draconian legislation? The answer is simple; like most of the Canadian public, the veteran community was not a party to the details of the charter. In a gross distortion of Parliamentary custom and convention, the new veterans bill was fast-tracked through the House of Commons with absolutely no debate. Moreover, the previous government refused to put the veterans’ legislation before a House of Commons committee where its potential impact could have been examined in detail.

Had this happened, veterans, their families, and the health care professionals who treat them would have had a chance to address the shortcomings of the bill.

Veterans Affairs is quick to claim that the veteran community was properly consulted. In reality, a carefully selected representative from each of only six veterans organizations was provided with an abbreviated version of the bill, essentially a press release, after which they were sworn to secrecy and were not able to discuss their knowledge of the new legislation with their membership. Is this consultation?

Most likely these disabled soldiers and their families will not be begging in the streets. However, should Canadians quietly accept that the sacrifices of the men and women in Afghanistan mean less financially than the sacrifices of those who fought in the battles of World War II and the peacekeeping missions which followed? Is a veteran disabled or killed before the new charter came into effect on April 1, 2006 worth more than a veteran disabled or killed on or after April 2, 2006?

Granted, providing adequate and fair lifetime financial and healthcare assistance to young, disabled soldiers and their families is not cheap nor are the public purses bottomless. But a just and compassionate society that truly values its democratic principles must be ready to care for those who are ordered to defend those very same values and principles. Otherwise, we should think twice before we send the next contingent of troops to fight overseas.

Sean Bruyea, a disabled veteran, served 14 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He currently works as an advocate for other disabled veterans. Robert Smol served over 20 years as an officer with the CF. He is currently a teacher and freelance writer in Toronto.

COPYRIGHT 2007 S.R. Taylor Publishing

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2007/01/the-new-veterans-charter-setting-limits-for-vets/
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Royal Canadian Legion rapidly losing its connectivity to veteran community

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:29

By Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol-THE HILL TIMES-June 4, 2007

Since its founding 80 years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion has meant many different things to Canadians. This devoted group of men and women are behind a litany of charitable initiatives in our community ranging from wheelchair access for seniors to providing scholarships to youth.

But our most profound image of the Legion remains the elderly veteran standing in front the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Each and every Remembrance Day we take these images home secure in the knowledge that this is an organization of veterans who stand up for fellow veterans.

It’s a façade.

The reality is that the Legion is rapidly losing its connectivity to the veteran community. Worse, on a political level, the Legion has done a complete about-turn on the one fundamental principle that defined its existence–ensuring that returning veterans, and especially disabled veterans and families, receive the best possible support that the nation can offer.

Last spring, the government began implementing a new veterans’ legislation passed by the former Liberal government without any debate by MPs. The national leadership of the Legion is on the record stating that “there should be no doubt whatsoever that the Royal Canadian Legion fully supports this initiative.” Yet to the rapidly-growing number of young, disabled veterans this new legislation represents the biggest single reversal by any Canadian government in caring for disabled veterans and their families.

Gone, forever, under this Legion-backed bill are the security and care that previous generations of disabled veterans enjoyed. Today, instead of a lifelong disability pension, the Canadian soldier limping back from Afghanistan will receive a one-time lump sum payment up to a maximum of $250,000. That may seem like a fair bit until one realizes that this amount only applies to the soldier who is 100 per cent disabled, meaning he or she has likely lost the capacity for self-care.

But, in true Orwellian absurdity, bureaucrats have actually planned for the level of disability to be suffered by those wounded at around 15 per cent which equates to a not-so golden handshake of $35,000.

Also under the Legion-backed legislation those who “took a bullet for Canada” and are disabled must enroll in a government-controlled vocational training and work placement program or risk losing individual benefits as well as healthcare for the family. Not surprisingly, this much-despised program is earning the title in the Canadian Forces and veteran community as “Canadian Forces Workfare.”

Also gone under this Legion-backed bill is the lifetime monthly “survivor” and “orphan” pensions payable to the widows of soldiers lost in combat. Tragically, after age 65, the widows of Canadian Afghan veterans will have to cope on their own in their years of most need.

All of this had the full support of the Royal Canadian Legion.

By such actions the Royal Canadian Legion has conspired with draconian government legislation and has sold out an entire generation of young veterans.

The Legion’s national executive stubbornly stands by the claim that the New Veterans Bill received widespread consultation among Legion membership. If this is true, how could the Legion membership have allowed this to happen?

Simply put, the majority of today’s Legion membership probably did not know any better as most of them are not veterans themselves. More than 60 per cent of Legion membership has never spent a day in a Canadian military uniform. The Legion membership has a myriad of different categories with the bottom line being anyone can potentially don the Legion uniform.

In all fairness, there were some in the Legion who spoke up about the new legislation. At one point, the leadership of the Legion’s Ontario Command astutely pointed out that “the process for introducing this major and very complex legislation was flawed and that it has been misleading to portray extensive and widespread scrutiny.” Ontario Command calls for “public analysis, debate and sober reflection,” something the National Legion leadership, and coincidentally, the bureaucrats, refuse to do.

Why has the Legion national leadership ignored the province which represents more than one-third of the entire Canadian membership? Such arrogance not only alienates the modern veterans but must surely make longstanding members question their loyalty to an out-of-touch national leadership.

Nevertheless, so as long as it can find a way to exist, the Royal Canadian Legion will continue to provide great value and much charitable service to the local community. And, no doubt, the Legion’s remaining branches will continue to serve as popular watering holes for local revelers.

But when it comes to today’s disabled veteran, the current reality is that the Legion’s composition, as well as its national politics, no longer validates its recognition and status as having a monopoly on promoting the welfare of the growing number of young, disabled Canadian veterans and their families.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He currently works as an advocate for other disabled veterans. Robert Smol served over 20 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He is currently a teacher and freelance journalist based in Toronto.

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http://www.seanbruyea.com/2007/06/royal-canadian-legion-rapidly-losing-its-connectivity-to-veteran-community/
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Delivering a personal letter to the minister of veterans affairs, er, not

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:31

It turns out that all mail addressed to the minister is filtered by four political staffers and distributed to one of the almost four thousand civil servants employed by the Veterans Affairs Department.

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-August 20, 2007

It has become a not-so-funny joke for many disabled soldiers and their families. Upon entering their local office of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) they see the following mission statement prominently displayed: To provide exemplary, client-centred services and benefits that respond to the needs of veterans, our other clients and their families.

I went to the Ottawa office of the minister of veterans affairs the other day to drop off a thank you letter. The letter concerned my disability pension, a matter that I brought to the minister’s attention 17 months ago. Part of the issue has been recently resolved.

So why would I be expressing my appreciation after a 17-month wait? Well, by current VAC standards I received a reasonable level of service. Typically the reported backlog in reimbursing disabled veterans for out-of-pocket expenses for medical care is a breakneck 10 weeks or more and initial pension decisions are running about four to six months! Each VAC caseworker has up to 1,400 veteran and widow clients.

In the meantime, veterans and their families, myself included, struggle to cope with our lives while trying to convince the bureaucracy to give us what they insist we are receiving.

My particular case would likely remain unresolved if it were not for the minister’s intervention. That is why I was bringing good news. I walked past one of the VAC posters promising “high quality services in a timely manner.”

I was buzzed into the minister’s office. The novice and confused receptionist said she had never received a letter that was destined for the minister personally.

It turns out that all mail addressed to the minister is filtered by four political staffers and distributed to one of the almost four thousand civil servants employed by the Veterans Affairs Department.

You see, the politicians don’t actually run the government. In the case of Veterans Affairs, the minister hired four political staffers, two administrative assistants, one executive assistant, one driver and seconded one bureaucrat from the department. Typically they have never spent a day in uniform (except for the driver) and have little if any experience in veterans’ issues. How can these four staffers and their support staff take on a department of almost 4,000 employees?

Well they can’t!

That is why the noble political initiative of creating a bill of rights and an ombudsman was hijacked by the very bureaucrats these initiatives were meant to oversee. The first ever Parliamentary Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, created in 2006, released its unanimously endorsed report, A Helping Hand for Veterans: A Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman. Admirably forthright and clear in its 22 recommendations, the report calls for an “independent, impartial and effective veterans ombudsman.”

The politicians strongly recommend that the office of a veteran’s ombudsman be enshrined in law so that the office’s very existence remains immutable and therefore independent. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats ignored all of the more substantive recommendations. Who wouldn’t if you were an inmate given the chance to run the asylum?

We do know the veterans’ ombudsman “will uphold the Veterans Bill of Rights and will review individual and systemic issues arising from it.” However, anyone who has taken the time to read the six rights in 80 words will tell you it is the most underwhelming of declarations which fails to contain anything not already guaranteed in statutes. The wishy-washy document completely omits any statement of equality in the treatment of veterans, nor does it honour the unique sacrifices Canada’s men and women in uniform have made for more than a century.

Much of what I feared and loathed in the VAC bureaucracy transpired on this particular encounter with the receptionist. First, she insisted that I bring my letter to the mail room on the 14th floor even though I told her it was an important personal letter. I looked at the plaque above her head: “Our Vision: To provide exemplary service which honours the sacrifice and achievements of our veterans and clients.”

I pleaded with her to take the letter and ensure that someone deliver it directly to the minister. She refused. I asked for her name at which point she threatened to call security.

Sadly, this is the way in which many meetings between disabled veterans and Veterans Affairs end. Thus have I unfortunately comforted many of my fellow soldiers who endured similar threats while cringing beneath plaques and posters lauding VAC values and ethics: We take pride in our role as public servants and are dedicated to service excellence. We are committed to responsive, quality service, delivered with timeliness, courtesy and fairness.

I surrendered in my attempts to ensure the minister received my thank you. I went down to the 14th floor (dropped off the letter) and asked for a receipt.

Understandably, I lost the goodwill to thank the minister. I left the ominous-sounding address of 16-66 Slater St. and walked up Elgin Street to my car, chuckling ironically to myself. I started to read the plaque engraved in my mind after 10 years of banging my head against the bureaucratic wall: That which War doesn’t take from us, Veterans Affairs is only too eager to humiliate.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces. He now volunteers as an advocate for disabled veterans.

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http://www.seanbruyea.com/2007/08/delivering-a-personal-letter-to-the-minister-of-veterans-affairs-er-not/
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Veterans awaiting an ombudsman

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:33

The Toronto Star-September 21, 2007

Sean Bruyea

Canada ‘s hidden tragedy in Afghanistan, seldom reported in detail in the media, is that at least 228 Canadians have been wounded and will likely require some form of long-term assistance for their disability in the future.

This does not include psychological injuries such as post- traumatic stress disorder, which could affect 10 per cent or more of the approximately 20,000 soldiers who have served in Afghanistan since 2002. Nor the more than 200,000 veteran and widow clients already requiring assistance.

So it should come as no surprise that Canadians want to ensure the bureaucracy is indeed caring for our soldiers and their families, including the families of the fallen.

That is why the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs was created. In February, it released a unanimously endorsed report titled A Helping Hand for Veterans: A Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman. Admirably forthright and clear in its 22 recommendations, the report calls for an “independent, impartial and effective veterans ombudsman.”

Unfortunately, the transparent and accountable process Canadians have demanded and government has promised in creating the office has been virtually non-existent.

We do know the veterans ombudsman “will uphold the Veterans Bill of Rights and will review individual and systemic issues arising from it.” But that document, which lists six rights already guaranteed in other statutes, omits any statement of equality in the treatment of veterans. And it fails to honour the unique sacrifices Canada’s men and women in uniform have made for more than a century.

Betty Hinton, parliamentary secretary to the minister of veterans affairs, has said the Veterans Bill of Rights “is meant to be a complement. The heavy hammer is the ombudsman.”

However, it appears the process to create the veterans ombudsman has abandoned the substantive recommendations contained in the committee’s report. The ombudsman’s office will not be legislated, nor will it have the necessary robust powers of investigation, such as the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, take testimony under oath or enter any relevant premises as required.

By contrast, all Canadian provinces except Prince Edward Island have legislated ombudsmen with these important investigative powers. And the Canada Revenue Agency has announced both a Bill of Rights and an ombudsman, neither of which was mentioned in the Conservative election platform. In sharp contrast to the Veterans Bill of Rights, the CRA Bill of Rights has 20 substantive rights, most of them new.

What are Canadian soldiers in and out of uniform to think when they are repeatedly told that the Department of Veterans Affairs “exists to repay the nation’s debt of gratitude toward those whose courageous efforts have given us this legacy, and have contributed to our growth as a nation?”

The federal bureaucracy has been in control of the process for creating the ombudsman, but having the bureaucracy decide the details of its own oversight is scandalous.

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, who also was the first Canadian Forces ombudsman, has publicly defended veterans from the “self-serving,” “hardened and entrenched bureaucracy” that “has opposed a veterans ombudsman for as long as (he) can remember.”

Like his predecessor, current Canadian Forces Ombudsman Yves Côte has emphasized that “the veterans ombudsman will require a clear and robust legislated mandate.” Legislation is imperative for “an independent, impartial and effective” ombudsman’s office.

Canadian men and women endure bullets, bombs and the resulting injuries and death to bring stability and good government to troubled nations. Senior bureaucrats should be able to endure legislated oversight to ensure our soldiers return home to good government in Canada.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2007/09/veterans-awaiting-an-ombudsman/
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Making the right choice for injured soldiers

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:34

Five reports from two different DND ombudsmen called the deductions ‘profoundly’ and ‘fundamentally unfair’ while the latest ombudsman Yves Cote indicates ‘the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-September 24, 2007

OTTAWA–For a soldier, the battlefield is often rendered in black and white in order to minimize the time to make that crucial decision which saves lives. For a disabled soldier, the grey and convoluted world of disability programs becomes a life-threatening obstacle course of attrition and shame. This is precisely why the unfair deductions from a soldier’s long-term disability plan known as SISIP (Service Income Security Insurance Plan) has become such a banner cause: it is a wrong which is clearly wrong.

Five reports from two different DND ombudsmen called the deductions “profoundly” and “fundamentally unfair” while the latest ombudsman Yves Cote indicates “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation.” Parliament has passed a motion and all parties have unanimously urged a cessation to these deductions.

Meanwhile, federal bureaucrats have played a strategy of defence. As each of the bureaucratic excuses to avoid righting this wrong has been defeated in the court of public opinion, the bureaucrats have erected a new defence creating a Maginot Line of sorts. The first obstacle erected was the successful attempt to avoid any consultation or discussion on the issue. Delays eventually forced court action which provided the bureaucrats with further excuses to avoid doing the right thing.

Eventually the defence increased in density to the point where bureaucrats attempted to smother any intention to resolve the issue. This was quickly topped up with predictions of financial Armageddon should the government actually do what is right and provide the financial compensation that is necessary and fair. In this case, André Bouchard, president of SISIP, reported that the cost of doing the right thing had ballooned from $5-million annually as reported by the prior president, Pierre Lemay, to $320-million to remedy the entire problem of the unfair deductions.

Therein lies the real obstacle: money. But, is it really an obstacle? An unexplained $320-million would certainly paralyse any government. Certainly $5-million would create fewer obstacles.

Why the difference? First, SISIP was forced to reduce the amount to $275-million from $295-million by the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions. This amount, however, includes seven years of retroactivity as well as all costs going forward until disabled soldiers are no longer eligible for the SISIP payments at age 65. Assuming the average age of soldiers affected is 45 years old now, the plan would pay out for about 20 more years.

To get a rough idea, one merely needs to divide the seven years of retroactivity plus the 20 years going forward into $275-million to arrive at an annual cost of approximately $10-million.

When that $10-million is divided by the approximately 4,000 soldiers affected, the average annual cost is $2,500 per soldier per year for the next 20 years. Deputy ministers earn about 20 times that amount in their annual bonus.

Therefore, the unfair deductions could be stopped right now for far less than the annual cost of the salaries and bonuses of all the 50 or so deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers combined.

For many despondent disabled soldiers, especially those suffering psychological injuries, each day they must make the unwanted choice between taking a shower or taking their lives. Often, such epic personal battles are fought in quiet struggles, attempting to reintegrate into a world so very different from the military which promised to care for the soldier, no matter what.

Lately, however, many soldiers wonder why they sacrificed their health and the stability of their families. Such sacrifices seem hardly justified. Disabled soldiers must unnecessarily endure intransigent bureaucrats wearing down feckless attempts of successive governments while haphazardly creating discriminatory disability policy for the soldiers without the input of the injured soldiers. These are the same senior bureaucrats and Members of Parliament whose disability plan is free at the taxpayers’ expense and their plan is not allowed to deduct pension act disability payments.

It is time to go around the Maginot Line of excuses as disabled soldiers will never win the war against hardened and entrenched bureaucrats. Perhaps those senior Canadian officials can think about the choices a disabled soldier is making today in Halifax, Trois Rivières, Prince Albert, or, Chilliwack and then the bureaucrats can make the right choice by stopping the unfair deductions immediately.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces. He currently volunteers as an advocate for other disabled veterans.

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The Many Faces of Bravery

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:36

by Sean Bruyea in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada

Living with post-traumatic stress disorder or any psychological injury related to military service is difficult at the best of times. For the person who suffers from an operational stress injury (OSI), performing basic daily functions can be overwhelming. Often times, families and friends also bear the burden of care and confusion when they try to help their loved ones cope.

Those shared challenges were the focal point of the 2nd National Symposium on OSIs. Ste. Anne’s Hospital hosted the international conference in Montréal in May. More than 400 experts gathered to discuss their experiences, treatments, and ideas about psychological injuries. Great progress is being made in researching and recognizing these traumas. In fact, eight brave people courageously spoke first-hand about their personal battles with OSIs. Veterans Michel Dejardin, Tom Martineau, Christian MacEachern, and Sean Bruyea, sat on a discussion panel and talked about how OSIs have changed their lives. On another panel, family members of Veterans, Anne Préfontaine, Paule Laroche, Elizabeth Aitkins and Chantal Ménard, shared their difficulties and pressures of trying to help their loved ones get through the day. Their testimonials were poignant, eye-opening—and even tragically funny—but they were always very personal and very human.

The panel discussions complemented the clinical presentations and allowed the people who suffer from OSIs to talk directly to the people who help or treat them. This unique exchange and valuable experience will help us provide better care, services, and programs to our clients.

With the help of people who bravely speak out about OSIs and other psychological injuries, Ste. Anne’s Hospital National Centre for Operational Stress Injuries and Veterans Affairs Canada will continue to promote better understanding, care and treatment in these areas.

The editorial staff salutes Sean Bruyea, Captain (retired), who helped prepare this article.

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2007/10/the-many-faces-of-bravery/
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Civil servants and soldiers: some are more equal than others

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:38

Except for the benefit initially calculated at five per cent more than the civil service plans, the Canadian Forces disability plan falls short in several important provisions.

By Robert Smol and Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES- October 8, 2007

There’s one thing a soldier manning a machine gun in Afghanistan and a civil servant manning a desk in Ottawa or Gatineau have in common: neither is likely aware of the details of their long-term disability plan, at least not until tragedy strikes.

But soldiers may be forgiven if they assume that the military’s long-term disability (LTD) plan is on par with the civil service plan. Both civil servants and soldiers have additional benefits for work-related injuries. However, a closer look at the LTD plans of both gives a barometer of sorts as to how the government compensates those in public service, in and out of uniform. Indeed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed the belief of the vast majority of Canadians when he stated that “military service is the highest form of public service.”

Enter now the financial reality of risking your life for Canada and the world 24 hours a day. When comparing the military and civilian long-term disability plans one sees that the LTD plans afforded to the civil service are in key areas considerably more generous than those granted to members of the Canadian Forces. This situation appears counterintuitive as it is widely recognized that the personal lives of soldiers on average endure greater strain than that of most civil servants. It is in the personal lives when LTD plans are most relevant.

Should a Member of Parliament or bureaucrat injure themselves falling down the stairs of their basement or cottage receive better long-term disability coverage than a military person disabled in a car accident driving home late from the military base?

“This is a golden parachute that they have compared to our lead parachute,” says retired sergeant Ron Cundell, a disabled Gulf War veteran who lives near Barrie, Ont. “Their whole disability benefits and pension plan is so different from ours. I have had a lot of my friends who are still in the Forces call me and say, ‘We’ve got to educate ourselves.’ ”

There are two plans for employees of the federal civil service: Disability Insurance (DI) for employees covered by collective bargaining, and the Public Service Management Insurance Plan (PSMIP) for those in management not included in collective bargaining. PSMIP also has a sub-category: executives with enhanced benefits. Mandarins in the EX, SX categories as well as deputy ministers, EAs to ministers, Members of Parliament and Senators have their long-term disability paid for 100 per cent by Treasury Board. Senior officers in the CF with the rank of full colonel and above also enjoy this ‘free’ benefit via the Service Income Security Insurance Plan LTD or SISIP.

On the other hand, federal civil servants covered under collective bargaining, pay 15 per cent of the premium. Treasury Board covers the rest. But what is truly unique about the Canadian system is that a member of the military is required to pay out-of- pocket to help cover the costs of their own disability benefits, even if that injury occurs while on duty. Although other Veterans Affairs benefits kick in for duty-related injuries, in the area of income loss, SISIP is the ‘first-payer’ for LTD for which the soldier also pays 15 per cent of their disability insurance premium while Treasury Board pays the difference.

On the receiving end, except for the benefit initially calculated at five per cent more than the civil service plans, the CF disability plan falls short in several important provisions.

To begin with both PSMIP and DI are not allowed to deduct ‘Pension Act’ monthly awards for pain and suffering, but the military’s SISIP plan deducts every dollar of the Veterans Affairs monthly disability award. This serves as an insulting testament to the military service of the more than 4,000 injured soldiers who are collecting or have collected SISIP LTD benefits since October 2000 and are therefore too disabled to work.

“A VAC award is also referred to as a gratuity and, by definition, a gratuity means a, ‘Thank you in appreciation,’ ” says Cundell. “So when Canada and the government thank me for loss of health and quality of life to my face, the bureaucrats are behind me picking my pocket of that gratuity. So to a disabled veteran gratuity has a completely different definition, compliments of the bureaucrats.”

“Something is wrong here, very wrong,” says retired corporal Kevin Landry a disabled veteran who served as a driver during the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. “We don’t have the right to public assembly or protest in uniform and once we are out we are scattered across the country. If we were a smaller country we would have gotten together to have this problem looked at.”

And in spite of the fact that the current and previous military ombudsmen have called for an end to these deductions, nothing has been done to date. This, in spite of the fact that the ombudsmen’s recommendations were supported by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs not to mention a majority of MPs who last year passed the Veterans First Motion which included the requirement for the government to “eliminate the unfair reduction of SISIP.”

“Back when I was a sergeant, if I made a promise to my subordinates I either carried through with that promise or I told them exactly why I could not follow through–I did not leave them hanging and that is how I kept their respect,” says Cundell.

Another hallmark of the government’s disability caste system is the fact that PSMIP and certain senior military officers also receive life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment and dependent’s insurance, premiums for which are covered 100 percent by Canadian taxpayers. These plans continue to be paid for by the federal government even when the executives must go on long term disability. Canada’s disabled soldiers receive nothing like this.

While annual increases are capped in both plans, the civil service plan nonetheless allows for 50 per cent more annual increases than the Canadian Forces’ plan which is capped at two per cent. Considering that inflation (Consumer Price Index) has been above two per cent in five of the past seven years, the CF plan’s advantage in benefit payout would be eroded in short order.

Furthermore, federal bureaucrats can continue contributing to their retirement pensions while on an LTD rehabilitation program, a provision not granted to our wounded soldiers. For veterans such as Cundell, whose medical condition forced him to retire two months shy of his full 20-year military pension, this limitation serves as an especially difficult pill to swallow.

“You were told from day one sign this paper and we will take care of you if you get sick,” he says. “Well you did not tell me that it was going to be an adversarial program that was going to put the blocks on me every time I turned around.”

Paradoxically, the civil service plan does not deduct CF retirement pension if awarded due to a medical release from the CF but the Forces disability plan deducts this important benefit. For Kevin Landry, fate and government policy denied him any opportunity to collect a military pension.

“I failed my medical and I couldn’t buy back my time,” he says. “I did everything to keep my job and still it wasn’t enough.”

Corporal Landry was medically released with six years regular force service and six years in the reserves. Since he did not have 10 years in the regular force, he did not qualify for a Canadian Forces retirement pension. Federal bureaucrats, however, qualify for a retirement pension after only two years service if disabled.

Although qualification for both plans does not stipulate whether the disability is caused in the workplace or not, there is a dramatic difference in how the two plans are administered. Civil servants can still be employed in their original position on partial work hours and collect LTD. Canadian Forces members must leave the forces first before collecting benefits. There is no provision which allows CF members to return to work on partial hours and still collect LTD.

Finally, Treasury Board will step in and cover deficits accrued by two of the four disability plans they govern (PSMIP, DI, SISIP and RCMP) but this guarantee does not include the plan covering Canada’s soldiers.

It all boils down to compensating risk. The investment world understands this very well: higher risk requires higher reward. The investment Canada’s government has made in our soldiers has this fundamental law backwards. Most Canadians would easily dispute that a desk-bound senior bureaucrat in Ottawa or even a rear echelon general faces more risk than the frontline soldiers in bases across Canada or in Afghanistan.

“We have to go to war even if it is against our will,” says Landry. “There is a huge difference; we are soldiers; but all the while we in the most dangerous jobs get screwed.”

SISIP refused to return our calls to them on this topic.

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now and advocate for other disabled veterans. Robert Smol served over 20 years in the Canadian Forces. He is currently a teacher and a freelance journalist in Toronto.

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A Remembrance Day to remember, or, a way forward for Canada’s first-ever veterans’ ombudsman

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:40

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-November 5, 2007

OTTAWA–Remembrance Day 2007 will be unlike any other. On Nov. 11, 2007 Canadian veterans, CF soldiers and their families will finally receive their first officially appointed Ombudsman for Veterans Affairs Canada.

Eight years after André Marin became the first DND/CF Ombudsman, Colonel Pat Stogran will have a no less difficult time trail-blazing through what has become known as an arcane and entrenched bureaucracy. Veterans Affairs Canada is responsible in whole or in part for more than 50 pieces of legislation and regulations for veterans and serving a CF population of more than 900,000. When families, including widows, are added in, the number of potential clients of the Ombudsman’s Office reaches into the stratosphere of millions of Canadians.

Fortunately for the ombudsman, not all veterans and their families are clients of Veterans Affairs. Although there are over 220,000 veteran and family clients receiving benefits, the department has been quick to point out that more than 85 per cent are satisfied with their service from Veterans Affairs Canada. That should be comforting for Stogran when only 30,000 unsatisfied clients start calling his office with a complaint.

Veterans should not be too anxious to have their problems addressed anytime soon. The Ombudsman’s Office has but an interim skeleton staff right now. The new ombudsman will likely require more than eight months or more into the New Year to hire, train, and coordinate his staff to take on the first serious investigations. This should give much required breathing time for the senior bureaucrats at Veterans Affairs to avoid dealing with the long laundry list of issues in need of immediate repair.

The creation of the ombudsman has powerful allies, especially in the first-ever standing Committee on Veterans Affairs which was created in large part for such initiatives as the ombudsman. However, like its work on the Bill of Rights, the committee’s excellent and unanimous report has been all but ignored. Sadly, the process to create the veterans’ ombudsman has abandoned any of the 22 substantive recommendations from the committee’s report. The Ombudsman’s Office will not be legislated nor will it have the necessary robust powers of investigation such as the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, take testimony under oath or enter any relevant premises as required.

By contrast all Canadian provinces have legislated ombudsman offices (except Prince Edward Island) with these important investigative powers.

Whether a soldier has served in World War II, Korea, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Cold Lake Alberta, upon release from the Forces, the soldier is called a veteran. The ombudsman will likely be asked why veterans’ benefits are being designed to create three separate classes of veterans, each with sub-classes. War veterans from World War II and Korea receive entirely different benefits than veterans of Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Gulf War who receive yet again different benefits than veterans after April 1, 2006, when the lifelong disability payments were replaced with a lump sum payment under the New Veterans Charter.

No doubt a high priority for the ombudsman will be the outstanding decisions affecting World War II veterans who are tragically dying at the rate of 2,500 per month. The ombudsman will be frustrated watching Canada’s bravest pass on without receiving just compensation. His office will not be allowed to visit cases of individual veterans if “there is a right of review or appeal to the [Veterans Review and Appeal] Board.” Unfortunately, the inhumanity of making any injured soldiers let alone aging veterans go through years of reviews and appeals when the injustice is glaringly obvious will be a poignant shortfall in the ombudsman’s powers.

It is dealing with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board [VRAB] and the Bureau of Pension Advocate lawyers that serve the veterans that the ombudsman will be most disappointed. The bureaucratically controlled process to create the ombudsman’s mandate ensured that the ombudsman cannot interfere with “any decision of the board” nor can the office confront the sometimes questionable “legal advice provided by the Bureau of Pension Advocates.” André Marin, the first CF ombudsman and now the Ontario ombudsman, testified publicly regarding a veterans’ ombudsman stepping in to look at a file before the board, “There is nothing in our common law that would prevent that kind of intervention.”

Ironically, it was because of the real and perceived injustices in the board and the lawyers which spearheaded the calls for creating a veterans ombudsman.

Hopefully the new veterans ombudsman will actively pursue joint reports with the DND ombudsman on such outstanding scandals as the unfair deductions of Veterans’ Affairs pain and suffering payments from the Canadian Forces Long Term Disability policy (which remain unresolved). At the same time, soldiers are often lost in the hand-off between the responsive, reactive, and reinforcing culture of the military to the often defensive denial and dismissive delays which characterize the administration of disability benefits in Veterans Affairs. Coordination of the two offices in thoroughly investigating and evaluating joint programs could prevent much pain and suffering.

Undoubtedly, there will be many hands attempting to meddle in the ombudsman’s pie. The order in council requires the ombudsman to have an advisory committee “taking into consideration the need for representation from veterans’ and stakeholders’ groups.” Up until now, Veterans Affairs has thrown a few slim pickings to only six veterans groups in secretive discussions. This situation leaves behind more than 60 groups which the department has ignored along with the more than 600,000 unaffiliated veterans. Meanwhile, the department backed by the leadership of these six organizations championed haphazardly written legislation such as the New Veterans Charter without any meaningful or widespread consultations, let alone public or Parliamentary debate.

Perhaps rotating membership would offer most groups representation over time. Meanwhile, creative methods of reaching out to the unaffiliated majority of veterans/CF members and their families would do much to rebuild the horribly broken trust between the government and especially the disabled soldiers and their families. Furthermore, the use of special investigators contracted on a part time basis similar to the DND Ombudsman’s Office would also help circumvent bureaucratic reflex responses from the department and from certain larger veterans groups such as the national leadership of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The list of systemic problems, unjustly administered programs and failures to fulfill the department’s mandate is indeed exhaustive. However, there are two key areas which the new ombudsman can most effectively make his mark and bring about widespread reform. There needs to be a sea change in the often isolated senior leadership in Veterans Affairs. Too few if any of these senior mandarins truly understand the cohesive military culture and the traumatic effects on individual soldiers when they are shamefully evicted from the CF due to disability.

Secondly, the secretive and evasive management has been highly adept at avoiding any real controversy over the years, especially since the move of the head office to Charlottetown in the early 1980s.The ombudsman can once and for all remove the veil of secrecy which has allowed the department to take a band-aid approach to limited public scandal while the systemic wounds continue to fester, hidden from public view.

In his first public statements upon being appointed ombudsman, Stogran said that he is “not going to hesitate to call a spade a shovel.” These may be prophetic words. Considering he is starting handcuffed by a limited mandate, Canada’s first veterans’ ombudsman will need more than a shovel (or a spade) to clear a path through decades of maladministration and poorly constructed and administered policy at the Department which has frequently allowed tens of thousands of injured soldiers, veterans and their families to fall through the cracks.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces. He currently volunteers as an advocate for other disabled veterans.

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Veterans Affairs Canada: Well-Oiled Machine or Department in Crisis?

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:43

by Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol-THE HILL TIMES-January 21, 2008

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has a lot on its plate: an unexpectedly large number of wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan, 2,000 or more World War 2 veterans passing away each month, the appointment of the first-ever ombudsman and introducing the single largest change in veterans benefits in 60 years. While the department paints a rosy picture of effectiveness and client satisfaction, many observers and veterans point to a department in crisis, with top-heavy over centralization, insensitivity to clients and overworked frontline staff.

“The bureaucrats are afraid to pop their head out into the real world for fear of becoming a ‘whak-a-mole’ and getting hit on the head” said retied Sergeant Ron Cundell a physically disabled veteran living near Barrie, Ont. “They don’t look beyond the tables that are in front of them. They have no proper medical training so how can they truly understand a medical report.”

Veterans Affairs is the only government department with its head office located outside Ottawa. Not counting their only hospital, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Veterans Affairs has just over 2,700 full time equivalents working in veterans programs, benefits and healthcare. More than 66 per cent of those positions are located in various headquarters, leaving only 33 per cent of the workforce or less than 900 personnel to care for the 220,000 clients of Veterans Affairs.

The labyrinthine bureaucracy did not escape the eye of the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs last month. Liberal Senator Colin Kenny (Rideau, Ont.) commented to the current Deputy Minister Suzanne Tining that the departmental organization chart reminded him “of the organization chart of Homeland Security in the United States” subsequently qualifying his reference with “I was not being complimentary.”

“You are thrown into miles and miles of red tape” said Cundell “What sort of quality of life is that? That consumed me for the first three years of my illness-having to go through all the levels of Veteran Affairs then go to the Supreme Court of Canada for a federal court judge to say in one day ‘he deserves his pension, give it to him”

Only 10 years ago it was the Canadian Forces which found itself being criticized for many of the same reasons Veterans Affairs Canada is now under the gun. However, National Defence has since undergone a ‘revolution’ of sorts. The path to many welcome changes in the CF started in large part as a result of Parliamentary hearings wrapped-up in 1998 by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. These hearings toured the country’s bases taking input directly from soldiers and their families.

“DND seems to be doing a lot of introspective analysis” said retired army intelligence officer Captain Perry Gray a disabled veteran suffering from PTSD . “But on the other end there doesn’t seem to be anything done by VAC. When a person leaves DND there isn’t the same level of treatment provided by Veterans Affairs-I think it’s worse.”

It is a point that is disputed by Ken Miller, director of program policy for Veterans Affairs who claims that under the New Veterans Charter passed in April 2006 disabled veterans will encounter a “seamless transition.”

“The New Veterans Charter created an access point right at the time of release where there is interaction between the veteran and us, and between us and National Defence to ensure that there is continuity as the veteran transitions from life in the military and support of their disability during the last period of time that they were in the military to support under Veterans Affairs” he said. “It is not an entitlement eligibility type of system it is a needs-based system; that is really what is quite critical now.”

If current trends continue, Veterans Affairs will be confronted with a growing queue of younger disabled vets, seeking assistance especially in the area of psychological injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In its 2006-07 performance report submitted to the Treasury Board, Veterans Affairs states that “over the past five years the number of clients with PTSD has more than tripled, increasing to 6,504″.

Janice Summerby of Veterans Affairs explains , “there are currently a total of 10,882 Veterans receiving disability benefits for psychological conditions, including PTSD.”

Yet Veterans Affairs’ only hospital, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in Montreal provides mostly geriatric care to aging veterans. There are five clinics across Canada which offer limited outpatient care for psychological injuries such as PTSD. One of those clinics is located at Sainte-Anne’s.

In spite of the growing numbers of Canadian Forces veterans suffering from PTSD, Sainte-Anne’s hospital provides only four beds to treat psychological injuries of military service.

“I was basically shocked by the whole thing” said Gray who was once temporarily admitted to Sainte-Anne’s but was subsequently discharged against his wishes and under heavy medication. “It was a case of take two aspirins and call me in the morning.”

Added to this is the additional stress and frustration that a soldier suffering from PTSD has to go through attempting to jump through the bureaucratic hoops in order to receive assistance.

“Some of the forms they have to fill out, especially those going through PTSD, that in itself can give you PTSD” says NDP Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore, N.S.), his party’s veterans affairs critic. “The Minister should have honoured what he said he was going to do in the first place which is that the benefit of the doubt will always fall upon the veteran. There must be a tremendous amount of people who just said I give up.”

South of the border the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has more than 150 hospitals, almost 900 clinics and more than 200 veteran support centres dedicated to the care of veterans. Each of these facilities offers mental health care and all veterans’ hospitals have dedicated beds for veterans suffering psychological injuries.

In Canada a primary concern remains the management of the limited funds dedicated to veterans’ care. It was during last month’s hearing that Senator Kenny challenged Deputy Minister Tining, “if you could eliminate various positions and hearings, the business case might even turn out that you would save money and in fact increase benefits.”

While the Deputy Minister testified she “could not agree more” with Sen. Kenny, Ms. Tining declined to answer the question regarding “overhead versus payout.” The Associate Deputy Minister Verna Bruce responded that it was “about $250 million.”

The Department’s annual report signed by Ms. Tining tells a different story. Veterans Affairs spends 30 cents of every dollar or $1 billion of its $3 billion budget on funding “overhead”. But on the healthcare side, the inefficiency is even more pronounced with 71 cents of every dollar covering overhead and only 29 cents making it to the veteran’s care. Of more than $1 billion budgeted to the healthcare division, only $266 million is paid out for veterans’ treatment.

By contrast, the US Department of Veterans Affairs spends only 10 cents of every dollar on operating costs with approximately 90 cents going directly to the veteran in the form of benefits or medical care. The U.S. has 100 times more employees in their healthcare division than Canada but its budget at $37 billion is only 37 times as large as the healthcare budget of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Comparison with the oft-criticized Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) paints a picture at Veterans Affairs of a productivity-challenged organization. OHIP is projected to spend approximately $280 million to administer $12.9 billion in payments for healthcare this year. This equates to an operating cost of 2.1 cents for every dollar paid out for the healthcare of Ontario’s residents.

Veterans Affairs spends $2.70 cents to manage every dollar that it pays out for healthcare, almost 130 times more than the 2.1 cent cost incurred by OHIP to manage each of Ontario’s healthcare dollars.

“I’m disgusted by it all,” said Gray. “If the Department truly cared about its clientele, it would spend more time and effort on providing services and benefits rather than publicizing the results of their stilted client surveys.”

On the front lines the area counsellors who deal directly with veterans on health care issues, have a reported case load of 1,200 or more clients, reportedly limiting them to contact clients only once every three years. Furthermore, VAC workers especially those in the front line have been quickly trying to add the details of the benefits under the New Veterans Charter to a repertoire of programs and benefits developed over the past sixty years.

“It is pure insanity; they are pulling their hair out” said Cundell who also sits on a panel advising the office which serves Toronto and the surrounding area. “We need more Indians not more chiefs. It’s time to change the culture in Veterans Affairs.”

Mr. Miller, though, is quick to point out that number of cases that a counsellor handles should not on its own be taken as an indication of the amount of work or the actual time they may have to deal with the needs of their clients.

“It is not really a case management number, it is the number of clients in a particular area recognizing that not all necessarily need to be case managed, and not all are case managed at the same level of intensity” he said.

Veterans Affairs has yet to face the anticipated wave of wounded military to be covered by the New Veterans Charter. The Canadian Forces have made a concerted effort to retain even severely wounded soldiers from the Afghan conflict protecting them from what they might encounter should they be released.

“I am aware that DND and the Chief of the Defence Staff have made a commitment to not release currently serving members who have been impacted or injured” said Ms. Tining to the Senate subcommittee meeting. “As a result, we have not yet seen as clients any who have been released from the Afghanistan conflict.”

“In terms of providing services, they are really not doing enough for the modern veteran,” emphasizes Chief Editor of ‘veteranvoice.info’, Capt. Gray. He does not hold much hope for the wounded returning from Afghanistan when they are passed off to Veterans Affairs, “Nothing in my personal experience has shown me that [Veterans Affairs] is going to provide the level and quality of service required to ensure the necessary quality of life…[Veterans Affairs] is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Sean Bruyea is a retired Captain and disabled soldier who served as an Intelligence Officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.Robert Smol served for 20 years in the Canadian Forces. He is currently a teacher and freelance journalist in Toronto.

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Veterans Affairs Minister Thompson should be building trust and showing more compassion

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:47

If Veterans Affairs is being operated so well, why was there a need to create a veterans ombudsman office to address all the problems which don´t exist?

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-Published February 4, 2008

When a Cabinet minister takes a public shot at any Canadian citizen, Canadians take notice. In this case, the minister of Veterans Affairs took aim at two Canadian veterans, (“Obvious facts missing from story, says Veterans Affairs Minister Thompson,“ The Hill Times, Jan 28, p.10). As one of two persons targeted in that personal attack, I went through a period of not-so-calm reflection after settling upon the sincere wish to thank the minister for reading our article. Did we get our facts wrong? Did we miss “obvious” facts?

The first is easier to answer, the latter is highly subjective. A better question would be: did we stand up for those who are least able to stand up for themselves: the dead, the dying, the wounded soldiers, and the families who care for them?

The minister used the term “overhead” in addressing the costs to deliver services to the injured soldiers and their families. It appears that the minister has taken a more narrow definition of “overhead” which does not include costs of labour and materials.

However, in our previous article (“Veterans Affairs: well-oiled machine or department in crisis?” The Hill Times, Jan 21, p. 34) we explained our use of the term to include all operating expenses as the total cost of delivering treatment and services to the disabled soldiers and their families. In that sense, we were consistent with the “Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) 2006-2007 Performance Report,” signed by the minister on pages one and six and yet again twice by the deputy minister.

The report states that “total operating expenses” for VAC were $916-million out of total expenditures of $3.037-billion. VAC shows similar percentages for at least the prior two years. That means that the department spends more than 30 cents to administer every dollar which is almost 15 times the 2.1 cent cost incurred by OHIP in managing each of Ontario´s healthcare dollars.

What is even more interesting is that employees´ salaries were $292-million for the entire department yet according to the same report “treatment expenditures for 2006-07 were $266.1-million.” Since ´operating expenditures´ for the healthcare (treatment) side of the department were $723-million, only 30 cents of every dollar makes it to the veterans care and 70 cents is absorbed by the Department´s operating expenses.

There are bigger questions here than debating the definition of ´overhead´ or throwing about rhetoric. The truth is that Canadians know that there is something ´wrong´ at Veterans Affairs. We know that there is too much red tape. We know the department is top-heavy and inefficient. We know that the front line staff and many of the more junior positions in Charlottetown, P.E.I., are overworked. We know that too many disabled veterans and their struggling families fall through the cracks.

That is why all parties endorsed the creation of a veterans ombudsman. The committee report, A Helping Hand for Veterans: Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman, called for a legislated and truly independent ombudsman with real powers of investigation. Sadly, the process to create the veterans ombudsman has abandoned any of the substantive recommendations contained in the committee´s report.

Nevertheless, the question must be asked, if Veterans Affairs is being operated so well, then why was there a need to create an office to address all the problems which don´t exist?

The minister is likely correct in saying that spending on veterans has increased by $523-million or will have by the end of 2007-08. Approximately $400-million of that increase was legislated before the Minister took office. Half of that or $200 million was due to legislated increases in the monthly disability award of 7.1 per cent in 2006, 2.3 per cent in 2007 and 2.0 per cent in 2008. This may seem like a sweet deal for the disabled veterans until one realizes that the monthly award is calculated to mirror the greater of inflation or the after tax income of “unskilled members of the federal public administration.”

The remaining $200-million will have been paid out in one-time lump sum payments which replace the lifelong monthly disability payments for soldiers injured after April 1, 2006. Is such as golden handshake treating “our courageous men and women…with respect and dignity”?

I want to thank the minister for another thing. When a veteran asks for help or publicly identifies a problem, Veterans Affairs should make it personal. The care of disabled soldiers and their families should always be personal, except that this personal care should be characterized by compassion and respect and not defensive lashing out.

The bottom line is that the minister and the entire department exist for and because of veterans and their families. Even if one disabled veteran or their family says there is something wrong, then Veterans Affairs needs to listen and say, “How can we fix the problem? How can we help?” Perhaps then, dialogue can begin, trust can be rebuilt and services can be improved while directly including the very clients Veterans Affairs is legislated to serve.

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/02/veterans-affairs-minister-thompson-should-be-building-trust-and-showing-more-compassion/
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Cheating our veterans

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:49

By Sean Bruyea-THE NATIONAL POST-February 14, 2008.

This Valentine’s Day, thousands of cards and good wishes will be sent to soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan. But back home, a very different sentiment is being shown to more than 4,200 injured soldiers. While Canadians honour and thank our soldiers serving abroad, many disabled military members are forgotten once their uniforms come off.

Since October, 2000, Canadian law stipulates that a wounded soldier can collect his full salary as well as pain and suffering payments. If a soldier is so wounded as to be unemployable, he must be forced out of the military and paid a salary reduced to 75% of his previous income — with pain-and-suffering payments deducted from the new, lower income. The injustice of this deduction policy attracted the attention of the standing committee on national defence and veterans affairs in 2003, which passed a motion imploring the minister of national defence to stop the deductions. Ironically, the current minister of national defence, Peter MacKay, as well as the current prime minister, president of the treasury board and minister of veterans affairs were all associate members of that committee when the motion was passed.

And yet nothing has been done to right this wrong. The reason is simple: The bureaucrats standing in the way of a just policy have little idea what it means to serve in the military. Ironically, these same senior bureaucrats receive free disability plans, paid for by Canadian taxpayers — and their plan does not deduct pain and suffering payments.

Since Tuesday, a Halifax courtroom has been hearing a request to certify a class-action lawsuit that would force the federal government to stop deducting pain-and-suffering payments from disabled soldiers’ long-term disability plans. The judge has read an affidavit from Andre Bouchard, the president of the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP), the disability plan mandatory for all Canadian forces personnel. Mr. Bouchard, who in fact served in the military for almost 30 years, claims that should the SISIP plan stop deducting pain and suffering payments, the result would be “exorbitant premiums which would impose significant hardship on the members of the Canadian Forces.”

But how much more expensive would the higher premiums actually be? Currently, a corporal in the military pays approximately $9.40 per month for the long-term disability policy. Mr. Bouchard predicts that premiums would increase by 40%, or just $3.76 per month– the price of a latte.

Mr. Bouchard makes further excuses, claiming that disabled soldiers “could effectively receive more than 100% of their former income” were the policy to be changed. But a senior federal public servant on rehabilitation can earn up to 100% of his former income – - and still collect veterans affairs payments if previously injured in the military. Why the double standard?

Such obvious discrimination led the previous department of national defence ombudsman Yves Cote to state “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation, as well as the protection of the equality provisions set out in section 15 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

Canada must renew the broken trust with our forgotten soldiers and give them back the money that has been wrongfully taken from them. Only then will the soldiers consider trusting the very society for which they have sacrificed so much.

seankis@rogers.com – Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

Credit: National Post

Copyright National Post Company Feb 14, 2008

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/02/581/
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Disposable soldiers: Canada must renew broken trust with its forgotten 4,260 soldiers

Post by Trooper on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 06:51

Of the 4,260 soldiers affected by what the National Defence ombudsman has called ‘profoundly’ and ‘fundamentally unfair’ deductions, more than 1,500 are currently so disabled as to be unemployable.

By Sean Bruyea-THE HILL TIMES-February 25, 2008

No doubt thousands of cards and good wishes were sent to soldiers on the frontlines in Afghanistan for Valentine’s Day recently. Back home, a different expression of affection is being shown more than 4,260 injured soldiers whom the bureaucrats and policy makers would rather Canada forgot.

Two weeks ago on Valentine’s Day, a Halifax courtroom wrapped up a request to certify a class action lawsuit to stop the federal government deducting pain and suffering payments from disabled soldiers’ long-term disability plan. SISIP or the Service Income Security Insurance Plan is reportedly the only plan of its kind which deducts pain and suffering payments.

Why should Canadians care? Canada has suffered approximately 750 casualties in Afghanistan. The next federal election could be fought on whether or not to risk the lives of more Canadian soldiers. At a time when $20-billion has been earmarked for new military equipment, many disabled military members are quickly forgotten once the uniform comes off.

Of the 4,260 soldiers affected by what the National Defence ombudsman has called “profoundly” and “fundamentally unfair” deductions, more than 1,500 are currently so disabled as to be unemployable. These are the most vulnerable of our military, suffering psychological and physical incapacity as a result of serving in such conflicts as the Gulf War, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan.

Since these soldiers were wounded as a result of their service in the military, they receive pain and suffering payments from Veterans Affairs Canada. In October 2000, changes to legislation permitted serving soldiers to collect their full salary plus pain and suffering payments. If the soldier is so wounded as to be unemployable, the soldier is forced out of the military, has his/her salary reduced to 75 per cent of their income while deducting pain and suffering payments from the lower income.

The injustice attracted the attention of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs in 2003 passed a motion imploring the minister of National Defence to stop the deductions and “accept and enact the recommendations forthwith.” Ironically, the current minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, as well as the Prime Minister, the president of the Treasury Board and the minister of Veterans Affairs were all associate members of this committee when the motion was passed.

New programs stipulate that soldiers injured after April 1, 2006, receive a one-time lump sum payment for pain and suffering instead of a lifelong monthly disability award. This lump sum payment is not deducted from the long-term disability, but the monthly payment continues to be deducted.

In November of 2006, a majority in the House of Commons passed the Veterans’ First Motion which called for a stop to the “unfair deductions.”

Why has nothing been done? One can only imagine that the bureaucrats standing in the way have little idea of what it means to serve in the military. Unlike the 9-to-5 public servant, the military member effectively signs a contract with Canada for what our military calls “unlimited liability.” Not surprisingly, the bureaucrats have ensured that Canada has a very limited liability in caring for disabled soldiers.

These same senior bureaucrats receive their disability plan free, paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Interestingly, their plan is not allowed to deduct pain and suffering payments.

Neither the military nor the veterans have a union to protect them.

In court, the judge received an affidavit from the president of SISIP, André Bouchard, who served in the military for “almost 30 years.” Bouchard claims that should the plan stop deducting pain and suffering payments, the result would be “exorbitant premiums which would impose significant hardship on the members of the Canadian Forces.”

How “exorbitant” is this hardship? Currently, a corporal in the military pays approximately $9.40 per month for the long-term disability policy. Bouchard predicts that premiums would increase by 40 per cent or $3.76/month, the price of a café latte.

Bouchard makes further excuses to continue the ‘unfair deductions’ because a disabled soldier “could effectively receive more than 100 per cent of his or her former income.” This statement is patently untrue. The “former income” included pain and suffering payments plus 100 per cent of their salary. The long-term disability pays only 75 per cent of the former salary.

Furthermore, for many of these disabled soldiers, they were forced out of the military when there was a pay freeze. The same corporal would be earning approximately 50 per cent more today than 10 years ago whereas SISIP has only increased approximately 20 per cent. (SISIP allows for an annual inflationary increase of a maximum of two per cent vs. the public service plan at three per cent).

A senior federal public servant on rehabilitation can earn up to 100 per cent of their former income and still collect their Veterans Affairs payments had the servant been previously injured in the military.

Why the double standard?

Such obvious discrimination led the previous DND Ombudsman Yves Coté to state “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation, as well as the protection of the equality provisions set out in Sec. 15 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

We have all seen the signs of a disposable society but this has been possible because replacements are cheap and the long-term costs are not included. The same holds true for soldiers. We have too long disposed of those when they are obsolete once wounded psychologically or physically.

Canada must renew the broken trust with these forgotten 4,260 soldiers by giving back the money that has been wrongfully taken from them. Only then will the soldiers consider trusting the very society for which the soldiers have sacrificed so much.

Sean Bruyea is a retired captain and disabled soldier who served as an intelligence officer in the Canadian Forces for 14 years. He is now an advocate for other disabled veterans.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2008/02/disposable-soldiers-canada-must-renew-broken-trust-with-its-forgotten-4260-soldiers/
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