Canada’s disabled soldiers: Canada’s courts are their reluctant battlefield

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Canada’s disabled soldiers: Canada’s courts are their reluctant battlefield

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:19

Canadian soldiers expected to return to a supportive Canada, believing that they and their families will be cared for and wars will not follow them home.

By SEAN BRUYEA-The Hill Times-Published January 18, 2010

OTTAWA—For many injured Canadian soldiers, the horrific war zones of the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan are bearable for one reason only, they expected to return to a supportive Canada, believing that they and their families will be cared for and wars will not follow them home.

On Jan. 21, the Supreme Court will hear about how that dream has been shattered for more than 4,000 disabled Canadian men and women who proudly donned Canadian Forces uniforms. At issue is how disabled soldiers are compensated for their career of sacrifice and their lifelong injuries. I am one of these 4,000 disabled soldiers.

At issue is how disabled soldiers are compensated for their career of sacrifice and their lifelong injuries.

Prior to April 1, 2006, when Canadian Forces members were injured in the service of Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada compensated them with a lifelong monthly payment for pain and suffering which they collected along with their full salary. Even by June 2007, more than 9,000 serving soldiers were collecting pain and suffering payments along with their full salary.

If a soldier was too disabled to continue in the Forces, he or she was summarily kicked out and placed on a long-term disability plan belonging to the Canadian Forces. This plan pays out 75 per cent of the soldier’s salary. Then, in of some seeming act of vengeance, the Canadian government-structured insurance plan deducts the same amount paid for pain and suffering from the already reduced salary.

This is why Dennis Manuge has brought his case, representing more than 4,000 other veterans with disabilities, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

These “profoundly unfair” deductions as described by the National Defence ombudsman have been widely condemned. The House and Senate Committees on National Defence have both strongly recommended that the process be stopped “immediately.” The majority of Parliament voted to stop the deductions in 2006.

The first Veterans Affairs Canada ombudsman also agrees.

And still the deductions continue. Parliament and oversight agencies are ignored and disabled soldiers, often with young families, suffer the indignation and financial struggles of having their disability income essentially negate what should be a well-deserved and proud award for pain and suffering.

The Supreme Court of Canada, however, will not be making a decision about stopping the unfair deductions. Government of Canada lawyers have forced Manuge’s lawyer to argue what he describes (in his submission to the court) as the removal of “artificial and costly legal barriers” placed by Canada in order “to shield itself from liability.”

Government lawyers are attempting to force the case to go to what is known as a “judicial review” as opposed to being heard in Federal Court. That a “judicial review” does not have the powers to decide upon the remedies being sought in Manuge’s class action claim raises the issue to an increasingly absurd level. The actions of Canada’s government appear to seek one goal, to place as many obstacles in the path of Manuge so that Canada never has to pay what is justly owed to more than 4,000 disabled soldiers.

Of course, the government’s argument has much broader implications for all Canadians who seek damages from the Crown. Manuge’s submission to court aptly cautions: “These added requirements will act in effect to deprive an ordinary citizen of his or her day in court and to shield the Crown from meritorious litigation.”

A judicial review has a 30-day time limit to submit a claim. It is unlikely that a lawyer will represent an individual client on a contingency fee basis if the judicial review is limited, at least in Manuge’s case if not all subsequent cases, to awards which apply solely to an individual.

It is possible that forcing the disabled soldiers down this judicial review path would require that each of the 4,000 disabled soldiers come up with $10,000 to $15,000 to hire a lawyer. More importantly, the soldiers would have to overcome their disabilities in order to fight the government which the soldiers became disabled defending.

This is what is so inexplicable for all who served in the military and most poignant for disabled soldiers.

Why is it that government bureaucrats can fight tooth and nail to avoid paying an obvious and clear liability owed to our bravely disabled when Canadian Forces members must accept what is known as “unlimited liability” at all times, up to and including loss of life?

On April 1, 2006, the government of Canada implemented new legislation to replace the lifelong payment for pain and suffering with a one-time lump sum as part of what bureaucrats claim is a completely new suite of programs. Curiously, the lump sum amount is not deductible in anyway shape or form from the unemployable soldier’s long-term disability income.

The truth is that what came after April 1, 2006, offers nothing remarkably new for disabled soldiers than what was already in place in some form before April 1, 2006… except for substituting the lifelong payment with the lump sum. Ignoring the obvious injustice of a lump sum to compensate young soldiers for lifelong disability, the government of Canada, in effect, has corrected the injustice of the “unfair deductions” for all future wounded soldiers.

But what about the 4,000 forgotten disabled soldiers and their families?

Should bureaucrats be able to ignore any, let alone strong, unanimous and repeated recommendations from Parliamentary committees? Should senior mandarins be able to ignore oversight agencies like offices of the ombudsman?

Merely because the tool is available to deny payment, should our government lawyers use that tool when it is clear it is causing harm to disabled soldiers and other marginalized citizens while clearly breaching fundamental principles of natural justice?

Should Department of Justice lawyers continue to be allowed to pursue a policy that the end of avoiding payment justifies any legal means even for those who clearly have been wronged?

Of course there is the broader question of not enough money to go around. Should we not have soldiers sign a document with independent legal advice before they go into harms way, that the Canadian government may not pay in a timely manner if at all for any disabilities suffered? Or that there is only enough money for every other wounded soldier but not for all?

The risk if the Crown wins is that our justice system, already complex and in many cases inaccessible by many Canadians, will acquire more of the same unenviable qualities.

The risk for our military is that citizen’s willingness to sacrifice for a selfish government may diminish in the face of such unfair actions.

For more than 4,000 disabled soldiers and their suffering families, they have already endured many risks but they never imagined that they would fight a war with Canada.

Sean Bruyea is a retired and disabled Air Force intelligence officer, advocate for veterans and their families and a writer on issues relating to veterans, military and government. He is also a member of the class action for the 4,000 disabled soldiers.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2010/01/canadas-disabled-soldiers-canadas-courts-are-their-reluctant-battlefield/

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Disabled soldiers face legal minefield

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:21

By Sean Bruyea-THE OTTAWA CITIZEN-January 21, 2010 pg. A.13

It has become a sad truth that the path of an injured soldier to receive disability benefits in Canada is a minefield of obstacles. Today the Supreme Court of Canada will hear about some of those obstacles.

When Canadian Forces members are injured on duty, they receive pain and suffering payments from Veterans Affairs Canada while keeping their full salary. If soldiers are so disabled as to be unemployable, they are kicked out of the military and paid 75 per cent of their salary through a long-term disability plan held by the Canadian Forces. Then, in some seeming petty act of revenge, the Canadian Forces insurance plan claws back amounts for pain and suffering from the reduced incomes of the disabled soldiers to keep incomes at the 75 per cent level.

No other long-term disability income plan in Canada is allowed to deduct Veterans Affairs payments for pain and suffering. This is why Dennis Manuge has brought his case to the Supreme Court of Canada as his case represents more than 4,000 other disabled soldiers similarly affected.

The National Defence Ombudsman has called the deductions “profoundly unfair” and noted that “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation” including “the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

As far back as 2003, the standing committee on national defence and veterans affairs unanimously voted to stop the practice. Prime Minister Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and former veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson were all associate members of the committee.

In 2006, the majority of Parliament passed a motion which required the government to “eliminate the unfair reduction.” In 2006, the Senate committee on national security and defence recommended “that the government cease the practice immediately.”

Yet the deductions continue. Government lawyers have forced the case to Canada’s highest court. Manuge’s lawyer must plead the removal of “artificial and costly legal barriers” placed by Canada in order “to shield itself from liability.”

Who’s at fault? The uber-mandarins at Treasury Board and elsewhere in the federal government? The party in power which refuses to force that same bureaucracy to implement the will of Canadians and Parliament?

Were the benefits of the federal public service in question, it is unlikely that their strong unions would allow a similar injustice to continue.

There’s the rub: the military does not have a union and there is no “top general of the veteran community” to defend the rights of a disabled soldier once the uniform comes off.

Tragically veterans’ benefits are not publicly debated. Canada’s top mandarins have excluded the overwhelming majority of veterans, especially the disabled, from any public and meaningful influence as to their destiny.

The bureaucracy presents changes to veteran programs as a fait accompli, a done deal for the veteran community and their families.

This is why many veterans feel abandoned by their country. It is why our disabled and once proud warriors must fight battles in the courts of this land rather than live their remaining years in peace.

More than a million Canadians in uniform have followed orders which could and, for more than 100,000, did bring them to their deaths. Why is it that bureaucrats can ignore disabled veterans, their families, oversight agencies, the House and the Senate as well as the Canadian Charter to prevent disabled veterans being compensated justly and fairly?

On this day, while the Supreme Court ponders the “unfair deductions” from injured soldiers’ disability income, let us have two minutes of silence.

Let us honour the suffering of those living veterans who are increasingly seen by Canada’s senior bureaucrats as a fiscal liability and a nuisance instead of being viewed as brave and selfless, the way most Canadians see our veterans.

Sean Bruyea is a freelance journalist and advocate for the rights of disabled veterans and their families. He served 14 years in the Canadian Air Force as an intelligence officer. He is one of the 4,000 soldiers represented in the class action.

Credit: Sean Bruyea; Citizen Special

Copyright CanWest Digital Media Jan 21, 2010

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2010/01/disabled-soldiers-face-legal-minefield/

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Federal treatment of disabled veterans disgraceful

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:23

by Sean Bruyea-THE EDMONTON JOURNAL-January, 27, 2010 pg. A.19

It has become a sad truth that the path of an injured soldier to receive disability benefits in Canada is a minefield of obstacles. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada heard about one of those mine-fields.

When Canadian Forces members are injured on duty, they receive pain and suffering payments from Veterans Affairs while keeping their full salary. If soldiers are so disabled as to be unemployable, those soldiers are kicked out of the military and paid 75 per cent of their salary through a long-term disability plan held by the Canadian Forces. Then, in some seeming petty act of revenge, the Canadian Forces insurance plan deducts amounts for pain and suffering paid by Veterans Affairs.

No other long-term disability income plan in Canada is allowed to deduct Veterans Affairs payments for pain and suffering.

This is why Dennis Manuge has brought his case to the Supreme Court of Canada as his case represents more than 4,000 disabled soldiers similarly affected. I am one of the 4,000 disabled soldiers.

The National Defence Ombudsman has called the deductions “profoundly unfair” and said “the inequity might very well be serious enough to attract the protection of human rights legislation” including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “which identify physical and mental disabilities as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

The Veterans’ Ombudsman agrees.

As far back as 2003, the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs unanimously voted to stop the practice. Then members of the opposition, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, ex-veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson and Treasury Board President Stockwell Day were all associate members of that committee.

In 2006, the majority of Parliament passed a motion which required the government to “eliminate the unfair reduction of SISIP.” The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence voted unanimously in 2008 on the “unfair deductions” and recommended “that the government cease the practice immediately.”

Yet the deductions continue. Government appeals have forced the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Except Canada’s highest court won’t be making a final decision on the deductions. Instead, Canadian government lawyers are arguing a technicality as to whether Manuge can have his case proceed in court or whether he must seek other avenues first.

Manuge and his lawyer must now plead the removal of “artificial and costly legal barriers” placed by Canada in order “to shield itself from liability.”

Unfortunately, decision-makers in Parliament and those uber-mandarins at Treasury Board and elsewhere in the bureaucracy who pull the strings of ministers, have often placed pay and benefits of disabled soldiers on the same chopping block as military equipment. Were the pay and benefits of the Federal Public Service in question, it is unlikely that bureaucrats and their strong unions would vote themselves pay freezes or discriminatory benefits.

There’s the rub: the military does not have a union. When the uniform comes off, there is no ‘top general’ of the veteran community or union to defend the rights of a disabled veteran.

In budget terms, life-saving equipment for a soldier in Afghanistan seems imminently more important than the income loss of a few thousand disabled and mostly silent veterans. But for the disabled veterans, life-saving benefits are just as important as the flak vest for a soldier on patrol in Kandahar.

It’s not that veterans’ benefits have become a political hot potato. It is that veterans’ benefits are not publicly debated at all. Canada’s top mandarins have excluded the overwhelming majority of veterans, especially the disabled, from any public and meaningful influence as to their destiny.

The bureaucracy presents changes to veteran programs as a fait accompli, a done deal for politicians, the military, veterans and their families.

Essentially, bureaucrats are acting unilaterally, pulling the strings of politicians while telling veterans and their families what they need. This is the reverse of what the ‘social contract’ should be between Canada and its veterans.

This breach of the ‘social contract’ is at the core of why many veterans feel abandoned by their country. It is why our disabled and once proud warriors must fight battles in the courts of this land rather than live their remaining years in peace.

Who’s at fault? Certainly, the senior bureaucrats who refuse to implement Parliament’s will. But what about the parties in power that are unwilling or unable to force bureaucrats to do what Parliament and Canadians have demanded?

In combat, no matter how overwhelming the odds against our soldiers, our men and women in uniform have followed the orders of our government. No matter how powerful the bureaucrats may be, the Harper government like all before it was elected in good faith to order the bureaucracy to implement the will of the people.

Did Stephen Harper not run and become elected on a platform to hold government accountable? Shouldn’t his government’s commitment to “support the troops” apply to disabled soldiers and extend beyond platitudes?

More than a million Canadians in uniform have followed orders which could and, for more than 100,000, did bring them to their deaths. Why is it that bureaucrats can ignore disabled veterans, their families, oversight agencies, both the House and the Senate, as well as the Canadian Charter, to place absurd obstacles in the path of disabled veterans being compensated justly and fairly?

What does it say to our soldiers dying to bring democracy to Afghanistan when the federal bureaucracy ignores our democratic institutions and continues to discriminate against disabled veterans?

The actions of Canada’s government whether it be their lawyers, elected officials or senior bureaucrats appear to seek one goal: to place as many obstacles so that Canada never has to pay what is justly owed to more than 4,000 disabled soldiers.

The risk is that citizens’ willingness to sacrifice for a selfish government may diminish in the face of such unfair actions.

How tragic that government treats our disabled soldiers as a fiscal liability and a nuisance instead of being viewed as brave and selfless, the way most Canadians see our veterans.

Sean Bruyea is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist and advocate for the rights of disabled veterans and their families. He served 14 years in the Canadian Air Force as an intelligence officer. He is one of the 4,000 soldiers represented in the class action

Credit: Sean Bruyea; Freelance

Copyright CanWest Digital Media Jan 27, 2010

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2010/01/federal-treatment-of-disabled-veterans-disgraceful/

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Democracy also a right of veterans: how Canada can begin to repay debt owed to our injured soldiers

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:27

The bureaucracy forced the sale of the New Veterans Charter upon us in 2005. Today, veterans are demanding an all-encompassing recall.

By SEAN BRUYEA The Hill Times Published February 8, 2010

OTTAWA—While we wore our uniforms, democracy was furthest from our minds as we cast votes in makeshift polling stations often set up in foreign lands. We all know how the military is not the most democratic of institutions. However, I believe that veterans, especially the disabled and our families have come to treasure Canada’s democratic values because we know intimately what it is to have given up so much to protect those values.

At issue is the New Veterans Charter which was created in a decidedly undemocratic environment. Its creation was characterized by secret agreements between as few as six individuals from six veteran organizations, tabling of regulations during an election over a Christmas break and so-called consultations which resulted in bureaucrats ignoring all input from these one-way discussions. Perhaps, most disturbing of all was that the single greatest change to how Canadians honoured the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform was passed in the House of Commons in under three minutes without a single word of debate.

Whatever the reasons, none justify denying democracy to all of us who have fought and have lost so much trying to protect it.

The bureaucracy forced the sale of the New Veterans Charter upon us in 2005 before we had time to choose the colour of the car let alone look under the hood. Now we have had five years to drive it and veterans are demanding an all-encompassing recall.

In Parliament, the smallest change in laws, let alone a completely new one like this charter, are given months of scrutiny. The public and Parliament debate the pros and cons, committees travel and the media have a chance to weigh in. In the history of Canada, there has likely never been such disregard for the democratic process for such an important piece of legislation as the New Veterans Charter which skipped over virtually all scrutiny and due process.

Had there been scrutiny, veterans like Louise Richard, Harold Leduc and I would not have been some of the first Canadians to come to the conclusion that honouring a lifelong disability with a one time lump sum is wrong. It is also irresponsible given the initial psychological state of most disabled members being kicked out of the military.

Scrutiny would have Canadians ask important questions like no matter how broken the Veterans Review and Appeal Board may be, why is there recourse with free legal advice for all older Pension Act benefits yet the New Veterans Charter benefits, except for the lump sum, deny legal assistance and appeal rights through the board.

These are but two of the more than 200 critical observations and recommendations which have been recorded by the Special Needs Advisory Group and the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. Ironically, the members of both these groups are chosen and essentially report to the same bureaucrats who told us that the Charter had no flaws in the first place. It is no wonder that Veterans Affairs cannot point to a single substantial change in the charter since it was passed five years ago.

This is why platitudes like a “Living Charter” resonate so hollow. In 2005, the Senate Finance Committee was promised that small scale reviews of the charter would occur every three months and later commitments promised full scale reviews every one or two years.

The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) bureaucracy continues to silence debate with other platitudes like the charter offers “opportunity with security.” Would a lifelong disability pension which can never be taken away not offer more security than a one-time lump sum or a two-year time limit to complete rehabilitation?

Would university training which is absent from the charter not offer security while allowing more opportunities for employment in the federal civil service?

Would no-interest loans or grants like those offered to World War II veterans not offer more opportunity to start a business while the injured soldier can still count on the security of a lifetime monthly disability award?

The truth is that what the charter provides to disabled soldiers existed in some form or other before the charter came to be, except for the lump sum replacing the lifelong monthly Pension Act award. Why then was the charter forced upon veterans? As the bureaucracy wrote in their own words in July 2005, it wanted “to regain control of an alarming future liability scenario,” that is to save money.

It is indeed tragic that the bureaucracy sees disabled veterans as a “liability.” The only reason Veterans Affairs exists is because of “us liabilities.”

This is the problem. While many frontline workers are extremely compassionate and understanding of veterans and their families, most middle and senior managers at VAC are physically isolated from government in Prince Edward Island. In Charlottetown, VAC is not only deeply disconnected from understanding veterans and their needs, management apparently did not consult their own frontline employees when they created the charter.

This leads to another platitude from the bureaucracy: “that consultations on the charter have been the most comprehensive in VAC history.” If true, Veterans Affairs Canada indeed has a sad history of understanding its employees, let alone veterans.

Why was the charter allowed to get to this stage? The military and veterans are tragically accustomed to seeing repeated governments fail to make the sacrifice to repay its veterans after Canada’s soldiers have already paid their debt in death and injury.

Quite simply, the bureaucracy is far too powerful and overwhelms whatever government comes their way. How can a minister and one senior policy adviser at Veterans Affairs force unwelcome change upon senior public servants with 3000 employees at their disposal? Ministers can’t and that is why government has to change.

In addition to full public debate and a full-scale rewriting of the charter, I suggest the following changes as to how Canada’s government could improve and begin to pay back the debt owed to its disabled veterans.

First, just as in the American Department of Veterans Affairs, all advisory committees in VAC must report directly to the minister and barring the privacy concerns of witnesses, all their meetings, reports and minutes must be made immediately public.

Second, veterans must be employed at all levels of VAC. Veterans Affairs apparently does not have a single veteran in its senior management, whereas 30 per cent of the American Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy are veterans with more than 25,000 of those suffering service-related disabilities.

Third, all oversight agencies across all federal departments must be completely independent officers of Parliament including the Veterans Affairs Ombudsman, and, finally, ministers must have the power to remove senior public servants who are resisting the will of the majority of Parliament.

The bureaucracy has repeatedly snubbed its nose at the will of Canadians, Parliament, veterans, and their families. The prevention of a legislated ombudsman and the refusal to stop deducting pain and suffering payments from disabled veterans’ long-term disability income (while serving soldiers collect full salary plus pain and suffering payments) show the bureaucracy’s alarming disrespect for Canadian democratic processes and values.

Veterans and the military have been mostly silent but we certainly know when the democracy we fought for and sacrificed so much to protect is being wronged beyond recognition.

Sean Bruyea is a retired and disabled Air Force intelligence officer, advocate for veterans and their families and a writer on issues relating to veterans, military and government. Mr. Bruyea delivered this speech to the Liberals’ Roundtable on Veterans Issue on Jan. 28 on Parliament Hill.

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2010/02/democracy-also-a-right-of-veterans-how-canada-can-begin-to-repay-debt-owed-to-our-injured-soldiers/

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Ottawa’s plan to pay cash for cost-cutting ideas is doomed to fail

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:28

Government culture punishes whistleblowers, rather than rewarding them

By Sean Bruyea And Allan Cutler Edmonton Journal July 4, 2010

The federal government’s hope to save money by rewarding public servants with cash incentives for cost-cutting ideas hinges on one integral premise: that they will be willing to come forward and speak out against the status quo.

This premise is even more important as Canada just finished hosting the “accountability”-themed G8 summit. Can the Canadian government speak with confidence that civil servants who dare to hold the government accountable can do so without fear of reprisal?

Unfortunately, our government has an abysmal record of listening to concerned federal employees brave enough to speak up.

Far too many federal employees who care enough to suggest positive change and/or report mismanagement are quickly isolated. Their work and characters are attacked in an effort to wear them down.

Dr. Kenneth Westhues, of the University of Waterloo, has written extensively on this phenomenon of “mobbing.”

His conclusion about such groupthink, animal-like behaviour: It is far more prevalent in the public service than the private sector.

Wherever the mobbing occurs, it is not only devastating to the individual, but also to group morale.

When public servants speak out against mismanagement, we refer to them as “whistleblowers” — a term often negatively imbued.

The government, on its part, is quick to label a whistleblower as someone who has an axe to grind or who is seeking attention.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Research has repeatedly shown that whistleblowers are above-average performers who have a strong belief in moral principles and who are committed to the organization.

Attacking conscientious civil servants who speak serves not only to destroy the will of the employee to continue working, but also such ad hominem attacks cloud the issue confusing most onlookers. However, the government’s message to other employees is clear: people who care enough to speak out are punished.

In consequence: Canadians become disillusioned about the public service as a whole. We tend to perceive most government workers, rightly or wrongly, as anecdotally inefficient, apathetic, selfish, pampered, overpaid and lazy. It is no wonder the Canadian public is far from enthusiastic about rewarding public servants for a job they should already be doing.

How then will a cost-cutting program, which relies upon public servants coming forward, succeed in such an oppressive culture? Such a culture jeopardizes the success of the cash-for-ideas program before it has begun.

The sponsorship scandal in Canada showed us that Canadian civil servants can muster true courage and speak up about mismanagement.

More recently, most Canadians rallied around Richard Colvin. We saw government attacks on Colvin’s character for what they were: attempts to distract us from government mismanagement of the Afghan detainee issue.

This government implemented legislation and a Public Service Integrity Commissioner, purportedly to protect whistleblowers in a civil service where 400,000 employees are responsible for administering more than $50 billion in annual expenditures. However, in the three years since taking office, the commissioner has apparently not found one incident of government wrongdoing, nor has she apparently identified one whistleblower who needed protection.

In such an unsupportive atmosphere, it is unlikely that most federal civil servants will jeopardize their career, retirement, health and dignity to confront a system merely in the hopes of receiving a cash incentive, especially when any protection is either too weak or non-existent.

In this light, what the Canadian public may see as apathy or lethargy in the civil service is instead a culture which breeds unquestioning obedience to managers. This saps the very individualism and innovation which might spawn the creative ideas to save money and report mismanagement.

Imagine instead a government culture which encourages open discussion and cultivates creative suggestions for improvement and cost-cutting. Imagine aggressive laws which protect those who speak up. Imagine a Public Service Integrity Commissioner who actively seeks out and supports those who have been threatened, bullied, harassed and intimidated while vigorously investigating and pursuing those who create this culture of fear.

This is the type of government which would see every level of our bureaucracy burst forth with creativity and innovation to inspire efficiency and improve services. This is the kind of government which would be a model of accountability not just for three days in June 2010, but for the entire world for decades to come.

In Denmark and many other countries, a “whistleblower” is honoured and seen as a “witness” to wrongdoing and therefore an agent of positive change.

It makes good economic and social sense to protect those who come forward with innovative ideas, as well as those brave enough to report wrongdoing. In that sense, all government employees could aspire to be “whistleblowers,” responsible for serving the Canadian public as the namesake public service workers truly wish to do.

Sean Bruyea is a freelance writer and retired Canadian Forces Intelligence Officer. Allan Cutler is the president of Canadians for Accountability, a grassroots organization for whistleblower protection

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2010/07/ottawas-plan-to-pay-cash-for-cost-cutting-ideas-is-doomed-to-fail/

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Stakeholder Committees and Other Reasons for a Public Inquiry into Veterans Affairs

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:31

Veterans need to shed their well-indoctrinated sense of loyalty and sacrifice to a government system that has neither shown them loyalty at the senior levels nor sacrifice.

Photograph by Jake Wright, The Hill Times
Veterans files: Veterans Affairs Canada, now led by Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, pictured on Parliament Hill in this file photo, has a six-decade old habit of keeping a tight leash on CF veterans, writes veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea.
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By Sean Bruyea, THE HILL TIMES-Feb. 06, 2012
OTTAWA—Veterans Affairs claims it wants to do business differently. The big question is: can Parliament, Canada, and veterans trust the bureaucracy? And can veterans trust that the veteran organizations will not just bark but finally bite when Veterans Affairs Canada instinctually and inevitably strays off the path?

Veterans Affairs has a six-decade old habit of keeping a tight leash on CF veterans. The department has failed to fulfill its legal and ethical obligations to Canadian Forces members and their families by denying CF veterans access to similar assistance given to World War II veterans.

This week (Feb. 8-9), Veterans Affairs will be hosting its third “stakeholder committee” meeting in Ottawa. This stakeholder committee involves executives from CF veteran groups, some of which have been clamouring to be heard for anywhere from five years to five decades.

Why the change? It is certainly not because of some sudden realization that the demographics are changing. The CF, Parliament, military veterans, their families, and even the auditor general in 1998, have been telling VAC to adequately respond to the demographic shift for almost 20 years following the Gulf War in 1990-91.

What has changed are six years of growing scandals which reveal a department in crisis and woefully out of touch with the military it claims to serve. The past two years have shone a bright light on the department’s inability to comprehend the needs of veterans and their families. They, along with Canadians are outraged at the payment of one-time lump sums for lifelong military injuries, the maximum of which ($293,000) is deceptive as the average payout is only $40,000. To put that in perspective, one year’s compensation package for a Deputy Minister like Suzanne Tining is $415,000 for a DM-2 as of April 1, 2010. This is 70 per cent more than the maximum lump sum, of which only 134 received the maximum in the first four years of the program.

This is the same deputy minister who oversaw the escalation of the privacy scandal from what could have been resolved quickly and quietly and which instead became a national outrage.

Meanwhile, in November 2010 and 2011 more than 10,000 veterans and supporters took to the streets in national public demonstrations for the first time in over 90 years protesting the department’s insensitive policies.

Why should Canada expect any better from VAC? Only 100 employees of 4,400 have worn a military uniform and not a single executive or senior manager has ever served. Of the more than 1,107 veterans with disabilities who have applied for priority hiring in the public service over 10 years, VAC has hired just 26, or 1.8 per cent.

The department seems to believe that this new stakeholder committee holds the key to reversing their losing game. What is the committee supposed to accomplish? According to the terms of reference, three of the five “roles and objectives” consist of focusing upon discussion and exploration. The remaining two roles focus upon action, responsibility for which absurdly falls upon the veteran organizations to “provide a mechanism for dissemination of information on VAC initiatives and programs.”

You see, in sharp contrast to the more dedicated and far more sympathetic frontline employees, the senior managers at the department have been briefing ministers for more than five years that the reason for the scandals, the homeless veterans, the inadequate programs and poor treatment and the overworked frontline staff is that there is a communication problem. This problem, according to senior officials, centers upon the lack of information for veterans, or, more patronizingly, veterans who don’t understand the good intentions of VAC denying the programs the veterans need.

One only has to look at the “record of decisions” from a meeting last fall to see how VAC senior managers are massaging the message and perpetuating failure. The department has thus far refused to publish actual minutes of proceedings. The “record” is most notable for what it doesn’t contain. For instance, VAC is in the process of a five- year modernization of their IT and online resources for veterans which in the words of senior officials at the last meeting, will bring VAC up to where it should have been “five years ago.”

This five-year plan met with vociferous and widespread condemnation as well as emphatic offers to petition that more resources be given to VAC. Nevertheless, the “record of decisions” leaves the five-year plan to go ahead as planned, over five years.

VAC is legally mandated for the “care, treatment and rehabilitation” of veterans and their “dependants,” as the government condescendingly calls family members. Yet, families are not represented as a stakeholder on the committee. Nor are any of the dozens of regimental or other veteran organizations which are far larger than some of the traditional CF veteran organizations.

Of those stakeholders who meaningfully contributed to the discussion, there was unanimous insistence that VAC implement all 86 recommendations from the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group published more than two years ago. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs has also unanimously insisted all recommendations be implemented immediately. The stakeholders also emphasized the immediate implementation of the more substantial recommendation of increasing payments to injured soldiers unable to work so as to match 100 per cent of actual military members’ salaries and expected career advancement.

Curiously, no mention of any of this made it into the record of decisions. Perhaps one of the most glaring omissions is the near unanimous insistence to see the “Keith Coulter Report.” This was a report prepared by a CF veteran, former Snowbird pilot, chief of Canadian Securities Establishment and most recently commissioner of Corrections Canada. Mr. Coulter submitted the report to the minister more than 18 months ago as part of the preparations for cutbacks in the department. The report remains a Cabinet confidence and no mention of this exists in the record of decisions.

Since that time, the original contract amount paid to Mr. Coulter has been amended from $18,990 to $24,995.25, and exactly $4.75 under the threshold that would require a competitive bidding process. Why has the report remained secret this long? Was Mr. Coulter asked to change the report to contradict the possibility that his original findings indicated the department did not require cutbacks?

Perhaps the most telling indication that the department intends on having the committee accomplish nothing is the committee’s “Code of Conduct and Confidentiality.” The longstanding complaint from the community of more than 700,000 retired and serving CF members has been that the government refuses to publish the minutes of advisory, stakeholder or working group meetings. The good thing is that stakeholders have not signed any confidentiality agreement nor should they seeing how so many sacrificed for open and transparent government.

It is quite clear that such confidentiality has only served to allow the department to avoid acting responsibly, effectively and comprehensively to the needs of the military and their families. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs conducts its advisory group meetings in the open with minutes and findings widely published.

In true Orwellian “doublethink,” VAC justifies such secrecy in order that “the work of the Committee will be conducted in such a manner as to foster openness and communication, respect for human dignity and diversity, with fairness and civility.”

Others see clear malicious intent in VAC’s actions. “The bureaucrats control the agenda, they control the minutes and they control the timings of the meetings,” explains Allan Cutler, president of Canadians for Accountability. “It is a ‘father-knows-best’ mentality and a ‘big brother’ attitude which allows the bureaucracy to avoid doing anything of substance.”

Taking VAC’s line of argument, if lack of communication to veterans is really the problem, then recording the meetings and publishing the minutes can only benefit veterans.

How has VAC been allowed to get away with this? Sadly, it is because of the complicity of the leadership of veteran organizations, both new and old. The Royal Canadian Legion was born in the tumultuous public protests following World War I.

However, the Legion Dominion Command wrote to its membership when veterans began organizing the 2010 public demonstrations: “Comrades, the legion as an organization does not advocate in this manner and does not condone this method of advocacy.” Executives in other veterans’ groups are equally complicit and often more passive.

Politicians and bureaucrats fear only one thing: negative media coverage which translates into lost votes and broken anonymity in maladministration. If veterans’ groups aren’t willing to exercise the very rights for which so many of their “comrades” sacrificed their lives, then bureaucrats and politicians have nothing whatsoever to fear. Stakeholder committees, advisory groups and councils become nothing more than paper tigers secretly struggling in vain. As Thomas Moore, in great futility, said when he defended himself before he was executed, “silence gives consent.”

Veterans have much to learn from Canada’s First Nations, a similarly sized population which has, at $12-billion, more than three times the annual budget of VAC devoted to its well-being. First Nations have been willing to exercise their democratic rights. Just last month, the Prime Minister sat down to intervene where the bureaucracy has failed.

Veterans need to shed their well-indoctrinated sense of loyalty and sacrifice to a government system that has neither shown them loyalty at the senior levels nor sacrifice. As cutbacks loom inevitable, it is no longer reasonable for Canada’s bravest and most marginalized to believe that senior bureaucrats absolutely loyal to Treasury Board policy can be trusted with the better angels of our nature. Veterans and their families must be loyal to themselves first and become their own angels of salvation.

Sean Bruyea is a columnist, former intelligence officer and graduate student of a master’s in public ethics at St. Paul University in Ottawa. His privacy case was settled in 2010.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://www.seanbruyea.com/2012/02/stakeholder-committees-and-other-reasons-for-a-public-inquiry-into-veterans-affairs/

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