Feds failing former soldiers, ombudsman reports
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent speaks on CTV's Power Play on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012.
Published Monday, February 20, 2012 10:12PM EST
A new report finds that in virtually all instances where Veterans Affairs Canada makes decisions about benefits or disability payments for veterans, the department fails to provide adequate information about how those decisions were reached.
The report, dubbed Veterans' Right to Know Reasons for Decisions: A Matter of Procedural Fairness, was written by the Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent and released Monday.
The report looked at a random sampling of 213 decision letters sent out between 2001 and 2010, to determine whether or not veterans were being provided with adequate information about those decisions.
"The Ombudsman found that all the letters examined failed a test of adequacy in the reasons given for the decisions. Providing information to support a decision is fundamentally different to providing a reason for a decision," the report states.
"This difference seems not to be understood by the Department as all letters examined did not apply any analysis to the information they contained to clearly explain the decisions."
The report revealed the following about the 213 letters that were analyzed:
- 15 per cent of the letters simply state the decision.
- 65 per cent of the letters included "minimal explanation" by informing the applicant of the decision, and referencing governing legislation, assessment tools and supporting documents.
- 20 per cent provided details info on legislation, assessment tools and supporting documents that would "likely enable the recipients...to infer to some extent how the decision was arrived at."
The report said the Auditor General of Canada first raised concern in 1998 that veterans were not being provided with sufficient reasons for the decisions being made, but little has changed.
"Veterans have a right to know why and how decisions are made. The letters concern monetary entitlements that have a direct impact on Veterans' quality of life," Parent wrote.
"Veterans need assurances that their applications for disability benefits have been fully and fairly considered. A detailed decision letter is the essential source of that information."
Parent pointed out that many veterans may be wrongly assessed, but because so little info is included in the decision, they are unlikely to challenge the decision.
The report includes the following recommendations:
- Veterans Affairs Canada should improve its processes to ensure essential information is included in the decision letters.
- The information should be presented in a form that is "understandable and is in relation to the decision made" and is written in plain English as opposed to confusing legal terminology.
- An explanation should be included of how the information was used in the decision process.
- A notice of the right to appeal should be included in every benefit decision letter.
The report said Veterans Affairs Canada has been aware of the issues since 1998 when the auditor general first raised concerns, but little has been done to ensure that rights guaranteed in the Veterans Bill of Rights are respected.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney's office released a statement on Monday saying he would take the recommendations to heart.
"Cutting red tape and providing hassle-free services to our veterans is Minister Blaney's top priority. The minister welcomes the recommendations in the ombudsman's report and intends to act quickly," the statement said.