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Veterans Affairs report confirms 4 inappropriate cases where MAID raised with veterans; other allegations 'unfounded'

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An investigation by Veterans Affairs Canada has confirmed a now-former employee had inappropriate conversations with four veterans about seeking medical assistance in dying (MAID), while all other allegations were determined to be "unfounded."

Veterans Affairs released its findings on Friday from an investigation it carried out into the inappropriate conversations, prompted by reporting from Global News in August last year.

The department says these incidents were isolated to one employee, who no longer works for Veterans Affairs, and are "not a widespread, systemic issue."

Veterans Affairs says it has referred the incidents to the RCMP and that it "deeply regrets what transpired and understands the seriousness of these completely isolated incidents." The report also has been provided to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

While more allegations have since been raised, the final report says Veterans Affairs "thoroughly" investigated them and concluded they were "unfounded."

The department also highlighted that MAID is not a service it provides.

"As I've said from the very beginning, what happened to these veterans is totally unacceptable," Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said in a news release.

"The report clearly confirms that these four cases were isolated to a single employee and we have referred this matter to the RCMP. Our front-line employees are completely dedicated and care deeply about the veterans they serve each and every day. Veterans can trust that VAC is always available to support their needs in a respectful and compassionate manner."

The department listed a number of ways it will attempt to prevent similar situations from happening again, including mandatory training around MAID and ensuring that any veteran who raises MAID in a conversation has it brought up to management.

Cases found to be inappropriate would then rise to the assistant deputy minister and deputy minister level. The department's auditing division will review this process starting in April.

Veterans Affairs will also consult veterans on whether to record calls between them and case managers or service agents.

Officials from Veterans Affairs, speaking to reporters on background during a technical briefing Friday morning, said they have not confirmed whether any of the four veterans identified in the report have pursued MAID as a result of their initial discussions with the former employee.

They said they are aware of one veteran who has since passed away, although they have not confirmed a cause.

'UNFOUNDED'

Asked how many allegations were determined to be unfounded, the officials said they couldn't provide a definitive number but that there were fewer than 20 and more than four.

They said in instances where other allegations were made, either directly to Veterans Affairs or through a third party, the department tried to get more information such as the name of the veteran and the time of the alleged conversation, but received no further details.

However, they stressed that anyone who has experienced a similar situation around MAID should reach out to the department or the Office of the Veterans Ombud.

MacAulay testified to a parliamentary committee in November that the department found four cases where MAID was offered to veterans, all involving one employee.

Additional allegations have since been raised, including from a former Paralympian who testified in December.

MacAulay's office said at the time that while the instance is not one of the four confirmed cases, it is under investigation.

TIMELINE

The final report says the investigation began after a veteran contacted the department's call centre on July 21, 2022, to file a complaint alleging that an employee inappropriately brought up MAID during a phone conversation they had earlier that day.

The veteran alleged that the employee mentioned having provided information about MAID to another veteran.

The department says it took "immediate action" by apologizing to the veteran and reassigning their file to the employee's manager.

Management began a "fact-finding process" on July 22, the report says, and the files of other veterans assigned to that employee were reviewed to see if any other conversations about MAID had occurred.

Minister MacAulay then instructed the department on Aug. 19 to do a full investigation.

A few days later, the department confirmed a second incident where MAID was inappropriately discussed with a veteran, the report says.

The department says it then offered written guidance on MAID to all staff who serve veterans and held five sessions over the following weeks to stress that starting a conversation with veterans about MAID "is completely unacceptable."

Through those sessions, the department says staff understood they were not to raise MAID to veterans and to advise any veteran considering MAID to discuss it with their primary-care provider. In cases where a veteran has spoken to their doctor, Veterans Affairs can provide information around benefits and relevant support and services.

The file review grew to include another 2,153 files that the employee had worked on since 2016, the year MAID became legal in Canada.

Veterans Affairs later became aware in November of two more veterans who had conversations about MAID with the former employee.

The department, meanwhile, says it reviewed all 402,000 files in its client databases, dating back to June 2016, and found no instances where MAID had been raised inappropriately, with the exception of the four that were already identified.

The department says it received 235 MAID-related communications from veterans, family members and others between July 21 and Dec. 30, 2022, in the form of calls to the National Client Contact Network, letters and emails, and messages through the online MyVAC account system.

The report says that as of January 2023, no further incidents of inappropriate conversations with a veteran around MAID have been confirmed through the department's tracking system.

With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and CTVNews.ca Writer Tom Yun

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