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Canadian veterans are better served now but gaps remain: Ombudsman

Of the 57 recommendations made by the office of the Ombudsman, only 23 have been fully implemented.

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Successive governments have improved the suite of benefits provided to injured former soldiers but the system remains far too complicated and Ottawa has never spelled out what it wants those benefits to achieve, says the man who has been Veterans Ombudsman for the past seven years.

Guy Parent released a status update this week to highlight federal progress and the failures in meeting the recommendations made by his office since it was established nearly a decade ago.

Of the 57 recommendations – most of them related to the New Veterans Charter that replaced the former Pension Act in 2006 as the regime for compensating injured, disabled and deceased vets – 23 have been fully implemented, one will be completed shortly, and 13 have been tackled in part.

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But 20 remain untouched, some of them stemming from the first report of the ombudsman that was written in 2009 by Mr. Parent's predecessor, Pat Stogran.

Part of the problem, Mr. Parent said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, is that the government is still unsure about what it wants the benefits and services offered to injured and disabled veterans to accomplish.

Does it want to ensure that injured former soldiers are living at or above the poverty line? he asks.

Or does it want to provide them with something comparable to the median Canadian income?

"We have been trying to get the department to look at it, to define outcomes, and then you can have a measurable line that you can say, 'Is it enough or is it too much?'" Mr. Parent said.

In addition, he said, the entire system has needed streamlining since he took over as Ombudsman.

Today, veterans are still being asked to wait months to get their first pension cheque and to be approved for benefits.

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The government has talked about delivering services in a "a veteran-centric way which is not happening right now," Mr. Parent said.

"It's still administration-centric, to facilitate the administration. So that needs to be simplified."

On the list of 20 recommendations that the government has not met, three stand out as priorities, the Ombudsman said.

The first is compensation for family caregivers.

Spouses are sacrificing their careers, their earnings and their lives to take care of injured former military members, but are not eligible for the remuneration that would go to a contracted caregiver who is hired to do the same job.

The second is the fact that there are no retroactive payments for out-of-pocket health services, such as psychological treatments, provided to veterans as they wait to be approved for benefits by Veterans Affairs Canada.

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As a result, "some people may not access treatment between the time they apply until they get a decision, so their situation is deteriorating," Mr. Parent said.

And third, he said, some disabled former veterans who cannot work are still not receiving enough money to meet their needs.

"When I look back six or seven years, I can see movement forward," Mr. Parent said.

In the next few months his office will release an actuarial statement that compares benefits offered under the New Veterans Charter with those provided by the old Pension Plan and, he said, he expects it to show that the new system is now more generous than the one it replaced.

Sarah McMaster, a spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, said in an e-mail that, since the Liberal government took office in 2015, it has enacted many of the Ombudsman's recommendations and it is committed to address those that remain.

The government has introduced several measures to significantly enrich the compensation package, Ms. McMaster said. "Over the past year," she said, "Veterans Affairs Canada has reviewed its service-delivery model to ensure it is the best it can be for veterans and their families."

But Mr. Parent said improving the services and benefits to those who have served in uniform will be a constant evolution going forward.

"Military members will go to different missions. There will be different impacts, there will be new technology," he said "There will always be a need for tweaking the system to make sure that we meet the immediate needs of the veterans."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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