Successive federal governments have said they would help disabled veterans get public-service jobs, but a long-time advocate says the civil service is not co-operative and he questions whether anyone ensures that discharged military personnel are considered when openings arise.
Don Leonardo, president of Veterans Canada, says it is in the public interest to find jobs for disabled former soldiers, if only because it would reduce the amount that taxpayers spend on benefits.
"But who is in charge of it?" Mr. Leonardo asked. "The public service is against this, so they are not going to help the injured veteran get there. So who is getting him that job?"
The former Conservative government brought in the Veterans Hiring Act on Canada Day of last year that said veterans who were released for medical reasons were to be first in line for any civil-service job, and that all veterans would get "priority entitlement" to advertised government vacancies.
The federal Public Service Commission (PSC) said in an e-mail on Tuesday that, between July 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016, there were 26 veterans who were given government jobs based on a priority status resulting from an injury attributable to their service. The government also gave priority placements to 112 veterans who were released due to injuries that were not directly attributable to their military career.
But, as of May 16, there were still 424 medically discharged veterans waiting on the priority list to be hired, despite the fact that more than 20,000 people were appointed to government positions between July and April.
The PSC said it maintains the inventory of people with a priority entitlement and ensures that they are considered during the appointment processes, but it is the deputy ministers within each department who are responsible for ensuring that eligible veterans are given priority in hiring.
The PSC also said it plays an active role in monitoring all categories of priority entitlements and believes the system is working well. Since the implementation of the Veterans Hiring Act, said the commission, the number of veterans participating in appointment processes has increased and that is expected to continue over time.
Still, veterans contacted by The Globe and Mail report frustration with the lack of response they receive when they apply for vacancies. And public servants are not always willing to step aside to give veterans the first chance at a job that could be filled by one of their own.
John MacLennan, the national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, said he and his members have no objection to giving priority placement to a soldier who had a foot blown off in Afghanistan.
"But what I am trying to get from the department and government is to give me the definition of a veteran with a disability that will go in as a priority," Mr. MacLennan said. "Is it somebody who was deployed and they are now an amputee? Or is it somebody who was never deployed and, while they were in training, they did something like wrench their back that will be a chronic thing for the rest of their life so they never will be deployed so release them?"
Mandating priority placement for veterans opens up the hiring system to abuse, Mr. MacLennan said. "Nepotism and favouritism in the military is rampant," he said. "Take off the uniform on a Friday and you are in civilian clothes on Monday. It's the old boys' network."
But opposition critics say the government must do more to help permanently injured ex-military personnel to adjust to civilian life.
"We've had lots of veterans who have felt so hopeless that they've committed suicide," said Irene Mathyssen, the Veterans Affairs Critic for the New Democrats. "I truly believe if you find a place where you feel useful and good, a great deal of the impact of PTSD can – perhaps not fully disappear – but it can be remediated. We all have to feel needed and useful."
Cathay Wagantall, the Conservative party's deputy critic for Veterans Affairs, said the veterans she has spoken to "want to continue to work and to serve their country and to take care of their families. And it's got to be a high priority. I think it is the most effective way we can invest in them."