Veterans Ombudsman’s annual report signals uptick in investigations last year

The latest annual report from the watchdog office that oversees the department responsible for Canada’s veterans shows they investigated more cases about how veterans were treated by the federal government than the year before.

The Veterans Ombudsman’s office opened just over 2,000 new case files in 2018-2019. According to its most recent report, this is the third-highest number of new cases that have been reported in the past 10 years. More than eight-in-ten, 1,681 total, of the new cases in 2018-19 were complaints, while 320 were inquiries. In total, the ombudsman addressed 2,144 inquiries and complaints last year, due to some that were carried over from 2017-2018.

In 2017-2018, the ombudsman opened 1,906 cases and resolved 1,713 of those files. That year’s report does not break down the total of complaints versus inquiries.

The ombudsman says in its report for 2018-2019 that it referred 528 complaints outside of its purview – returning 407 back to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to handle – and reviewed 1,153 itself. What the office found was that in the case of close to half (628) of the issues it reviewed, the complainants had been treated unfairly.

In 555 of the cases the ombudsman deemed that a veteran was treated unfairly because their application was not dealt with in a fair process, with 98 per cent of these cases being because a complainant’s application for the services or benefits they were seeking weren’t processed in time.

READ MORE: Veterans ombudsman says veterans still facing difficulty accessing benefits

“Wait times and the backlog associated with the adjudication of individual claims are the most frequent complaints that we continue to receive from Veterans,” Veterans Ombudsman Craig Dalton wrote in the report. “Quite simply, this needs to change. Veterans wait far too long for the financial compensation they are due and, perhaps most importantly, the medical treatment they require.”

In 51 cases, the ombudsman decided that veterans weren’t rendered a fair outcome, with 65 per cent of the time being because they weren’t appropriately reimbursed for health claims over benefits involving prescription drugs, physiotherapy, and dental coverage that they’re entitled to under the Veterans Bill of Rights.

In 22 cases, the ombudsman found that veterans weren’t subjected to fair treatment, with 77 per cent of these instances being because they were given inaccurate information about their programs or services, or they were subjected to a lack of information.

In 405 cases, the ombudsman’s office found the complainants were treated fairly. It was still investigating 120 files when it put together its annual report.

Half of the cases the ombudsman’s reviewed were over disability benefits claims (50 per cent), followed by health supports (20 per cent), general services (10 per cent) and financials benefits (nine per cent).

The ombudsman’s office says it’s looking into ways to improve how it processes complaints in order to speed up its review process while also prioritizing what it deems as “complex files.” The annual report says it’s implementing a new review structure this year.

The ombudsman’s office was set up 13 years ago to review and address complaints made by veterans and other clients of VAC against the department. Operating on about a $5-million annual budget, the independent office is also responsible for reviewing issues around the department’s programs and services.

VAC estimated about a year ago that there were about 639,900 veterans in Canada and that there are about 186,000 veterans and survivors of the War Service, Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police to whom the department provides benefits.

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