Nearly a year after the Parliamentary Budget Office warned of growing backlogs, tens of thousands of veterans remain on waiting lists for disability benefits, says Blacklock’s Reporter.
The Department of Veterans Affairs in a briefing note said it will “work faster” next year.
“We will explore innovative measures to more efficiently process future applications,” staff wrote in the note Disability Wait Times Benefit And Action Plan. “By 2022 we must be positioned with new processes and tools to work faster.”
The department counted a backlog of 41,541 veterans’ claims as of May 1. Wait times for initial review of a first-time application last year averaged more than 300 days with an additional 140 days for petitions on reassessment and 340 days for “departmental reviews.”
“There is still work to be done,” wrote staff; “We know there is more to be done.”
The Parliamentary Budget Office in a report last September 28 predicted at current rates it would take at least three years to clear the backlog of applications. Even with extra spending “the backlog should stop growing but it will not be eliminated by March 2022,” said the report Disability Benefit Processing At Veterans Affairs Canada.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay in November 12 testimony at the Commons veterans committee acknowledged paperwork was onerous. “You know this difficulty,” said MacAulay. “You know about filling out forms. I mightn’t be great at it myself.”
“But the thing is you need the people (who) know how to fill out the forms,” said MacAulay. “The problem you have with the forms is there’s something missing, something vitally important that could be missing, and you have to make sure that it is all there.”
The Royal Canadian Legion in a November 18 submission to the committee said there appeared no light at the end of the tunnel to years-long waits for veterans’ benefits. “There is no quick fix to this major backlog and we do not see any end in sight,” testified Raymond McInnis, director of veterans services for the Legion’s Dominion Command.
Processing identical claims can take from 10 to 80 weeks for no apparent reason, said McInnis.
“I have no idea what to tell a veteran,” he said.
“We can’t even tell veterans with any degree of accuracy when their claim will be processed and a decision rendered,” said McInnis. “We understand the backlog is huge.”
Chad Wagner, executive director of the Legion’s Saskatchewan Command, said veterans with obvious diagnosed injuries related to service could wait years for paperwork to be processed. “It’s fairly clear in the medical records they have an injury due to service,” said Wagner.
“Nothing is strange about it. Yet it still takes 19 months, 20 months to approve.”
Mike D’Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief for the Western Standard.