Equitas Society members Prem Singh Vinning and The Honourable John Allen Fraser present veteran Major Mark Campbell with a Canadian flag print at a 2012 fundraising dinner. Campbell lost both legs above the knees while serving in Afghanistan.

Equitas Society members Prem Singh Vinning and The Honourable John Allen Fraser present veteran Major Mark Campbell with a Canadian flag print at a 2012 fundraising dinner. Campbell lost both legs above the knees while serving in Afghanistan.

Report fuels Veterans Affairs criticism

Equitas claims auditor general's findings on mental health are further indications of lax federal treatment of injured military personnel

Veterans seeking benefits for mental illness and injury are getting a raw deal from the federal government when it comes to timely access, a report from the auditor general confirms.

And officials with a local disabled veterans’ rights group say the finding – including that one in six Canadian vets with mental-health issues is waiting more than eight months to find out if their benefits have been approved – proves the outlook for those injured while serving their country has only dimmed in the past three years.

“Veterans matter – and they’re being mistreated,” said Gerry Lenoski, vice-president of the White Rock-based Equitas Society, which is currently pursuing a class-action suit on behalf of disabled veterans.

“It doesn’t square with Canadian values.”

Lenoski said he is not surprised at outrage being expressed in the wake of Michael Ferguson’s report, which was issued Tuesday. It adds more fuel to a fire of concern over the government’s overall approach to veterans, he said.

Lenoski said it is particularly disturbing at a time when reports have emerged that Veterans Affairs had returned $1.13 billion in unspent money to the federal Treasury since 2006, while eight Veterans Affairs offices across the country were closed earlier this year and the department received budget cuts and layoffs.

“You’d think that we would have reached a tipping point, given the litany of outrage over (Veterans Affairs),” Lenoski said.

“It hasn’t got better – it’s deteriorated. You wonder how much worse it can get before a political effect takes place at the ballot box.”

Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino – out of the country this week observing ceremonies commemorating Canadian service in Italy during the Second World War – has issued a statement that the Conservative government “accepts all of the recommendations made in the auditor general’s report.”

Fantino said he’d recommended a year ago that Ferguson review mental-health supports and, even before receiving the results, had announced a $200-million program of “expanded mental-health initiatives.”

While Ferguson’s report acknowledges some new government health supports for veterans are working – including a rehabilitation program that gave timely support to some 4,600 recently released veterans with mental-health conditions – access to the disability benefits program, the usual route for seeking mental-health services, is “slow, and the application process is complex.”

According to the report, out of close to 3,000 veterans applying for mental-health support last year, 700 had not received an answer in four months and 500 were still awaiting word after eight months. Such a delay could threaten a veteran’s “stabilization and recovery,” the report states.

In his statement, Fantino said he has launched a Mental Health Services for Veterans Action Plan to address the issue.

“We will improve the disability benefits application process and reduce barriers to timely access to benefits,” he said.

“In recent months, we have hired additional people across Canada to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed claims and help speed the transfer of any medical and service documents required for the application process.”

Fantino also promised to strengthen outreach efforts, invest in treatment and develop a mental-health first-aid program for veterans and their families.

Lenoski said Equitas filed with the B.C. Supreme Court in the fall of 2012 to launch a class-action suit on behalf of all disabled veterans – including those with post-traumatic stress disorder – challenging the federal government’s New Veterans Charter, which reduced benefits for those disabled in the line of duty to a single lump payment.

Equitas is arguing that disabled Canadian Forces members receive equal, lifelong benefits consistent with the standard of compensation programs received by Canadian workers.

Two years in, Lenoski said, the Supreme Court is still hearing arguments for approving the suit, including an appeal from the federal government that asserts it does not have a social contract with Canadian Forces veterans.

Equitas is arguing that a promise made by former prime minister Robert Borden to Canadian soldiers fighting in the First World War – that they would be protected if maimed, and their families looked after if they were killed – amounts to a social covenant.

“I find it interesting that on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War that the federal government is arguing that Sir Robert Borden’s undertaking was simply a political promise,” Lenoski said.

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Traffic was tied up at the intersection of Scott and Old Yale Roads in North Surrey on Tuesday afternoon, after a semi truck hauling a load of pipes flipped while making a turn. (Shane MacKichan photos)
VIDEO: Semi hauling load of pipes flips in North Surrey intersection

Traffic near Scott and Old Yale Roads tied up by Tuesday afternoon incident

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions (Screen shot)
Minister of mental health tells Surrey audience COVID-19 ‘has made everything worse’

More than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving medication to treat opioid addiction

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tens of thousands of farmers descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Delta council stands in solidarity with protesting Indian farmers

Farmers have been protesting for months new laws they say leave them open to corporate exploitation

A sign posted to a tree in Maccaud Park urges people to email White Rock City Council and oppose the construction of pickleball courts in the park. (Contributed photo)
White Rock council deems Maccaud Park pickleball courts out of bounds

Unanimous vote against constructing courts follows public feedback

Surrey city council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey drugstores seeking relaxation of spacing rules ‘a challenge,’ councillor says

‘Obviously we need pharmacies but it seems to me that we are getting an awful lot of applications,’ Brenda Locke says

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

In a 2019 photograph, Yin Yin Din held a picture of her brother Kyaw Naing Din, 54, and her late father Hla Din who passed away in 2014, during a trip to Victoria. (The News files)
Family of B.C. man killed by cop appeals to Attorney General for help

The Din family want B.C. Attorney General David Eby to forward their case to Crown

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Of 46 arrests made between March 16 and 19 at Metrotown mall in Burnaby, 27 suspected shoplifters are now facing charges. (Twitter/Burnaby RCMP)
RCMP arrest 46 people in 4 days during Metrotown shoplifting crackdown

$4,800 in stolen merchandise was recovered and returned to businesses inside of the mall

Maple Ridge's Doug Ubell caught some photographs recently that he was anxious to share, one taken while on the Trans-Canada Trail looking southwest towards the Pitt River Bridge, and another from on Golden Ears Bridge. (Special to The News)
Traffic on Golden Ears Bridge returning to pre-pandemic levels

Commuters from Greater Vancouver still driving more, taking transit less

Kao Macaulay has been charged in relation to a home break-in on March 30 in Abbotsford in which five kittens were stolen. (Facebook photo)
‘Prolific offender’ charged with theft of 5 newborn kittens in Abbotsford

Kao Macaulay, 23, is accused of breaking into home on March 30

Most Read