Royal Canadian Legion Pens Letter to PM to Clear Disability Benefits Backlog for Veterans

The backlog has reduced by 44 per cent since June 2020, Veterans Affairs Canada says Isha Bhargava, CBC News
Posted: Feb 24, 2022

The Royal Canadian Legion, a community support organization for veterans, has written a letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clear the backlog of disability benefits that many of its members are waiting for.

John Sluggett, service officer at the Victory Legion Branch #317 in London, Ont., says there are many veterans who are in urgent need of financial support.

“These gentlemen have pledged to defend Canada with their lives, but now that they’re in need of some financial support, it’s taking too long,” he said.

The disability benefits provide veterans with financial compensation for medical and health-related services, along with treatments for any physical or mental illnesses.

Sluggett, who is also a former employee at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), says these backlogs are not uncommon, but the pandemic’s onset has only made the problem worse.

A pandemic-induced staff shortage at Veteran’s Affairs Canada (VAC), has led them to downsize some departments, and restrictions have limited staff from doing in-person assessments with veterans, further delaying supports.

“Before COVID, they brought the wait down to a reasonable amount of time, which was about 9-10 weeks, but now they haven’t been in an office, and are unable to interview the veterans,” he said.

Changing complexities of claims

Sluggett says the biggest change to the system has been the increasing complexities of the claims, making it difficult for people to receive appropriate diagnoses.

“We used to usually deal with physical issues, and now you don’t see as many physical disabilities as you do mental, which are harder to diagnose and get a handle on,” he added.

In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson for VAC said, “the current processing times for disability benefits are unacceptable, and reducing them remains our top priority.”

The department has hired over 350 temporary employees and has been able to reduce the backlog down to under 13,000 veterans who are still waiting, down by 44 per cent since 2020.

According to Sluggett, once a veteran is approved for the benefit, they can choose how to receive it, whether it be a one-time lump sum payment, or monthly installments.

A single one-time claim can still be processed within nine weeks, but tying additional claims to it, a common case for many veterans, can increase the wait times by up to two years, he added.

Funding announced to clear backlogs

On Wednesday, Lawrence MacAuley, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, announced funding of $139.6 million over two years to extend temporary positions at VAC as an effort to reduce processing times.

“Nothing is more important right now than ensuring veterans receive their benefits in a timely manner,” he said. “With this investment, VAC staff can continue making decisions faster, and get the backlog under control.

Sluggett says that while veterans are aware of how long wait times can be before they apply, the Legion continues boosting their morale.

“I tell them ‘this is like a war…we’re going to win this battle, but the war is never over’,” he said.

VAC says they plan to reduce the number of applications waiting longer than 16-weeks by half by the end of March.

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