Group says Canada’s veterans need an ombudsman News Staff

Date: Wed. Nov. 10 2004 6:28 AM ET

Canada needs an ombudsman to serve its veterans, says a new lobby group.

“Once that uniform is off, the door is closed,” Louise Richard, a retired navy lieutenant, told a news conference on Tuesday. “Where is the support?

“This should not be acceptable. It is not acceptable.”

She is one member of Veterans Ombudsman – An Independent Client Evaluation (VOICE).

A report prepared by the group says there are at least 45,000 veterans released by the Canadian military since 1953 who are receiving pensions for disabilities such as environmental illness and post-traumatic stress.

Some of the more recent vets — those who served in the Balkans, for example — are having to wait up to five years for decisions to be made on their benefits, it says.

“An ombudsman’s office at Veterans Affairs would ensure that systemic problems would not be filtered by middle managers,” said Sean Bruyea, an ex-captain in the intelligence corps.

“Instead, key bureaucrats would be aware of concerns at all levels.”

Bruyea said a charter, or public declaration of commitments and principles, should also be drafted.

A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Canada says the department is not considering an ombudsman.

“The largest ex-service persons organization, the Royal Canadian Legion, is not in favour,” said Janice Summerby.

“They don’t want any buffer between themselves and us and we’re very much a consulting organization.

“The other factor is that we have a very elaborate appeal process now– maybe as good as any in the country.”

That appeal board is independent, she said.

“I think what’s really important to note is that there are a lot of satisfied clients. We’re not an adversarial process at all.”

However, Bruyea noted that active-duty soldiers do have an ombudsman.

“Furthermore VAC does not have any publicized services guarantees for processing claims and/or reimbursement for treatment. This is a bizarre oversight for a department mandated to provide critical and life-saving services,” he said.

Canada has about 700,000 veterans.

Veterans Affairs has 210,000 clients. About 150,000 of those are paid a total of $1.6 billion per year in disability benefits.

With files from The Canadian Press