By Tim Naumetz-THE HILL TIMES-October 18, 2010
Quebec Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire says injured Canadian war veterans distrust the Veterans Affairs Department to the point some would rather continue on in the Army as disabled personnel rather than risk an uncertain future dealing with the department’s now-famous bureaucracy.
Sen. Dallaire, perhaps Canada’s best-known injured veteran, also compared veteran disability programs to the commercial offerings of private insurance companies during an interview with The Hill Times and said it might be time for the government to return the Veterans Affairs Canada from its headquarters location in Prince Edward Island to the controlled bureaucratic world of Ottawa.
He made the comments in the wake of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart’s recent finding that bureaucrats in the department violated the Privacy Act by disclosing the personal medical files of another well-known veteran, Sean Bruyea, and also on the heels of the government’s unpopular decision not to renew the term of retired army colonel Pat Stogran, yet another injured veteran, as the country’s first veterans ombudsman.
“It’s such a turn of events that we’ve been having over these past couple of months,” said Sen. Dallaire, who recently took over chairmanship of the Senate’s Sub-Committee on Veterans Affairs and said comments by veterans who have testified at the committee before the tumult of this summer had already disclosed discontent about the way the department treats its clients.
“It has come forward that soldiers are keen on staying, even disabled, working in National Defence then being released and then falling into the hands of Veterans Affairs,” Sen. Dallaire said. “There are still areas of that handover [from the forces to departmental support] are not clear. There are areas of compensation and support that are not clear.”
He said when a former Liberal government moved Veterans Affairs headquarters to Charlottetown, P.E.I., he believed it would be a positive step because of the down-to-earth nature of most veterans who deal with the department and the rural setting of the island.
“I was left with that impression when I was in National Defence and going to our meetings with Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, with their staff, there was this sort of a bit of warm and fuzzy feeling, that it was a positive exercise,” he said.
“I’m wondering, looking at some of the reports and results and commentary that have been coming out, access to information material, having isolated it in P.E.I. may have rendered it more vulnerable to not necessarily following the proper processes that all the other departments are doing because of all the other in-house, in-town checks and balances that they have. Honestly, when I look at it, it’s now turned into a bit more of a toss-up then what it used to be, a firm conviction that Charlottetown was the right place.”
In the aftermath of Ms. Stoddart’s confirmation that Veterans Affairs bureaucrats improperly distributed information from the medical files of Mr. Bruyea, who like Sen. Dallaire has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Sen. Dallaire was surprised when The Hill Times asked him if he was concerned his own medical files have also been distributed to government officials or others.
“I don’t even know what the hell is in my file. I’ve been so busy I never even sat back and wondered about that,” he replied. “Well, you’ve opened up an interesting angle. It just may be naive or stupid on my part, but I’ve never made that extrapolation.”
He added that the revelations involving Mr. Bruyea, however, show that in fact he may also have been a victim of privacy violation.
“I think that’s fair, from what has been identified by the information commissioner, that people are allowed to be concerned about their file and concerned about our files, I sort of put myself amongst everybody else. I hadn’t perceived it specifically, but now the concern has been raised.”
Sen. Dallaire, however, said it is unlikely he will raise the issue with the department. “What it would be is only another example of a situation that’s already been well-documented.”
From the information that has been gathered so far in the Senate subcommittee’s hearings into veteran support programs, Sen. Dallaire said the New Veterans Charter and the government’s current system of supporting veterans and their families is more like a private life insurance scheme than the kind of “contract” a country should have with soldiers who risk their lives in its service.
“We’ve seen that instead of a document that is reflective of a social contract between the people of Canada and their veterans or soldiers who live under the premise of the unlimited liability clause, which means they can give their life in performing their duties, we’ve seen that what was ultimately written in legislation and applied in regulations looks more like an insurance policy from a firm, or company type of compensation structure instead of being a lifelong responsibility of the people of Canada to the veterans who put their lives on the line.”
Sen. Dallaire argued the government should have renewed Mr. Stogran’s term, at least long enough to give the department time to learn from what he has learned in his three-year tenure. “I would have thought that you might want to keep him on, at least extend him a year or two to gain the value of his experience and hopefully his continued knowledge of the system.”
The Hill Times