Our veterans deserve better

Editorial-THE HILL TIMES-October 4, 2010

The Hill Times’ Tim Naumetz last week broke the story that Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran is under treatment for operational stress injury that dates back to the 1990s and to his time in Bosnia and that he fears Veterans Affairs Canada may have improperly shared his personal medical files and other information in the hopes of destroying his credibility.

Recently outspoken and critical of the government’s treatment of veterans and of the New Veterans Charter, Mr. Stogran, whose term as federal vets ombudsman will not be renewed in November, said he has no proof his files were circulated, but said there were more than 400 inquiries made into them. He also said he was told by the head of security that most of the inquiries were not on a need-to-know basis. Mr. Stogran told CTV News which followed The Hill Times’ story, that after criticizing government policy last year, he became the target of dirty tricks.

Mr. Stogran said this is not about his own personal fight for justice, although critics say he is speaking out now because his term won’t be renewed. Mr. Stogran said it’s a fight for all veterans and that the situation is symptomatic of larger problems within Veterans Affairs Canada.

“This is a one-off case to the Canadian public but welcome to my world,” Mr. Stogran told CTV’s Canada AM last Tuesday. “I know there are other instances of this kind of treatment of veterans and if the government is only going to correct problems with the treatment of veterans that are brought to the public attention, that’s a grossly inefficient way of dealing with a system that is severely broken.”

He told his story to The Hill Times after CP reported recently that veteran Sean Bruyea, an outspoken advocate for veterans, released proof that his files had been leaked to former veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson to try to undermine his criticism of veterans’ allowances.

NDP MP Peter Stoffer, his party’s veterans affairs critic, said the House Veterans Affairs Committee should investigate this breach of privacy. “We’d also like to ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind, how many other people in the country has this happened to,” Mr. Stoffer told CTV National News last Monday night.

Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, meanwhile, insists that what happened with Mr. Bruyea and possibly Mr. Stogran will not happen again and emphasized that the privacy of Canada’s veterans is “very, very important.” And Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart announced last week that she will investigate how Veteran Affairs handles the personal information of wounded Canadian soldiers. Ms. Stoddart is also expected to rule on Mr. Bruyea’s case.

Mr. Stogran said he believes he is being penalized because he was too critical of the federal government’s treatment of veterans. He has criticized the government’s emphasis on lump sum disability payments, rather than guaranteed life-time pensions. His office found the New Veterans Charter short-changes severely disabled soldiers.

There is no doubt Mr. Stogran is now firing back. But that doesn’t mean what he’s saying is not right.

Parliament should also look into this whole important issue for the sake of Veterans Affairs Canada, for all veterans, and for the sake of watchdogs who criticize the government.