Blog-February 13, 2012-How to Fix Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board

Just when Ottawa bureaucrats and politicians thought they would have a quiet week following unsuccessful attempts to placate stakeholders in an Ottawa conference room this week (click here for article), all of Hades breaks loose.  One conscientious Canadian reader was supportive of my latest piece (click here) . If only Ottawa was as supportive of veterans.

Of course Ottawa claims it is indeed supportive… but shouldn’t the customer be the one who determines if he/she is being properly served? As such, it should be veterans who define what is dignified, what is fair and what is respectful… not a glossy professional ad campaign emptily telling CF injured, veterans and their families that fifty years of abandonment by Veterans Affairs is treating them with dignity, fairness and respect.

Surely Canada’s elected and unelected officials were already busy cleaning up after revelations were made about how the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has been sidestepping compassionate provisions of the laws governing its operation (click here for article) for the past 10 years or more. Unfortunately, the letter from the Board’s Chair (click here for letter) responding to my article above seems to have drawn considerable and substantive published newspaper rebuttals from prominent CF veteran organizations and in one case a feisty and dedicated spouse of a veteran clearly wronged by the Board.

CEO of rebuttal

President of Canadian Veterans Advocacy rebuttal

Chief Editor of rebuttal

Letter from Roseanne Dornan

Please don’t feel sorry for the hard work the senior mandarins and political advisers will undoubtedly be doing this week. They have had ample time and warning to fix Veterans Affairs and its Board (VRAB) for more than 15 years. The Canadian Forces began fundamental change to rebuild the trust and confidence of its serving military and their families in the mid-1990’s.

What did VAC do? Wait until 1999 to commission a study (Review of Veterans Care Needs Phase III-Sage Research). Then VAC created the VAC-CF advisory council which met for four years without providing public awareness of what was discussed by this council. Finally, VAC enacted legislation created and manipulated by secrecy, exclusion and coercion (just do a media search of “lump sum + veterans affairs canada”, “new veterans charter” or just “Sean Bruyea”).

Meanwhile, the CF improved by painfully facing  how poorly it was treating its serving members and their families. The Somalia Inquiry, Croatia Board of Inquiry and  multiple House and Senate Committee hearings were all held in public to permit catharsis and healing. Canada also sadly learned about how it has been letting down its men and women in uniform and their families.

Throughout this time, VAC continued to do little or nothing to bring the abandoned CF veterans and their families in from the cold isolation of being treated like pariahs for fifty years while tens of thousands were so thoughtless as to get injured (60,000+) or die (1700+) in service to Canada and Canadians.

Not until 2005 did VAC quickly and secretly make a deal with as few as six representatives of six veteran organizations…all of whom if they were permitted to speak to their members could only talk to less than 5% of CF veterans at best (more likely 2%). In fact, the three modern CF veteran groups so often marched out in support of subsequent and equally secretive changes represent less than 1,000 CF veterans between all three of the organizations combined.  There are 680,000 serving and retired CF members.

This week, the Veterans Affairs scandal of the decade (which appears it will last for at least a decade more) reared its unrepentant head-the Privacy Scandal.

As you are likely aware, I was the first to come forward with substantial evidence (now 20,000 pages, 900+ persons seeing my private information and counting) and a Privacy Commissioner’s well-founded investigation as to how VAC has committed multiple and widespread breaches my private and confidential medical and financial information. Louise Richard followed suit in coming forward as did Dennis Manuge and Sylvain Chartrand.

They all should be deeply thanked. Standing up to government when we all were willing to die at government’s orders is a very tough existential obstacle to overcome.

This week, Harold Leduc (click here for article) has shown that all the promises made to clean up Veterans Affairs over the past eighteen months have failed dismally. The culture in Charlottetown and its satellite office in Ottawa is so disconnected from reality that senior managers see breaches of Canadian Privacy laws as merely “clerical errors”.  In fact, inside sources have repeatedly indicated that senior managers most culpable for past breaches don’t believe they did anything wrong. Please remember that it was senior managers who were responsible for the breaches in my case, not front line employees who are generally and substantially far more understanding of disability and military service than those designing and adjudicating programs way off in Charlottetown.

How can such arrogance and plain old meanness exist in a federal department legally mandated to be compassionate to veterans? You see, these are not bad people.

They are good people doing bad things.

The trouble being that they feel that they have the divine authority to design programs and benefits in complete isolation without letting veterans decide their own destiny or medical practitioners to help guide the way…until it is too late. Instead, a fait accompli is forced upon poorly prepared leaders of organizations who are usually not even disabled veterans let alone being dependent upon Veterans Affairs for injury support, treatment and benefits.

Notice how serving injured military are also excluded from directly deciding upon the programs which will affect them for the rest of their lives.

This pattern has been in place for more than 60 years. The only difference is that veterans of all ages and disabilities have decided that they will no longer tolerate being dictated to in secret meetings with no ability to directly and inclusively shape the future of their peers and their families.

The big question is why do the politicians allow the senior bureaucrats  to get off scot-free when they break the law? Why do politicians continue to allow scandal after tragic story after abuse of veterans to continue when all of this could be dealt with the way the CF dealt with it…a commission of inquiry into veterans’ issues?

Ordering a public inquiry really is that easy. The ruling party gets these issues off the Parliamentary agenda. Veterans finally would have a public voice to educate Canadians.  And Canada can truly honour the sacrifice made daily in our nation’s name by soldiers who only wish, should they be wounded, to be cared for the way each and every military member cares for Canada.

What better way to heal than to grant a voice to those who have none and listen to those overcome by neglect?

And those who are not wounded only wish to receive the assistance they deserve to become productive and valued civilians.

Please Prime Minister Harper, make history and gain the respect of more than a million veterans and their families by ordering a commission of public inquiry into veterans’ issues.  I can guarantee that millions more Canadians will rethink their image of you.

The alternative of endless vulnerable injured veterans continually coming forward is far too ugly for any government…or veteran. Failing to fundamentally change Veterans Affairs Canada guarantees such ugliness for decades to come.

Warm Regards

Sean Bruyea