by Perry Gray-THE HILL TIMES-Feb. 13, 2012
Re: “Veterans Board responds to Bruyea,” (The Hill Times, Jan. 30, p. 8, by John Larlee, chairman of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board). As an applicant and veteran, I question the veracity of Mr. Larlee’s letter. There are several different ways that a veteran may appeal decisions made by VAC. Too often, the first type—a departmental review—is not considered, as Veterans Affairs Canada refers applicants directly to VRAB. Referral to VRAB is a much more costly, time-consuming, and undignified process than even the oft-criticized decisions by VAC.
The first and only opportunity that most applicants have to communicate with VRAB is a review hearing. This is stated on the VRAB website: “It is the only time in the process when applicants may appear before the decision-makers to provide oral evidence and tell their story.” An applicant may appear at their own expense for the second type of hearing, an appeal, but they may not address the board because “The legislation does not permit oral testimony at this level.” The legal right to appear may exist, but the right of the individual to meaningfully participate is not recognized in practice. As such, the right to appear is essentially meaningless.
Mr. Larlee also did not mention that there have been very few applications of compassionate appeals and ministerial reconsiderations. This leaves the dissatisfied applicant with one last option to seek justice in a Federal Court of law at their own expense, usually around $20,000 in costs if the veteran is lucky. As such, the whole process seems hypocritical as Mr. Larlee says, the VRAB “is less formal, less costly and less time-consuming than the courts.” But if it is just a precursor to going to court how is it less of anything?
Another major failing of this quasi-judicial system (and can anyone explain what this really means) is the absence of the most important information source, namely qualified medical practitioners. The majority of appeals are about the level of disability of the veteran, and yet no doctors or nurses testify about the medical conditions and their impact on veterans. The VRAB website states “board members examine, interpret, and evaluate medical evidence presented by applicants. Members are also required to assess the credibility of this evidence.”
How can the board make decisions without the testimony of attending physicians or health-care providers? Instead, the board relies on the inexpert information from VAC and whatever information is provided by the applicant. In what court of law are decisions made without including the testimony of all qualified participants? It is like having a criminal case without the police, the forensic experts, and other expert witnesses.
Why does Mr. Larlee believe that veterans should be satisfied with a success rate of 50 per cent after review hearings, and less than 33 per cent after appeals? He also fails to mention that his success stories include many veterans who receive less than what their disability otherwise merits and must find an alternative to seek redress of their grievances.
The fact that Mr. Larlee felt the need to defend his organization in a letter that sidesteps all major criticisms of his management of the board is just another indication of why a public inquiry into veterans’ issues is necessary.
Canadians, Parliamentarians, and, of course, veterans need to examine what should be happening instead of sugar-coated versions of what a bureaucrat’s claim is happening.
As an executive of an organization with a community of more than 110,000 veterans and other Canadians dealing with veterans’ issues, the red tape and indignity with which our government treats our veterans needs to be cleaned up now.