A recent magazine article by Sharon Adams focussed on Veterans Affairs Canada and struggles among our military veterans. If there was ever a need for two federal departments to work hand-in-hand it would be CAF/DND and VAC. Astonishingly, at the bureaucratic level they seem to operate as if the other one does not even exist. With the recent appointment of two military veterans to the most senior positions at VAC, an attempt to change the culture is underway. There is reason to hope that these efforts can help bridge the institutional divide. But, historically injured veterans crossed this chasm alone to face the pension application claims and appeals processes for injures directly related to their military service. Many were caught in no man’s land. It is very difficult to understand how applicants can be treated as unknown entities walking in off the street when VAC has one clientele - military and RCMP veterans.
As many people know, the origins of VAC began after WWI and rose to departmental status following WWII to accommodate soldiers returning home. Among other things, it was given the responsibility of separating legitimate claimants from other soldiers who were faking injuries. Despite the passage of 70 years, this mandate remains enshrined within VAC philosophy as evidenced by the complex application and appeals processes that many veterans have complained about bitterly. In the meanwhile, the military’s health system is vastly different from the ‘battlefield medicine’ focus of the 1940s. Since the 1990s, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested within the military, and personnel of every conceivable speciality are available to it for the administration of health. This is particularly true in determining physical and mental injuries that result in recommendations for medical release. Our military’s healthcare system has been described as unparalleled in Canada and the envy of some of our allies.
If CAF/DND medical personnel and clinicians deem a member unfit medically to serve, one would think that this would warrant automatic disability status as a VAC client without any need for application. On the other hand, when a medically released member is denied or delayed disability status by VAC, in my mind, this represents a challenge to the competence of DND personnel to make a determination of service-related injury. In discussion with my military friends, I agree with their argument that the two departments should retain independence because of the risk of funding re-allocations during times of fiscal constraints upon the military. Even so, I believe that much closer bureaucratic ties and mutual respect can occur to avoid duplications that are costing millions of dollars annually and putting many veterans through a needless process.
Instead of an adjudication and claims management focus, the efforts at VAC could be ground-breaking with a shift in focus to the development and evaluation of substantive rehabilitation initiatives. This may require building an entirely different structure. In our current situation, too many men and women in their 30s and 40s are languishing without any clear direction forward in their lives.
John J. Whelan
John J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the author of Going Crazy in the Green Machine, available now on FriesenPress.