Feds keep veterans in the dark on disability decisions: Ombudsman

December 1, 2015 – Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News

Veterans need to know what information the government is using to determine their disability benefits — and right now, they don’t, the Veterans Ombudsman says.

That’s in spite of a report four years ago exhorting the government to make those records available.

None of the hundreds of decision letters ombudsman Guy Parent reviewed explains how the government calculated an injury’s “quality of life” impact, even though that plays a critical role in determining whether someone gets benefits.

A third of the letters had no explanation at all.

The system is too complicated for the government to expect vets to intuit for themselves the reasons behind a benefits decision, reads the report, released Tuesday afternoon.

In other words: Show your work, Veterans Affairs.

“Veterans need to know what information is used to make a disability decision in their cases,” Parent said in a statement Tuesday.

“They need to know how decisions are arrived at; they need to have the results clearly communicated to them; and, they need to understand the impact.”

By failing to do so, Parent said, the government is neglecting its legal obligation to veterans.

Red tape and bureaucratic barriers have been identified as a key factor stymieing veterans who need help. So when vets who’ve been hurt or suffer from mental illness can’t even figure out the reasons behind a departmental decision, the ombudsman says, that makes things worse.

READ MORE: Canada still falls short in treating soldiers’ psychic wounds

“The Minister was happy to see that the Department is making progress but he also noted that there is more to be done to ensure Veterans have the information and services they need,” Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr’s spokesperson Christian Duval said in an email.

“The Minister will study the report and he will seek ways to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendation where possible.”

Global News has asked Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr what he thinks of the report; we’ll post his response as soon as we get it.

Hehr pledged last month to dramatically change the way Ottawa deals with veterans, giving them the benefit of the doubt when making claims instead of placing the onus on veterans to prove their need.

Ottawa has only followed through on two of the eight recommendations the ombudsman made four years ago, the report finds.

The ombudsman’s 2011 reports made eight recommendations; the government has only followed through on two of them. (Four are in progress; two haven’t even begun, this report says.)

The ombudsman reviewed 308 disability benefit decision letters assessing the five most commonly claimed medical conditions: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing loss, osteoarthritis of the knee, tinnitus, and lumbar disc disease.

None of the letters included information about how Veterans Affairs determined a disability’s “quality of life” impact, which is one of two metrics used to calculate the benefits a veteran gets. The other is a person’s level of medical impairment.

That’s a problem, the report reads, because “the Qualify of Life Rating is a critical factor in the determination of a Veteran’s disability assessment.”

But even if you disregard that quality of life measurement, only 38 per cent of letters gave “sufficient” reasons behind their decisions, the ombudsman found.

A third of them gave no reason at all.

Sixty-two per cent of letters didn’t explain the assessment or how the evidence available led to the decision, the report finds.

This report is only the latest indication of an information vacuum when it comes to Canada’s veterans: A Canadian Forces study of military suicides only looked at Regular Force members — the stats for veterans who’ve re-entered civilian life just aren’t there.

That study’s findings were sobering on their own, however: Army members are three times more likely to kill themselves than other Canadian forces members.

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