Feds falling short on promise to provide better case management to vets

Many veterans had to wait months for their files to be assigned to case managers

The Peace Tower is pictured on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, September 15, 2014. The federal government is blaming a surprise increase in the number of veterans seeking assistance for its failure to make good on a key Liberal promise of ensuring enough case managers to help those in need. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

The Trudeau government is failing in its promise to spread the heavy caseloads borne by staff at Veterans Affairs Canada in an effort to make sure veterans are served properly, according to recent internal briefing materials.

Case managers assigned to severely disabled veterans are supposed to help cut through the red tape that stands between them and the services and benefits they’re entitled to after they have left the military, and there have long been complaints about large caseloads.

READ MORE: Feds sued for short-changing disabled veterans and alleged cover-up

The result was many veterans had to wait months for their files to be assigned to case managers and, even then, difficulty getting help as case managers were often overwhelmed and had little time to talk to veterans about their struggles.

The Liberals promised several years ago to reduce the ratio of veterans to assigned to each case manager from a high of 40-1 under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to 25-1 by hiring more staff.

Yet while the government has more than doubled the number of case managers at Veterans Affairs since 2015, to 411 from 194, newly released figures show the ratio has been stuck around 32-1.

Officials acknowledged their inability to meet the government’s target in briefing notes prepared for Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was appointed veterans-affairs minister in January. She resigned a few weeks later, over her treatment in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“Despite the increase in funding and resources, Veterans Affairs Canada has been unable to achieve the stated objective to reduce the caseload ratios,” reads one note obtained through the access-to-information law.

The department specifically blamed a surprise increase in the number of veterans asking for case-managed services.

The department had been hiring more case managers, Wilson-Raybould was told, but was having difficulty in some areas “given the competitive labour market and a variety of other reasons.”

At the same time, “it is recognized that simply increasing staff numbers will not meet the increasing demand,” which was why officials were rolling out a suite of new initiatives.

Those included directing more veterans to online services and screening them based on need, with less-severe cases being sent to “service-delivery agents” instead of case managers.

“All of these strategies are in progress and the department expects to see a sustainable decrease in the ratios over the next few years,” reads the briefing note.

Yet at least one veteran says the result has been a decrease in the support he’s received since having his case manager replaced by a service-delivery agent.

“The dedicated veterans’ service agent just doesn’t have the experience,” said Don Leonardo, a 20-year veteran who served in the former Yugoslavia and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It takes weeks and weeks to get a simple answer because they all have to go up the chain to get the answer to your question. It is frustrating.”

The department’s figures show a great degree of variance between caseloads across the country, with western Quebec achieving the 25-1 ratio.

But Central Ontario, Alberta and the Northwest Territories trailed far behind, with case managers in each dealing with 37 cases apiece. The rest of the country fell somewhere in between.

Virginia Vaillancourt, national president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, said even those numbers aren’t accurate. She said she knows some individual case managers with up to 60 cases.

Such heavy caseloads have a direct impact on employees, who are pushed to the brink and can end up quitting, said Vaillancourt, which ultimately hurts veterans.

While Vaillancourt said there have been mixed reactions to the new initiatives being rolled out by the government, “the reasonable solution is to hire more case managers.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s spokesman Alex Wellstead said the government is committed to better supporting those who have served in uniform by hiring more staff and making it easier to access services.

“If a veteran requires a case manager, they will receive the best care possible until they feel they have made a successful transition,” he said.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

DNA confirms SUV struck and killed Abbotsford cyclist in 2015, court hears

Kerry Froese operated company that owned vehicle that struck and killed Ronald James Scott in 2015

Trial begins for Abbotsford chicken farmer charged with 2015 fatal hit-and-run

Kerry Froese is charged with hitting cyclist Ronald Scott on Mt. Lehman Road

Elton John, Billy Joel perform in Mission – sort of!

Impersonator Ryan Langevin sang at the Clarke Theatre on Saturday night

UFV offers mental-health screenings as part of Beyond the Blues

Activities at event from Jan. 27-31 include stress bingos and colouring

Second earthquake in two days strikes near Agassiz

A 2.6-magnitude recorded Saturday morning

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

First-place Canucks beat Blues 3-1 for ninth straight home win

Miller nets pair as Vancouver defeats Cup champs

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Police search for man who went missing from Vernon hotel

Jay Rosenberger, 38, was last seen Friday

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

After four sex assaults linked, RCMP ask women not to walk alone in Coquitlam park

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

BC Place lights up in purple and yellow to honour Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash

Whistleblower says Iranian-Americans questioned at Peace Arch crossing were targeted

Immigration lawyer says response from Customs Border Protection is a ‘total cover up’

Most Read