Should veterans be unhappy with a ruling by Veterans Affairs about benefits or services they feel entitled to receive, they can turn to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
Then, if the appeal proves unsatisfactory, ex-soldiers can turn to the federal court, but once there, applicants must either speak for themselves or pay for a lawyer to represent them.
The court considers “whether questions of law, fact and procedural fairness were handled in cases before them,” said a report released on Monday by Canada’s veterans ombudsman.
Guy Parent was critical of many facets of how the hearings are handled and learned the federal court discovered errors in the handling over 60 per cent of the appeal board cases from 2010-2011.
“Ultimately, this is about the fair treatment of the men and women who have served their country honourably,” said Parent in his 53-page report. “They should come to the department confident that they will obtain the benefits and services that they are entitled to on first application, and if they choose to appeal decisions with the department or the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, they should be equally confident that the merits of their case will be considered fully and fairly.”
He noted it was also unfair that veterans must bear the high costs of legal representation in their effort to receive benefits owed to them and recommended the Bureau of Pension Advocates be assigned to represent those seeking a ruling from the court.
Parent acknowledged the board is overwhelmed, with around 5,000 reviews of Veterans Affairs cases every year, and urged the ministry ensure the review and appeal board is “sufficiently resourced” so it can offer timely, fair decisions.
Another of the ombudsman’s seven recommendations was that the agency be properly funded to allow all the appeal decisions to be posted online.
We are heartened to hear a spokesman for Veterans Affair Minister Steven Blaney said the board has been told to act on all Parent’s suggestions.
It’s wrong that those who served our country have been forced to grovel for benefits via a review process viewed with distrust that would cost them money to get help from the courts in addressing.
Some of the ombudsman’s recommendations should begin to address what has emerged as yet another problem in the troubled Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.