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

Commercial plaza proposed for Rocky Creek and Ludlow intersection

Town Council directed the application proceed for further consideration

Symphony pop-up concerts coming to Saltair

Only 40 tickets available so get them soon if you’re interested

South Wellington Elementary demolition not taking place next school year

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School trustees vote against razing south-end school in 2020/21

One piper piping during the pandemic

Tribute to health care workers reaches the 100th performance

Town of Ladysmith receives $3.3 million grant for Arts & Heritage Hub

The funds will go to creating artist studios around the Machine Shop and maintaining heritage assets

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

We’re asking you to lock arms with us, as we look to better days ahead

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

Minivan driver’s speed a factor in fatal 2018 Malahat crash

Driver was travelling at 110 km/h in a construction zone

Comox Valley RCMP looking for missing woman

Ami Guthrie was last seen in Courtenay in early July

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

Most Read