Staffing, access to service and delays in handling claims are major areas that must be addressed
OTTAWA, ON – The Royal Canadian Legion welcomes the Auditor General’s Report released Tuesday (Nov 25) which echoes many concerns highlighted by the Legion during the past several months – specifically related to Disability Benefits programs, staffing levels and improving access to services for Veterans and their families.
“The Auditor General’s report validates many of our concerns related to the care and benefits available for Veterans,” says Dominion President Tom Eagles. “Our position on these issues has been consistently presented to government from our national conventions through to presentations before Parliament so we are glad to see the Auditor General layout the details of what needs to be done to improve the provision of mental health care for Veterans,” adds Eagles.
The major issues regarding access to mental health care for our Veterans contained in this report and supported by the Legion are:
- Much of what the Auditor General speaks to is going to require VAC and DND to make additions to staffing in various areas in order to provide timely access to care. There are needs for medical professionals, support staff, case workers and other care providers that must be met in order to address the deficiencies noted by the Auditor General.
- Disability Benefits Programs, through which the majority of Veterans receiving long-term mental health support, is not timely. The Legion position has repeatedly stated that every day there is a delay in a Veteran getting access to care they are suffering needlessly. According to the Veterans’ perspective it takes about 32 weeks to receive an eligibility decision and it takes too long for VAC to obtain military records from DND. While it has improved from 18 months to 16 weeks it is still too long. The Legion strongly believes there must be better cooperation, if not integration, between VAC and DND on medical/personnel records sharing. Veterans must not be forced to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to get the care they need.
- The Legion has been a strong proponent that there is not enough attention paid to meeting the needs of family members who must live with Veterans who may be suffering from mental illness. The Auditor General clearly spells out that VAC outreach activities could do more for other key stakeholders, such as family physicians and the family of Veterans as part of the broader continuum of care. Legion Service Bureau officers see this situation every day and are keenly aware that this need must be addressed. Families too must have access to resources that will help address their needs.
- The Legion is fully supportive of a move to a more Veteran Centric Care culture that must emerge from VAC and DND. VAC claims and appeal processes must be reviewed and cleaned up to reflect a more positive outcome on first application for benefits. The high rate of success of appeals (some 65%) clearly indicates problems with the VAC’s initial decision making process. The focus must shift from government only looking at the numbers to caring about the quality of care and services provided to the Veteran and their family. Measurements must be taken of whether the care and benefits provided are making a positive difference in the lives of Veterans.
- VAC has developed a mental health strategy but has not developed performance measures that adequately focus on mental health and positive outcomes for Veterans and their families.
According to VAC statistics dated 31 March 2014, some 15,000 personnel were eligible to receive mental health support from Veterans Affairs Canada through the Disability Benefits Program. It has also been reported that an increase from 2% of VAC clients in 2002 with mental health conditions rose to 12% in 2014. Therefore, it is crucial that these issues be addressed.
“The Legion will expect a well-defined action plan from VAC on the Auditor General’s recommendations,” says Eagles. “And we are greatly reassured that our long –standing positions on these issues have been fully supported in this report. It proves the Legion’s advocacy is relevant and we are tackling the important issues facing Veterans today,” concludes Eagles.