A busy year ahead - update on files
Ottawa - February 8, 2012
We’re well into the new year, and if the last few months are any indication, it is going to be a busy year.
First, the Office dealt with a number of complaints about denied claims for the Agent Orange ex gratia payment, which as you know ended on December 30, 2011. In our view, the Department’s narrow definition of caregiver was at odds with the intent and spirit of the Order in Council that established the ex gratia payment and created an unfair barrier to accessibility. The Department reviewed claims that were denied in the past and, as a result, some 30 applicants, mostly caregivers, received the ex gratia payment. The Agent Orange file remains a priority for the Office since former and still-serving members of the Canadian Forces who think they have an illness that is related to the use of the Agent Orange herbicide can apply for disability benefits. We are a few months away from completing our systemic investigation of decisions made by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board in relation to applications for disability benefits linked to exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide.
On December 20, 2011, I submitted to the Minister my report Veterans’ Right to Know Reasons for Decisions: A Matter of Procedural Fairness which details the results of our examination of letters issued by Veterans Affairs Canada to inform applicants of its decisions pertaining to their application for disability pensions or disability awards. Veterans have a right to know why and how decisions that affect them are made by the Department and the decision letter is the essential source of that information. The report raises a number of concerns about the adequacy of information contained in decision letters and makes a number of recommendations to address them. This is the first in a series of reports that we will be publishing over the course of the year on procedural fairness issues. In accordance with the Order of Council that established the Office, the report will be published no later than 60 days after submission to the Minister, in this case around February 21, 2012.
The Office has received many inquiries about our investigation of decisions of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board that have been the subject of a judicial review in the Federal Courts. We retained the law firm Borden, Ladner and Gervais to perform an independent analysis of some 150 Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal decisions. The law firm was asked to do an analysis of the Courts’ findings on the consistency of Board decisions and how the Board considered evidence in the cases before it. The firm was also asked to identify procedural and legal trends as well as any systemic issues that have a negative impact on Veterans and other clients of the Department. Their review has been completed and we are now putting the finishing touches on our report, which will be submitted to the Minister by the end of February. I’ll be sure to let you know when the report is sent to the Minister.
In the next few weeks, I will be updating you on the other investigations that we are working on related to the Veterans Independence Program, long-term care and mental health as well as our plans to prepare for the parliamentary review of the New Veterans Charter. The upcoming federal budget is of course something that we will pay close attention to and as many others have expressed, the bottom line for me is that there should be no reduction to Veterans’ benefits and services.
Next week, I’ll update you on my recent trip to Sudbury, Timmins and Kirkland Lake and the outreach plans for the next several months.
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