Veterans' Right to Know Reasons for Decisions: A Matter of Procedural Fairness

Ottawa - February 20, 2012

Today, I released a report entitled Veterans' Right to Know Reasons for Decisions: A Matter of Procedural Fairness. This report examined the adequacy of information provided by Veterans Affairs Canada in their decision letters to Veterans who apply for disability pensions or disability awards.

Since the Office opened in 2008, many of the complaints we have received related to decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada with respect to disability pensions and awards. In helping these Veterans, we noted that the letters that they received were vague, unclear or not understandable, which made it very difficult for the Office to help Veterans. As a result, the Office undertook a review of a statistically valid sample of letters sent by the Department between 2001 and 2010. While some letters contained information regarding relevant legislation or references to supporting material, not a single letter provided the applicant with an adequate explanation for the decision taken. Providing information to support a decision is fundamentally different than providing a reason for a decision, a distinction that seems not to be understood by the Department.

The findings of this report confirmed our concerns and should not be news to Veterans Affairs Canada.  The failure to provide reasons for decisions is an issue that was first brought to the Department’s attention by the Auditor General of Canada in 1998.

In the Canadian system of parliamentary democracy and responsible government, the government has a duty to explain its policies and decisions. Veterans need assurances that their applications for disability benefits have been fully and fairly considered. A detailed decision letter is the essential source of that information.

Veterans have a right to know why and how decisions are made. The letters concern monetary entitlements that have a direct impact on Veterans’ quality of life. It troubles me to think that many Veterans may be discouraged from pursuing their applications further because the response letter does not reveal the rationale for the decision. It is equally unacceptable for Veterans to exercise their appeal rights without having been provided with a clear explanation of the decision.

Veterans, like all Canadians, have a right to procedural fairness from public decision-makers. The obligation to provide adequate reasons for decisions that affect them has been well established in administrative law in Canada and abroad. It is even more important to fulfill that obligation when it is an explicit legal requirement, as is the case with assessment decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada. I urge Veterans Affairs Canada to implement the four recommendations contained in the report.

The full report is available online at www.ombudsman-veterans.gc.ca. This report is the first of a series of reports that will be published over the course of the year on issues of procedural fairness.

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Comments

Inquiet! said:

Je ne sais pas pour vous mais je commence a etre inquiet que la poule au oeufs d'or (le VRAB) va passer a la casserole. Ceux qui n'ont pas recu leur pension critique le VRAB mais n'importe qui a ete devant le VRAB sait qu'ils sont tres genereux. Ceux qui veulent que ce soient des medecins qui prennent les decisions se mettent un doigt dans l'oeil. On m'a explique la facon de fonctionner d'avant le VRAB. C'etait des medecins qui prenaient les decisions, c'etait trop strict et ils ont creer le VRAB. Maintenant que les lump sums ont ete impose il semble qu'on va finir par enlever le VRAB si vous continuez a le critiquer.

June 20, 2012 12:30 PM

Broken Lance said:

This report is long overdue and well done and factual. Can not argue with fact based evidence to support a position. I want to congratulate the good work the Mr. Parent and his staff are doing to bring the truth out into the open for the Canadian public and injured Military and RCMP veterans to see and understand what has been happening to them in regards to legitimate disability claims that the VRAB who are more than half the time incompetent in their decisions forcing disabled veterans to unnecessarily push a large stone up a hill for years. Well done Mr. Parent keep up the good work. E

May 17, 2012 12:02 AM

Rene said:

Scott is on the mark. I tried the VA and crew...not fun. 20 yrs as an "Itech 521" and worked on nothing but jets, so my hearing is very bad. Like other retired sevice man i taught that i should talk to my frienly VA folks and i even got a letter from my Audialogist that says,"it is proven that exposure jet engine noise will cause permament damage to the hair cells later on as you get older... from the expert no less . no way, my hearing was good when i got out of the forces so it could'nt be from my service trade. What a joke. Now if only i had the big bucks i could go to court.

May 9, 2012 6:56 PM

Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Please call the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman at 1-877-330-4343 (toll free number) to discuss your case.

May 14, 2012 3:35 PM

lyme said:

Vous avez entièrement raison, chaque fois que nous recevons une décision, les explications sont très difficiles à décortiquer. Lorsque nous appelons au bureau régional pour des explications et bien eux même ne comprenne pas tout. Nous recevons une lettre qui dit autrement que celle reçu ultérieurement. Je suis atteint de la maladie de lyme depuis 2009 et de Polyarthrite (symptôme de la maladie de Lyme) depuis 2010 (piqure de Tique durant mon service ici au Québec) et a ce jour mon dossier ce promène entre le bureau régional et Charlottetown. Peu être un jour le tout ce terminera. Un très bon dossier a suivre surtout lorsqu' une note de synthèse sur les Tiques existais pour ce secteur et que la Perméthrine est survenue a la suite de la confirmation de ma maladie.

March 23, 2012 6:08 PM

Scott said:

Moving the Goal Post Lawlessness at Its Worst By Murray Scott The phrase, Moving the Goal Post, is derived from various sports that use goal posts, such as football and soccer. “Fifteen Years I have been saying this and finally...finally someone brought the problem to light,” says Peter Stoffer, NDP Opposition Critic of Veteran Affairs Canada. Unfortunately, when the same phrase is fast-forwarded to the present to describe our Veterans’ experience in dealing with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB), Moving the Goal Post becomes a common technique used to destabilize individual Veterans or Advocacy Groups by bullying them and alludes to the unfairness practised in changing Veteran’s requirements midway through hearings already started. This is often carried out without even telling our injured Veterans. For our first go-around, we found it long, difficult and frustrating waiting for our Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) decision, only to find our initial claim denied. We were disappointed, hurt and devastated; after all, had we not turned over our life to our Country? Had our Country not vowed that we would be treated with respect, honour and dignity? What still rings in our ears is Canada’s promise to award fair compensation and first-class treatment when we are injured in the line of Duty and Service to our Country. Instead, one of the more common and discouraging answers we receive from VAC is that we did not have a confirmed diagnosis from a Specialist or Accredited Doctor. This comment leaves the new applicant with the impression that all they have to do is get the Confirmed Diagnosis from either a Specialist or an Accredited Doctor and they will have met VAC’s requirements. The next step is to either resubmit our application to VAC to review the new material or to have a Veterans Review and Appeal Board rule on the new evidence submitted (as requested) confirming our Diagnosis. This is the point where Veterans butt heads with VAC and the VRAB. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board do not care where we served or if we were Regular Forces or a Reservist. Ironically, this is also the point where we discover both VAC and the VRAB treat all injured Veterans with one standard. Theirs. However, the interpretation between VAC and VRAB’s definition of “one standard” and the slogan – one veteran, one standard – that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA) upholds is quite different. The CVA wants fair and equitable treatment for all Veterans, whereas the government bases its treatment of Canada’s injured Veterans on one priority: to deny or slow down the process to compensate Veterans fairly for service-related injuries. The question then becomes by what process VRAB carries out this covert, malicious and demeaning contempt for our injured Veterans. The answer is so simple we tend to overlook the technique. In the Criminal Justice System, the term “Piling On” occurs when the Police or Crown Prosecutor place as many charges against an individual hoping that at least one of them will stick. In all reality, it simply means that the Crown has a very very weak case and the only way it can be sure of the win is to change the play of the game to favor the Crown’s position. VRAB applies a similar strategy to its hearings of Veterans’ claims. It’s called “raising the bar” or Moving the Goal Post. VRAB dismisses evidence presented by our Veterans in response to meeting the requirements of their initial rejected claim(s) and demands some other, often greater and more demeaning, un-provable evidence. This is an abusive and manipulative game VRAB has perfected. In other words, after an attempt has been made (by the Injured Veteran) to score a goal, the goalposts are suddenly moved (by VRAB) to exclude the Veteran’s original attempt for Pension Entitlement. This VRAB ploy leaves the impression that the Veteran’s argument had a fair hearing while actually reaching a preordained conclusion set by the Veteran’s Review and Appeal Board (VRAB). The targeted Veteran loses all hope as the more imposing requirements can never be met. Moving the Goal Post is used by Veteran’s Affairs Canada and the gun slinging VRAB for one simple reason. It works! It implies Bad Faith on the part of Veteran Affairs (VAC) and the VRAB by arbitrarily making additional demands on our injured and in some cases Frail Veterans just as the initial requirements are about to be met by the Injured Veteran. For those of you who may not have heard the expression, Moving the Goal Post, then perhaps the more contemporary meaning could be “Bait and Switch” or “Setting Up to Fail.” It is my belief that Bad Faith underlies every unfavourable and demeaning decision that comes out of Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. This Bad Faith practice of Moving the Goal Post needs to be removed from VRAB’s tool of choice as it goes against the intent of all Canadians and the treatment of All Canadian Veterans.

March 22, 2012 11:37 AM

John said:

I have received denial letters from 1996,1997,1998, as well that provided absolutely NO reason why I was denied. One letter stated that my condition was idiopathic but NEVER explained why they had come to that conclusion, Another letter referred to an internal memo which stated that there was no relationship between the two conditions and then denied me. To this very day I am still fighting them because I have credible medical evidence to support me, but which they will not look at.

February 20, 2012 3:27 PM