A Message to Veterans and their Families from the Veterans Ombudsman

Ottawa – November 21, 2012

On November 11, I began the third year of my term as Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman. I am proud to be of service to Veterans and their families and I want to assure all of you that I will continue to do the best that I can for the Veterans community.

Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting thousands of Veterans, serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, and their families at town halls and other events and meetings across the country. Your courage, commitment, deep sense of camaraderie, and loyalty to our country is an inspiration to all Canadians. I always appreciate the heartwarming welcome that I receive, and I leave each meeting energized and ready to do more.

Last September I had the honour of being with some of our Veterans, who are now in their nineties, when they returned to Dieppe, France to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid of August 19, 1942. On that day, in the space of a few hours, 3,367 Canadians were killed, injured or taken prisoner out of a 5,000-strong Canadian contingent. As I listened to these Second World War Veterans recall the bravery of our troops amid the chaos of that horrific day, I thought about how all Veterans and still serving members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP share the same pride of service to country and commitment to duty. That has not changed with the passage of time. It reaffirms to me once again the importance of the One Veteran theme that guides the work the Office: Veterans with similar service-related illnesses or injuries should have access to the same benefits, regardless of their service, and where and when they served.

In the past two years, the Office has responded to 16,500 calls, emails and letters, and handled close to 4,000 cases. In addition, we have produced key reports that have received a prompt response from the Minister of Veterans Affairs, including Veterans’ Right to Know Reasons for Decisions: A Matter of Procedural Fairness and Veterans’ Right to Fair Adjudication. We have also developed the Benefits Browser; an online tool that the Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted and developed further to make it easier for Veterans and members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP to determine which services and benefits they may be eligible for and to find all the relevant information in one location. As well, we have successfully helped individual Veterans in many other ways, such as helping to open up the Exceptional Incapacity Allowance to eligible Veterans, resulting in close to 600 Veterans receiving retroactive payments totalling $14 million, and helping 70 previously denied applicants, including caregivers, receive the $20,000 Agent Orange ex gratia payment.

On October 25, my staff and I were deeply honoured when Ray Kokkonen, President of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association (CPVA) presented the Office with the CPVA's Outstanding Service Award for 2012 for its “vigorous leadership and effective, thorough and courageous service, high above normal standards”. In making the presentation, Mr.Kokkonen noted “the OVO's brave, no-nonsense stand on Agent Orange payments, the comprehensive and realistically useful report on VRAB and the new very helpful Benefits Browser  as “a few of the significant positive things among the many done by the OVO for Veterans”.  I accepted the Award on behalf of the Office with humility knowing that there is so much left to do.

Going forward, I want to assure you that the concept of fairness will continue to be central in my discussions with the Minister of Veterans Affairs, other parliamentarians and the Veterans community as my Office prepares for the parliamentary review of the changes to the New Veterans Charter brought about by Bill C-55.

In my opinion, this review, which should be initiated by October 2013, should not be limited only to an examination of the enhancements brought about by Bill C-55. In coming months, I will encourage the Minister and other parliamentarians to broaden the scope of the review to cover critical areas for the successful transition of Canadian Forces members from military to civilian life, namely, financial support, career transition support, and support to families – areas where there are documented deficiencies in terms of adequacy, sufficiency, and accessibility. Rest assured that I will keep you informed and will provide you with more information about the review as we firm up our plans.

In the coming year, the Office will continue to release reports on issues of concern to the Veterans’ community. Above all, we will continue faithfully to work towards ensuring that the sacrifices of Canada's Veterans and their families are recognized through the provision of services, benefits, and support in a fair, accessible, and timely manner.

In closing, I encourage you to contact the Office if you are having difficulties in your dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada. It is important not only so that we can help you with your individual case but also, in a broader sense, because the information that we gather from individuals helps us to identify emerging and systemic issues that point to policies and processes that need to be changed. Our toll free number is 1-877-330-4343.

 

Guy

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Comments

Dave in Ottawa said:

As your comment contains personal information, we would encourage you to contact the Office to obtain information. Our toll-free number is:  1-877-330-4343.

December 18, 2012 1:10 PM

Gord said:

“Veterans Affairs alters conclusions of medical reports to deny Disability Benefits” Ex Canadian Forces Member. While serving in the Canadian Forces imagine 16 months away from your family, having occasional numbness in your feet after patrolling all day with 40 – 50 lbs of gear, then one day you feel a strange sensation in your chest, your heart beat is irregular, all of a sudden you feel en enormous weight on every part of your body and you collapse onto your knees, unable to lift your arms, your breathing slows and blackness begins to narrow your vision .... you wake up disoriented and with a sharp pain in your shoulder. A few months later your driving to work, you begin to experience stabbing abdominal pains, your hands and feet go numb, instantaneously sweat begins to pour off your head, you feel nauseated and then your breathing slows. Suddenly your entire body is charged with electricity and every muscle begins to contract, then your head and chest are resting against the steering wheel, you are confused and uncertain of your location. 20 months after leaving the Canadian Forces you've spent more than 4 months in bed, called 911 on 4 different occasions and spent more than 30 days in multiple hospitals while neurologists, cardiologists, respiratory and gastrointestinal specialists run hundreds of tests and invasive procedures. Without any clear cause you become short of breath just standing up, you drop utensils, phones, glasses and other items and are unable to button up your shirts because you can't feel the ends of your fingers. You are frequently unable to drive or walk when the dizziness and nausea becomes severe. Without any notice you suddenly feel extremely fatigued and your legs and arms become weak and you have to lye down wherever you are, even in a vehicle. Occasionally you feel a strange sensation down your spine and collapse on the floor, completely paralyzed. These are just a few of the challenges I now face, here is my story: I was on duty with the Canadian Forces in 2009 when I received the H1N1 shot (AREPANRIX by GSK GlaxoSmithKline) and had a severe adverse reaction resulting in PERMANENT symptoms: dizziness, vertigo, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, pain and cramps, numbness in hands and feet, vision problems and severe fatigue. My physical fitness changed from special forces fit to that of a 70 year old in a matter of days. I advised the military doctors that my change in health occurred immediately following the H1N1 vaccination and although they noted my concerns on 8 different occasions, they did not investigate the link or file an adverse reaction report. According to CF Health Services (CFHS) they are required to report adverse reactions to Health Canada. There was no record of this report in my medical file. According to Health Canada there were 5,712 adverse reactions reported across Canada. The DND and CF filed only 9 reports, 5 had neurological symptoms. Due to the severity of my symptoms I was unable to continue performing my duties and was released from the military. Following my release, the military determined I was disabled and altered my release record due to the severity of my symptoms. Two years later Alberta's health officer in charge of the Immunization Program for the province reviewed my medical history and verified I had a severe adverse reaction to the H1N1 vaccine. I applied to Veterans Affairs (VA) for benefits through both their pension and rehabilitation programs, providing proof of vaccination, a letter from both Alberta Health Services (AHS) Immunization and another doctor verifying I had an adverse reaction and was denied on 3 separate occasions. Even though I was on duty training personnel when I received the vaccination, Veterans Affairs stated “There is no evidence that your barriers to reestablishment are related to your service time”. In an attempt to understand their decision in order to appeal it I asked them why they felt this injury was not related to military service. First the case manger advised me they did not have the authority to make a decision on my rehabilitation application. When I advised the case manager that a different case manager and a client service agent both told me they did have the authority, she then stated they simply did not want to provide rehabilitation benefits in case the pension division denied pension benefits based on the same criteria. They advised me to appeal to their national office or wait 9 – 12 months or longer until the pension division makes a decision. I asked why I should be denied rehabilitation and continue to suffer severe symptoms which can be treated when they can make a decision immediately. Again the case manager did not respond. Since they believe the injury was not service-related, I then asked for their definition of “service related” so that I could understand how to appeal the decision and they refused to answer the question and told me to contact the Bureau of Pension Advocates (BPA) who could assist with the appeal process. Again I told the case manager that it is difficult to appeal a decision if you don't know why the injury is not considered service related. I then advised the case manager that I had contacted the Bureau and was told they they are only involved in pension applications and cannot review or comment on rehabilitation appeals.  The case manager then told me she was not aware of this and when I asked her who would assist me in my appeal again she could not provide an answer. I then asked if I was immunized while on active duty in Afghanistan and suffered an injury as a result would it be considered service-related and the case manager stated “yes, it would”. I pointed out the double standard which the case manager agreed with but she still refused to acknowledge my injury was service-related. Another case manager told me the main concern of Veterans Affairs was, if they approved the rehabilitation application and the pension application was denied, they would not be able to cut off my benefits until I reach the age of 65. Next I asked if they recognized the validity of the information from Alberta Health Services verifying I had a serious adverse reaction to the H1N1 vaccination. Again the case manager refused to answer the question but stated symptoms are not the same as adverse reactions. I then attempted to educate the case manager explaining adverse reactions are undesirable symptoms according to Health Canada and the vaccine manufacturer GSK. Incredibly, the case manager continued to disagreed advising me that even though I may have had an adverse reaction that my symptoms are not related to the adverse reaction. After arguing with the case manager over the definition of “service related” and adverse reactions versus symptoms, she told me to contact Alberta Health Services and use their rehabilitation programs instead of Veterans Affairs because VA programs are meant to get members back to work and are not for the permanently disabled. In fact she advise me Alberta Health Services will pay for all the rehabilitation that I require. I asked to speak with the Veterans Affairs doctor who advised the case manager regarding the adverse reaction and was provided his name and was told he was not in the office this week. Through the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Alberta website I was able to instantly identified him as a General Practitioner with no specialty in immunization and obtained his direct phone number within Veterans Affairs. I immediately called and was prompted with a message advising me he was on the phone and to leave a message which I did. To date he has not returned my call which was not a surprise to me. Following a previous pension application that was denied, I obtained the medical report from the Veterans Affairs doctor who reviewed my file which stated my injury was also not related to service, however he ignored medical information from several of my doctors, altered the conclusion of one of several of my neurologists reports and then claimed there was no agreement on my diagnosis, which became grounds for denying the application. He then speculated in his report that had the military determined my diagnosis was related to service there was no medical treatment that would relieve my symptoms. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons this doctor is listed as a general surgeon with no specialties in neurology or other disciplines. When I asked the case manager why the information from my doctors were not used in evaluating the validity of my application, especially when Veterans Affairs specifically requested it and paid my doctors to provide the reports, I was told Veterans Affairs took the position they did not have to use it and chose not to. I forwarded the Veterans Affairs Medical Report to my neurologist whose conclusions were altered by the Veterans Affairs doctor. Incredibly my neurologist called me on the weekend and advised me the Veterans Affairs doctors conclusions were false, that he did not have the authority and professional experience to reinterpreted his report. Clearly he was annoyed and stated the Veterans Affairs doctor should have consulted a specialist who was familiar with my condition and symptoms. Veterans Affairs admitted the doctor had made errors, but refused to review the original application advising me to appeal the decision through an Administrative Review which would take another 6 – 8 months. In 2012 I have been bedridden for more than 2 months, housebound most days, spent more than $10,000 paying for medication, therapy and specialized equipment to assist in my daily living and to manage my symptoms. I am now unable to afford the specialized physiotherapy which costs thousands of dollars each year and am unable to work due to my disability. I have written to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. To date, no response has been received.

November 29, 2012 10:32 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.

November 30, 2012 10:05 AM

re Private Gilpin said:

Can you help me find some information about my Great Grandfather? He was part of the 46th Batallion (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan). He died/went MIA in the war of Passchendaele on October 26, 1917. :(

November 27, 2012 1:59 AM