My Views on the Recently Announced Changes to the Application Process
Ottawa – February 5, 2013
Yesterday, the Minister of Veterans Affairs released the Right to Fairness Implementation Plan, a plan to address the concerns that were raised in our report Veterans’ Right to Disclosure, a Matter of Procedural Fairness. While I applaud the Minister’s prompt response to the report’s findings, the changes to the Department’s application process, while a step in the right direction, fall short of ensuring procedural fairness.
Under the recently announced changes, those who apply for a disability pension or a disability award will still not obtain a copy of the documents that will be reviewed by adjudicators. As explained in our report, applicants cannot participate in the process, by commenting on documents available to adjudicators and providing additional evidence, unless they have the opportunity to review the information upon which a decision will be made. Instead, in cases where there is insufficient evidence to establish entitlement to a disability pension or a disability award, the Department will call applicants to provide them with a summary of the evidence on file and remind them of their right to submit additional evidence. It will have to be determined whether a telephone call is an adequate substitute to receiving a copy of the evidence. It is difficult to imagine how useful a telephone conversation could be if both parties do not have the same information in front of them. A telephone call is a good first step to getting applicants to participate, but in my view it is not enough to ensure procedural fairness.
It is also of great concern to me that only applicants who do not appear to be entitled to a disability pension or award, based on the evidence available to adjudicators, will receive a call from the Department prior to a decision being made in their case. What about the applicants who are found to be entitled to a partial disability pension or award? While the Department’s statistic is that 70% of all initial applications are approved, this favourability rate includes applicants who receive a partial pension or award. Why would an applicant who is informed that he is entitled to only one fifth of a full disability pension or award not be given the opportunity to challenge the evidence available to adjudicators before the decision is made? This is procedurally unfair and I will be raising this issue with the Minister and the Department. In addition, my Office will carry out a follow-up evaluation of the impact of the changes announced by the Minister over the coming months and we will publish a report detailing our findings.
As the Department moves forward with its transformation agenda to improve service delivery by cutting red tape, I will continue to remind all that doing things faster is not an improvement if it is done at the expense of procedural fairness. Often, the best way to render a process more efficient overall is to take a bit more time at the beginning of the process. I am convinced that improvements to the application process would ultimately save time and grief for applicants by reducing the need for reviews and appeals.
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