Veterans Ombudsman Finds Disability Benefits Application Process Unfair to Applicants
February 4, 2013
Ottawa, Ontario – Today, the Veterans Ombudsman released a report entitled Veterans' Right to Disclosure: A Matter of Procedural Fairness. The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the administrative practices used by Veterans Affairs Canada when processing applicants' service and health records.
Service and health records are retrieved directly from government custodians of records and processed by the Department to prepare a package that adjudicators rely upon to make a decision on Veterans and serving members' application for disability pensions and disability awards. Although the legislation requires applicants to substantiate their claim, the Department relies on the documents it has retrieved, rather than documents provided by the applicants themselves. The Department also fails to disclose to the applicants which documents they will use to make a decision on their application. "Veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP have the right to know what information is considered by decision-makers, and they should be able to challenge that information and provide their own." stated Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman is of the view that the Department should modify the current procedure to ensure procedural fairness, while continuing to retrieve service and health records for speed and quality assurance purposes. The procedure should not impede Veterans' and serving members' ability to comply with their legislated obligation to substantiate their claim. "While disclosure of information may require a bit more time at the beginning of the application process, the overall process will be more efficient, and more effective, by reducing the need for reviews and appeals."
The report also shows that bias may be introduced when disability benefits officers, who do not have the authority to rule on applications, bring to the attention of adjudicators the documents they believe to be most relevant to the application through the practice of "flagging". "Administrative practices, as much as they might aim for increased effectiveness, should never stand in the way of procedural fairness, particularly when it comes to Veterans' and serving members' rights to participation and to a fair hearing."
The full report is available online at www.ombudsman-veterans.gc.ca. This is the third of a series of four reports on issues of procedural fairness related to the various steps in the disability benefits process.