Veterans Ombudsman Calls On Veterans Affairs Canada to Meet its Legislative Obligation to Provide Reasons for its Decisions
February 20, 2012
Ottawa, ON – On 20 February, 2012, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman 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.
In a review of a statistically valid sample of letters sent between 2001 and 2010, it was found that most were vague, unclear or not understandable. 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. 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”, says Guy Parent, Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman. “These 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.
“The findings of this report should not be news to Veterans Affairs Canada. The failure to provide reasons for decisions was first brought to the Department’s attention by the Auditor General of Canada in 1998. There is an explicit, legal requirement to provide reasons for decisions and I call on Veterans Affairs Canada to respect this obligation.”
To address these issues, the Veterans Ombudsman makes the following four recommendations:
- For Veterans Affairs Canada to improve the mechanisms by which disability benefit assessment letters are generated to make sure essential information is captured for inclusion in letters. This information should be presented in a form that is understandable and is in relation to the decision made. An explanation of how this information has been used to arrive at the decision is required. The Department should also ensure that a notice of the right to appeal is contained in every disability benefit decision letter.
- For reasons for decisions to be written in plain language. Any legal, medical, or administrative terms used should be explained. A separate brochure or other companion piece would serve this purpose and could be included with decision letters.
- For procedure manuals and training modules to be examined to ensure that adjudicators are aware of the minimum information to be provided in letters and what is needed to substantiate the reasons for their decisions.
- For quality assurance procedures to be put in place to ensure decision letters fully comply with standards for adequacy of reasons for decisions.
The full report, including sample letters and statistics, 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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