Veterans Ombudsman Issues Report on Veterans Review and Appeal Board
May 7, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario – Today, the Veterans Ombudsman released his report entitled Veterans’ Right to Fair Adjudication, an analysis of decisions of the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal pertaining to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (the Board).
Veterans who are dissatisfied with decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada have the right to appeal their case to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, who must determine if the laws governing disability pensions and awards have been properly applied by Veterans Affairs Canada. Veterans who are dissatisfied with the Board’s decision have the right to apply to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the matter. Since the creation of the Board in 1995, 140 decisions of the Board have been challenged in the Federal Court and 11 of those were subsequently appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.
In the fall of 2011, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman retained the services of the law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP to perform an independent analysis of the Courts’ judgments in those cases. In 60 percent of Board decisions reviewed by the Federal Court, the Court ruled that the Board erred in law or fact, or failed to observe principles of procedural fairness. And despite assurances from the Board that it analyzes Federal Court judgments to ensure that guidance given is reflected in its decisions, Court judgments point to the same errors over an extended period of time.
“This is about the fair treatment of the men and women who have served their country honourably”, stated Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman. “In the case of 85 Veterans, the Federal Court has concluded that the adjudication process has failed them.
“I recognize that Board members and staff have the difficult task of determining the merits of cases by deciding on questions of law and fact in an environment characterized by heavy workloads, increasingly complex cases, and pressure to issue timely decisions. On average, 50 percent of the Board’s review decisions and 33 percent of the Board’s appeal decisions varied or overturned a previous decision of Veterans Affairs Canada, in favour of Veterans. This unmistakably speaks to the importance of an independent, quasi-judicial body that Veterans can turn to for redress. Nonetheless, in fairness to Veterans and other applicants, I must conclude that improvements to the Board’s decision making are needed.
“The Board has been granted very liberal powers by Parliament and entrusted to make decisions by drawing every reasonable inference in favour of applicants, accepting credible uncontradicted evidence and giving Veterans the benefit of the doubt. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board and the Minister must take quick and decisive action to ensure that the Board fulfills the important role entrusted to it by Parliament and restores the trust of Veterans.”
The report’s recommendations and case studies can be found in the backgrounder. This report is the second of a series of reports that will be published over the course of the year on issues of procedural fairness.
The full report is available online at www.ombudsman-veterans.gc.ca/eng/reports/reports-reviews/vrab-tacra-03-2012.
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