National Post (Latest Edition)

VA could swiftly clear backlog, PBO says

- Maan Alhmidi

OTTAWA • Veterans Affairs Canada can clear its backlog of disability benefit applicatio­ns in a year if it hires nearly 400 more people, says the parliament­ary budget office.

The number of pending applicatio­ns for benefits had reached almost 50,000 by the end of March, up from about 21,000 three years earlier.

More than 22,000 of the applicatio­ns were considered complete and were waiting only for decisions by the department.

In June, Veterans Affairs said it would extend contracts for 160 employees it had hired temporaril­y to process applicatio­ns, and would add another 300 to their number.

The PBO says all these extra people will only reduce the backlog by about 10,000 applicatio­ns by March 2022, but hiring an additional 392 employees, for a total of 852, would end it in 12 months.

The cost of the additional hires would be about $ 126 million from now until the end of fiscal year 2024— 25, according to the PBO.

Cameron Mc N e i l l , a spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence Macaulay, said the department is aware that too many veterans are waiting too long for decisions on their applicatio­ns.

“We can and must do better,” Mcneill said in a statement Monday.

But the PBO report does not take into account other steps the department is taking to make the process faster and more efficient, said Mcneill.

Amy Meunier, the director general for the centralize­d operations division at Veterans Affairs Canada said they are increasing the number of people processing the applicatio­ns and also simplifyin­g the process to to avoid another backlog down the road.

Meunier said the department is planning more digitizati­on and streamlini­ng, to speed up exchanges of informatio­n.

She said the department is also looking at partnering with the Canadian Armed Forces to access veterans’ health records in order to determine more easily whether an injury was related to service or not.

Since 2015, the number of disability benefit applicatio­ns has increased by more than 60 per cent including an increase of more than 90 per cent in first- time applicatio­ns.

The department s ay s that’s due to new programs, the increasing awareness about services and benefits and the growing demand for mental health services.

NDP Ve terans Affairs critic Rachel Blaney said in a statement Monday that veterans are not getting the support they need.

The PBO report was prepared after a request from Blaney regarding the service standards for processing the applicatio­ns.

“This is completely unacceptab­le,” she said.

“Veterans have already been waiting too long for the benefits and services they deserve.”

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