House Call with Carol Hughes

Despite the promises, veterans still fighting for better service

Last week I attended a rally on the steps of Parliament organized by veterans suffering from the long-lasting effects of the anti-malarial drug Mefloquinne. It struck me that this is becoming the new normal as veterans are forced to take their struggles with Veterans Affairs to the government themselves. That this problem persists through successive governments shows that, despite many promises to make things better, there is still a long way to go if we want to better care for our veterans who have served us in a selfless way.

You may recall that the previous government cut funding to Veterans Affairs which resulted in the layoff of case managers and the closure of a number of regional offices. This meant that veterans were left to deal with a more centralized system that featured less people to help them. The move was a surprise considering the Conservative Party likes to associate itself with the military, and veterans are a consistent source of national pride. Despite that, they forged ahead with the cuts amid criticism from veterans, veteran’s advocates and political foes.

It was no surprise when the current government adopted a policy to reverse the cuts and made specific promises to increase the number of case-workers tasked with assisting our veterans. But, like so many other promises, bold words and intentions have not been followed up with enough resources to tackle the problem.

That is the message that can be taken from a Global News report that shows the government is only half way to meeting their commitment to restore the case-worker to veteran ration. Despite clear promises to rectify the imbalance, the government still hasn’t allocated the necessary funds needed to make a significant dent. By the time the Conservatives cuts took hold, the Department of Veterans Affairs was down to one case manager for every 42 veterans in the system. The governing Liberals promised to shrink the ratio down to 25:1, but that number hasn’t been reached.

In some cities the ratio remains in the 42:1 range and there are regions still operating under ratios as high as 39:1. The slow progress means that the government’s commitment is in danger of withering on the vine. With an election a year out, they could well go to polls having not fixed the problem.

In the meantime, veterans face lengthy waits for approval to receive the help they need for things such as medically necessary treatments. Furthermore, how quickly a veteran’s case may  receive attention from a case manager depends largely on where they live. In Quebec, there is a case manager for every 29 veterans, but in Ontario, a person doing the same job will be responsible for more than 40 veterans.

This is a far cry from the “one veteran, one standard” slogan the government adopted during the campaign. It leaves some veterans struggling to be heard, while their comrades in other regions are receiving more prompt attention. Given the discrepancy, it is easy to understand how veterans are frustrated. They are weary of having to fight their own government to receive a standard of care that we once afforded to all veterans. As we approach Remembrance Day, Canadians may be too.