“Enough is enough” say veterans’ advocates
DARTMOUTH, NS — Former Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer, together with Military Veteran and SISIP Class Action Representative Plaintiff Dennis Manuge, raised awareness about shocking behaviour by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) near a local Loblaw’s Superstore today.
The pair noted serious concerns affecting an increasing number of Canada’s Military and RCMP veterans and their families, including:
• Privatization of veteran’s services via subcontract to profit-making businesses such as Lifemark;
• Unwarranted VAC offers of medical assistance in dying (MAID) services to veterans, including to Canadian Veteran and Paralympian Christine Gauthier;
• The Federal Government’s reclaiming since 2006 of approximately $2 billion that had been earmarked for veterans, back to the Federal Treasury Board;
• A steady increase in veterans waiting multiple years for support relating to disabilities including chronic pain and debilitating physical and mental conditions.
“Our political leaders are not listening. Several years go by while veterans wait to receive benefits and even basic living supports,” said Peter Stoffer. “The experiences veterans are telling us about are shocking. Enough is enough.”
“Canada’s veterans have been waiting too long to receive the help they deserve,” said Dennis Manuge. “The system is already complex, frustrating and bureaucratic. Outsourcing is far from an improvement. Veterans deserve better.”
BACKGROUNDER: Christine Gauthier, Corporal (Retired)
Ms. Gauthier served Canada for 10 years in the Canadian Forces (Army division), from 1988 to 1998, including in Israel with the United Nations in 1991, and in Cypress in 1993.
Her disability file was first accepted by Veterans Affairs Canada in 1996, and was actively managed after her release from the Canadian Forces in 1998.
Ms. Gauthier noted that while it was strenuous to navigate the veterans’ services from the start, things became even more difficult after services were subcontracted to Blue Cross.
In connection with that experience, Ms. Gauthier was asked to appear before the December 1, 2022 Standing Committee for Veterans Affairs* to discuss the $570 million sub-contract of VAC services to Loblaw Companies-owned Lifemark, which commenced on November 29, 2022.
In preparing for her session, on November 25, 2022 Ms. Gauthier came across a news article stating that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) was offered to a different veteran, and that the Minister of Veterans Affairs claimed it was an isolated case.
Having seen this information, Ms. Gauthier felt compelled to correct the details at the December 1, 2022 commission, by sharing her experience, as follows.
During a call with a VAC representative, Ms. Gauthier shared that she was, “in destress, fed-up, discouraged, and just couldn’t go on with things as they were.”
The representative responded, “If you are that discouraged and feel you just can’t go on anymore, you know you have the right to medically assisted dying.”
Ms. Gauthier was shocked. “I had called already in distress, incapable of finding the strength to move on, and was in disbelief about the five years of waiting to obtain a replacement elevator to access my home,” said Ms. Gauthier.
“I said, ‘wow, I can’t believe that you will not help me with the equipment I need to live, but will help me die!’”
At no time was Ms. Gauthier told that she would be provided with equipment or a doctor to carry out medically assisted dying. This was mistakenly reported in previous articles, perhaps due to English translation from Ms. Gauthier’s French testimony. This should be corrected.
Ms. Gauthier previously had shared this experience in a July 2021 letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
The Prime Minister’s office responded that they were aware she also had written to the Minister, and said they felt confident the Department of Veterans Affairs could help with her problem.
At the time, this information was shared with friends, family and doctors.
Over the 20 years during which Ms. Gauthier dealt with Veterans Affairs Canada, she received and recorded dozens of shocking responses from VAC representatives, including the following:
• “You should be happy with what you have had so far.”
• “You should be happy you had this coverage this long.”
• “You know you have a diaper limit.”
• “You better start filing with the computer services or we’ll cut your services.”
• “If you keep writing complaints to a higher office, we might cut your services and delay them.”
It should be noted that Ms. Gauthier was unaware of any other veteran being offered MAID services until she read the news article on November 25, 2022.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs had claimed it was an isolated incident, yet, as noted above, Ms. Gauthier had written to the Minister about her experience in July 2021.
Ms. Gauthier noted that over the past 20 years she did interact with some helpful VAC representatives, but that her negative experiences noted above sadly overshadowed the positive ones.
BACKGROUNDER: Christopher Banks, Sergeant (Retired)
Christopher Banks served Canada for 20 years in the Canadian Forces (Army division), and was released under 3B (Medical) in 2019 due to PTSD from combat in Afghanistan.
Mr. Banks was one of the veterans who testified to the Standing Committee for Veterans Affairs* on December 1, 2022. After hearing about the VLAF event being held on December 8, 2022, Mr. Banks reached out to VLAF to provide the following quotes.
“I was one of many veterans who was put through the last contract under Canadian Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Under that contract, every accommodation my phycologist and I requested was denied, and only once in the program did they inform me that they have no policy nor intent to support my choice for career path. They further informed me that if I didn’t agree to their terms, all VAC disability benefits, including my pension, would cease.”
“When I reached out for help among other veterans, I was told by many that the program likely would get worse, as it did for them. Indeed, the stress of the program caused a reinjury, with a serious impact on my health. VAC denied my appeal to be removed from the program.”
“Veterans Affairs Canada must end its outsourcing and privatization scheme to companies who have a demonstrated strategy of putting profit over people. This must be done before more veterans take their own lives.”
“Outsourcing case manager duties to a third party does nothing to serve veterans, nor does it ease the case managers’ workloads. Only by hiring more full-time case managers could this be addressed.”
About the Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation (VLAF)
VLAF helps Canada’s military and RCMP veterans and their families navigate the legal and administrative hurdles they face when accessing the benefits they deserve. The foundation does this by: 1) paying veterans’ eligible legal bills; and, 2) providing advice and help. Funding for the charity was announced in 2013 in conjunction with the SISIP LTD Class Action settlement, and made official when VLAF was established on January 15, 2016. By 2019, VLAF’s legal support increased to a point of helping about 20 veterans annually, at a total of about $200,000 each year. The foundation now provides a combination of legal support and other forms of help navigating government administration. www.veteranslegalassistance.ca
Media Contact: Sandra Goodwin – Executive Director, VLAF
Contact Details: firstname.lastname@example.org; 902-441-5476