The Canadian government is ignoring the needs of its veterans. In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise of Real Change for Veterans. “No veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned,” he declared. Six years later, however, veterans are still fighting for the support they deserve.
Though ready to deploy more Canadians abroad, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) fails to provide the emotional, physical, and financial support soldiers need for a smooth return to civilian life. The Liberal government has repeatedly spurned funding on veterans: in 2020, it was reported that the federal government left $105 million earmarked for veterans go unspent. That money could have been put toward improving the programs and benefits that would ensure veterans get the aid they so desperately need.
For veterans across Canada, this inadequate infrastructure has hindered their ability to access the disability benefits granted to them as part of their service. Despite promising to reduce wait times for veterans seeking disability claims to 16 weeks, a government report conducted in May found that many veterans ended up waiting almost 40 weeks. The report also found that from April 2020 to September 2021, women had to wait 24 per cent longer than men, while francophones had to wait 21 per cent longer than anglophones.
A lack of access to financial aid is not the only issue. Canada’s inadequate veterans support systems force veterans to seek out social services on their own. Case managers are government employees who help veterans with “complex needs” by “develop[ing] plans for their successful re-entry into civilian life.” After the ratio of veterans to case managers ballooned to 40:1 under the Conservatives, the Trudeau government pledged to reduce the number of veterans assigned to each case manager to 25. Yet despite returning $105 million to the Canadian government, VAC has inexplicably been unable to hire more case managers to fulfill this promise. VAC has said that the average case manager across Canada has 33 veterans assigned to them. Meanwhile, the union that represents case managers says that this is likely an underestimate; a survey of its members over the summer found that the majority had more than 35 files and that some had over 50. Without a robust support system to ensure their successful re-entry into civilian life, veterans consistently struggle to make that adjustment. Studies show that veterans with untreated mental health issues like PTSD commonly turn to alcoholism and drug use, causing many veterans to experience homelessness. They may face challenges such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, job instability, health problems, and family breakdowns. Veterans face added difficulties such as a loss of identity and camaraderie that comes with leaving the military and trying to re-enter civilian life.
Even in cases where support is available for veterans who seek it, a lack of supervision and monitoring allows case managers to abuse their power. On October 24, testimony before the House of Commons revealed that a former case manager had repeatedly pressured a combat veteran to consider Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) despite repeated refusal from the veteran. “We can do it for you because we’ve done it before,” the case manager allegedly said. Referring to another veteran who received MAID, he added, “we now have supports in place for his wife and two children.” While advocates told MPs that this should “serve as a serious wake up call” during testimony, such a wake up call should have occurred long ago. For years VAC has refused to acknowledge or address the systemic problems within its organization. The Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, which represents 2,900 individuals who work in VAC, has written three times to Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay voicing concerns that VAC is generally insufficient in providing access to case managers, lacks checks on when employees can recommend MAID, and is ineffective in processing disability claims. Yet MacAulay ignored the first two letters sent by the union, opting only to respond to the third letter after the aforementioned MAID case broke.
This Remembrance Day, support veteran advocacy groups like the Union of Veterans’ Affairs and the National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada, two groups that look to address the lack of adequate infrastructure within VAC by voicing the concerns of veterans and employees that work with Veterans Affairs. Get involved with disability advocacy groups such as the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, which opposes coercive MAID practices. Finally, you can support organizations that look to find housing for Canadian veterans, such as Built for Zero Canada, and you can get involved with organizations that look to provide social services to veterans in Quebec, such as Centre CASA.