OTTAWA – An outspoken member of a veterans appeal board, who said his privacy was violated and that the federal agency treats ex-soldiers with disrespect, won’t be reappointed.
Harold Leduc and two other members of the troubled agency have been shown the door, and in their places the Harper government has appointed a nurse with extensive experience in addiction treatment and former military officers.
The changes, which normally garner little public attention, were announced Sunday, one day ahead of Leduc’s appearance before the House of Commons veterans affairs committee.
The Parliamentary body is investigating the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, an independent panel where ex-soldiers can challenge benefits decisions by the veterans department.
Leduc’s long-anticipated testimony is expected to give the Opposition plenty ammunition, particularly the NDP, which has introduced a private members bill to scrap the board.
Federal officials, speaking on background, refused to identify the other two board members who were dropped, but the names William Watson and Ellen Riley do not appear on the latest order in council lists.
A letter from Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney thanking him for his service recently arrived in Leduc’s mail box, and his name was also not included in the posted list of board members.
“I’m not surprised,” said the former army warrant officer, who was first appointed to the review agency in 2005 by Paul Martin’s government and re-appointed by the Harper Conservatives in 2007.
“To me, it speaks to the overall corruption I’ve witnessed.”
Earlier this year, Leduc went public, saying his privacy was violated twice in an alleged smear campaign that was meant to discredit him using his private medical information, and a diagnosis of post traumatic stress, as ammunition.
He says he was criticized by other board members for too often siding with veterans’ claims. The fight became toxic when Leduc filed and won a federal human rights case that found he was being harassed.
He has since filed an additional complaint to the commission.
Leduc compared his treatment during his time with the board to being bullied.
“If we expect kids to stop bullying then adults have to set the example and bullying should not be tolerated in the public service,” he said.
Federal officials speaking on background Sunday characterized the controversy around Leduc as an “internal skirmish” among board members that spilled out into the public, disagreements that “threatened the stability” of the agency, which last year handled 4,000 complaints.
“We had a choice to make and we made it. Our choice was to re-establish order,” said a senior official who was not authorized to talk to the media.
As to claims of bias against soldiers, the official said that it is something which is not tolerated.
Yet, following stories last spring of Leduc’s fight with the agency, over a dozen veterans stepped forward publicly to complain about what they described as the condescending and disrespectful treatment accorded them by some board members.
The Conservatives promised in 2005 to dismantle the agency, which has long been treated with suspicion by veterans. In its place, they promised to appoint a panel of former military and medical professionals to adjudicate claims.
That was reflected in the appointments announced Sunday.
Denise Dietrich, a nurse with 35 years experience in medicine and addiction studies was named to the agency. Former brigadier-general Richard Frenette, former lieutenant-colonel Colin Reichle, and ex-major Richard Rennie were also given the nod.
“With these appointments, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board now has among the highest amount of members with military, medical, and police experience in its history,” the veterans minister said in a statement.
There are still three more vacancies, which officials said would be filled before the end of the year.