Veterans Affairs hires 100 more case managers for ex-soldiers

Veterans affairs minister says the permanent staff will be located across the country in effort to provide improved one-on-one service

OTTAWA – Veterans Affairs will be hiring up to 100 additional case managers to help guide the country’s former soldiers through the maze of the federal bureaucracy.

The announcement was made Monday in Courcelette, Que., 150 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, at the Valcartier military base.

Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole says the permanent staff are being added to provide improved one-on-one service for soldiers, and will be located across the country at points where they are needed the most.

The veterans ombudsman, the auditor general and the Commons veterans committee have all complained in the past that the department has too few case managers, leading to frustration and lengthy waits for rehabilitation services.

The new case workers represent an increase of more than one third in the current number, who are managing as many as 40 veterans files apiece.

O’Toole said the additions mean each manager will now be responsible for 32 ex-soldiers, giving them more time to attend to individual needs. The new managers are to be brought on board over the next year.

“This rebuilding comes at a time when veterans need it most,” O’Toole said in a statement.

In front of the Commons committee a year ago, former Cpl. Mark Fuchko testified he’d had little contact with a veterans case manager even though he had been slated for release because of serious injuries.

Veterans Affairs acknowledged that under the current system, soldiers have had to wait for several months to be assigned someone to manage their file, but once the new hiring is complete, the process should take no more than five days.

The committee recommended something be done to ease the burden.

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent and Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne announced last year they would conduct a joint investigation into issues surrounding the transition from military to civilian life. The quality of case management has been a principal concern of many veterans.

Military law expert Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel who has represented many veterans, said whenever the government has been confronted about the staffing issue in the past it has insisted everything was fine.

“Why has the government over the past two years repeatedly stated to veterans and Canadians, in the public forum, that there were enough case managers at (Veterans Affairs Canada) to meet this standard?” Drapeau said in an email.

“In fact, there has been a six-month wait time to be assigned a case manager at VAC for over the past year — what has changed? Why the new storyline?”

The Conservatives have been trying restore their relationship with the veterans community, which has eroded over several years mostly because of complaints about the new system of benefits and entitlements introduced in 2006.