OTTAWA – A wounded soldier who lost both legs in Afghanistan will have to verify his condition and the kind of support needed, including his wheelchair, to Veterans Affairs every three years, rather than annually under a policy change.
The revision was quietly unveiled in the House of Commons on Friday by Pierre Lemieux, parliamentary secretary to the veterans minister.
In addition, Lemieux told opposition parties that veterans who are required to complete these renewals under the veterans independence program will have six months to hand in the paperwork, considerably longer than under the current system.
Paul Franklin, who was a master corporal when he lost his legs in a 2006 roadside bombing in Kandahar, has long complained about the veterans system and its annual review.
He says he was well looked after at National Defence, but has faced a bureaucratic nightmare since retiring almost six years ago and coming under the veterans department.
His plight caused a political sensation and even drew the attention of comedian Rick Mercer, who devoted a rant to the subject.
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole stressed the process is not meant to reconfirm the injury, but to track changes in the condition of ex-soldier.
“Veterans who have been granted entitlement for a disability benefit from (Veterans Affairs Canada) for any service-related injury or condition are not asked to prove their disability again once they have been granted entitlement,” said Marton Magnan in an email statement.
“Veterans who face serious injuries face potentially a fluctuating health condition related to the original injury. Veterans Affairs has a responsibility to proactively update the government to ensure they have the necessary support and treatment for their current condition.”
Magnan also said the government “places the highest priority on making sure Veterans and their families have the support and services they need, when they need it.”
Franklin wasn’t immediately available to comment Friday.
In early February, he told CTV’s Canada AM that veterans affairs treats him and other ex-soldiers as though they are trying to cheat the system.
The department required him to justify annually why he still qualified for home-care services and income replacement because of his disability.
The disputes got so bad, Franklin had his wheelchair taken away from him twice because it wasn’t clear which department should pay for it and which doctor’s notes were needed.
Lemieux told the Commons that O’Toole has spoken to Franklin personally.
NDP MP John Rafferty called the situation “unbelievable.”