Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ombudsman Says Review Board Failing to Give Veterans Benefit of Doubt: Ombudsman Takes Aim at Veterans Review Board

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ombudsman Says Review Board Failing to Give Veterans Benefit of Doubt: Ombudsman Takes Aim at Veterans Review Board

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - The Harper government moved quickly Monday to limit the damage of a scathing report from Canada's veterans ombudsman, who accused a review agency of being secretive and unfair to ex-soldiers in search of benefits.

Federal Court challenges arising out of decisions from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board were the subject of an exhaustive study by the ombudsman office.

The office found that 60 per cent of the cases were returned to the agency, which is supposed to provide veterans fair, sympathetic hearings, because it did not give veterans the benefit of the doubt and did not generously interpret the law surrounding compensation.

The criticism mirrors complaints earlier this year from an outspoken board member, Harold Leduc, who claimed his private medical information was spread around the board in an effort to discredit him because he often sided with ex-soldiers.

The Conservatives have made support for veterans and soldiers one of their boilerplate political positions.

Yet the ombudsman's report accused the board of often leaving applicants in the dark about reasons for its decisions and not disclosing to veterans what medical information it used as the basis for its rulings.

"This is about the fair treatment of the men and women who have served their country honourably," said ombudsman Guy Parent.

The board must realize that it needs to work within the law, and the act is "quite clear in saying they need to liberally construe the evidence and go in favour of the applicant."

Leduc said board staff described members who regularly sided with veterans as Santa Claus.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney told the House of Commons on Monday that he's ordered the board to accept all of the report's recommendations. The agency, in a letter to the minister, promised to act within 30 days.

Board spokeswoman, Danielle Gauthier, said the agency is committed to improve the appeal process for veterans and their families.

The report complained the board did not take stock or learn from the cases the Federal Court returned for another hearing -- something it promises to do in the future. …

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