Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NDP Introduces Bill to Scrap Oft-Maligned Veterans Review and Appeal Board

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NDP Introduces Bill to Scrap Oft-Maligned Veterans Review and Appeal Board

Article excerpt

Scrap veterans review board, NDP demand


OTTAWA - New Democrats have introduced a private member's bill to scrap an oft-maligned board where ex-soldiers can appeal the denial of benefits by the federal government.

MP Peter Stoffer, the party's veterans critic, says the review agency is the No. 1 problem facing individual veterans -- and is seen as a place where they have to plead for what is rightfully theirs.

"The problem that many, many veterans face is when they appear before this politically appointed, non-accountable board is that they feel like they're begging for something," Stoffer said Wednesday.

"They feel they're coming cap in hand."

The Veterans Review and Appeal Board has been at the centre of complaints -- even from one of its own members -- that it disrespects and sometimes belittles veterans who appear before it.

Last winter, several former members of the military described how they'd faced snide, often disrespectful comments from board members who sat in judgment of their claims. The agency was also at the centre of a scandal, where one of its members said his private medical information was spread around to discredit him because he too often sided with veterans.

One ex-soldier, George Villeneuve, says two of his friends committed suicide after being turned down for help.

"A lot of people appearing before a board like that are already pretty ill and they don't have the strength to continue and that's their last resort," said Villeneuve, a 20-year veteran.

"And when they're being denied and turned back, what other resort do they have? Some of them do eventually commit suicide. I know of two personally."

Stoffer said he wouldn't go as far as directly blaming the review board for suicides, but he said he believes that some of the negative decisions have contributed to homelessness among young veterans who spiral out of control when they don't get support.

Villeneuve, who appeared with Stoffer on Parliament Hill, says his claim of post-traumatic stress was turned down at the first stage of the board's review process, even though he says he had all of the appropriate letters from doctors. …

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