Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Average Vet Faces 32-Week Wait for Benefits Decision, Double Government Target

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Average Vet Faces 32-Week Wait for Benefits Decision, Double Government Target

Article excerpt

Delay for vets' services reaches twice target

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OTTAWA - The long delays many veterans face when applying to the government for assistance for service-related injuries have reached a new milestone.

Former service members have long been promised that most will know within 16 weeks whether they are eligible for financial compensation or medical treatment.

But Veterans Affairs Canada says the average wait time for initial applications is now twice as long -- 32 weeks -- as requests for assistance continue to outpace the department's ability to process them.

That represents a dramatic increase from December when, according to secret briefing notes provided to then-veterans affairs minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the average wait time for such applications was 24 weeks.

The increase comes amid concerns about the impact such delays have on veterans, including added stress and frustration that can be particularly detrimental to those suffering from psychological injuries and trauma.

Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton told a parliamentary committee last month that wait times were the "No. 1 complaint" that former service members make to his office.

The government is hoping to rein in the ever-growing wait times, which have also resulted in a 40,000-case backlog, after hiring and training hundreds of temporary staff.

While the staff were hired through a one-time, $42-million cash injection in last year's federal budget to specifically address the backlog, they have only recently been deemed ready to start making a dent in the problem.

The department has also implemented a number of measures to cut red tape and speed up decision-making so veterans can more quickly access services and get benefits.

"Ensuring veterans receive the benefits they deserve is a top priority for our government," Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay's spokesman, Alex Wellstead, said in an email. …

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