- Canada – The much-awaited 2021 federal budget was introduced by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 19, 2021.
Although there was not a great deal of attention given to veterans issues, the following budgetary proposals represent a number of positive developments in relation to veterans benefits and the operations of Veterans Affairs:
“Supporting our Veterans – Veterans are three to four times as likely to suffer from depressive or anxiety disorders, and over 15 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), than the general population. Veterans are entitled to financial support for mental health care through the Treatment Benefit Program but they can wait up to two years to receive mental health care while waiting for their disability benefit application to be confirmed.
“Budget 2021 proposes to provide $140 million over five years starting in 2021-22, and $6 million ongoing, to Veterans Affairs Canada for a program that would cover the mental health-care costs of veterans with PTSD, depressive, or anxiety disorders while their disability benefit application is being processed.”
Comment: As you will be aware, the National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada (NCVA) and The War Amps, which is the leading force behind the NCVA, has strongly crusaded for a dramatic, systemic change to address the unacceptable backlog and wait times currently experienced by veterans in making disability claims to the department. Although this proposal does not comprehensively extend our concept of automatic entitlement/pre-approval, it does provide an extremely significant step forward in recognizing that treatment benefits should be granted immediately and not be dependent on the disability application process that can take up to two years. Thus, this provision is hopefully a springboard to expanding this principle so that veterans are not held in the lurch for many months and even years before health care/treatment benefits are available to them. The government has determined that mental health care (PTSD, depressive or anxiety disorders) should be given priority at this time. It will be our position that this should be extended to all physical disabilities so that veterans in serious need of health care or treatment benefits should be granted the same sense of priority. N.B.: We have prepared an op-ed piece for the Hill Times entitled “The VAC backlog requires a bold and creative solution” that will underline our concerns and recommendations in this context.
It is noteworthy that the actual budgetary accounts provide financial funding for Veterans Affairs Canada in the amount of approximately $28 million to extend disability adjudication resources provided in Budget 2018 for an additional year, and to develop more efficient disability benefits application and decision-making processes using digital technologies. We continue to urge VAC to take more creative and innovative steps to address the backlog/wait times dilemma. In our considered judgment, increasing staff resources and digital technology alone will not meaningfully alleviate this ongoing crisis impacting the disabled veterans’ community. (continue reading)