Federal government to hold public hearings on Veteran's board
A longtime veteran’s advocate wants to see changes to the way former soldiers are treated.
Cochrane resident L. Tex Leugner, who was recently awarded a Diamond Jubilee Medal for his 15-year volunteer veterans advocacy career, wants changes made to the federal Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB).
He also said he wants the government to define what a veteran is and to stop treating members of the Canadian military differently depending on the era and mission they were involved in.
“The definition of a veteran is not clear enough and because there are different categories of veterans it confuses the issue and upsets the veterans,” said Leugner. “The language and communication used by the VRAB must be simplified and clarified.”
According to Leugner, soldiers who saw active conflict are treated differently than those that took part in peacekeeping missions.
Being involved in a peacekeeping mission can be traumatic, as soldiers are often forced to stand by and watch violent acts perpetrated against civilians but are prevented United Nations rules to intervene, said Leugner.
As a retired Warrant Officer who served in the Canadian Army for 15 years, he participated in four overseas missions, including a NATO tour of service in Germany, and peacekeeping tours in Cyprus, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Desert.
“Just because I didn’t face conflict, doesn’t mean I didn’t face terrible situations,” said Leugner, adding he has heard many anecdotes from local veterans forced to witness terrible events.
The events can be devastating, and the stress-related injuries can sometimes take years to appear, said the 71-year-old.
In his role as Alberta’s regional director of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veteran’s Association, Leugner, says he has seen the same scenario played out repeatedly when veterans appeal for assistance to the VRAB for their injuries.
Leugner said it is often difficult for veterans to prove the psychological and physical injuries now cropping up are the result of their service.
“(Veterans) are getting new health issues because of their age,” said Leugner, adding most of the peacekeepers will be between 70 and 75 years old.
Currently, many of those requests for disability benefits, which are looked at by the VRAB, are turned down, forcing the soldiers to go back time and again, according to Leugner.
“Unless they can prove it was directly related, they won’t get any help,” said Leugner. “That’s unfair.”
Many veterans just give up, he added.
On May 7, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman released a report entitled Veterans’ Right to Fair Adjudication, an analysis of decisions of the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal pertaining to the VRAB.
The report stated “in 60 per cent of Board decisions reviewed by the Federal Court, the Court ruled that the Board erred in law or fact, or failed to observe principles of procedural fairness.”
The report made seven recommendations designed to fix the problems, including making the VRAB provide reasons for its decisions, publish all of them online and to give applicants the benefit of the doubt.
“This is about the fair treatment of the men and women who have served their country honourably,” said Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman.
“In the case of 85 veterans, the Federal Court has concluded that the adjudication process has failed them.”
Parent went on to state that improvements to the VRAB’s decision-making are needed.
On May 10, the Standing Committee on Veteran Affairs passed a motion to conduct public hearings into the VRAB and report to the House any recommendations to improve the current appeal process or other changes deemed necessary.
It’s good news for Leugner, who said although things are improving for veterans, there is still work to do, particularly with the new Veterans Charter, passed in 2006.
Dates for public hearings are not yet known.