Dawn Collins isn’t backing down from the federal government.
The military widow has been fighting for years to get compensation for her late husband, Wayne Collins.
On Wednesday, the 73-year-old held a one-woman protest at the Veterans Affairs office in Halifax to try to raise awareness about her case.
“This is my last avenue. There’s no more avenues for me to take,” she said.
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‘They exposed him to hazardous chemicals’
Collins and Wayne were married for nearly 50 years when he passed away in 2012.
Collins is arguing her husband’s death is linked to his time in the military. She particularly points to his exposure to toxic chemicals on navy ships in the 1960s.
“The ships are loaded with hazardous chemicals,” she said. “They say if you’re exposed to these chemicals you can get neurological problems and cancer.”
That exposure, according to Collins, caused multiple system atrophy — a rare, degenerative neurological disorder which affects the body’s involuntary functions — like blood pressure, breathing, muscle control and bladder function.
“I’ll go to my grave believing that’s what happened to him.”
“They exposed him to hazardous chemicals,” she said. “They should own up to it.”
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Fighting for compensation for years
Collins described her husband’s condition in the last few months of his life as being similar to someone who has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
She began fighting for compensation while he was still alive. Frustrated with Veterans Affairs, she originally went to Global News in May 2012 to tell her story.
Following that interview, Collins says the couple received some help with nursing care coverage.
“They gave me nursing care for hearing loss,” she said.
“I think that’s funny because I never heard in my life anybody getting 24-hour nursing care for hearing loss. To me, that doesn’t make sense at all.”
Despite multiple attempts to receive compensation for the tens of thousands of dollars she spent caring for her dying husband — Collins says she has always been denied.
With steep medical bills, Collins says she was forced to sell her home following Wayne’s death because she could no longer afford to keep it.
She says the only money she receives from the federal government now is Wayne’s hearing loss pension.
“It’s very little and I find it hard to make ends meet.”
Canadian veterans treated ‘very bad’
Collins sat at the Veterans Affairs Office in Halifax all day Wednesday to try to raise awareness about her case.
She is also looking to get the attention of Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan. She wants his department to review her file.
“The veterans are treated very bad. This government is terrible. They’re turning their backs on the men that go overseas and fight for us so we can walk around and be free,” she said.
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Peter Stoffer calling for ‘compassionate’ decision on the Collins case
Peter Stoffer, the former NDP MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore and longtime veterans affairs critic said the way Collins is being treated by the federal government is “despicable.”
Stoffer says O’Regan should come to Halifax and sit down for a face-to-face meeting and make a compassionate decision on Collins’s case.
He says veterans affairs has long had a “no-go policy” — meaning if they say “no” long enough to someone, they will eventually go away.
“It’s very unfortunate for her to have to fight her own government,” said Stoffer.
“She’s a widow of a veteran, for God’s sake, and she’s not asking for much.”
Stoffer says the minister can use something called the compassionate clause to refund Collins the money she spent caring for her husband and is encouraging O’Regan to look at the case in a new light.
In an emailed statement O’Regan says that he can’t comment on a specific case but that the care and well-being of veterans and their families is “a priority for our government.”
“It is always difficult to hear of any individual who does not feel they are receiving the support they need,” he said in the statement. “Every situation is unique and we work with veterans and their families on a case-by-case basis.”
He concluded by recommending the paths available to dissatisfied veterans and their families.
“Any veteran or family member who is dissatisfied with a decision from Veterans Affairs Canada has recourse options. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) is an arms-length body that gives veterans and their families an avenue to appeal decisions. If they disagree with the outcome, our government supports all veterans before the board with free legal support through the Bureau of Pension Advocates. If an applicant is dissatisfied with the board’s review decision, they always have the right to an appeal hearing. As minister, I cannot overturn any decision of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board,” said O’Regan.