July 13, 2018 12:37 pm

3 months after launching first responder memorial grant, feds still have no way to process applications

Firefighters escort hearses carrying two fallen colleagues during a funeral procession in Listowel Ontario, March 24, 2011.

Geoff Robins/The Canadian PRess

More than three months after launching a grant program to assist the families of first responders who have died in the line of duty, the government is just now getting around to setting up a system to process applications.

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Ottawa launched the Memorial Grant Program for First Responders on April 1. The program provides a maximum one-time, tax-free payment of $300,000 to families of police officers, firefighters and paramedics who lose their lives as a direct result of their work.

That includes death by suicide, a move that was applauded by interest groups when the government first unveiled the grant. PTSD and other mental health issues can plague the men and women who are first on the scene after an accident, violent crime, terror attack or other catastrophe.

WATCH: Toronto first responders on coping after the van attack

In order for a family to qualify for the federal grant, the first responder has to have died on or after April 1, 2018.

But three months after it opened the program to applications, there remains no process in place to actually review them. As of early July, there were eight applications already in the queue and Public Safety Canada – the department in charge of the program – expects there could be as many as 72 qualifying families per year.

READ MORE: PTSD, suicide and first responders — A lot of talk, and not much progress

The department will be outsourcing the work of sorting through the applications to a third party, because, it says, the task requires “highly specialized expertise that (Public Safety) does not have in-house.”

Once it starts, the work will involve liaising with grieving family members, gathering documents to support each application and then making a final recommendation regarding compensation to the government, according to tender documents published this week.

Public Safety will make the final decision on eligibility and, when warranted, transfer the money.

Any interested contractors have until the third week of August to express their interest. After that, there will likely be more waiting ahead for families as the chosen contractor sets up their system and begins dealing with the backlog.

“I would have thought that systems would have been put in place before they actually made the announcement of the grant program,” said Vince Savoia, founder and executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which supports first responders through research, education and the provision of peer and psychological support.

“I think that’s what the majority of people would think.”

Asked why it’s taking so long to get the application processing up and running, Public Safety said it issued two requests for information to industry earlier this spring, and “consulted extensively” before reaching this stage.

“Finding the best service provider to provide these services has been a number one priority for the government,” the department said.

“We recognize the significant loss applicants will have suffered and expect the successful company to provide families with prompt, compassionate, personalized service and ensure all program information and application forms are clear, helpful and easy to understand.”

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For now, surviving family members of a fallen police officer, firefighter or paramedic can email their contact information to Public Safety Canada and they’ll be given a tracking number. Once the application system is fully set up, they’ll be contacted by the chosen contractor and informed of the next steps.

READ MORE: In the moment and after the fact, how first responders deal with tragedy

The application process may prove “intimidating” for some families, Savoia said. But he added that the grant program, which was part of the Liberal government’s platform in 2015, remains a positive step; one that was long overdue.

“It’s really nice to see a promise come to fruition … and I was really thankful that they included death by suicide,” he said.

“Now we just need to get the bugs worked out and (figure out) how do we administer the program so it’s equitable and easy to access and gives families the confidence that the money’s going to be there when it’s actually required.”

Savoia said the estimate of around 70 qualifying families per year is probably accurate.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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