September 20, 2018 6:00 am
Updated: October 4, 2018 9:57 am

Trudeau Liberals fail to meet own target for improving veterans care

WATCH: Trudeau’s Liberal government are doing what they damned Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for doing: leaving hundreds millions of dollars unspent at the Department of Veterans Affairs. David Akin reports.

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The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to keep one of its key promises to veterans, according to figures obtained exclusively by Global News.

After nearly three years in power, the Liberals have not followed through with a pledge to ensure there is an adequate number of caseworkers to help veterans make the transition to civilian life.

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Trudeau had promised the government would provide one caseworker for every 25 veterans, but the ratio remains as high as one to 39 in some regions of the country and one to 42 in cities such as Kingston, Thunder Bay and Calgary.

READ MORE: Trudeau Liberals leave $372M meant to help veterans unspent since taking office

While the national average of caseworkers per veteran has dropped significantly under Trudeau’s leadership – at the end of June the ratio was one to 33 – with their term running out next year, the Liberals are only halfway toward meeting their goal.

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At the end of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, the number was one to 41.

“It was nothing but no returned calls, no callbacks … It’s very frustrating,” said Andre St-Jean, a 37-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who waited nearly nine months for his chronic pain treatment to be approved after it was first recommended by a case manager.

READ MORE: Veterans denied service dogs despite gov’t report showing ‘significant’ reduction in PTSD symptoms

“You feel like there’s no support whatsoever,” he said. “At one point I was told the case manager that was addressing my situation was ‘very busy,’ that she had 60 or so cases that she was managing.”

Stats reveal big regional differences

Case managers serve as a “first line of intervention” for ill and injured veterans. They co-ordinate medical treatments, design vocational training programs and provide social services to veterans and their families, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

A low ratio of case managers to veterans means services can be accessed in a timelier manner, whereas a high ratio means veterans must wait longer.

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But under the former Conservative government, hundreds of front-line staff, including case managers, were fired and local service offices were closed at Veteran Affairs.

As part of their campaign platform, the Liberals vowed to reverse these changes, saying they’d take a “one veteran, one standard” approach to providing veterans with the care they “need and deserve.”

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Yet according to the statistics obtained by Global News, the care many veterans receive remains largely dependent upon where they live.

Quebec, for example, has the lowest ratio of case managers to veterans at roughly one to 29, while Alberta and central Ontario have the highest ratios at roughly one to 39.

READ MORE: Military veterans lose disability pension fight

This means case managers working in Quebec have significantly lighter workloads than their colleagues in Alberta and central Ontario because they handle fewer cases and work with a smaller number of veterans.

Meanwhile, local figures show even bigger discrepancies, with eight individual offices having a ratio greater than one to 40. This includes Toronto, Charlottetown, Brandon, Man., Regina and Surrey, B.C., while Kingston, Ont., Thunder Bay and Calgary have ratios higher than one to 42.

Of the 33 local offices servicing veterans across Canada, only two – Campblleton, N.B. and Prince George, B.C. – meet the Liberal standard of one to 25.

Minister ‘frustrated’ by veteran wait times

Since taking office, the Liberals have re-hired roughly 475 front-line staff at Veteran Affairs, including more than 260 case managers. They’ve also reopened 10 local services offices, increased the amount paid for disability benefits and vocational training programs, while allocating roughly $10 billion in new funds to Veteran Affairs.

The department also says the number of veterans accessing services has increased significantly since the Liberals took office, noting a 32 per cent rise in the number of claims for disability benefits over the past two years.

WATCH:  Veteran Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan acknowledges ‘deficiencies’ in his department

Still, the government recognizes more needs to be done to ensure veterans gain access to the services they need and to reduce wait times for processing their cases.

“There is nothing that makes us more frustrated than hearing how frustrated veterans can be when they wait too long for the benefits and services they’re entitled to,” said Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veteran Affairs.

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“We are trying to man these positions as quick as we can. It is frustrating, there’s no question about it,” he said.

O’Regan says the government is aware of several “deficiencies” that must be improved – including the number of francophone staff at Veteran Affairs and problems resulting in longer wait times for female veterans seeking disability benefits – but says the government is moving as fast as it physically can to fill these gaps and hire new people.

“I need veterans to know that we’re making significant improvements,” he said. “So they know they can call in and they will get the help they need.”

WATCH: Trudeau Liberals leave $372M meant to help veterans unspent since taking office

But St-Jean says this wasn’t happening for him. So rather than continue to wait, he contacted O’Regan’s office directly, asking him to intervene and approve his treatment.

“Technically, I didn’t receive any service, I was left hanging,” St-Jean said. “I wanted action. I wanted something done. That’s why I wrote the minister.”

Though he can’t draw a direct line between his letter to the minister and his treatment’s approval, St-Jean says the timing is “very suspicious.”

READ MORE: Injured veterans forced to wait months for support, disability benefits, government watchdog finds

“All this affects increased anxiety, stress, frustration and anger,” he said. “Then if you don’t get feedback or if you don’t get a reply back, you feel left out, you feel abandoned.”

St-Jean says he’s looking forward to starting his treatment later this month but thinks it’s troubling that he and other veterans must wait so long for the services they need and deserve.

“For most veterans it’s frustrating,” he said. “When you see in the news … veterans killing themselves … killing themselves and their families, it raises big concerns when the service is not delivered.”

WATCH: Liberals fail to meet own target on caseworkers for veterans

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