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Feds promise to hire more staff to tackle veterans’ case backlog: minister

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The federal Liberal government is promising to hire more staff to tackle a backlog of requests for assistance and shortage of case managers that is leaving many disabled veterans without the help they need.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay made the commitment in an interview after The Canadian Press published a series of articles in the lead-up to Remembrance Day that looked at some of the most pressing challenges facing veterans today.

Those challenges included the backlog of disability applications that is leaving thousands of veterans waiting months and sometimes years for treatment and financial support, and which veterans’ organizations have identified as the community’s top concern.

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The series also looked at the overwhelming number of veterans assigned to individual case managers, and how those caseloads are threatening to let some of the most severely injured fall through the cracks.

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“We’re going to hire more,” MacAulay said. “Our party and government have indicated quite clearly we’re going to hire more adjudicators and case managers. The biggest priority in Veterans Affairs Canada is to deal with this backlog. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Yet while the minister underscored adding staff, as the Liberals also promised during the recent election, will form a key part of the government’s response, he would not say how many people would be hired or when.

“I’m not going to give you an exact date on anything,” MacAulay said. “But what I’m going to do is make sure that we continue to deal with the backlog and bring that percentage down.”

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Veterans Affairs had more than 40,000 unprocessed disability claims from more than 30,000 veterans in its possession at the end of June. Veterans and their advocates have said the long waits for claims to be processed are adding more stress and instability on injured ex-soldiers.

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The Liberals have hired about 560 temporary adjudicators over the past two-plus years to bring the backlog under control after years of cuts under the previous Conservative government and a surge in new applications for help more recently.

The parliamentary budget officer in September 2020 reported the government would need to keep most of those temporary staff past their current contract end in March 2022 for another three years to properly deal with the backlog.

Veterans Affairs officials privately warned MacAulay the same thing this past May, according to documents obtained through access to information, noting those temporary staff only really got up and running this past January after months of recruitment and training.

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Those officials not only spoke of the importance of retaining those temporary staff, but also for the government to make a decision on such an extension sooner rather than later.

“With delays in extending spike staff comes the higher risk of losing these highly skilled and trained employees,” reads the report. “To date, we have lost 38 employees with 27 being essential decision makers.”

MacAulay would not speak to whether the temporary staff would be hired or otherwise extended.

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The minister was also vague on the government’s plan to address the fact case managers within his department and struggling with large caseloads, though he did say the government remains committed to its promise of having only 25 veterans assigned to one case manager.

“Our goal is to make sure that we bring down that ratio,” he said. “Yes, 25 to one. There’s only one way you can do this, and it is to have more people to do the job.”

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