Nova Scotia veterans’ advocates want new government contract for rehab services cancelled

Click to play video: 'Veteran advocates say new rehabilitation program not keeping up with demand'
Veteran advocates say new rehabilitation program not keeping up with demand
Veterans advocates are sounding the alarm over a new rehabilitation program in Canada. They want to see it cancelled over concerns it's not keeping up with demand and the complex needs of veterans. Skye Bryden-Blom reports. – Mar 14, 2023

Advocates of veterans in Nova Scotia are sounding the alarm over a new rehabilitation program in Canada.

The contract between Ottawa and a private company recently came into effect and was aimed at easing the administrative burden, but advocates say it’s not keeping up with the demand and complex needs of veterans.

Dennis Manuge, a Canadian Forces veteran and advocate, sent a letter to Central Nova MP Sean Fraser on Monday calling for an end to the agreement.

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He says veterans and case managers are reporting significant delays in getting access to services and assessments completed.

“We’ve got to cancel that program, stop it in its tracks, revert back to the public service, the union, and the Veterans Affairs Canada staff,” Manuge says.

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“Why would we not invest in more case managers and more qualified people that work for the organization, an entity to come in and manage the cases and the files and the people?”

The federal government awarded the $570-million contract to Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services (PCVRS) in June 2021, but it came into effect last November. PCVRS is a partnership between private health care company Lifemark Health Group, a division of Loblaws, and WCG services.

Manuge wants the federal government to invest in more case managers instead of private companies. He says they understand the veterans’ complex health needs and should continue to coordinate their rehab and track progress.

“Lifemark has only been given 3,000 of the least complex cases and it’s completely imploded their system, their staff, they’re woefully unprepared,” Manuge says.

Dennis Manuge is a Canadian Forces veteran and advocate. Skye Bryden-Blom / Global News

In a statement to Global News, Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation Chair Peter Stoffer says what the government has done with the contract is “wrong” and he would like to see it cancelled and put back into the hands of Veterans Affairs Canada employees.

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The national president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees says they stand in solidarity with veterans and their advocates in calling for the cancellation of the new rehab contract.

In a statement, Virginia Vaillancourt says union members, case managers, and others have been raising concerns for months now with the Department of Veterans Affairs Canada, but she says they’ve gone ignored.

“In the first phase of implementation, veterans are being delayed, deferred and forced to undergo three-hour-long interviews to prove their already existing entitlement,” Vaillancourt says.

“No one at the department or with the contractor can answer questions from veterans or case managers. Everyone is being left in the dark and veterans are already falling through the cracks.”

Virginia Vaillancourt, the National President of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees (UVAE). Courtesy: Virginia Vaillancourt

She adds there wasn’t enough consultation with veterans or staff at Veterans Affairs Canada ahead of the contract being introduced.

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“The case managers always coordinated these therapies (medical/psychosocial) for the veterans as part of their rehab plan,” she explains, “so that the veterans did not have to and so that the case managers could monitor the veterans’ progress in treatment. Now the veterans are being juggled around.”

Global News reached out to a media contact with Lifemark Health Group for a response and was directed to make the request to Veterans Affairs Canada.

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Steven Harris, the assistant deputy minister of service delivery for Veterans Affairs Canada, says case managers remain the decision makers with the contract helping to cut down on their administrative work.

“The role of the contract and additional supports and services is to make sure we have the expertise,” Harris says. “We’re not a front-line service.”

He says the second phase of the program is being rolled out this week to transition thousands more veterans over to the new contract.

But Harris cautions it will be staggered over the next several months to ensure it’s manageable. He adds they’ve also learned from the first phase of the rollout.

Manuge says he just wants to ensure veterans receive the best care.

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“All we’re asking for is when we get out the other end — whether it’s 10 years, a full career, two years,18 years — just look after us appropriately,” he says.

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