Frustration is mounting amongst many of Canada’s Veterans who are being forced to wait an unprecedented amount of time to receive word on their benefit applications due to a backlog of applications with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), according to an internal departmental report.
According to the report, first-time Disability Benefits applications processed within the mandated time fell from 66 percent in the 2014-2015 fiscal year to 52 percent in the 2015-2016 year. This backlog is affecting the process into 2017 with the latest numbers showing that only 43 percent of applications have been processed within 16 weeks.
The target for Veterans Affairs is to process 80 percent of applications within 16 weeks.
Also significant, the report indicates that there is also a dip in the amount of Earnings Loss Benefit (ELB) applications, provided to Veterans who are permanently disabled, that are processed within the mandated time. That number has dropped from 86 percent in 2015 to 67 percent. The decision for first-time ELB applications is mandated within four weeks.
The increasing wait times is increasing frustration amongst Veterans. One Veteran who applied for disability benefits in October of this year was told they would not receive word on their application within 16 weeks as VAC is still working on applications from Sept. 2016. Meaning, the veteran could have to wait anywhere from six months to a year for a decision.
The department notes that there is an increase in disability benefit claims, up by more than 20 percent in the last two fiscal years.
“The Department receives a significant number of applications that often require additional information from Veterans. This process takes time to complete to ensure the correct information is gathered to make an informed disability benefit decision. This has affected our service standards for applications,” said Marc Lescoutre, media relations officer with VAC.
The report does show, however, that VAC has managed to hire more caseworkers, as promised.
“Although we have hired more than 50 new adjudicators since 2015, we recognize that the adjudication process needs to be streamlined even further and additional adjudicators hired to make application decisions in a more effective and timely manner,” added Lescoutre.
VAC is currently looking into ways to streamline and speed up the process including hiring more frontline staff; simplifying the decision-making process for some medical conditions and working with partners to speed up access to service health records.