Former infantry corporal Kenneth Young tried for years to obtain the medical records related to his treatment at a now-closed veterans' hospital only to learn they had been destroyed in 2009, along with more than 27,000 boxes of other veterans' medical files.
Mr. Young, who is 65 and lives in Nanaimo, B.C., wanted the records to bolster his case for a disability pension. He says he is entitled to the benefit because his healthy spleen was removed in 1975 at the former Westminster Veterans' Hospital in London, Ont.
The documents, Mr. Young said in a telephone interview, would prove that the doctors did not do the appropriate tests before taking out the organ – a "medical misadventure" that he blames for significantly diminishing his quality of life.
The Veterans Review and Appeal Board asked to see his medical records after he applied for the pension in 2005. But "all the files that I would need to take to a doctor to have him agree with me are gone," he said. "There's no X-rays, there's no lab reports … All the tests that were done, all the reports that were done on the tests, the proof is all gone."
When many veterans' hospitals, including the one in London, were closed more than three decades ago, the medical files of veterans were turned over to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) where officials were asked to determine whether they had "archival value." But Mr. Young's files were not in the archives and they could not be found at the Veterans Affairs department.
He kept pestering the bureaucrats to find them "and it got to the point where they said 'don't write us any more. If you have any other problems or questions, contact the Privacy Commissioner.' Which I did," he said. "A few months later [the Privacy Commissioner] called me up and said 'well, your files were destroyed.'"
The Privacy Commissioner's office sent Mr. Young an e-mail from 2009 in which Valerie Stewart, the supervisor of national information holdings for Veterans Affairs, explained to department staff that Library and Archives Canada had "reviewed the hospital patient files and determined that they do not have archival value."
Ms. Stewart went on to say that officials at the Veterans Affairs department had "determined there is no potential research value in these files," and urged that "we proceed with the destruction of these files ASAP."
When Jim Karygiannis, the Liberal critic for veterans' affairs, asked about the destroyed records in the House of Commons last week, Parm Gill, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, replied that the files pertained to veterans from many years ago. "Indeed," said Mr. Gill, "no active, living veteran's file was involved in this process."
Mr. Young said he thinks he looks "pretty good" for a dead guy.
The Veterans Affairs department said the records that were destroyed "were hospital patient records, used for administrative purposes," and that their destruction was required by the Privacy Act. "Even if these records still existed today, they would not be used to adjudicate any Veterans Affairs Canada disability benefits," said a department spokesman in an e-mail.
But Mr. Young said the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has made it clear that the documents are key to proving his case – so much so that the board itself searched for the files and, at one point, indicated they had been found but eventually came up empty-handed.
Mr. Young said he suspects many of the files that were destroyed belong to vets who have passed away. But he is equally certain that he is not the only living veteran in his situation.
Mr. Young's case isn't over. He returns for another hearing before the board on Dec. 9. "But I couldn't hold onto it any more without letting the rest of the veterans know where their files went," he said. "I am advising any veteran who spent any time in a Canadian veterans' hospital to demand their medical files."