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Injured veterans battle with bureaucracy, auditor-general says

A web of bureaucratic delays and complex rules hinders the ability of injured and sick members of the Canadian Forces to return to civilian life, according to the Auditor-General.

The report blames a lack of coordination between the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs for failures in ensuring that all former military personnel receive proper follow-up and care after their career.

Some military personnel's files contain mistakes, while others simply do not receive personalized case-management services, meaning that some people receive inappropriate care or fail to benefit from all relevant programs and services.

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The issue is of critical importance, given the physical and psychological impact on military personnel of the military mission in Afghanistan that is now winding down.

The Auditor-General estimated that the federal government spends $500-million a year on services to military personnel who received a medical release. Over the last five years, 8,000 members of the Canadian Forces left the military for medical reasons.

Both former military officials and the civil servants who administer the various programs for sick and injured personnel found "the transition process complex, lengthy, and challenging to navigate," according to the Auditor-General's report. "Employees find it increasingly difficult to understand the process and keep up to date."

The audit found that various forms used by the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs are overly bureaucratic, and that delays in processing various files vary widely. In some cases, some members prefer a simple retirement from a medical discharge to avoid the bureaucratic hassles.

"Departmental officials told us that because of the length of time it takes for an administrative decision to be made on medical release, some members choose to leave the Forces voluntarily," the report found.

While there are many reports of post-traumatic stress disorder in the Forces, the Auditor-General found that clinics that specialize in stress injuries are underused.

In a statement from his office, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said that he accepts all of the recommendations in the report.

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"That is why he intends to unveil a robust Veterans Transition Action Plan to directly address the report's recommendations," the statement said.

The department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs both promised a series of improvements by 2013 to its processes and forms, with a goal of streamlining and simplifying the process.

"By March 2013, veterans and their families will find it easier to apply online for benefits and navigate the website with the help of a new Benefits Browser that simplifies the process of gathering information about programs and policies," Veterans Affairs told the Auditor-General's Office.

Both departments are also vowing to remove errors from the medical files of former personnel and speed up the transition from paper to electronic records.

In a separate report, the Auditor-General criticized National Defence for its management of its $22-billion real-estate portfolio. On average, it takes DND six years to approve construction projects that cost more than $5-million.

"At bases, the focus is often on repairs after breakdown instead of preventive maintenance," the Auditor-General said. "As a result, real property assets may not be in place at the right time or in the needed condition to meet the Forces' operational requirements."

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In particular, the report said, DND "does not yet have a real property management framework in place."

DND agreed to implement all of the recommendations in the report.

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