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Auditor-General of Canada Karen Hogan holds a press conference following the tabling of the AG report in Ottawa, on May 31.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Auditor-General says Canadian veterans are waiting too long to receive compensation for injuries sustained during their service, despite Veterans Affairs’ efforts to improve wait times for disability benefits applications.

A report released from the office of Parliament Tuesday found that veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time waited nearly 10 months for a decision, while applications from some subgroups, such as women and RCMP veterans, took even longer. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Auditor-General Karen Hogan said the government’s failure to live up to its promise to support injured veterans has a “real consequence” for the well-being of former military and RCMP members, as well as their families.

“It’s time to find a more sustainable solution that will see veterans receive their benefits in a timely way,” Ms. Hogan said following the tabling of the audit, which was part of a batch of spring reports to Parliament. “The government should do better by them.”

Veterans Affairs Canada has a service standard for processing disability benefits applications within 16 weeks, in 80 per cent of cases. The report found that the department has not met that service standard for seven years. It said veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time waited a median of 39 weeks for a decision.

Female veterans faced particularly long processing times of 47 weeks for initial applications, compared with 38 weeks for men, the audit found. The report said unintended gender bias on the disability benefits application form contributed to the problem. Veterans who have changed their name have to provide proof of identity, but since the form does not have a place to include a woman’s maiden name, it could take longer for those applications to be processed.

The report also found that RCMP veterans had to wait 51 weeks for their first application, compared with 37 weeks for Canadian Armed Forces veterans. The RCMP funds the Mounties’ disability benefits by transferring money to Veterans Affairs. The report found that the amount the RCMP was paying to Veterans Affairs for processing was not consistent with the number of applications and recommended the organizations work together to determine the proper level of funding.

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The audit said that Veterans Affairs’ data on how it processes disability benefits applications was poor and, as a result, the department didn’t know if its efforts to improve wait times worked. It recommended the department address weaknesses in its data collection and create a long-term resourcing plan so Veterans Affairs has enough staff to process the backlog of applications.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay welcomed the recommendations Tuesday. He said the report is a “snapshot of a point in time,” noting that Ottawa has reduced the backlog over the past couple of years. In the spring of 2020, there were more than 23,000 applications waiting for processing beyond the 16-week service standard, he said, compared with 10,649 as of May 25.

“Still too many, I know, but quite an improvement from where we were,” Mr. MacAulay said.

Veterans’ advocacy groups said the report’s findings were unfortunately not surprising.

Bruce Julian, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, said the organization has seen the despair and anger from veterans and hopes the report will provide the impetus needed to end the “unreasonable” wait times.

The Veterans Transition Network said veterans need help as soon as they apply for it, so the long processing times only add insult to injury. Executive director Oliver Thorne said that while the wait times are discouraging for veterans, they can receive immediate coverage for some mental-health conditions as soon as they apply for the disability benefit. The government announced the coverage in April.

Conservative veterans affairs critic Frank Caputo said the slow processing times are “an abysmal letdown for our women and men in uniform,” and the party will advocate for a long-term solution to ensure veterans are treated with respect and dignity.

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said the Liberal government has failed in its duty to veterans and their families, and has no clear plan to fix the problems identified by the Auditor-General.

“It will be impossible to clear the backlogs and fix wait times until the department is able to gather accurate data and create a sustainable long-term resourcing plan for processing applications in a timely manner,” she said.

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