OTTAWA — Veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, who has promised a noisy departure from his posting, made a parting shot Tuesday when he told a House of Commons committee that the federal government has “an insurance-company culture of denial” toward war veterans “who have served this country so well.”
Stogran’s latest attack came after the watchdog, himself a former infantry officer, held a news conference two months ago to rip into the federal government for what he said at the time was a long-standing and deeply rooted practice of treating veterans unfairly.
“This insurance-company culture of denial must be eradicated,” said Stogran, who told the Commons veterans affairs committee that the government has overly restrictive policies “to preserve the public purse.”
Among other things, Stogran chastised the government for the “shameful” treatment of Brian Dyck, an Ottawa police officer and former soldier who fought the government for disability benefits for sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The degenerative nerve disease, referred to as ALS, claimed his life a month ago after a yearlong battle.
The government announced eligibility for benefits, treatment and home care just after Dyck’s death, which amounts to “cheating” his family, said Stogran.
The government is not renewing Stogran’s three-year term when it expires in November and critics contend that he is being punished for his vocal criticism, including accusations that the government is forcing veterans to endure a bureaucratic nightmare rife with red tape and obstructionism.
Stogran presented the committee with a shopping list of improvements that he said would improve the lives of veterans.
Among other things, the “too legalistic” Veterans Appeal Review Board should be required, like other tribunals, to make its decisions public, he said, and any doubt should be resolved in favour of claimants.
Also, the Veterans Affairs Department has a “woeful performance” in updating programs to help veterans and their families and the veterans ombudsman should have more expansive access to “keep the system honest.”
Stogran lamented that the “days are gone” when the government “will do anything for veterans.”
Stogran addressed the committee one day after veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea, a retired air force intelligence officer, accepted a rare government apology from Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn for the abuse of his personal medical and financial files by department officials. The minister also instituted fast-track mediation to settle a $400,000 lawsuit out of court.
Blackburn’s statement said he and the government are “truly sorry” for the needless suffering and anxiety caused by the dissemination of the medical and financial files among hundreds of public servants.
The apology followed a finding from Canada’s privacy commissioner of an “alarming” dissemination of Bruyea’s files, including psychiatric reports sent to cabinet ministers by Veterans Affairs officials who had no right or need to see them.
Bruyea found 850 people at the department had accessed his personal medical and financial records.
Blackburn has criticized Stogran for failing to alert the minister about breaches of privacy files.
Also, in response to criticism that the government was shortchanging injured soldiers, Veterans Affairs announced an infusion of $2 billion last month to improve benefits [and claim payments will be retroactive].
“I have absolutely no confidence the money will go where it’s intended to go,” Stogran told the committee.