CVA builds bridge to re-invent VRAB


This morning I received a situation report from Mike Blais outlining how the Canadian Veterans Advocacy is working to rectify the disconnect between disabled Veterans and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB). It follows. BONNIE

FYI – We hope veterans will print this report for their friends who are not on line. The CVA is actively seeking input about veterans experiences with the VRAB, pro and con, with an intent to identify unsatisfactory trends and some references to assist those who are currently going through the review, appeal, reconsideration and compassionate process. The CVA always attempt to impart a Human Quotient to our disabled veterans plight as such, we encourage you to tell us how this experience affected you (and your family if applicable) emotionally.

I would encourage you to use the following questions as a guideline. Did you feel that you/your family, were accorded the level of respect you deserved? Did you feel confident in the process? If successful, did the award meet your expectations? Do you feel justice was served, that your nation fulfilled its sacred obligation to you. Were you left angry, frustrated, depressed, abandoned or cheated at the conclusion? Or were you pleased, happy, satisfied? Were you intimidated by setting or tone of the adjudicators during the review or appeal process? Or not? Did this experience have any adverse affects on your health, or the health of your spouse/family?

Rest assured, the CVA will continue our campaign until a state of credibility and trust exists between the VRAB and the disabled veterans they have been mandated to judge. Hopefully, this meeting is the first step to attain this goal. MIKE

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA) and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB)

Introductory Meeting, 25 January 2012

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy’s (CVA) executives met with ranking members of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) on the 25th of January, 2012 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The VRAB was represented by Mr. John Larlee, Chairman, Ms Dale Sharkey, Director General and Ms Danielle Gauthier, Head of Communications. The CVA was represented by Mr. Joseph Burke CD, Director, Mr. John Clark, Client Services, and Michael L. Blais CD, President. The meeting was proposed by the VRAB last October prior to the 2011 National Day of Protest in November; however due to prior CVA commitments, the meeting was deferred until now. The meeting lasted two hours, too short for comprehensive discussions, yet long enough to establish a formal relationship and agree to meet in the future for more detailed discussions. Time, date and place TBA.

First, I offer our gratitude to the many veterans and/or their wives who responded to our request prior to the meeting for feedback about experiences with the VRAB. Comments published on the CVA Facebook Group had been reviewed by the VRAB executive prior to the meeting and they were acknowledged – your voice was indeed heard!

I also want to thank veterans’ advocate Sean Bruyea for the opportunity to participate in his Hill Times article on the VRAB, “Just One More Reason for a Commission of Inquiry into Veterans’ Issues,” and the effective manner in which he identified major issues of contention. The timing was fortuitous and we are grateful (To access the full version of the article please visit Sean’s website: http://www.seanbruyea.com/
2012/01/just-one-more-reason-for-a-commission-of-inquiry-into-veterans%E2%80%99-issues/.)

One of the primary concerns raised during the meeting was the level of distrust for the VRAB held by a large segment of the veterans’ community. To address this issue effectively, we were hoping that the Ombudsman’s Report would be released in time to provide an unbiased foundation for meaningful dialogue concerning the requirements needed to ensure veterans have confidence that their cases will be judged fairly. The VRAB executive is aware of this level of distrust and they appear to be willing to address the issue – this was one of the reasons the CVA accepted the meeting.

But there must be transparency. There must be an acknowledgement by the VRAB executive that there are serious issues that have eroded veterans’ confidence in the VRAB’s appeal, review, and reconsideration process. Most importantly, the VRAB must recognize the need for appropriate safeguards to ensure these inadequacies are truly redressed to veterans’ satisfaction.

Noteworthy items briefly discussed were the composition of the VRAB, veterans’ representation on the board and the manner in which candidates are currently selected. Prior to 2004, the government simply appointed members at will regardless of their qualifications. Since then, a selection process has been implemented. A copy of the criteria will be posted at the CVA information portal/document repository with the hope that veterans who are interested in becoming a board member and who fulfill the restrictive pre-requisites may have an opportunity to apply and successfully complete the vetting process.

Unfortunately, the prerequisites preclude a vast majority of veterans who have little, if any, experience in a quasi-judicial field or in administrative tribunals. The Canadian Veterans Advocacy feels that it is vital that more veterans are appointed to the board. The inclusion of a veteran on each tribunal would ensure a modicum of confidence to the applicant. A veteran on the tribunal would also contribute their real-life knowledge of military operations to assist non-military members who simply cannot comprehend the rigors of war. Conflict of interest protocols were also discussed, i.e., what happens if a board member is called to adjudicate a case of someone with whom he served and the potential for bias, pro or con, that this creates.

The key issue of transparency was addressed by both representatives. The VRAB has responded by pledging to post a variety of cases on their website in the near future as a reference. What assistance this will truly provide is questionable. Unlike court,  administrative tribunals are not bound by case law or precedence. Several other items were briefly touched on but as there was no time to discuss, I will reserve comment on these issues until after the next meeting.

Documentation provided to the CVA by the VRAB will be posted at the CVA document repository. If you have any questions regarding this Situation Report or the VRAB documentation, please do not hesitate to email me directly at michael.blais@canadianveteransadvocacy.com.

Strategic Assessment – Although we have gained a greater understanding of the VRAB operational mandate through our initial respectful, yet frank, discussions there are still many issues to be addressed in greater detail. Once the Ombudsman’s investigation into the VRAB has been published, we can establish a solid platform to support future dialogue.

Summary – A formal relationship has been established between the CVA and the VRAB, the concerns identified by CVA membership have been communicated, and a formal platform for continued dialogue has been founded. All CVA meeting objectives were successfully achieved.

Pro Patria Semper Fidelis

Michael L Blais CD
Founder/President, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
6618 Harper Drive, Niagara Falls, Ont, Cda.
L2E 7K6 // 905-357-3306 // Cell 905-359-9247

info@canadianveteransadvocacy.com
http://www.canadianveteransadvocacy.com/index.html
https://www.facebook.com/groups/CdnVetsAdvocacy/
https://www.facebook.com/groups/150134285064687/

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2 Responses to CVA builds bridge to re-invent VRAB

  1. Murray Scott says:

    Mike:

    Were any security issues dealt with re: our members seeking appeal from VAC’s decisions? I have read with interest your report and the first thing that comes to mind is what a waste of time and effort. We would be better off creating a website publishing both favorable and unfavorable decisions …at least we would be able to point out the inconsistencies in VRAB decisions.

    With the exception of: Edward (Ted) A. Giraldeau was appointed to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board in 2006 upon his retirement from the Canadian Forces at the rank of Major, after more than 30 years of service. His military career included three years in the Primary Reserves as an infantry soldier and more than 27 years in the Regular Force as an infantry officer. In 1983, he was commissioned as an officer in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry ( PPCLI ). Throughout his career, he has held a number of command and staff appointments including command of the largest Army headquarters in Western Canada and command of the PPCLI Parachute Company. He has served across Canada and overseas. As the only Canadian Army officer deployed on a French-led NATO peace support mission in Macedonia from 1998 to 1999, he was decorated for meritorious service by the Government of France with the Bronze Medal of National Defence. He also served with the British 4 ( UK ) Armoured Brigade in Macedonia and Kosovo in 1999. In his last position as the PPCLI Regimental Major, he gained invaluable experience dealing with Veterans’ issues, and Veterans’ groups and associations.Mr.Giraldeau holds a Bachelor of Arts in Military and Strategic Studies from the Royal Roads Military College, and obtained a Master of Arts in War Studies from the Royal Military College in 1995.

    I feel that there are perhaps three others that are worthy of sitting on the board. Mike lets face it….VRAB members have been read the riot act and there is not one decision that is not flawed. For the most part I find VRAB members to be Cowards. After all how much effort does it take to find a reason to turn down any application for benefits from members who are injured and worn down and have little or no strength to fight back. Then we have the Bureau of Pension Advocates …but that is another story. Over the years I have seen VRAB members break every rule knowing very well that it is within their jurisdiction to do so.

    Again I have read your report and it appears to be a waste of time. If you want to do something for members who are experiencing a difficult time with VRAB Cowards then start by setting up an Honor Guard to be at each and every Hearing to support our injured and then set up a number where members families can call when things get unbearable at home and they need help for an injured Vet who has exploded because they were treated with little or no respect by the VRAB Board.

    You may not like this, Mike, but with respect to VRAB, it is time to show them that we Honor our injured members and they had better do the same.

    Murray Scott
    Edmonton Alberta

  2. Bonnie Toews says:

    Veterans Board responds to Bruyea
    Jan. 30, 2012

    Re: “Just one more reason for a commission of inquiry into veterans’ issues,” (The Hill Times, Jan. 23, p. 10, by Sean Bruyea. In his column, Mr. Bruyea presents his opinions about the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) and the administrative law process. I would like to clarify some information for the benefit of your readers.

    Since 2004, the board has used a merit-based selection process to ensure that all members have the necessary skills to make fair and well-reasoned decisions for veterans, members of the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and their families. This rigorous screening includes a review of qualifications against pre-defined criteria, a written examination and an interview. Any Canadian can apply and only those who are successful are eligible to be considered for an appointment.

    The process recognizes the value of military, medical, policing, and legal backgrounds: in fact, our two most recently-appointed members have a military and an RCMP background, respectively. All new members undergo comprehensive training before hearing cases and then receive on-going professional development.

    The board is not made up of “predominantly lawyers”: only seven of the board’s 24 members are lawyers. The remaining 17 are drawn from all sectors of society, as is the case with many quasi-judicial tribunals.

    Administrative tribunals like VRAB exist to give dissatisfied people a remedy that is less formal, less costly and less time-consuming than the courts. Tribunals are specialized and their members know their own legislation and jurisdiction intimately. Their role is to assess the evidence and make decisions on the matters that come before them.

    The board’s appeal process is unique in that a veteran needs only to be dissatisfied with a disability decision made by the Department of Veterans Affairs to request an independent review. At board hearings, applicants have the opportunity to be heard and to bring forward new information. The hearings are non-adversarial: no one argues against the veteran. All applicants have access to free representation by lawyers from the Bureau of Pensions Advocates or by service officers from veterans organizations to obtain the best outcome.

    I would like to put the board’s workload statistics into context. A large majority of first applications made to the Department of Veterans Affairs are successful. Only a small percentage come forward to the board and, of those, half are varied favourably at our review level and a further one-third at our appeal level.

    These favourability rates are due, in part, to the board’s ability to give applications a fresh new look, hear testimony and receive new evidence. As independent adjudicators, board members are not bound by the department’s decisions and will change them to benefit veterans if there is credible evidence.

    We recognize that despite the generous aspects of the legislation, not all applications will be successful and some people will remain dissatisfied. However, we are committed to doing our very best to ensure those coming before us are treated fairly and have the benefit of all their rights to compensation for service-related disabilities.

    John Larlee, Chairman
    Veterans Review and Appeal Board
    Charlottetown, P.E.I.

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