Processing Disability Benefits for Veterans

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Processing Disability Benefits for Veterans

(Report 2—2022 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

21 October 2022

Karen Hogan, Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on processing disability benefits for veterans, which was tabled in the House of Commons on May 31st, 2022. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Joining me today is Nicholas Swales, the principal who was responsible for the audit.

The objective of the Veterans Affairs Canada Disability Benefits program is to compensate veterans for the effects of service-related injuries or illnesses on their lives. Veterans include current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceRCMP.

We looked at whether Veterans Affairs Canada was taking appropriate actions to reduce wait times for veterans to receive the disability benefits they were entitled to in order to support their and their families’ well-being.

Delays in receiving benefits may have an impact on access to care or other programs and services administered by the department. In some cases, veterans may feel a lack of respect or appreciation for their service.

Despite the department’s initiatives to speed up the processing of applications for disability benefits, veterans were still waiting a long time to receive compensation for injuries sustained in their service to Canada. We found that veterans were waiting almost 10 months for a decision on a first application, which is much longer than the department’s service standard.

In addition, francophones, women, and RCMP veterans had to wait longer than others. There were various reasons for the delays experienced by members of each of these groups.

Of particular note, RCMP veterans waited an average of 38% longer to receive a decision on their applications than Canadian Armed Forces veterans. Part of this could be explained by the fact that the funds paid by the RCMP to Veterans Affairs Canada did not align with the volume of applications that required processing.

In addition, we noted that both the funding and almost half of the employees on the team responsible for processing all applications were temporary. The department also lacked a long‑term staffing plan.

In recent years, Veterans Affairs Canada implemented several initiatives to try to make application processing more efficient. However, the department’s data on how it processes benefit applications—and the organization of this data—were poor. As a result, neither our office nor the department were able to measure whether and to what extent each initiative improved efficiency and helped reduce wait times.

Furthermore, the department did not always calculate wait times consistently, which meant that veterans waited longer than the department reported publicly.

Overall, the impact of these shortcomings means that more work is needed to reduce wait times. Our veterans are waiting too long to receive benefits.

Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP agreed with all 4 of our recommendations.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.