Credits: JIM WELLS/CALGARY SUN/ QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- Red tape is choking the government's ability to provide care for Canada's ill and injured soldiers and veterans, says the federal spending watchdog.
A new report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson released Tuesday says burdensome paperwork and a complex system at National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada mean many soldiers and vets face lengthy waits for benefits and services, or don't get them at all.
"Staff at both departments told us that the transition process is complex," the report states. "They must deal with a large number of departmental policies and procedures, which often change. As a result, employees find it increasingly difficult to understand the process and keep up to date."
It wasn't just government workers who felt overwhelmed by the system.
Soldiers were forced to fill out applications and supporting documents for each medical condition to access different programs, and several veterans complained the forms were confusing and cumbersome.
The feds are also failing to keep proper track of key information relating to soldiers and veterans, the report said.
Auditors found 24% of service numbers from the Veterans Affairs rehabilitation database are missing or inaccurate. Out of 50 rehabilitation cases reviewed by auditors, 18% had inconsistent information between the two databases, from the defence department and Canadian Forces, on the same soldier.
In both cases, the missing, incomplete or wrong information could affect services and benefits available to the soldier or veteran.
The defence department also failed to provide case management services - which helps soldiers access benefits and services - to 25% of the soldiers released for medical reasons. Veterans Affairs failed to provide a case plan for 20% of veterans identified as at risk of having a hard time returning to civilian life.
Both departments agreed with most of the recommendations by the auditors and have committed to improving the system by 2015.
Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney said his department has already put forward a number of measures and have more in the wings.
"I take my responsibility to Canada's veterans seriously," he said. "We will continue to work on their behalf to ensure the seamless transition from the Canadian Forces to civilian life."
More than 8,000 Forces members were released from the military between 2006 and 2011.