Veterans minister boasts of backlog reduction attributed to COVID-19 problems


OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay is boasting about a reduction in the number of outstanding requests for assistance from veterans with disabilities, even though advocates say COVID-19 is the real reason for the apparent improvement.

MacAulay repeatedly told a parliamentary committee today the backlog of claims from former service members was starting to decline, which he credited to staff at Veterans Affairs Canada.

The number of outstanding applications fell from 49,000 at the end of March to 45,000 three months later, the first such reduction in years.

Yet veterans’ advocates say what is really happening is that the COVID-19 pandemic is making it hard for former service members to get the medical reports and other paperwork needed to apply.

Veterans Affairs says around 8,000 veterans applied for federal benefits and services during the first three full months of the pandemic, which is about half the normal number, while the number of claims processed by the department was unchanged.

The committee also heard from advocates and unions that the Liberal government’s plan to hire hundreds of temporary staff to deal with the backlog doesn’t go far enough.