Injured veterans wait to learn if they qualify for aid

Injured vets left waiting

Injured Canadian veterans are being forced to wait on average twice as long as promised to find out whether they qualify for financial help from the government, even as the backlog of unprocessed applications for assistance continues to grow.

Veterans are told the vast majority will know within 16 weeks whether they qualify for compensation and assistance for service-related injuries after filing an application with the federal government.

Yet the average wait time at the end of April was 34.5 weeks — an increase of nearly two weeks since the start of the year and more than double what has been promised.

Veterans Affairs did not say how much the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to the problem. The department has said officials are continuing to process applications while working at home due to the crisis.

But the federal government has long been accused of causing added frustration and stress to many injured veterans because of the growing wait times, which have in turn contributed to a growing backlog of requests for help.

More than 46,200 applications were in the backlog at the end of December, according to Veterans Affairs. That represented an increase of 1,600 from September and 6,000 from March.

The number, which is expected to only increase due to the pandemic, includes more than 20,000 applications that the department says are "incomplete" and awaiting further information.

Veterans' advocacy groups in recent months have been asking the Liberal government to automatically approve all applications for assistance from injured ex-soldiers and conduct an audit after the fact to catch any illegitimate claims.

They have specifically said many veterans are facing a hard time collecting all the necessary information due to various lockdowns, and noted such an approach has been adopted for some of the federal emergency programs set up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government has so far resisted such calls.

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