Right to Fairness Implementation Plan
- As part of his role as special advisor to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Ombudsman released a report entitled "Veterans' Right to Disclosure: A Matter of Procedural Fairness". The report calls on Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to make improvements to the disability benefit application process.
- While every application is reviewed and considered to ensure a positive outcome, we welcome this report because we are always looking for ways to improve how we serve Veterans and their families.
- As a result, the Minister of Veterans Affairs has announced the Right to Fairness Implementation Plan to enhance the Department's disability benefit application process.
Overview of VAC's Commitment to Veterans
1. Veteran Outreach Initiative
In order to assist applicants to substantiate their claims, Veterans who do not submit sufficient evidence to clearly meet the legal test for entitlement, will be contacted by phone by a disability adjudicator before a decision is rendered. This proactive call will ensure that applicants have submitted their best case with the aim of receiving a fair decision. Specifically, the disability adjudicator will:
- provide the applicants with a summary of evidence on file and advise of any potential gaps; and,
- remind applicants of their right to submit additional, relevant information for consideration.
If an applicant decides to provide additional information to help substantiate the application, the application process will be temporarily frozen for a period of 90 days, after which the application will be processed as is. This will ensure that the additional evidence is included in the initial application and will be fully considered without penalty to the applicant.
2. Veterans' Right to Know
Veterans should know how information is considered and what information is being used to review their applications. There are many sources of information. They include, among others, information submitted by an applicant, Library and Archives Canada, National Defence, and/or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
As part of Minister Blaney's Cutting Red Tape Initiative, VAC will more clearly inform applicants of its intent to retrieve official service and health records at the outset of the application process.VAC will also review its disability benefit application package and its online tools to ensure that applicants have access to plain language information explaining:
- how to obtain a copy of their official service and health records;
- their rights and responsibilities to ensure their official records are correct; and,
- who to contact to correct any errors in their records. It is the applicant's responsibility to correct errors with Library and Archives Canada, National Defence, and/or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
3. Cutting Red Tape
Veterans have asked for a streamlined process for common disability claims. VAC has listened, and disability benefit officers now send all applications for single condition Hearing Loss/Tinnitus claims directly to Head Office for adjudication. This effort has significantly facilitated the application process, making the process quicker and more efficient, resulting in faster decisions for Veterans.
In keeping with the Cutting Red Tape Initiative, VAC is looking to expand this direct referral approach to applications for other common conditions.
Veterans expect that if their submission is clearly one that will be approved, they should not have to wait to gain access to the benefits they need. In meeting this expectation, VAC has implemented a process that highlights information that clearly proves a Veteran is eligible for a benefit or service. It makes little sense to continue sifting through documents if the first document reviewed confirms a Veteran's eligibility for a service or benefit. This practice is part of a process that has led to close to 70% of all initial applications being approved, and is exactly what Veterans deserve.
4. Empowering Disability Adjudicators
To reinforce the existing process, the following Operational Directive has been distributed to all disability adjudicators:
- Before a negative decision is taken, all documents submitted by a Veteran must be reviewed and factored into the final decision, every time.
- Disability adjudicators must attest to reviewing all documentation submitted by a Veteran before rendering a negative decision.
- Disability adjudicators must render fair decisions as quickly as possible by first reviewing key documents that support the validity of the claim.
Documents submitted by a Veteran or an official record body shall be given priority status and be considered first, in keeping with our commitment to render fair decisions as quickly as possible.
Canadian Veterans have more rights to appeal than any of our Allies and our Government is providing free legal assistance to do so. Veterans always have a right to submit more information to Veterans Affairs Canada, especially if their case or condition has changed or worsened. Disability adjudicators are required to consider all evidence, and do everything possible to ensure a fair and accurate decision.
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