Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino was warned in May that nearly 300 veterans had been waiting months for a case manager to help them gain access to support services.
The warning, contained in internal documents obtained by the Citizen, was delivered as Fantino prepared to defend millions of dollars in Veterans Affairs Canada budget cuts.
Veterans have long complained about being forced to wait for services, and the documents provide the first real window into the scope of the problem as the federal auditor general prepares to release a report Tuesday into mental health services for veterans.
The government says Veterans Affairs is hiring more staff, including case managers for the most serious cases, and that providing timely access to services is a top priority.
But opposition critics say the documents prove those who have served in uniform are paying the price as the government tries to balance the budget before next year’s election.
Case managers are assigned to veterans who are having difficulty transitioning into civilian life, or who need extra help accessing support services. Approximately 7,050 veterans, representing 3.4 per cent of Veterans Affairs clients, have been assigned a case manager.
In advance of an appearance before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee on June 2, Veterans Affairs officials prepared a briefing package for Fantino that included a memo on the number of veterans waiting to be assigned a case manager.
Officials said 297 veterans were waiting for a case manager in four geographic areas: 106 in Montreal; 74 in the rest of Quebec; 62 in northeastern Ontario; and 55 in New Brunswick.
The memo suggests the problem was created by an unexpected increase in demand for case managers in those locations.
While vets deemed to be “high risk” were immediately assigned a case manager, the average wait time in Montreal and New Brunswick was 45 days. Vets in Ontario waited 55 days, while those in Quebec waited the longest, an average of 90 days.
The memo said Veterans Affairs officials had developed a plan to tackle the problem, and would have a case manager assigned to most if not all of those on the wait list by the end of May.
But it also predicated the number of veterans requiring a case manager would increase seven per cent by March 2015 — at the same time the department’s operating budget is slated to be cut by $40 million.
Eighty-five per cent of case-managed veterans are under the age of 60, according to the memo, meaning they served in the military after the Second World War and Korea.
Veterans Affairs did not respond to questions last week about whether any veterans are currently waiting for a case manager. But spokeswoman Janice Summerby said the department is in the process of hiring more case managers.
“As case management is intensity based, Veterans Affairs is currently actively hiring additional case managers to ensure our veterans receive the best possible support right across the country,” she said in an email.
The Conservative government has already been under fire for closing eight Veterans Affairs satellite offices, cutting the department’s budget and laying off staff, and opposition critics held up the documents as proof it has been mismanaging the file.