Fund policy defies fairness

A Veterans Affairs Canada policy that denies veterans funding for long-term care if they choose private care is both ludicrous and heartless.

A Veterans Affairs Canada policy that denies veterans funding for long-term care if they choose private care is both ludicrous and heartless.

Marie Goodfellow of Red Deer, who is 102, has had her federal government long-term care funding cut off because she moved from Bethany CollegeSide, a facility run by a not-for-profit society, and into a private nursing home run by Home Nursing Service Inc.

Her care now costs $3,400 a month, or $40,800 a year. In the past, Veterans Affairs covered half that cost. Not any more.

Goodfellow, who served as a nurse during the Second World War, and two other veterans in Home Nursing Service’s care in Red Deer, have lost their federal benefits simply because they chose a private caregiver.

In a growing atmosphere of public responsibility being off-loaded to private providers, through P3s and other means, it is astonishing that one arm of the federal government works at cross purposes to the mandate of a Conservative government that espouses free enterprise at every turn.

The irony is painful: Conservative leaders want the business community to provide a broader range of services to the public, but an arm of the government is preventing that from happening, and punishing Canadians who make those choices.

Veterans Affairs boasts about providing “services and benefits (that) honour their sacrifices and achievements, and are designed to meet their changing needs.”

It also says the department “follows a philosophy of client service based on a Client-Centred Service Approach” that includes working “together to develop a case plan that links the client’s needs with programs and services available . . . (and) when required to help clients be as independent as they would like to be, help them maximize their choices and learn how to access community resources. This results in a better quality of life for clients and their families. . . .”

Marie Goodfellow’s needs changed: she wanted more personal care and so her family moved her, to improve her quality of life. Now her family is responsible for the complete cost of her care.

The value of her service and sacrifice to her country never changed.

But the federal government is unwilling to bend to fulfil its moral obligation to her. It is willing to provide care at its contracted facilities or at more than 1,900 community facilities in Canada, “some of which have contractual arrangements” with Veterans Affairs.

Step outside the accepted care parameters and your coverage disappears.

An appeal process does exist. But anyone who has wandered through the labyrinth of federal government appeals knows how onerous — and often unresponsive — such a process can be. (The department does say it will provide free legal help if veterans are dissatisfied with a decision about their benefits.)

“Mom was 101 when they cut her off. How cruel is that? There was no warning,” says Marie Goodfellow’s daughter, Wende Luco.

It was cruel in the extreme.

And it is shameful.

It smacks of a nation that seeks any way possible to escape from its obligation to the people we should most revere: those who served so that we may be a free, prosperous and progressive nation.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.