Software for veterans’ benefit applications taking a long time to be released

A software program that could end much angry debate between injured soldiers and Veterans Affairs Canada has been stuck in the federal bureaucracy for over a year.

OTTAWA — A software program that could end much angry debate between injured soldiers and Veterans Affairs Canada has been stuck in the federal bureaucracy for over a year.

Canada’s veterans watchdog has been pushing for the application to be made available online so former members of the military and RCMP can calculate their individual eligibility and accessibility to the department’s Byzantine series of programs.

“We’re very active in trying to get Veterans Affairs Canada to modernize its ways, if you wish,” Guy Parent, the veterans ombudsman, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

The relationship between the department and its clients has at times been poisonous. Some veterans approach the system with an ingrained suspicion, while others have had their hopes dashed by indifference — or at times — the outright incompetence of bureaucrats.

Last year, it was revealed department officials went years without informing nearly 1,000 of the most severely injured veterans they were eligible for what’s known as an exceptional incapacity allowance — a stipend that for some would have meant up to $1,000 per month. The situation wasn’t corrected until Parent’s office stepped in.

The software program is similar in complexity to online applications long in use by banks and insurance companies.

After going through several revisions and updates through the years, the navigator program was handed over to the department in 2010 in the hope it would be put on the government’s website.

But so far, it has been the subject only of a pilot program for the department’s internal use at a regional office in Winnipeg, and was recently made available to call-centre staff.

The plan is to roll it out to the entire department early this year, said veterans affairs spokesman Simon Forsyth.

Critics were skeptical.

“It’s money. You know it and I know it,” said Michael Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “They’re cutting half a billion dollars from the budget. Here’s a good idea, put forth in good faith by the ombudsman, and yet they’re sitting on their hands.”

Blais said better educated veterans means there will be more uptake on programs, and that will result in some impact on the federal treasury. “Anything with money, it’s like pulling teeth without anesthetic,” he said. “They just don’t want to give it up.”