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Defending Canada’s Veteran Affairs public servants


by Jeff Rose-Martland

During the Veterans’ Affairs revelations of 2010 – the scandals, the failures, and the protests – there is one group who remained silent. We heard from veterans and politicians, citizens and pundits, soldiers and police officers, but this select group held their tongues. As much victims of poor planning, convoluted and unworkable policy, and bureaucracy which had lost its way as everyone else, these people kept quiet.

There are a couple of reasons for this: first, speaking out would cost them their jobs. Second, no one wanted to hear anything they had to say. With veterans spitting the word ‘bureaucrat’ like an epithet and government looking for scapegoats, who wanted to listen to the staff at Veterans’ Affairs?

Take the Sean Bruyea affair as an example: high level VAC officials briefed Ministers on Bruyea’s personal medical and financial information. Bruyea, involved in protesting the New Veterans’ Charter, found his benefits cut and claims stalled. There were even attempts by Veterans’ Affairs to have Sean commit himself to a mental hospital. All this came to light last fall. What did the government do? Apologise, settle Bruyea’s court case, and require all Veterans’ Affairs staff to undergo privacy training. The message? VAC staff messed up and we’ll make sure they know better. Implied course of events: the frontline staff was upset by Bruyea’s lobbying and tried to take him down.

But how sensible is that? Assuming that the front ranks at VAC even knew who Bruyea was, how do busy case workers find the time to coordinate an attack against him? And why would they? They follow whatever policy is set by government and the ministry; a lobbyist wouldn’t make any difference to how they do their jobs.

Here’s an alternative scenario: Bruyea ruffles feathers in the upper echelon of Veteran’s Affairs – the Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Orders are sent down: pull Bruyea’s files. Files are reviewed, annotated, and included in briefing notes (all of which has been confirmed). Decisions are taken to “take the gloves off” with Bruyea, after which Sean’s descent into the nightmare begins. Who can make such a decision or issue such an order? Not the people answering the phones.

The violation of privacy did not occur when some staffer pulled the file and passed it to their supervisor. What employee could deny the request of their boss without facing termination? No, the violation happened when Bruyea’s file went from the client side to the policy department.

Otherwise, where are the memos from the executive reminding staff about client privacy? Where are the letters from the Ministers saying to stop sending personal information? The logical conclusion is that the VAC frontline has been made scapegoats. They got ‘retraining’ while the people who were in charge of the department and, hence, responsible for this have not been reprimanded, punished, or charged. The perps got away and, like successful criminals, will likely re-offend.

Meanwhile, veterans have been playing ‘shoot the messenger’. Veterans blame VAC staff as much as government for their troubles and the public has sided with the vets. Most people now believe that Veterans’ Affairs employees are cold-hearted, anti-military types who derive sadistic pleasure from dragging out processes and denying claims. VAC staff has become the bogeymen of this affair and, as long as they remain so, little will change.

In the interests of fairness and truth, I want to address that myth.

I spent 3 years manning the phones in a call centre, providing technical support. According to job description, I was the go-to person, the one to call who could get things fixed. In practice, I was not allowed to do that job. With every issue, I faced rules, policy, regulations, limitations, things I wasn’t allowed to do, and departments that I was not permitted to speak with. Naturally, I got told off a whole bunch. Eventually, I left that job out of frustration.

We’ve all had jobs we didn’t like. Some of us have had jobs we liked, but hated the way we were told to do it. Imagine that your job is “to make sure our traditional and modern-day Veterans’ needs are met”[1] – you listen to veterans, note the things they should qualify for, then go get them what they need. A good job, helping the veterans.

Except that you can’t actually meet that mission. Every program specifies who qualifies and uses different criteria to define veterans. Then, there are the numerous policies which interpret the program regulations and set guidelines for implimentation. In fact, there are so many definitions, policies, procedures, guidelines, rules, programs and criteria that you cannot even tell a client what their entitlements are

You carry an active case-load of fifty or more claims. You spend most of your time processing paperwork or reading policy. When you call a client back, you usually have to ask for more forms or, worse, you are informing the veteran that their claim has been denied for reasons which may may not be clear to you. As the messenger, you get told off a lot by people who trained on parade grounds and battlefields. That has to get to you. No matter how tough you think you are, no one can handle being repeatedly and personally called down in the dirt by the people you are trying to help. Perhaps you stop calling clients and insist on doing things via mail. Maybe you stop caring at all, just shuffle through your day, abanding all thought of trying to help veterans. Maybe you vent your feelings by directing your anger back on the veterans themselves, for causing you so much grief. Or perhaps you just call in sick, then go on leave, then quit.

Various veterans have said that things would be different if VAC hired vets. I disagree. I think things would be worse. Military and Police are trained to accept screwed-up regulations and to believe that those in charge are right. Stick veterans into a department loaded with policy failures and they wouldn’t be able to change anything. They’d be telling their comrades, “Hey, suck it up!” In fact, when they actually thought about what was involved, veterans I spoke to shuddered visibly at the thought of what VAC frontliners endure. Some even curb their language and have changed their opinions.

So, to those of you spitting “bureaucrat” and describing VAC staff in less than glowing terms, please, take some time to consider what they do, who they contend with. You don’t like the loud-mouth at the Legion? Try coping with large numbers of them and remaining patient and calm and polite. Could you do it? And consider this: VAC staff have absolutely nothing to do with setting policy or determining programs. Such things are set by politicians and executive staff, many of whom stand in the shadows. The people you speak with have no more say in your claim than you do, perhaps even less. While you were accusing VAC staff of being unsymathetic, did you show any sympathy for them? Did you appreciate their work on your behalf?

To those brave souls on the VAC Frontline: you are not alone. There are people out here who understand your frustration and appreciate your successes. We are labouring to ensure you endure fewer and simpler policies, that you have more control over decisions, and that you get the tools to fulfill the duty with which you have been charged – looking after our veterans.

The problem is policy. We must focus on correcting policy. Above all, we must remember that we are all on the same side.

Together, we can reach the goal of providing for every individual who served our national interest.

About the writer:

Jeff Rose-Martland is the founder of, a citizens’ organization dedicated to ensuring that those who serve our national interests receive proper benefits.

[1] From Veterans Affairs Canada’s website: LINK


Written by admin

January 12th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

6 Responses to 'Defending Canada’s Veteran Affairs public servants'

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  1. I cannot believe what I am reading. I don’t know if anyone else will read this article as I simply googled Veterans Affairs Canada this evening in the news section and read the title of this site and clicked on it. I would like to extend my most sincere appreciation for every word that you have written. I have spent 24 years of my life working for V.A.C. I have worked extremely hard to serve the needs of our clients and always had respect for my clients. I used to feel tremendous pride about the department but I now feel sick to my stomach as I have learned the truth about our department. VAC treats it’s staff with total disregard, we are used, abused, and unsupported by management. I am unable to write anymore because I am so overwhelmed by what I have just read. Please accept my sincere thanks for your words. I only wish that a national newspaper would publish this article. Sincerely, VACScapegoat.


    13 Jan 11 at 12:36 am

  2. Thank you for your excellent article! Its bang on. In the Ottawa DO where I worked, the case load may have been 100 active cases in postal codes serving 1500 Vets,and widows.

    Many of us kept silent during the VAc witch hunt because we saw what happened to people who stood out and tried to deliver superior service to the our Veterans. We did what we were taught to do and to follow the protocols in place.

    Having worked at VAC for 28 years, I retired knowing that I had tried to give the best service possible given impossible bureaucratic hurdles to negotiate, and operational guidelines that were antiquated. The people I worked with, had family members who were veterans and knew the sacrifices many had gone through, and this is exemplified in their daily work. Even the younger case managers were infected with this sense of going the extra mile for their veterans and families.

    To have our work tarnished by self serving politicians has caused morale decline. Thankfully I retired before the Minister’s public humiliation of his dedicated work force.

    Doug Stafford

    13 Jan 11 at 1:53 am

  3. I could not agree with you more. I have over 30 yrs service with VAC and have endured all the above.
    I wish I had the right to contribute to news articles. The Public has the right to know.
    We spend more time feeding the system to justify our existence and have less time serving those who served us. Staff work hard and long and are under a lot of stress to fit 10hrs of work in a 7.5hr paid day only to have been chastised for not meeting TAT .Vets are waiting months to be seen because the staff are overwhelmed with administrative paperwork, meeting policy requirements and feeding the bureaucratic systems in place.
    Staff are dropping like flies, retiring early, on sick leave. Ordered to do more work with less staff. No overtime. All because the higher ups need to meet their stats.Cuts to the budget effect the front line. We take all the hits. No praise except at Christmas when it is politically correct.
    The dedicated staff in the Districts have been stressed to the limits, moral is down and daily counting down the days for retirement.
    Doug your comments are so true. I wish the Newspapers would get to the real problems and stop blaming the front line staff for our politician’s cruelty to employees and the Veterans.
    Life on the front line is rough . Just ask our Vets.


    13 Jan 11 at 2:43 am

  4. Here you go I’m another retired VAC employee the one who still work there can’t talk they are not allowed to. What bothers me is all the satisfied veterans out there that are sitting on there thumbs saying nothing, they were served well by the department for years. They were helped by DVA then VAC so much and so well that they got to expect excellent service. They did speak out, many have thanked me and other members of the staff, they may have also told the media how satisfied they were but what kind of newspaper story is that to write ” Veterans Satisfied With Serve ” never happen. Actually it did happen it was simply never reported.

    M White

    13 Jan 11 at 6:04 pm

  5. I’m glad I could raise this issue. While I worked tech support, not case management, I have a good understanding of how awful it can be in the trenches. From where I stand, an impartial observer to this mess, I can see that a policy overhaul is long past-due. Adding more programs, with more qualifying criteria would just compound the problem. Not to mention the sudden spike in claims that are going to hit next July!

    If anyone wants to share their stories or info about the policy failures, you can contact me via or post anonymously to the website. Confidentiality guaranteed.

  6. Hey Mike.
    You are absolutely right. The Vets have always expressed their gratitude to us personally and can’t believe the stressors staff are under. WE get mail, cards, and personal telephone calls from our clients expressing their thanks. Usually overwhelmed by the good service and quality of Case Management and dedication to keeping our Vets safe and provided for. Even our Rehab clients find time to say thank you. Without our help they would be lost, homeless, unemployed and without treatment.
    I don’t think the public realize how much we do for our Veteran population. The newspapers don’t write about the work we do. They only look for the negative, mistakes, and always take the word of disgruntled clients for sensationalism. Never thinking that their are two sides to the story.
    Staff bend over backwards trying to figure out how to help our clients. Sometimes they just don’t qualify for what they are asking. Simple as that. Blame our government and politicians. They created the policies , legislation and directives.
    Sometimes it takes lawsuits to correct the problem. Take that money VAC used for settlements and give it to the Vets. Hell they earned it in more ways that we can possibly imagine.
    Its time the VEts spoke out and let the Newspapers and general public know how they were served and how content and greatful they are for the service they have received and continue to receive because the dedicated staff that care.


    13 Jan 11 at 11:49 pm

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