The federal government will be keeping the temporary workers hired to help reduce backlogs at Veterans Affairs Canada.
In Sept. 2020, the Parliamentary Budget Officer hired 300 workers on a temporary basis to help reduce the backlog of applications for assistance, a decision spurred by North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney’s request for a report into ways to reduce the backlog.
“For years, Canadian veterans have been put through lengthy delays as they wait for the help they need to make ends meet. As the cost of living goes up, our veterans are struggling to support their families and more than ever, they need their benefits processed quickly. The caseworkers and staff who support our veterans have been telling the government for years that they are chronically understaffed and working to exhaustion,” Blaney, who is the NDP critic for Veterans Affairs said.
Initially, the funding was only temporary for a few years until the backlog was reduced. However on Feb. 23, the Minister for Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay announced $139.6 million over two years, extending the contracts of those workers.
“The government has waited until the 11th hour to announce that the temporary staff will be kept on in order to help eliminate the unacceptable backlog of cases,” said Blaney. “Among many others, New Democrats have been calling for this necessary step for months. It’s the very least the government can do to support the brave men and women who have served our country.
“The funding that the Minister announced, after telling our Parliamentary Committee to wait until the budget for an answer, is the very least the government can do,” she said.
Veterans Affairs has seen a 40 per cent increase in disability benefit applications between 2015/16 and 2019/20, and a 75 per cent increase in first-time applications. Since the hiring of the temporary workers, the backlog has reduced by 44 per cent.
“Nothing is more important right now than ensuring veterans receive their benefits in a timely manner and we remain committed to reducing the processing times for Disability Benefit applications,” Minister MacAulay said. “We are making tangible progress, but the job is not done. With this investment, VAC staff can continue making decisions faster, and get the backlog under control.”
The initial contract was to expire on March 31.