Disparities in the processing of compensation claims for French-speaking and English-speaking veterans of the Canadian army persist despite promises to end the Department of Veterans Affairs, confirms a parliamentary report tabled in June.
Veteran Brigitte Laverdure had to fight in court for five years in the 2000s to be entitled to compensation after a knee injury. Now a mother-caregiver, she has helped several hundred veterans in their claim process with the ministry over the years.
A pattern emerged after a while: the requests she filed took months or even years to find a response.
“There are veterans who have been told by department employees to apply in English because applications in English come before those in French, bluntly,” she says. “We all feel aggrieved in this.”
The inequity has been recognized at the department since at least 2018. French-speaking claimants waited an average of 45 weeks for a decision, compared to 24 weeks for their English-speaking counterparts, or almost half, a report established.
Ms. Laverdure is now thinking of submitting her requests in English, because she is convinced of being served more quickly.
“Given the time to respond from the ministry, a lot of people give up, and when they give up, they pick themselves up depressed because stress and anxiety are on board,” she says, having been through some tough times too.
Members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs recently issued a series of recommendations to address the problem, including giving priority to applications filed in French, “just as it has done successfully for applications filed by women.”
Ottawa had already blamed the lack of bilingual staff in its offices and had pledged to hire more bilingual employees in March 2021.
“We realize that it is not moving forward,” laments Bloc Québécois MP Luc Desilets, who sits on the committee.
“For me the solution is not necessarily in the injection of astronomical sums. I'm starting to not believe in money anymore. There is something structural in there,” he said.