POLITICS

Vets online program to take some of the sting out of debate over benefits

10/15/2012 10:40 EDT | Updated 12/15/2012 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - A software program that could end much angry debate between injured soldiers and Veterans Affairs Canada is now accessible online.

The benefits browser was a brainchild of the country's veterans ombudsman and took two years to be adopted by the government.

The application allows former members of the military and RCMP to be able to calculate their individual eligibility for the department's Byzantine series of programs.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney calls it a significant leap forward and predicted veterans will see a real difference.

"Across the country I have spoken to veterans and have heard time and again that they want better and more flexible access to the information that matters to them and that's why our government is delivering the information they need in more modern and convenient ways," Blaney said in a statement.

Guy Parent, the veterans ombudsman, says the browser — located on the department's website — will allow easier access to the programs and benefits ex-soldiers deserve.

The relationship between the department and its clients has ranged from strained to toxic over the years.

Some veterans approach the government with suspicion and others have had their hopes dashed by either bureaucrats or rulings they perceive as unfair.

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 a month. The situation wasn't corrected until Parent's office stepped in.

Having better information at their fingertips could only help those who approach the department, said Parent.

The veterans ombudsman's office developed the software program to handle complaints it receives, but quickly realized it could be used by ex-soldiers at home.

It handed the program over to Veterans Affairs in 2010, which tested it internally.

Blaney says the department is also using simpler language in brochures and decision letters sent to veterans.