OTTAWA — A veterans group says auditor general Michael Ferguson's latest report clouds the most important issue when it comes to the increasing use of medical marijuana to treat injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Clayton Goodwin, of the Veterans Accountability Commission, one of a growing number of grassroots organizations, says last week's audit focused too narrowly on the rising cost of the program and not on the health benefits of switching from pharmaceuticals to medicinal pot.
He claims there are cost-savings associated with dropping prescription drugs, and would have preferred to see the report analyze that aspect.
Clayton Goodwin prepares medicinal marijuana at his apartment in Ottawa, Friday March 20, 2015. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
"In the auditor general's report; he basically leaves out facts," Goodwin said at a media event on Parliament Hill on Monday. "He comes at it from the cost of medical marijuana. He has not said anything about the cost of pharmaceuticals."
Veterans who are taking part in the program should have been interviewed — or at least consulted — about changes in their quality of life after switching to medical marijuana as part of their therapy, said Goodwin.
"My anecdotal evidence from speaking with people in the community is an 80 per cent reduction in the use of pharmaceuticals," Goodwin added.
"In the auditor general's report; he basically leaves out facts."
It would have been tough for Ferguson to measure some of the evidence Goodwin wants to see, because the audit said the veterans department does a poor job of tracking prescription drug usage.
The audit found the department did not have "an adequate process for evidence-based decisions related to its drug benefit list."
Costs taxpayers $25M a year
The committee that oversees the decisions could not provide proof that it had considered "veteran's needs, current health practices and policies, clinical research and cost-effectiveness" in coming up with the drug benefits list.
Ferguson's report urged the Trudeau government to get a grip on the marijuana program for injured ex-soldiers, which is expected to cost taxpayers $25 million this year.
He painted a picture of program out of control and said Veterans Affairs recognized years ago the need to contain the program by imposing a limit on how much the government is willing to pay per gram — something federal officials have shied away from doing.
Three years ago there were 112 veterans taking prescribed pot at a cost of $408,000, but by the end of December 2015 some 1,320 ex-soldiers were enrolled at a cost of $12.1 million.
The Liberal government said it accepts Ferguson's report and Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr has ordered a review of the policy. He said he intends to consult veterans and officials, something Goodwin welcomed.
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Here are the key findings from the spring 2016 report of federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson, courtesy of The Canadian Press.
Veterans Affairs Canada lacks adequate limits on the soaring cost and usage levels of marijuana among ex-soldiers who are using it for medical purposes, authorizing in some 340 cases the consumption of 10 grams a day — twice Health Canada's recommended threshold.
The number of veterans receiving medical marijuana jumped from 112 in 2013-14 to 1,320 in 2015, and the cost rose accordingly: from $408,810 to $12.1 million. The audit estimates the cost could reach $25 million in 2016-17, nearly one third of the drug costs of the Veterans Affairs health benefits program.
Veterans Affairs also lacks a "well-defined approach" for monitoring drug use among veterans, and does not monitor trends that could indicate "high-risk" behaviour. For instance, while it will not cover the cost of acetaminophen that exceeds the maximum recommended dose, no such limits exist for narcotics or sedatives.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada lacks a systematic method of identifying and documenting fraud risks among its applicants, resulting in people being granted citizenship based on incomplete information or background checks.
The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency do not consistently share important details about criminal charges and potential residency fraud with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Between 2008 and 2015, 50 different applicants used the same single address on their citizenship applications during overlapping time periods; seven of the applicants became Canadian citizens before the address was flagged during a residency fraud investigation.
Citizenship officers did not always follow the standard procedure of checking travel documents against the department's database of lost, stolen and fraudulent documents.
Out of 38 criminal cases since 2010 involving a permanent resident or foreign national, the RCMP shared the relevant details with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in only two of them.
Individual units of the Canadian Army's reserve units lack sufficient soldiers — just 14,000 instead of a needed 21,000 — as well as access to key equipment for domestic missions and clear guidance on training, counter to National Defence's stated goal.
Between the 2012-13 and 2014-15 fiscal years, the number of Canadian Army reservists has dwindled by about five per cent, or about 1,000 soldiers per year.
The process of choosing fund managers for the government's $400-million "Venture Capital Action Plan," established in the 2012 budget, was onerous, laden with red tape and insufficiently fair, open and transparent, resulting in just nine submissions out of a possible 100 would-be candidates.
The Immigration and Refugee Board has long-standing vacancies that are contributing to decision-making delays: 21 positions are vacant, leading to wait times of an average of 18 months.
Via Rail lacks a long-term plan or direction approved by the federal government, receiving federal approval only for short-term funding and its five-year plan — a "significant deficiency" that makes it impossible for Via to "fulfill its mandate as economically, efficiently and effectively as desired."