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Is Veterans Affairs Canada Targeting This Family?

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The brother of a veteran suing Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) for millions says his personal records were accessed by department staff without his permission.

Retired Corporal Dennis Manuge is the driving force behind the SISIP class action lawsuit over pension clawbacks. The suit is now under settlement negotiations and could cost government in excess of $600 million. Last year, Manuge revealed that, in 2009, the Minister of Veterans Affairs was briefed on private details of his medical conditions and finances.

Now, the former mechanic with the Royal Canadian Regiment says VAC also breached the privacy of his brother, Anthony.

Documents obtained by this reporter show that between 2008 and 2009, Veterans Affairs staff simultaneously accessed the brothers' records 10 different times. Those records included financial benefits, medical claims, service records and all of his dealings with VAC.

"Absolutely my privacy was violated," said Dennis Manuge, "The lists of accesses and the timings with me and my brother's... no such thing as a coincidence."

Retired Corporal Anthony Manuge is a former armoured vehicle driver from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Records show no work being done on his VAC file between 2005 and 2010 -- he had no active claims and was not in receipt of benefits. Despite that, Anthony's records were accessed on a number of occasions in 2008 and 2009.

Access details reveal that Dennis' file was read at the same times, by the same individuals.

Those responsible for the breaches include a records clerk for the Ontario region as well as a number of individuals at VAC headquarters in Charlottetown, including a work-term student, clerical staff, and an area counsellor. Phone calls to Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney were not returned.

In addition to not receiving benefits at that time, Anthony notes, "I was living in Fort Frances, Ontario, so no one from Atlantic Region should have had any interest in me."

Louise Bird, the Ministerial Inquiries Officer in Ottawa, also read the brothers' files. Neither Anthony nor Dennis had requested a Ministerial review, nor had they authorized the Ministry to access their records. Yet Bird did just that: Dennis in January 2009 and Anthony in June 2011.

Anthony believes the violations were connected to the SISIP lawsuit: "In 2008-2009," he said, "the Government was trying to de-certify the class." Dennis had launched the lawsuit in 2007 and, in 2008, testified at Senate Hearings into the matter. (The Supreme Court of Canada would later re-instate the case as a class-action after it had been de-certified by the Federal Court of Appeal.)

Since 2008, both have had problems with their benefits. Dennis experienced delays in reimbursement of expenses and issues with applying for programs. "A case manager could not tell me if I was eligible under the New [Veterans] Charter, told me no one in VAC could answer my questions," Dennis said, "[But] five minutes after I had my new case manager, I was approved for the Rehab program and the Earnings Loss Benefit. Coincidence? My new case manager has changed our lives for the positive, I might add."

Asked if he has experienced difficulties obtaining his entitlements since the privacy violations, Anthony replied, "From the initial decision and the subsequent VRAB appeal hearing there [has been] negligence in the processing of my claim. Everything from not getting the years of service right -- even though I sent copies of all three of my certificates of service -- to libel in the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. The advocate presently assigned to my case cannot even meet a commitment to get documentation to me."

Dennis fears that revenge for his advocacy is being directed at Anthony: "With our last name he may never get a fair shake."

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