04/03/2012 09:58 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Veterans Affairs to pay upfront for housekeeping, maintenance services for vets

HALIFAX - The federal government is changing the way it pays for certain services for former members of the Canadian Forces.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney announced measures Tuesday that will provide veterans with upfront payments for grounds maintenance and housekeeping services.

Speaking at a legion hall in Halifax, Blaney said veterans who qualify for the veterans independence program will no longer have to submit receipts for the two services, eliminating the need to wait weeks in some cases before being reimbursed.

"Instead of having to submit every single receipt for his housekeeping and ground maintenance, he will get one or two cheques a year in advance so he will be able to pay in advance and get the services needed," said Blaney.

The revamped system only applies to grounds maintenance and housekeeping, giving veterans who qualify a maximum of $9,991 a year, a cap that was already in place. The change does not apply to in-home nursing care or other services such as Meals on Wheels.

Veterans Affairs will carry out yearly assessments to ensure the allotted money is sufficient for the veteran's needs. If a veteran's situation needs re-evaluation and more care, the department can accommodate a revision within a few weeks.

The decrease in administration time would free up resources to ensure continued support for veterans, Blaney said.

Blaney said the move is part of a broad effort to cut red tape and make it easier for veterans to receive services. But he said the change could affecting staffing levels.

"There is some impact on human resources and we'll be meeting with the unions and our employees in the next weeks to inform them in how we are moving forward with it."

Payments will be based on the individual's needs and local rates for the services, and will be sent out twice a year, starting in the fall.

NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer said in a telephone interview he was happy to see the announcement in the budget but still had reservations about how people qualified for the program.

Currently, the program has guidelines stipulating a given level of disability in order to qualify, however, age and other variables are not a factor. Stoffer also expressed concern about a 16-week minimum that he says it takes for veterans to have their application approved or denied.

"Your age alone should give you access to the VIP program, especially if you are 97, 93, 90, or 87 years old. That alone in most cases should enable you to get the VIP much faster than the bureaucracy of the delays of getting it," said Stoffer.

Veterans have long complained that they have to deal with too much confusing paperwork in order to qualify for services and receive them.

Veteran Hank Einarson welcomed the change.

"Sometimes I would get complaints from couples when I visited them that before they got any reimbursement, they would be $300 and $400 out of pocket," said Einarson.

Einarson, who is a cancer survivor and has difficulties moving after a stroke, said he appreciates the grounds maintenance and housekeeping services.

"It is just a godsend to me that I can watch somebody do my grass and my shovelling and come in to do my housework."