06/11/2012 10:12 EDT | Updated 08/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Veterans no longer must submit receipts for travel costs to medical appointments

HALIFAX - Canada's veterans affairs minister says a move to no longer require veterans to submit receipts for travel to medical appointments will put money in their pockets sooner.

Steven Blaney announced the change Monday during the Royal Canadian Legion convention in Halifax.

Blaney said eliminating the requirement will reduce paperwork for about 18,000 veterans, speeding up the claims process.

"It makes life simpler for veterans, it eliminates routine and administration tasks for our civil servants and it's good for the taxpayer," Blaney told about 1,500 delegates Monday.

The Veterans Affairs Department processes about 5,500 health-related travel claims each month, with an average reimbursement of $274.

Department spokeswoman Janice Summerby said the change covers any medical appointment where there is a demonstrated need for the treatment, including psychiatry, physiotherapy, dentist and physician visits.

Summerby said in an email that veterans will still need to save all receipts and supporting documentation for one year in case they are requested. She said the department will conduct regular reviews of files and claims.

John Hopkins, president of the St. Peter's branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Nova Scotia, said the announcement will make it easier for the 19 veteran members of his branch to be reimbursed.

"Many of our veterans are in nursing homes right now and unable to do regular travelling," said Hopkins. "It will make it a lot easier for us."

Blaney said the announcement is one in a series of changes that will reduce red tape in the processing of veterans' claims.

In April, Blaney announced that the department will provide veterans with upfront payments for grounds maintenance and housekeeping services.

Also announced Monday was a Royal Canadian Legion initiative that will provide funds to its provincial commands to either expand or create programs to help homeless or near homeless veterans.

The Dominion Command is giving $500,000 for the initiative, while the provincial commands will be expected to match the contribution for a total of $1 million.

Four provincial commands, including Ontario and Nova Scotia/Nunavut, already have programs to provide help to homeless veterans.

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