10/01/2012 03:02 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST

Vets get more online access to benefits information and eligibility

OTTAWA - Canada's veterans are getting more access to customized, online services and will be better be able to track benefits following a series of changes announced Monday.

Ex-soldiers and former RCMP members will be able to create personalized booklets that will quickly and clearly tell them what benefits and services they're eligible for under a new, online program called My VAC book, said Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney.

In addition, the department has updated its online account access to allow veterans, among other things, to better follow their disability benefits applications through the system and see decisions before hard copies are mailed.

"Our government believes veterans have the right to receive better and faster service and to access their personal information in the way that they choose when they choose," Blaney said in a statement. "With these new tools, veterans can connect with the department at any time of the day or night, and from their mobile device."

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent has been pushing the government for better online access.

The announcement Monday in Vancouver will go part of the way towards addressing Parent's concerns and officials say more announcements are planned over the next few months.

Parent wants to see an online program that will calculate not only program eligibility, but the actual amount of benefits owed to veterans.

A software program that does just that was developed by Parent's office and has been tested by the department in some of its offices, but is not yet available to the public.

Parent has said in the past that such a browser would go a long way towards stopping frustrating debates between veterans and the department over benefits eligibility.

The relationship between the department and its clients has sometimes been poisonous and some veterans approach the system with ingrained suspicion.

Last year, it was revealed that officials went years without telling 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 the ombudsman stepped in.

Parent said having better information can only help those who deal with the department.

A senior official, who spoke on background, said the department plans on rolling out the browser, but was unable to give a precise date.

For those who are still communicating by letter, Blaney's announcement also says the department's mail operations will be centralized in Matane, Que., by 2014.

The online changes went live last week and officials said over 100 veterans have already registered.