10/22/2012 05:47 EDT | Updated 12/22/2012 05:12 EST

Ex-vets board member says former soldiers being driven over the edge by system

OTTAWA - A former member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board began a stinging critique of the agency Monday by laying his service medals on a table in front of members of Parliament and declaring the condescending treatment of ex-soldiers precluded him from wearing the decorations in good conscience.

Harold Leduc told a Commons committee that a pervasive attitude of disrespect towards the veterans by a handful of members of the board has driven some ex-soldiers to the edge.

Leduc, who sat on the 21-member panel for seven years, was not reappointed this fall by the Harper government after a very public fight over violations of his privacy and claims that the agency went out its way to deny appeals.

The veterans committee is investigating the appeals board, including claims by Leduc that some ex-soldiers have been treated so shabbily they have taken their own lives.

"I've witnessed veterans and their advocates being disrespected at the hearings. You know? I've stopped hearings because of it," Leduc said.

The board's appeal and tribunal hearings have become more adversarial over the last five years leading veterans being treated like they're looking for handouts during what amount to cross-examinations, Leduc added.

"There are some members who do that at the hearings by challenging the advocate and the veterans, instead of just getting clarification on the evidence," he said. "What I'm here to say is that if we spoke about only the good things that are happening, we're never going to get to the root of why some of these veterans after they get their decisions go out and commit suicide. Because it's real. It's real for veterans."

Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney acknowledged that Leduc, a veterans advocate before joining the board, had not been reappointed.

"I can assure the member that over the course of the summer indeed some tribunal members' mandates came to an end, and I thank them for that," Blaney told the Commons. "Indeed, appointments are not for life and our government will work continually to appoint new qualified candidates to this important board."

Senior veterans officials took the unusual step of announcing on Sunday — the day before Leduc's appearance —that they had appointed four new members to the oft-maligned agency, people with extensive military background and a former nurse specializing in addictions.

Leduc outlined a number of organizational problems, including the fact that some decisions are rendered by the board using information that wasn't shared with the veteran or their lawyer — a claim that shocked Liberal veterans critic Sean Casey.

Earlier Monday in the Commons, Casey described the former paratrooper's treatment as disgraceful, adding the government was consumed by "spin and propaganda" when it came to veterans issues.

"Mr. Leduc was repeatedly harassed by Conservative appointees to the board, who even poked around in his personal medical files, all because he often sided with the veterans, giving them the benefit of the doubt on their appeals," he said.