Ex-soldier Paul Franklin bristles at the thought of the next round of paperwork to prove yet again to the federal government that he’s still a double amputee who qualifies for disability benefits.
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is promising reforms, including a complete review of "every piece of correspondence that goes to a veteran and their family."
But the Afghan vet says he’s doesn’t believe there will be change. At least not until the day the government finally stops threatening to cut off his benefits unless he routinely updates paperwork on his permanent disability.
"To prove it's being done, then show me a form that says all we're asking you to do is go to your doctor once, get a diagnosis of amputation, and you will never have to fill this form out again," he says.
In 2006, Franklin lost his legs in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
The veteran sparked public outcry last month when he complained about having to annually verify the loss of his legs to keep receiving disability benefits.
CBC’s Rick Mercer even did a rant about the issue.
"It's bad enough being disabled, but it's another thing to go in there and feel like you're begging to prove that you're disabled, just in order to maintain your quality of life," says Michael Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
Every year, Franklin has to complete a form to keep receiving his long term disability benefits, overseen by the Department of National Defence.
He showed us his annual renewal form. It asks him, once again, to answer questions about his current medical condition, his physical limitations, and to list any improvements.
"Well, no, [my condition] hasn't changed because I am a permanently disabled guy with no legs. It can't change. It's impossible to change," says a frustrated Franklin.
He says he finds the form, which also requires a doctor's signature, demeaning: "It's pretty crazy and it's idiotic. It's degrading to my service."
He also doesn't enjoy filling out annual paperwork to continue his home care assistance benefits with the Veterans Affairs' Veterans Independence Program (VIP). He says its questions include reconfirming all the chores he has difficulty doing — from vacuuming to snow removal.
"My injury is so obvious, why wouldn't I have problems?" he asks.
Franklin also showed CBC a warning letter he received from Veterans Affairs this past June when he was late completing his annual form. It stated he wouldn’t get his next grant until he sent it in.
We hear you, minister says
After Franklin raised a furor about his forms, Veterans Affairs proposed changes and applauded the ex-soldier for igniting the debate.
"We have learned a lot from the case Paul Franklin has brought forward, and I thank him for raising these concerns," said O’Toole in the House of Commons on March 12. He added, "We are already making changes."
Those changes began on Feb. 27 with the announcement that veterans will only have to reapply for VIP benefits every three years instead of annually.
Franklin was hardly moved by the change. "It's so stupid that I'm not sure that warrants a response," he says.
The minister also promised to improve Veterans Affairs' communications with all ex-soldiers.
O'Toole announced in the House that he has established a task force to ensure veterans’ paperwork "focuses on their wellness, is easy to understand and, for serious cases, to see whether we can eliminate it entirely."
And, even though it's not his department, O'Toole promised to tackle those long-term disability forms.
"I will also be asking the insurer for the Canadian Forces long-term disability program to try to adopt the same approach," he said
Prove it, veterans say
But skepticism runs deep for many vets.
Franklin says he’s still waiting for the day he receives a renewal form asking him not to describe his medical condition or the chores he can't do, but instead lists questions like, "Are there deteriorating conditions that maybe we could help you with? Do you find life a struggle and we're not meeting the need as best we could?"
Blais, the veteran’s advocate, worries the government will face resistance from the private insurance company that administers long-term disability benefits.
"[The minister] has to convince the insurance company to change the annual reporting and I don't know if Manulife is willing to do that," says the ex-soldier.
Manulife Financial told CBC News in an email, "In order to effectively administer long-term disability benefits, insurers periodically request updated information to assess ongoing eligibility for benefits."
The minister is snubbed
For his part, O’Toole has tried to reach out to Franklin, who isn’t returning his calls. The minister even resorted to Facebook twice this month to ask the veteran to contact him.
"I know [he will give me] politician's answers, so I'm doing the immature thing by not talking to him," admits Franklin.
But he aims to break the impasse tonight at the Heroes Hockey Challenge in Toronto. He believes the minister will be attending.
The ex-soldier plans to find a quiet place at the event to lay out his concerns to O’Toole.
"I fully expect nothing will happen unless we stand up and say enough is enough," says Franklin.
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