Government cuts leave veterans dealing with private insurance firm for health benefit claims

CNW Newswire
February 24, 2015
By CNW Newswire
A recent move by the federal government would have Canada’s veterans dealing with a third-party insurance firm for health-care treatment benefits such as massage therapy and physiotherapy. On Feb. 11, the federal government announced that it would be eliminating 44 positions at Veterans Affairs Canada. The cuts represent the final step in the contracting-out of treatment authorization for ill and elderly veterans to Medavie Blue Cross.
While veterans used to be able to have their benefit claims decided by knowledgeable public service workers, they will now have to deal with a private insurance company. This will have a significant impact on services for veterans, according to a press release from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

Under the old system, veterans who experienced service-related medical conditions were granted "treatment benefits," in consultation with their doctors and a Veterans Affairs Case Manager. These benefits are often considered more crucial than financial compensation, because they provide meaningful support for veterans to live their lives. This can include psychology, physiotherapy and massage therapy, among other services.

In the past, the treatment plan was sent to a Treatment Authorization Centre for final approval and payment. This involved complex work, requiring knowledge of Veterans Affairs policy and the needs of each individual veteran. It also required that public service workers exercise both patience and compassion, as they helped high-needs veterans access all of the benefits to which they were entitled, the PSAC said.

“Veterans Affairs client service agents used to call veterans every year and help them make sure that they were accessing the benefits they need. Now, Blue Cross sends a letter and cuts the veterans off if they can't reach them by phone. It can take three months or more for veterans to have their benefits re-instated once they've been cut off,” the PSAC statement said.

"Veterans are being forced to deal with a private insurance company whose mandate is to try and deny claims," says Carl Gannon, national president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees (UVAE). Gannon is a former front-line worker at Veterans Affairs and has extensive experience helping veterans with disability claims.

"For many veterans, these treatments mean the difference between life and death," said Gannon. "Clients suffering from serious mental illness due to their experience in the military must be handled with tact and patience. I seriously doubt that Medavie Blue Cross will be able to do this effectively."

Veteran Ron Clarke agrees. Based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Clarke has already dealt with the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in his city and the frustration of having to wait on the phone to access services. He says that the contracting-out of treatment authorization will only make the situation worse.

"We know what insurance companies are like," says Clarke. "They find every excuse to deny us the benefits we deserve. Veterans have already fought for our country and now we shouldn't have to fight Blue Cross to get the help we need."

PSAC and UVAE are demanding that the government bring treatment authorization back in-house at Veterans Affairs and re-open the nine district offices that were closed across the country last year. They are also demanding a moratorium on any further cuts at Veterans Affairs Canada.

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