Not long after Corporal Jeffrey Robinson brought attention to possible problems in VAC payments for prescribed medications, his pension was suspended.
Jeffrey Robinson served Canadians as a Corporal in the Primary Infantry Reserves from 1988 to 1994. He was then placed in the Supplementary Ready Reserve until he retired from the Canadian Forces in 1997.
During his time in service, he was injured three times. He suffered severe whiplash in parachute training, re-injured his neck in a second training incident, and had a displaced fracture in his left elbow.
He receives what is called a 5% pension worth $136.67 per month – which is the absolute minimum monthly pension someone can reserve. While it’s not much, every extra cent counts, as Robinson has been living off of his savings for the last two and a half years as he takes care of his mother.
The small amount of his pension is because Veterans Affairs only provides financial support for the long-term impact of his elbow injury, not the impact of his severe whiplash and further neck injury.
Additionally, it took five years for the Department of National Defence to inform Robinson that he needed to contact Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) directly to apply for a monthly disability pension and long-term treatment for the injuries he suffered. Robinson says this should have been done by commissioned officers in his regiment right away after his injuries, but it was not.
VAC fought against giving pension benefits
As Robinson tried to get increased pension benefits for the other injuries, Veterans Affairs fought him every step of the way.
Robinson says the Bureau of Pension Advocates were ordered by Veterans Affairs to stop supporting his claim – despite doctors attesting to his injuries (Degenerative Disk Disease, and Myofascial Pain). Robinson says Veterans Affairs wouldn’t even let a doctor speak on his behalf, and records were destroyed.
Despite the evidence of his injuries, Veterans Affairs outright denies that he has long-term impacts of those injuries, and as a result, he just gets the $136.67 pension.
And yet, it gets even worse.
Pointing out potential problems with VAC paying for prescribed medications
For some time, Robinson – who lives in B.C. – began noticing a serious problem. While visiting a pharmacist to get medicine covered by the B.C. Workers Compensation Board, he noticed that pharmacists were getting Veterans Affairs to cover prescribed medications – even though the WCB should have been paying for it.
Robinson says he started to see that this is a widespread problem, meaning resources at Veterans Affairs could be used up to cover things that provinces are supposed to pay for – taking away from other support for Veterans.
He reported the prescription issue all the way back in 2002, then in 2011. He filed a complaint with the VAC Ombudsman in 2012, but there was no resolution. In 2016, he sent a letter to Kent Hehr (copied to Justin Trudeau), again with no resolution. He reported three pharmacies taking part in that practice, and points out that his current pharmacy doesn’t have the same problem.
VAC seems to know about the problem, as Robinson says a VAC Team Leader told him on a phone call that “sometimes we pay for stuff we shouldn’t be paying for.”
However, when he brought up his concerns to the Veterans Affairs Ombudsmen, Robinson says their “investigation” was whitewashed, and withheld from him. After written and verbal requests to obtain copies of the investigation, the government ended up saying that it is just an “issue of communication between the veteran and his pharmacist.”
And then, in what is either a case of suspicious timing or punishment for speaking out, Robinson was told by Veterans Affairs that his Annual Declaration of Disability Benefit Form was “never received.”
This form is something that disabled Veterans must fill out every year to continue to be eligible for benefits. If it’s not received, benefits get cut off. Robinson is clear that he sent the forms, and says Veterans Affairs claims that they sent phone calls and a letter about it not being received are false, since he received no letter or calls from them.
As a result, his $136.67 VAC pension was suspended in June.
While VAC claims it will be re-instated, it’s very disturbing that it was taken in the first place, and there’s good reason to doubt any promises made by VAC until it actually happens.
While it can’t be known for certain whether Robinson’s pension benefits were taken because he brought attention to possible misspending by VAC on pharmaceutical drugs, the timing is certainly disturbing, and it fits with a disturbing pattern of Canadian Veterans being systematically mistreated by the institution that is supposed to be supporting them. This has happened under many governments, including Harper and Trudeau – despite their promises to improve things.
This must change. When our country asks people to serve our nation, they must know that they will be treated with the respect they have earned, and will be given support when they are injured in service to Canada. For far too long that support hasn’t been there, and VAC has been focused on pinching pennies instead of supporting Canada’s Veterans. Until that changes, it remains a disgraceful stain upon our country.
Jeffrey Robinson, and all Canadian Veterans deserve far better.