Veterans Affairs Canada is getting an extra $164.4 million that the department's minister says will help clear a backlog in the number of veteran cases being assessed.
The federal government says the money will be used to retain existing employees for an additional two years. It would fund 600 positions, about half of which are in Atlantic Canada — mostly attached to the Veterans Affairs national headquarters in Prince Edward Island.
Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor was in Charlottetown Friday to make the announcement.
"Since 2015, our government has invested more than $11 billion additionally to Veterans Affairs and that is money that went directly to veterans," she said. "As a result of that investment, though, 61 per cent more applications were received by the department.
"Therefore, we need more staff in order to assess and to do the analysis of those files."
Petitpas Taylor said Veterans Affairs Canada has addressed about 75 per cent of the backlog, but there are still about 5,200 files left. The handling time for each will depend on how complex the file is, the minister said.
She said the department's service standards call for a decision to be made on at least 80 per cent of applications within 16 weeks. Currently, about 71 per cent are getting done within that timeframe, the minister said.
Union calls for more permanent employees
Jody LaPierre, regional vice president for the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, said the additional funding is a relief for VAC employees, but called it still more of a "Band-Aid" solution.
About half of the newly funded positions are in Atlantic Canada. Most are at Veterans Affairs national headquarters in Charlottetown. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)
He said the department needs to hire more permanent staff to keep up with caseloads.
"We haven't been meeting our timelines. We're trying to achieve that. That's what this additional money is for and I'm glad they put forward a business case and achieved additional funds," he said. "[But] in two years' time, we're probably looking at this same situation again."
LaPierre said veterans' applications for support are getting more complex, including more files related to mental wellness, which he said require a lot more paperwork.
"There's a lot more effort and time it takes to do a case now than there was before, and that's compounding into the efforts and the delays on serving our veterans properly," he said.
National president Toufic El-Daher said the union is working closely with the department to make sure assessment positions are filled on a permanent basis.
"It's very important and I think the employer understands that," he said. "So that's why we're going to work with them, to make sure that Treasury Board and the government make these funds available on a permanent basis, not only for two years."