Saturday, March 17, 2012

Former Soldier Going Public With Bureaucratic Battle

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 04:14 AM

Chilliwack,B.C. - Jim Newton has been fighting for 13 years and now wants to go public.  As a matter of fact that's about the only thing he hasn't done. 

The former Canadian Forces helicopter pilot suffered a career ending injury back in 1993.  He was on military maneuvers in Penticton when he suffered the traumatic perforation of his tympanic membrane, or more simply put ruptured his ear drum.  It ended his military career, but according to Newton that’s when his real battle began. 

Newton says 13 years later he is still owed the remaining portion of his disability pension.  He got a letter from his the Commander Officer saying he was injured during a sanctioned event.  He has his medical records from the Penticton hospital where he was treated and has provided Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board with whatever they’ve asked but they still say no.  “I’ve gone through Veterans Affairs Canada then you go through a series of appeals then you go through a reconsideration with the Bureau Pension Advocates.  I keep on fighting and keep on looking and found some missing information then you go forward with a reconsideration.”  

However Newton says VRAB always come back and contradict what they said themselves in previous decisions.  Needless to say he is at wits’ end. 

Newton doesn’t care about the money anymore. He simply wants to go public with his story.  He says other veterans have found themselves tangled in the same bureaucratic web and adds people need to realize what it is like.  He says it is only going to get worse with all the soldiers returning from Afghanistan. 

Newton says he went to Chilliwack Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl, but Strahl did nothing.  89.5 The Hawk News spoke with Strahl but he declined comment sighting privacy issues.  We are still in the process of getting in touch with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Letter to Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney

My Recent Letter to Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney: (Dated Feb 21, 2012)

Dear Sir,

New evidence was submitted to VRAB for them to review.

Their response was to contradict themselves and totally disregard their own statements of the November 2000 decision that stated "Such a cause for vertigo is indicated as being caused by trauma involving a perforation of the tympanic membrane as noted in pages 2329 and 2330 of the Merck Manual".

I supplied them with newly obtained evidence that I have already sent you - the attached medical report for the Penticton Hospital clearly showing - even with a diagram - the traumatic perforation of my tympanic membrane. While they accepted finally the activity was duty related, they quickly ignored their own statements and chose to point toward childhood events that had already been discounted - again by themselves - as they stated "It would appear that the tests completed as the Applicant was undergoing his subsequent pilot training also did not disclose the existence of ANY disability despite the rigorous nature of said tests. There is no indication of any problems for over 5 years after the 1998 fall until 1993."

So in there own words they state the fall in 1998 and therefore anything prior to that did not cause my vertigo because that rigorous testing would have revealed it. Yet they just stated in their recent denial that childhood concussions and other vague dizziness when I had a head cold may have caused my vertigo. 

Enough is enough. I provided clear evidence to the point they made about the tympanic membrane - so clear that the evidence had a diagram showing clearly the perforation of my tympanic membrane. I also obtained a current day medical report which they say failed to link evidence - from the Bureau of Pension Advocates that current day report was a good idea as the link was already established by their own statements about the tympanic membrane and that was not the role of Dr Polyhronopoulos.

Why they chose to grab onto unsubstantiated ideas of previous injury shows clearly the flawed nature of the unaccountable Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

How do I respond to VAC and in particular VRAB when they change the rules every time as they see fit?

I urge you to do the right thing and grant my claim without any further delay.

Kindest Regards,

Jim Newton 1-604-316-7566

 On Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 12:31 PM, wrote: 

Mr. Newton, 

Thank you for your recent letter. I apologize for the delay in replying. As you are aware, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board ensures that Veterans have an independent avenue of appeal for their disability benefits decisions. The Board’s appeal process is designed to give Veterans every opportunity to show how their disability is related to their service. As VRAB is an independent body, I cannot interfere in its decision making process. I would encourage you to submit your new evidence to VRAB for review. 


Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vets department and board struggled for years to contain privacy leaks

By: Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
02/16/2012 4:52 PM

OTTAWA - Veterans Affairs Canada and the independent board that reviews claims of ex-soldiers grappled with allegations of leaked personal information long before a privacy scandal blew up in public.

A series of leaked documents show the department and the agency tried — and ultimately failed — in the spring of 2009 to tighten up the system and clamp down on bureaucrats who'd been rifling through the files of veterans advocates and opponents.

A May 28, 2009 letter, signed by the deputy chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, noted that a working group from the agency and the department itself had been assembled to examine privacy issues.

"Security Services has recently released two communiques on this topic, and will continue to educate employees on a regular basis," wrote James MacPhee in a letter to follow board member Harold Leduc, whose medical file had become the source of gossip and innuendo around the review agency.

The letter noted that staff at the review board were to be given mandatory privacy training.

MacPhee assured the former warrant officer that his privacy invasion was taken seriously and that federal officials were looking at restricting access to the computer data base where the files were held.

Yet, the department was not fully galvanized to action for another 18 months until the scandal involving advocate Sean Bruyea blew up in public — prompting among other things a major audit of procedures and practises by the country's privacy watchdog.

Access to the data base was not tightened until the fall of 2010 as part of the Harper government's damage control exercise following revelations Bruyea's medical records were sown into a ministerial briefing note.

A spokeswoman for the review board, Danielle Gauthier, said the independent agency took steps a year before the department to safeguard information and also adopted many of the steps taken by Veterans Affairs in its clean up efforts.

"The Chairman has made privacy and the protection of personal information top priorities at the board," she wrote in an email response to questions posed by The Canadian Press.

"When a privacy breach occurs, we take immediate steps to address it, including corrective actions and disciplinary measures where appropriate."

Despite that, the board was the source of a 2011 release of a report on Harold Leduc that had not been vetted for private information.

A request to interview board chair John Larlee was denied last week.
Liberal attempts to get the privacy issue heard by a House of Commons committee were swept behind closed doors this week.

"This information just strengthens the needs to deal with this in public," said Liberal veterans critic Sean Casey.
"It's apparent that Harold Leduc is only the tip of the iceberg. A Parliamentary committee is supposed to delve into these things."

NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer said it's amazing the Harper government is asking Canadian to trust that it will protect online privacy in the controversial surveillance bill, yet it allows bureaucrats free rein with some of the country's most vulnerable citizens.

"It is simply not credible for the department to claim they've cleaned up their act," Stoffer said.

Officials at the federal Privacy Commissioner's Office confirm that, in addition to conducting a major audit of Veterans Affairs, it is pursuing 12 separate complaints from individuals about the department.

All of the protests were filed in 2010.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said in the House of Commons this week that he's open to strengthening privacy guarantees even further, but that the 10 point action plan implemented following the Bruyea case was having a positive effect.

Yet, Bruyea himself cast doubt on that Thursday, saying his battles with the department did not end with the 2010 settlement of his lawsuit against the federal government, which saw a $400,000 award for damages and legal costs.

He was initially able to track the leak of his information through Privacy Act requests. Most of the original 12,000 documents he received related to the 2005-06 timeframe.

His pursuit of more up-to-date records has hit a brick wall because the department has apparently stopped answering his requests. Before the gate came down he'd received an additional 18,000 pages — enough information for him to file further complaints last year with Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
Four of those complaints have come back as well-founded, according to letters obtained by The Canadian Press.

Bruyea was apparently accused last week by the deputy minister of veterans affairs in a private meeting of having an axe to grind and being biased.

"I don't need to believe in conspiracies to see that (Veteran's Affairs) culture is really just a conspiracy of incompetence," he said.

Bruyea noted that the department has had a comprehensive policy on personal information since 1999 and all departments have been required to follow federal Treasury Board privacy guidelines since 1998.

That should have been enough to safeguard his medical files, as well as those belonging to Leduc and others, and promise to fix the system are merely window dressing, he said.
"Had (Veterans Affairs) followed either of these plans, none of any of these breaches would have happened," he said. "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. What we are talking about is ineptitude and a complete disregard for not just the law but the humanity of the victims."

Vets board members ruling in favour of soldiers often derided as Santa Claus

Harold Leduc poses in Ottawa, Tuesday Feb.1, 2012.

A leading veterans organization says the agency at the centre of the latest privacy scandal involving ex-soldiers should be disbanded.Canadian Veterans Advocacy is responding to the case of former warrant officer Harold Leduc, who claims his personal medical information and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress became fodder for gossip and innuendo around the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - They were called Santa Claus, often behind their backs.
Adjudicators at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board who sided too frequently with ex-soldiers got the dismissive moniker from some of their peers, according to a long-standing member who has broken his silence.
The slight was made possible by a subtle, but profound, change to the way the agency — now at the heart of another veterans' privacy scandal — began dissecting its decisions shortly after the Conservatives came to power.

The agency posts its overall favourability rating online, showing the percentage of times the independent board rules in favour of veterans who have appealed their benefit rulings by federal bureaucrats.

But in 2007, in addition to tracking favourable decisions by region, the board began measuring the number of times panel members were involved in decisions that came down on the side of former soldiers and RCMP members, according to PowerPoint presentations obtained by The Canadian Press.

Cases are heard by two-member review panels and appeals by three members. If one adjudicator rules in favour, the decision is a win for the veteran, regardless of what other members say.

The slicing and dicing of those statistics had far-reaching implications and is one of the tools board chairman John Larlee and his deputy used to lean on members perceived as overly-generous, says long-standing member Harold Leduc.

He has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the board, including allegations of two privacy breaches.

"We sure felt the pressure. I know I felt it," Leduc said in an interview. "I'm not sure what board staff was saying behind my back, but I know with other members they'd call them Santa Claus because they're giving too much away."

He said board members were warned in 2008, prior to the arrival of John Larlee as the new chairman, that if their favourability rating for decisions was too high they would be called on the carpet.

The September 2009 series of charts, obtained by The Canadian Press, provide a snapshot of the system and showed the average favourability rating at the time was 58.9 per cent.
According to the graph, over half the 21 members were part of panels that exceed that benchmark — some by as much as 29 per cent.

Other documents demonstrated how the board had been more frugal in previous years. For instance in March 2001, only 44.2 per cent of veterans appeals were being allowed.
The favourability numbers began a slow, steady march upwards starting in March 2003 and peaked at a high of 65.4 per cent of decisions in June 2009, at which point they began to decline, according to the presentation.
Leduc said the favourability yardstick was the tool used to rein in the board and the cash going out the door.
The issue was one of the last, behind-the-scenes battles fought by former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran before he ended his tenure in the fall of 2010.

Half a dozen adjudicators had come to Stogran confidentially complaining about the pressure to deny claims and he met with the review board chairman and senior staff.

"I asked them what they used (the individual ratings) for and they said quality control," Stogran said about the September 2010 meeting. "It's scandalous. They're knowingly doing it and I challenged them on it. The review and appeal process was never intended to be a kangaroo court."
The former battle group commander and Afghanistan veteran, who only weeks before the meeting accused Veterans Affairs Canada of "nickel and diming" soldiers, confronted the officials with not only the claims, but copies of the internal statistics.

A spokeswoman for the board, Danielle Gauthier, denied the favourability rating was used as a stick to intimidate adjudicators. He said members themselves requested the numbers be parsed that way.

"I want to assure you that all board members look for every opportunity to rule in favour of the veteran based on the available evidence and the legislation," Gauthier wrote in an email response to questions posed by The Canadian Press.

"Board members themselves asked to receive the information about their favourability rates. Members were given the overall favourability rates for review and appeal decisions, and it was in this context that they requested the additional information. These rates are provided as information only and are not used as a measure of individual performance."

But a leading veterans organization says the agency should be disbanded.
Canadian Veterans Advocacy said Harold Leduc was originally named to the board in 2005 in order to get a veteran's perspective into the organization, which has often had a bad reputation among soldiers.

"I think more than a judicial review is required. I think this abomination should be dismissed at once," said Mike Blais, the executive director of the advocacy group.

He says the idea that Leduc was targeted because he often sided with veterans in review decisions brings into question the integrity of the entire board.

Leduc claims that his privacy, including personal medical information, was breached and used to smear and discredit his work on the board.
In an interview, Leduc said the country's privacy watchdog had told him that it was unable to investigate the initial leak of his personal information.

The assistant privacy commissioner, Chantel Bernier, provided clarification Monday.

While for privacy reasons she would not address Leduc's specific case, Bernier said the concerns of a number of individuals had been brought to their attention and that they would addressed through the commissioner's full-scale audit of Veterans Affairs.
Both the Liberals and NDP say the Harper government should heed Leduc's advice and call a judicial inquiry into the review board.

New Democrat veterans critic Peter Stoffer says the Conservatives have promised to either overhaul or abolish the board and it's about time they lived up to their pledge.

MP Sean Casey, the Liberal veterans critic, said he'll try to revive a call for a public hearing on privacy before the House of Commons veterans committee.

Veterans board member Harold Leduc says his privacy raided in alleged smear campaign

Home news
Veterans board member Harold Leduc says his privacy raided in alleged smear campaign

February 12, 2012 00:02:00
Murray Brewster
OTTAWA—A prominent, long-standing member of the country’s Veterans Review and Appeal Board had his privacy violated twice in an alleged smear campaign meant to discredit him using his private medical information as ammunition, The Canadian Press has learned.

The behind-the-scenes fight involving Harold Leduc has been so bad and so vicious that the Canadian Human Rights Commission quietly ordered the veterans board to pay the decorated former warrant officer $4,000, including legal costs, for harassment he’d suffered from other agency members.

Leduc, who spent 22 years in the military, claims he was a target for gossip, innuendo and intimidation because he often sided with veterans in his review decisions.

It is the latest, and potentially most wide-ranging, in a series of privacy breaches, which the Conservative government claimed was cleaned up at the department that oversees the care of ex-soldiers and RCMP.

In late 2010, following the privacy scandal involving advocate Sean Bruyea, the government said it instituted tighter controls over the personal information of veterans and who had access to files.

Yet, in the spring of 2011, an investigation report, which included Leduc’s personal information and examined the toxic in-fighting at the independent agency, was released uncensored following an access to information request.

“I am writing to notify you of a privacy breach that resulted in the improper disclosure of personal information,” said a July 6, 2011, letter to Leduc from the access co-ordinator of the veterans board, who apologized and described the incident as a clerical error.

Two years previously, the deputy chair of the board acknowledged in another letter that Leduc had been the victim of a more serious breach, where more than 40 officials accessed his file that included medical information. Some of the officials were from veterans affairs, others included those who oversaw the review and appeal board.

“I was devastated, because it was a huge breach of trust that they can’t go back on,” Leduc said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “I’m very embarrassed about my service-related disabilities and I don’t think that’s anybody’s business but mine. I was just shocked and devastated.”

Board chairman John Larlee declined a request for an interview, but spokeswomen for both the agency and the veterans affairs minister released statements in response to a series of questions posed by The Canadian Press.

Both Danielle Gauthier and Codi Taylor said safeguarding privacy has been of the utmost concern.

“When a privacy breach occurs, we take immediate steps to address it, including corrective actions and disciplinary measures where appropriate,” Gauthier wrote in an email Friday.

Neither of them would address Leduc’s circumstance, citing privacy concerns. They declined to explain how his privacy could have been violated twice or what measures were taken in response.

“Minister Steven Blaney believes that any violation of our Veterans privacy is totally unacceptable,” Taylor wrote in an email.

“Our government took action over a year ago to ensure disciplinary measures for those who violate the law. Our government wants to ensure that the privacy of all veterans remains protected which is why Minister Blaney instructed departmental officials to look at how the Privacy Action Plan could be updated.”

Taylor would not explain what new measures might be introduced, or when.

Veterans Privacy Breaches Prompt Call For Inquiry

NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer is calling for a public inquiry into breaches of privacy with the medical information of former military members.

Harold Leduc — a prominent, long-standing member of the country's Veterans Review and Appeal Board — had his privacy violated twice in an alleged smear campaign, The Canadian Press revealed last week.

Leduc, who spent 22 years in the military, claimed he was a target for gossip, innuendo and intimidation because he often sided with veterans in his review decisions.

His private medical information was used as ammunition.

Dennis Manuge, a veteran from Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., told CBC News he believed his privacy had also been violated in the process of suing the federal government over veterans' pensions. He filed an Access to Information request on the suggestion of his lawyers.

"I had over 1,000 hits to my file," Manuge said Monday.

"When I saw Harold Leduc's story break in the media, there was almost validation because all of us are outspoken and all of us have been targeted."

Manuge said he and several others have complained to the federal privacy commissioner, asking her to forward the issue to the RCMP for a criminal investigation.

"It's not about the money, it's about the trust. I thought we lived in a democracy and I thought that's why I signed up — to ensure that our freedoms were protected," he said.

In Leduc's case, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the veterans board to pay him $4,000 for harassment he had suffered from other agency members.

Jean-Christophe de le Rue, a spokesman for Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney, said in an email that the federal government considers privacy its utmost concern.

"Minister Steven Blaney believes that any violation of our veterans privacy is totally unacceptable. Our government took action over a year ago to ensure disciplinary measures for those who violate the law," he wrote.

"Our government wants to ensure that the privacy of all veterans remains protected."

Stoffer said he doubts that.

"First of all have an inquiry into it and open it up," he told reporters.

"The privacy commissioner said these individuals broke the law. Usually if you break the law, you are either fired from your job, jailed or imprisoned, or fined. None of that happened to anybody."

Stoffer said he believes Leduc's and Manuge's cases are the tip of the iceberg.

"There is no question that the department officials within that Department of Veterans Affairs used sensitive personal information to denigrate the applicant or the person who is applying for the benefit," he said.

"That's why they did it so when it finally came to the final appeal, they say, 'Well, you know, that guy is not all normal or whatever; just ignore him and it will go away.' No. Using personal medical information and psychiatric information was wrong."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thank A Soldier Monthly: Discounts for The Military Family

Thank A Soldier Monthly: Discounts for The Military Family: Today I received this in my email from the wife of a Canadian soldier and was asked if would share this on my blog.  A lot of peopl...