The Caseload: Veterans Affairs staff overwhelmed by number of vets assigned to them
Case managers help veterans with severe disabilities develop plans for their successful re-entry into civilian life after veterans leave the military for medical reasons
OTTAWA — This past June, Marie-Paule Doucette was asked if she felt she had enough time to help Lionel Desmond in the months leading up to Jan. 3, 2017 — the evening the Afghan war veteran shot and killed his wife, daughter and mother before turning the gun on himself.
The question came near the end of two days of testimony before the Nova Scotia inquiry examining the circumstances surrounding the tragic event. Throughout, Doucette had laid out the many challenges she faced as a case manager at Veterans Affairs Canada.
In particular, Doucette had shared a long-standing source of frustration and concern for veterans and their advocates, an issue Ottawa has repeatedly promised — and even now failed — to address: the sheer number of veterans assigned to case managers.
“This is not me dismissing Lionel Desmond or his problems, but he is one of anywhere from 35 to 40 people needing co-ordinated services,” Doucette told the inquiry. “I understand when you say things like: ‘Could you be more proactive?’ Of course I could, if I had 10 people on my caseload.”
Case managers help veterans with severe disabilities develop plans for their successful re-entry into civilian life after veterans leave the military for medical reasons. They are responsible for co-ordinating the different medical and financial resources needed for that transition. In 2018, a parliamentary committee found veterans without case managers had a harder time understanding what support is available.
“They’re your Sherpa,” says Jarrett Cranston, one of the more than 15,000 veterans with a case manager. Cranston was forced out of the military last year due to post-traumatic stress disorder after 15 years as a pilot. “They are your primary point of contact.”
When they were first elected to power in 2015, the Liberals promised case managers would not be assigned more than 25 ill and injured veterans. The pledge came after deep cuts by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had seen the ratio skyrocket to a high of 40 to one.
The Liberals have doubled the number of case managers, but Veterans Affairs says they still, on average, have 33 veterans assigned to each of them. Virginia Vaillancourt, national president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, says many have even more than that.
This past summer, the union surveyed those case managers about their workloads. The result: While a fraction reported having 25 or fewer veterans assigned to them, the majority had more than 35. Some had more than 50.
“So we know the caseloads are still excessive,” Vaillancourt says. Most case managers also reported feeling they couldn’t properly support veterans — and that their workloads or work situations had negatively affected their own mental health.