The lengthy veterans affairs backlog is one of Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay’s top priorities.
MacAulay spoke to Veterans Affairs Canada employees at the Daniel J. MacDonald building in Charlottetown on Friday. He was re-named minister of veterans affairs and associate minister of national defence on Nov. 20 – positions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entrusted him with earlier this year.
The afternoon meet-and-greet had the atrium packed with employees to congratulate MacAulay. During a question period, the only question asked was what key challenges the next 100 days may pose for his department.
“We have to deal with the backlog. It’s a big issue.”
In March 2019, it was reported about 40,000 veterans were on a waitlist to receive department benefits. Years of staff cuts are being blamed for the backlog.
Two steps to help move forward include ensuring files are being digitized, as well as dealing with both the front and back ends of the file log.
“The back end is where the decisions are made,” MacAulay said. “That’s what you have to do in order to make sure the ball rolls properly.”
“I never had a department that was as good as Veterans Affairs. I can assure you I have your back.”
MacAulay believes some parts of the process could probably be moving quicker, but there’s a lot to consider, such as new files continuing to be opened and ensuring the fix is long-term.
“Just throwing money is not really the answer. We have to put the system in place.”
Working in veterans affairs has often been an emotional role for MacAulay, in part because of the people he works with. The minister empathized with all employees present, commenting on how the portrayal of the backlog issue online and in the media may be discouraging for them.
“I know it hurts you as individuals. I know you care.”
He thanked them for their care and hard work.
“I never had a department that was as good as Veterans Affairs,” he said. “I can assure you I have your back.”
MacAulay also focused on his department’s hard work toward helping homeless veterans, as well as providing more equal benefits for women veterans.
“So that they can see the benefits that they should be seeing.”
His return to P.E.I. will be brief, as he prepares to fly to Rome early next week to take part in events acknowledging the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign during the Second World War.