OTTAWA — The exact size of the backlog of disability benefits applications with Veterans Affairs Canada is a matter of dispute.
The government has long set a departmental target of processing 80 per cent of claims within 16 weeks. The clock starts after a complete application with all supporting documentation has been received and the file is assigned to an adjudicator.
By that definition, only about 15,000 of the 40,000 applications with the department at the end of June are considered the backlog. The remainder are classified as incomplete applications, have yet to be assigned to an adjudicator, or remain within the 16-week target.
Many experts and advocates say that definition is misleading and understates the extent of the problem. They argue the clock should start as soon as an application is filed, which would ensure faster service and keep veterans from falling through the cracks.
The House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee, in its December report on the backlog, agreed applications that have not been assigned to an adjudicator should count, but did not comment on the other claims.
The dispute has a direct effect on reported wait times, with critics saying the department's assertion that the average claim is processed within 35 weeks — more than twice the target — does not reflect reality.
Questions have also been raised around the department's reporting when it comes to the number of applications received versus those processed each quarter, as the two do not clearly correspond to changes in the number of pending claims.
Veterans Affairs has attributed this discrepancy to some applications for benefits being withdrawn, a figure it does not report.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2021.
The Canadian Press