Veteran Affairs shadow minister Blake Richards believes hiring more veterans would be a major step forward in improving the services of Veterans Affairs.

While more 1,600 former Canadian Armed Forces members have benefitted from the five-year-old Veterans Hiring Act that gives them hiring priority in securing federal government jobs, a recent joint report by Veteran Affairs and National Defence concludes there is room for improvement.

"While progress has been made, there is a need to develop an overall strategy and outreach program across the federal public service to inform eligible Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans of the opportunities available to them," states the report.

It calls for the need to educate Veterans Affairs Canada service delivery employees, human resources advisors, and hiring managers across the system.

While some organization-specific goals have been set, the report indicates it doesn't go far enough.

"There are opportunities to strengthen the implementation of the Veterans Hiring Act and increase the number of eligible Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans hired throughout the federal public service."

Richards believes those hirings should start right in Veterans Affairs, something he has been constantly advocating.

"You would think the department of Veteran Affairs would be the very first place that should understand how important it is for veterans to have these opportunities. Not only that, but who better to serve a veteran than a veteran him or herself."

He says it's shameful that it needs to come down to political pressure from the opposition.

"I've asked the minister of Veterans Affairs (Ginette Petitpas Taylor) and a number of the officials at Veterans Affairs, and they can't even tell you how many veterans they have employed let allow the fact that they're trying to do better. It's a very small number of veterans employed and Veteran Affairs, and they can't even give you the number."

To compound the issue, just days ago, it was confirmed thousands of veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members were prevented from being hired or given the opportunity to apply for public service jobs due to a technical problem.

The Public Service Commission of Canada said the issue began in November 2020 and continued through to January 2024.

"It just seems to me that they just can't get their act straight," says Richards. "I would argue that probably the problem there is largely a Trudeau government cabinet that is completely incompetent, who are not on top of their files and aren't aware of what's going on. These kinds of mistakes happen because you have incompetent people in charge."

Richards says its frustrating to hear how veterans face length delays in processing their claims. He says some are left waiting for several years.

"The way our veterans are treated is absolutely shameful and there are some basic process improvements that could be made that would make things 10 times better for our veterans. It would save taxpayers money in the process and just be better for everyone. It seems to me there's a reasonably simple solution here and I don't understand why a government wouldn't want to implement some of these solutions."

Richards says claims for common injuries like hearing loss, chronic tinnitus, knee and back problems are needlessly delayed. He believes if it has already been diagnosed by Veteran Affairs doctors, then it should be considered service-related. Instead, he says some veterans are forced to appeal to the veterans review appeal board, a process that could take years to resolve.

"In many cases for some of these more common injuries, like 95 per cent or more of them, end up being approved anyway, so why can we just approved them upfront, and get them the help they need. You can always audit it later."

He says veterans commonly can't find a family doctor because the physicians are scared away by the complex paperwork involved,

"It's hard enough to find a doctor in this country but then when you're having to go to that doctor and present them with dozens of pages of complicated paperwork they have to fill out, and then their diagnoses are often questioned by Veterans Affairs. You can understand why overworked doctors, who have more patients than they can probably deal with as it is, are saying I can't handle all that paperwork."

Richards has served as the Conservatives' shadow minister for Veteran Affairs since October 2022.