North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney says some injured service men and women are having no choice but to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Blaney points out this is because “the extreme backlog of disability benefit applications at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) caused lengthy delays and made it impossible for them to get the financial support they need.”

She says veterans applied for CERB assistance because they were struggling to make ends meet “while waiting an unreasonably long time for their benefits from VAC.” 

“The government is very aware of these delays but they’ve been slow to respond,” said Blaney, who is the NDP Critic for Veterans. 

“The Liberals encouraged people to apply for CERB and said they’d figure out specifics later but now they’re threatening to criminalize people for defrauding the system,” Blaney said.

“It’s completely irresponsible to tell people it’s okay to apply and then threaten them when they follow the government’s advice.”

 Blaney wrote to Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay to express veterans’ concerns and get assurances that those who applied wouldn’t be punished for accessing the CERB.

 “The government should never have made these veterans wait for their benefits in the first place and now they’re dealing with the stress of being threatened as criminals,” said Blaney. 

“Canada’s injured service women and men have every right to receive support after their sacrifices, and they did what they could to work within a broken system – they did what the government told them to do.”

In response, a Minister of Veterans Affairs spokesperson said, “we know that veterans are often waiting far too long for decisions on their applications. In order to address this, we’re investing nearly $200 million over the next two years to tackle the backlog.”

The spokesperson said this new funding will allow Veterans Affairs to hire hundreds of staff to make decisions on applications and continue to innovate and improve its processes to reduce wait times. 

“As the minister has said, this remains his top priority.”

VAC pointed out that should veterans require emergency financial assistance, the Veterans Emergency Fund “can provide quick and efficient financial relief to Veterans and their families who find themselves in urgent and unexpected situations.”

“Our dedicated public servants at Veterans Affairs are working remotely and remain fully able to support Veterans and their families, and VAC is using the Emergency Fund to the fullest extent possible to support Veterans’ safety and well-being during the pandemic.”