National President of the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees, Virginia Vaillancourt, poses for a photo in Ottawa, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. A union representing workers at Veterans Affairs Canada is calling the rehabilitation services contract a failure six months after it was implemented. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

Union gives failing grade to companies handling veterans rehabilitation contract

The union representing workers at Veterans Affairs Canada is calling the deal to privatize rehabilitation services a failure, six months after it was implemented.

A contract with Lifemark Health Group and WCG International Consultants was supposed to take the strain off case managers and help veterans access services.

The two organizations formed Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services and were awarded a $57-million contract in July 2021 to provide rehab and vocational assistance services. The transition of files began in October 2022.

The Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees says instead of streamlined services, case managers are dealing with more paperwork and frustrated clients.

The union issued a new “report card” Monday, saying that only the least complex files have actually been transferred and that delays in getting started have led to backlogs for veterans.

“We have been raising concerns about this rehab contract since before it really even got implemented … and nobody’s listening,” said union president Virginia Vaillancourt.

The union is pointing a finger at a lack of training in Veterans Affairs Canada’s guidelines, as well as a lack of understanding of what the clients need.

Vaillancourt said before the contract came into effect, rehabilitation services were carried out by Veterans Affairs case managers and the services were covered through Medavie Blue Cross. She said referrals to service providers must now go through Lifemark.

“And Lifemark is actually paying less than what they were getting paid through Blue Cross,” she said, adding that some service providers have stopped working with veterans as a result.

A spokeswoman for Lifemark directed questions to Veterans Affairs.

The department did not immediately respond to questions.

The Veterans Affairs Canada program is meant to help veterans and their families “transition to life after service,” according to its website, by co-ordinating medical, psycho-social and vocational services for ill and injured former service members.

Lifemark, which was purchased by Loblaw Companies Ltd. in May 2022, says it has more than 300 locations across the country. Its partner in the Veterans Affairs contract, WCG International, has been working with the department to provide vocational assistance and rehab services to veterans for over a decade.