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Feds don't give veterans enough info about benefit rulings: ombudsman

The government is failing former soldiers in the way it tells them whether or not they've qualified for aid, the veterans ombudsman said Monday.

A report from Guy Parent said soldiers are not given adequate information about why they are granted or denied disability benefits.

"Veterans need assurances that their applications for disability benefits have been fully and fairly considered," Parent wrote.

"A detailed decision letter is the essential source of that information."

He says providing information to support a decision is fundamentally different from simply providing a reason for a decision.

Failing to provide supporting information for decisions is at odds with the Veterans Bill of Rights and other federal laws, he said.

"It troubles me to think that many veterans may be wrongly assessed and do not pursue the matter further because the letter did not reveal where the department’s decision might have been flawed," he wrote.

"It is equally unacceptable for veterans to exercise their appeal rights without having been provided with a clear explanation of the decision."

The report reviewed a sample of 213 disability benefit decision letters sent between 2001 and 2010 and found that none clearly stated the reasoning behind the decision.

About one in five gave enough detail for veterans to attempt to deduce the rationale, but the remainder came up entirely short.

The report found that decision letters aren't adequate because there are flaws in the process used to generate the letters and there's also a misconception about what constitutes adequate reasons for decisions.

Parent noted it's a long-standing issue and was first raised with the department in 1998 and again in 2004-2005, but only minor improvements have been made.

The report made four recommendations.

It said the way the letters are generated needs to be improved and that reasons for decisions need to be in plain English, not medical or legal terms.

The report also said manuals need to be reviewed to make sure adjudicators are aware of what has to be in the letters and a quality assurance system must be in place.

"Ensuring procedural fairness does not solely concern adherence to abstract principles of justice or of rights," Parent wrote.

"Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done."

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