***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Veterans Affairs Inaction Costs Veteran Home; Advocate Calls for Minister’s Resignation
St. John’s (Our Duty) – Cpl Fabien Melanson of Cap-Pele, NB will lose his house tomorrow, the end result of a 2004 clerical error by Veterans Affairs, and his advocate is calling for the Minister to resign.
The Van Doo veteran served in Croatia and liberated a hospital in Bosnia. He retired to his hometown when his PTSD prevented him from serving. Then his real war began.
In 2004, Melanson’s pension went missing because Veterans Affairs sent it to the wrong bank account. Despite constant calls, VAC did not correct the error for 5 months. By the time he did get his money, Cpl Melanson’s finances were in ruins. So was his house - the missing pension halted renovations and weather damage rendered the veteran’s home unliveable.
For the next 7 years, Fabien Melanson fought with Veterans Affairs to get them to fix his house. It took a hunger strike last June to get VAC to acknowledge their responsibility. But VAC claimed it ‘had no mechanism” for paying for the repairs.
“That’s highly misleading,” says Melanson’s advocate, Jeff Rose-Martland, “The Department may not have a policy, but it does have a way to do so. The Minister can do it.”
Rose-Martland is referring to ex gratia payments, where a Minister can use discretionary funds to address issues which fall outside of normal procedures.
“We’ve been trying to get the Minister to fix this for a year. We sent our first appeals for help during the hunger strike. We have been emailing, faxing, and phoning regularly since, but the Ministry has been unresponsive. I did speak with an aide in February who said they were looking into it; that’s the only response we’ve had.”
Tomorrow, Bridgewater Bank will proceed with legal action to sell the property. “Fabien’s been doing his best to meet his obligations, but 8 years of being homeless have taken their toll. Most of his income has been going to pay the mortgage on a house he can’t live in, and to store his possessions. He got behind in his payments, Bridgewater discovered the condition of the house, and the clock has been ticking since. We have until tomorrow to provide them with a payment plan and construction schedule.”
As Melanson has no funds for rebuilding, sale of the property is inevitable and Rose-Martland says the Minister is to blame.
“Ever since he was appointed Minister, Steven Blaney has had both the authority and responsibility to fix this,” he says, “VAC admitted their responsibility a year ago; the Minister has a duty to make reparations. The Minister should have been seeking us out, not the other way around. Now, Fabien is going to lose his house and land, and the Minister still won’t act. He won’t even pick up the phone.’
Late today, Rose-Martland received word that the Minister will reply. By mail.
“Since Bridgewater Bank said they were going to sell the place, we’ve been hounding the Minister’s office, begging him to do his duty. He ignored us; no response at all. This afternoon, we found out – through sources other than the Ministry – that they have mailed a letter to us. An 18th century reply to a 21st century problem.”
The advocate is now calling for the Minister to resign. “Since he was appointed Minister, Steven Blaney has had a duty of care to see this issue resolved,” says Jeff Rose-Martland, ”He has willfully ignored that responsibility and is in dereliction of his duty. If he will not discharge his duties as required, then, as a citizen, I ask him to resign his position as Minister Responsible for Veterans Affairs.”
The distraught veteran is unavailable for comment.
President, Our Duty Inc
The way Veterans Affairs - Minister Blaney - have treated this Veteran is an absolute disgrace. Blaney needs to resign NOW.
***UPDATE: Minister Blaney STILL has not done the right thing:
Who Cares About Veterans? Not Minister Blaney