Disability Benefits Application Process Consultation

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Veterans Affairs Canada would like to thank all those who participated and who encouraged participation by promoting the online platform within their respective networks. We are happy to share the consultation results, Improving the Disability Benefits application process.

Veterans Affairs Canada would like to thank all those who participated and who encouraged participation by promoting the online platform within their respective networks. We are happy to share the consultation results, Improving the Disability Benefits application process.

  • Background

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    On 26 May 2021, we launched a three-week consultation on Let’s Talk Veterans to gather feedback on the disability benefit application process for first time applicants.

    As part of our wait time strategy, we committed to engaging directly with Veterans about how we can improve the application experience. This consultation was designed to help us come up with solutions to make applying easier, and to create new tools to help our decision-makers process applications faster.

  • We Asked

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    The goal of this consultation was to better understand the difficulties experienced in the disability benefit application process. We asked respondents a number of questions to get information on:

    • how they applied for disability benefits (e.g. online vs. paper, did they have help) and why;

    • what the experience was like (e.g. what did they find the most difficult/frustrating, did they understand the process and next steps); and

    • how satisfied they were with the communication about the process.

    We advertised this consultation using our stakeholder outreach list, My VAC Account, Salute! (our monthly newsletter) and social media. Our target audiences were Veterans (CAF and RCMP), transitioning Veterans (CAF and RCMP), family members and those who help Veterans fill out disability benefit applications. We asked about language preference, gender identity, age, and region, to determine diversity among respondents.

  • You Said

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    In total, 853 people completed the survey. The data shows there was good range of participant representation in terms of gender identity (76% male, 21% female), language preference (84% English, 16% French) and geography with all regions in Canada represented.

    Application method

    The majority (71%) of respondents applied online. For the remainder (29%) who applied using a paper application: almost half of them said they did so because it was the only option they were aware of; and a quarter did so because they preferred a personal connection.

    Help applying for Disability Benefits

    29% of respondents indicated having help with their application, most commonly from a third party. 16% of respondents told us that filling out the application form was the most difficult or frustrating part of applying for disability benefits.

    Understanding the application process and next steps

    61% of participants said that they were not confident, or only somewhat confident that they submitted all the information required for a decision.

    In addition, 79% indicated that they were not clear—or only somewhat clear—on the next steps in the process after submitting their application. When we asked what applicants found the most frustrating, not knowing the status of the application was a major concern, with 22% of applicants finding the lack of real-time status tracking frustrating.

    Wanting a better explanation of how the process works and what is needed to apply was also referenced often in the open text answers of the survey.

    Incomplete applications

    Of participants who indicated they had been contacted by VAC for additional information to complete their application, 81% indicated that VAC had contacted them within six months or sooner (20% within 6 months, 22% within 3 months, 26% within one month, and 13% within a week). Almost 60% of respondents were not satisfied with the length of time VAC took to determine they needed more information. When we asked how long it should take for VAC to follow up for more information: 50% indicated that within a month; 29% indicating within a week; and 12% within three months.

    Accessing medical information and diagnosis

    35% of respondents said that getting a medical diagnosis/documentation was a difficult and frustrating part of the application process. In the open text question on how to improve the process, many told us that improving how medical information is obtained is one of their top concerns.

    Your top concerns

    In response to the question “If there was one thing you could change about the application process, what would it be?”, the top answer was faster processing of applications. This was followed by better communication about and through the application process, and making the application and process easier.

  • We Will

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    We analyzed the feedback and experiences you shared, and developed six recommendations for improving the disability benefit application process.

    1. Increase awareness and promote the benefits of My VAC Account to apply online

    Given how many respondents indicated that they applied on paper (29%) and that half of them did so because they weren’t aware of the online option, this tells us that we need to: increase awareness of My VAC Account for online applications; and promote the benefits of applying online (e.g. guided applications, status tracking, secure messaging).

    2. Train and collaborate with those who assist Veterans in filling out applications

    Given how many respondents indicated challenges with applying and the percentage who sought help in doing so, we see an opportunity to train and collaborate with those who support applicants. Doing so should reduce the chances of submitting an incomplete application. We will be looking into ways such as information sessions for third party groups to better understand what is needed and how to help fill out an application.

    3. Make the application steps clear, concise and easy to understand

    Given the high percentages of respondents who were not confident that they had submitted a complete application (61%) and unclear on next steps (79%)—combined with the percentage who sought help in applying—this tells us that we need to do a much better job at making the application process clearer with better support material. One of the first steps that we will be taking is to consult on how to improve our online application in My VAC Account. We also plan to review our applications and communications material to ensure they meet applicants’ needs.

    4. Build a more comprehensive tool to track application status by breaking down the progress into more detailed steps

    When we asked what applicants found the most frustrating, not knowing the status of the application was a major concern. These results are consistent with stakeholder feedback that a better status tracking tool is very important to improving the process. The consensus has been that current tools do not offer enough consistent information about the status of an application. A more comprehensive version of the tool is expected to be released in 2022. It will provide more detail on the status of an application, as well as indicate any pieces that may be missing so that information can be provided more quickly to move the application toward a decision.

    5. Confirm that an application is complete earlier

    Given that the majority (60%) of respondents were not satisfied with how long it took us to contact them, and the significant difference between how long it took us to contact them vs. how long they thought it should take, this tells us we need to more quickly assess applications for completeness. We need to do this so that if an application isn’t complete, we can let the applicant know sooner. We have made significant progress on this front since the consultation. The improved status tracking will also better show the movement of applications and if anything is required to make it complete for adjudication.

    6. Make the process more digital

    This recommendation relates to the percentage of respondents (35%) who told us that accessing medical diagnosis/documentation was difficult and frustrating, combined with the open text feedback indicating that improving how medical information is obtained was a top concern.

    Improving how medical information is shared among several different areas can improve processing times. We are focusing on the aspects within our control. We are currently developing a new tool for health professionals to improve how they submit documents that are key to a decision being made.

    We have also implemented a Service Health Records Search Tool for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus that is reducing the time needed to find information to make a decision.

  • Conclusion

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    This was our first consultation on the disability benefits application process, but we expect there will be more so that we can continue to engage with you on improvements to reduce wait times. We look forward to continuing to build positive consultation relationships. We need your insights on different topics to make effective changes. We look forward to your continued participation, insights, and feedback.

Page last updated: 16 May 2022, 08:44 AM