A Tragedy of Errors
How a Typo Destroyed a Veteran
By Jeff Rose-Martland
Why is there a man slowly starving himself in Charlottetown?
Because we destroyed his life. Twice.
The first came when he developed PTSD in service to Canada. He served in the Royal 22nd Regiment and was posted to Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkans Crisis. He gave his mental health to his country because we required his service. His PTSD got him discharged from the military and sent home to recover.
He had his grandmother’s house and a bit of land. He loves animals. With his pension he could renovate the 160 year old house, rescue animals, do his art, and, hopefully, find peace.
Then we destroyed his life again.
There was an error at Veterans’ Affairs. In September, mid-renovations, his pension was deposited into somebody else’s bank account. He called and was assured everything was correct. It wasn’t and he didn’t get his money. Same in October. Repeated calls were not accomplishing anything; VAC said everything was OK.
It wasn’t. Bills weren’t being paid. Debts were rising. The furnace had been removed from the house and there was no money to put it back. Even the animals were worried. When November’s pension also didn’t arrive, the man had to tell the contractors he couldn’t pay them. Tools went down and trucks pulled away. Damp settled into the house.
December: four months of no pension and living off credit cards without making payments. To save them from starving to death, the man had to bring rescued cats back to the shelter where they would be put down. The house had developed mould. There was no money for Christmas. Veteran’s Affairs assured the man that his money had been deposited for him.
The man was found on his land, drunk in a truck with the exhaust connected to the cab. He was rushed to hospital, treated, and admitted to psychiatry.
January. No pension. A VAC representative finally thought to give the man the account number where the money was being sent. A flurry of phone calls and several days later, five months of pension arrived into the correct account. Problem solved, as far as VAC was concerned.
Except the damage had been done. The house? Uninhabitable due to moisture, mould, and no furnace. His rescued animals? Dead. His credit? Ruined, interest continuing to drive his debt. His possessions, his art and supplies? In a storage locker. He stays in a camper when not sleeping at his mother’s. His shattered psyche does triple back-flips when he thinks about what he has lost and almost lost. What should have been recovery and rest is a nightmare that almost garnered him a final peace.
Six-and-a-half years later and circumstances have not changed, except for a humiliating bankruptcy. Despite letters and calls and appeals, Veterans’ Affairs accepts no responsibility for the havoc their error caused. They acknowledge there was an issue with the account but maintain the corrected number and issue of back pay fixed everything. They will not apologize.
It was a simple mistake, easily made, easily checked, and easily fixed. It should not have taken five months to fix. Account numbers can be confirmed by phone. Banks reverse transfers within a day. Once action was taken, it took just five days to correct. If those five days had been in September instead of January, none of these events would have occurred. We can all see that, except, apparently, VAC.
And that is why Fabien Melanson is slowly starving, sitting in front of the headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown. All he wants is his house returned to the condition it was in before this began. That and an apology. Is that not small payment for a man’s existence?
“They kill me in 2004. They only thing left is just my bones and flesh and that's it. So I am here to give them the rest of my remains." - Fabien Melanson, 6 June 2011
Jeff Rose-Martland is the President of Our Duty, a citizens’ organization dedicated to ensuring fair treatment for Canada’s veterans.