A timeline of Julian Fantino’s troubled tenure as veterans affairs minister

OTTAWA — Julian Fantino’s tenure as minister of Veterans Affairs was troubled by controversy almost from the time he took office in July 2013. Here’s a look:

October 2013: The veterans ombudsman says the government provides former soldiers with insufficient compensation for pain and suffering, warning some vets will face near-poverty in old age because they don’t get certain allowances or military pensions.

October 2013: The Royal Canadian Legion calls it reprehensible that government lawyers are in court arguing that there is no special duty to care for wounded veterans, despite promises that date back to the First World War.

November 2013: Protests grow over plans to close Veterans Affairs offices in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon, Saskatoon and Kelowna and divert veterans to Service Canada locations.

January 2014: The veterans ombudsman and the Royal Canadian Legion demand to know if the Harper will retroactively compensate all ex-soldiers whose pensions and benefits were unfairly clawed back.

January 2014: Fantino publicly apologizes for arriving late for a meeting with veterans angry about the office closures, a controversy that erupted amid televised footage of Fantino in a confrontation with one of the vets.

February 2014: Veterans ombudsman Pierre Daigle tells a Senate committee that some soldiers given medical discharges find they don’t qualify for benefits because Veterans Affairs uses different, more stringent criteria that does National Defence.

May 2014: Fantino defends a $4 million ad campaign which he calls an effort to dispel “misinformation” about the government’s treatment of former soldiers.

May 2014: Fantino is caught on television appearing to ignore the angry wife of a veteran as she shouts questions at him while he walks down a parliamentary hallway.

June 2014: The House of Commons veterans committee unanimously recommends modest changes to the government’s veterans charter, acknowledging the changes would not satisfy everyone.

July 2014: Two Statistics Canada reports paint a troubling portrait of post-military life for soldiers, suggesting that for many the return to the civilian world is marked by health concerns, a sense of social isolation and less cash.

October 2014: The government responds to the Commons veterans committee report by promising changes to its veterans charter, but says revisions that require new spending or legislation will only come in the new year.

October 2014: Retired general Walt Natynczyk, former chief of the defence staff, becomes deputy minister to Fantino.

November 2014: Jacques Fauteux, Fantino’s chief of staff leaves his job. He is soon replaced by Stephen Lecce of the Prime Minister’s Office.

November 2014: The government says Veterans Affairs returned $1.13 billion in unspent funds to the federal treasury between 2006 and 2013, money which critics said should have been spent on vets.

November 2014: The auditor general says many veterans wait up to eight months to find out if they are eligible for long-term, mental-health disability benefits and the department has no idea if its treatment programs are effective. The report says some veterans are saddled with numbing paperwork and unnecessarily long waits.

December 2014: In his first return to the Commons after the auditor general’s report, Fantino is hit with opposition demands for his resignation. The Liberals release slick online ads saying veterans shouldn’t have to fight their own government to win benefits.

December 2014: Veterans Affairs reports say that some of its biggest job cuts have hit the disability awards branch, the division targeted by the auditor general’s report for taking too long to decide on the benefit claims of ex-soldiers. The government has claimed that the job reductions hit backroom bureaucrats, not frontline services.

January 2015: Fantino is shuffled out of the Veterans Affairs portfolio, replaced by Erin O’Toole. Fantino returns to his old position as associate minister of defence.

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