Fighting to be heard– one veteran’s battle



Ken Waddell
The Neepawa Banner
Richard Leslie is a WWII veteran who lives in Brandon. As you can well guess, he’s now in his 90s. He was only about 21 years old as WWII drew to a close. He participated in the Normandy invasion, the liberation of Holland and the defeat and occupation of Germany. When it comes to war, he has seen it all. His trouble today is that while he may have also heard it all too, he can’t hear it all today. Leslie is pretty much deaf. Anybody who meets him and talks to him can figure that out.

He has files and files of paperwork. His medical and hearing tests show his level of hearing loss. He gets a regular veteran’s pension and some compensation for severe freezing or frostbite of his hands and feet.

But when it comes to his hearing loss, which started with the artillery blasts and the intense noise of battles he experienced, Veterans Affairs Canada said they wouldn’t help him. Leslie says, “Why are they beating on me, there is no reason for it?” Leslie’s MP had tried to help him, but a rep from his office says they have been turned down. The lady at the MP’s office said, “If it was up to me, I would help every vet.” But VAC didn’t see it that way, they refused to pay for Leslie’s hearing aids for years. Or at least they did until recently. Leslie went public. He went to the Brandon Sun and to us at the Neepawa Banner. The Sun story came out last week and within days, Leslie was told by VAC he will get his hearing aids paid for. On top of that, he has been told he will get a hearing loss pension and back pay.

It’s not as if Leslie can’t pay for them himself. “I can afford them,”He said. However, hearing  aids are very expensive and Leslie says whether he can afford them or not isn’t the point. After all the years of military service and all the years he has worked, he thinks as a vet, he and other vets should be compensated. Leslie explains that he “is not without means” and has owned his own property for years. “I have owned my house for 50 years” It’s not the money that motivates him, it’s principles that inspire Leslie to do what he is doing. It was the recent $10.5 million settlement to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen but convicted terrorist, that really set Leslie off. Commenting on the Khadr case, he said, “Isn’t that a kick in the ass? Don’t you think that settlement hurts a guy. The fight I am putting up may help someone else who can’t help themselves. If I can win this fight, it will help a lot of others.”

It appears Leslie may have won “his” battle but he and many others, this writer included, wonder why it has to be a battle? How can a convicted terrorist be compensated to the tune of $10.5 million and a 90 plus year old veteran have to fight for hearing aids. Even if it could be proven that Leslie didn’t have his hearing damaged by military service, why would VAC deny him hearing aids? Hopefully Leslie’s battle is over but likely every surviving vet will have to fight for what a logical person would offer them freely. It just isn’t right.

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Canada, when asked about Leslie’s situation, of course ran for cover behind the often repeated phrase, “I can’t comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.” The spokesman did say, “I won’t say this is just a coincidence,” when asked about the apparent sudden turn around or change of heart by VAC. Leslie has a stack of paper stating that he doesn’t qualify for compensation for his hearing loss.

VAC sent this response, which certainly doesn’t explain Leslie’s refusal and the sudden change of heart by VAC. The response is included below for readers benefit. As to the sudden turnaround, it’s anybody’s guess. My guess is VAC saw the heat coming from Leslie’s very public appeal and they ran for cover. Veterans like Leslie shouldn’t have to fight that hard, especially after they fought so hard as members of our military. Leslie survived WWII, many of his compatriots did not. Leslie may have won this battle, one that he should not have had to fight. He may have won the bigger battle as he said he did it for others that couldn’t fight for themselves.

It should not have taken this long, or even been a fight at all.

Veterans’ Affairs Canada response:

Good afternoon Ken,
I’m pleased to provide you with a response to your query on behalf of the Department. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
The care and well-being of Veterans and their families is a priority for Veterans Affairs Canada, and we are committed to ensuring Veterans have access to the services and benefits to which they are entitled.
The Department is legally bound to protect client privacy/confidentiality, therefore we cannot comment on a specific Veteran’s case.

Hearing Loss Decisions

In fiscal year 2015-16, the Department made 5,247 hearing loss decisions, of which 55 per cent were favourable. Decisions are based on evidence presented and legislated eligibility requirements.
Applicants who are dissatisfied with a decision from Veterans Affairs Canada have recourse options.
Those who have new evidence or can demonstrate there was an error made in the decision can have their decision reviewed by the Department.

The arms-length tribunal Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) offers Veterans two levels of redress. The first level is a review. If an applicant is dissatisfied with a VRAB review decision, they have the right to an appeal hearing. While a Veteran’s decision is under review by the Department or by VRAB, free legal help is provided by lawyers working with the Bureau of Pensions Advocates, a nationwide organization of lawyers within the Department.
If a Veteran has exhausted all redress options at the Board and remains dissatisfied, they have the right to apply to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision.

Eligibility for Benefits

Every situation is unique and we work with Veterans on a case-by-case basis.
Veterans who believe they have a disability related to their military service are encouraged to apply to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance and can contact the department through our toll free line (1-866-522-2122), or our Web site (

A hearing loss disability can be considered to be partially or entirely caused by service factors.
The patient’s history, physical examination and relevant test results are considered along with audiogram findings. The cause of hearing loss cannot be determined from an audiogram alone.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) reviews information from military service health records to establish the link between a disability and military service. VAC obtains the service health records directly from the Department of National Defence or Library and Archives Canada on behalf of applicants.
The applicant may provide additional information or supporting documents to show, for example, that they served in a noisy occupation or were exposed to significant noise, their hearing on enlistment or enrollment was worsened by service, decibel losses or hearing loss during service and/or on discharge, or other service-related causes for the hearing loss. A post-discharge or current audiogram is required with the application.

It is important to note that additional services and benefits may be available to assist Veterans with hearing conditions. For more information, please see:

Sincerely, Marc Lescoutre

Media Relations Officer
Veterans Affairs Canada