Master Cpl. Paul Franklin lost both legs in a bombing in Afghanistan 10 years ago. And every year since, he’s had to endure the aggravating process of proving to Veterans Affairs of Canada that he’s still, in fact, an amputee in order to get the benefits he’s owed.
While serving as a medic in Afghanistan in 2006, a suicide bomber blew up the armored jeep Franklin was driving, leaving him a double amputee. Since then, he’s mastered walking on prosthetics and works to empower other vets who have lost limbs.
But despite ample public appearances and pleas, Franklin hasn’t yet succeeded in getting the VAC to reform a frustrating policy. It forces vets who have endured grave injuries to repeatedly fill out an overwhelming amount of forms to prove their ailments are legitimate.
Although Franklin feels bogged down by the process, he says he’s more concerned about veterans with other compromising issues that could preclude them from completing the paperwork correctly.
“It’s insane,” Franklin told the Edmonton Journal on Wednesday. “My problem with all this is if you have someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder or some sort of brain injury, or you have a combination of the two and they’re on street drugs or alcohol or whatever, the chance of them filling out the forms correctly is minimal at best.”
But even Franklin has experienced firsthand the complications that ensue when the required paperwork isn’t submitted properly.
In 2014, Franklin’s wheelchair was taken away from him when the VAC said it didn’t receive the appropriate paperwork, he wrote in a HuffPost blog post.
According to Franklin, the agency needed a note from his doctor stating: "Due to transformal amputations, Paul Franklin needs a new wheelchair."
Such notes are required for Franklin to obtain the pension he was approved for last year. He can’t receive those funds unless he submits an annual doctors note confirming his limb loss, something he’ll presumably have to do until he’s 65, Franklin added.
The veteran has written extensively about the topic, which has caught the attention of major media personalities who have taken up his cause.
“Four times, [the government] said ‘No. We’re not taking your word for it. You have to prove they’re still gone. Get a note from a doctor.’ Literally, a note from the doctor saying his legs have not grown back. You know, in case he’s pulling fast one,” comedian Rick Mercer explained on his show “Rick’s Rant” last year. “[Franklin’s] friend was shot in the head. He has to prove over and over again that he still has no vision in his left eye. His left eye, by the way, is made out of glass.”
Franklin’s plight has gone viral to the point that the VAC has personally responded to his claims.
After "Rick’s Rant" hit YouTube, Erin O'Toole, minister of Veterans Affairs, reached out to Franklin to have a “conversation” about his file.
Franklin responded by writing a blog on HuffPost Canada about his experience. He chose to react publicly in order to elevate the issue to a national level.
“I fear that a conversation with me about ‘my file’ may solve ‘my concerns’ but not the concerns of the 700,000 others,” Franklin wrote. “Until we are treated by all parties with the respect, dignity, [honor] and compassion we deserve, then I can't in good conscience take a phone call regarding my issues.”
O’Toole responded in kind by composing his own HuffPost blog titled “No Veteran Should Have To Repeatedly Prove They’ve Lost Limbs.”
The minister admitted that he had just learned about the process amputees face and vowed to put an end to it.
“I’m committed to ensuring that we work diligently to reduce the administrative burden placed in front of veterans by my department and to ensure we get processing times reduced,” O’Toole wrote.
Still, this year, Franklin faces the same burden of proving he’s lost his legs.
“It’s been 10 years and they still haven’t figured out I’m an amputee,” Franklin told the Journal. “It’s more for the dudes that can’t do it … I don’t want this to be a hindrance to someone getting the care they need.”