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37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

Sub-Committee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs


COMMITTEE EVIDENCE

CONTENTS

Thursday, January 31, 2002






¿ 0900
V         The Chair (Ms. Colleen Beaumier (Brampton West--Mississauga, Lib.))
V         Mr. Allan Parks (Dominion Command 1st Vice-President and Chairman of Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee, Royal Canadian Legion)

¿ 0905

¿ 0910

¿ 0915
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft (Director, Service Bureau, Dominion Command, and Secretary, Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee, Royal Canadian Legion)

¿ 0920
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Gordon Beech (Service Officer, Royal Canadian Legion)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris--Moose Mountain, Canadian Alliance)

¿ 0925
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu--Nicolet--Bécancour, BQ)

¿ 0930
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon

¿ 0935
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Bob Wood (Nipissing, Lib.)
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Pratt

¿ 0940
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Elsie Wayne (Saint John, PC/DR)
V         Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore, NDP)
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Stoffer
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft

¿ 0945
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Peter Stoffer
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Stoffer
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Peter Stoffer
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Elsie Wayne

¿ 0950
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mrs. Wayne
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mrs. Elsie Wayne
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mrs. Wayne
V         Mr. Wood
V         Mrs. Wayne
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey

¿ 0955
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bailey
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Pratt

À 1000
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. David Pratt
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Pratt
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft

À 1005
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon

À 1010
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Dan McTeague (Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, Lib.)
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft

À 1015
V         Mr. Dan McTeague
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Dan McTeague
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Roy Bailey

À 1020
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bailey
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bailey
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Dan McTeague
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon

À 1025
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         The Chair
V         M. Wood
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. McTeague
V         Mr. Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Dan McTeague
V         Mr. Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft

À 1030
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Wood
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Pratt
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Pratt
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Pratt

À 1035
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Pratt
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Louis Plamondon
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Bob Wood

À 1040
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Allan Parks
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood

À 1045
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Bob Wood
V         Mr. Jim Rycroft
V         Mr. Wood
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Wood
V         The Chair






CANADA

Sub-Committee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs


NUMBER 003 
l
1st SESSION 
l
37th PARLIAMENT 

COMMITTEE EVIDENCE

Thursday, January 31, 2002

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

¿  +(0900)  

[English]

+

    The Chair (Ms. Colleen Beaumier (Brampton West--Mississauga, Lib.)): I call to order the subcommittee on veterans affairs of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

    What a great way to start our hearings. I think you know that we have decided that we're going to do an in-depth study and make recommendations on long-term care for our veterans. I think you also know that you have a very committed group of people on this committee. It's a committee we all fought and scraped to get onto, not like other committees we're just appointed to. I hope you'll be pleased with our results and know that we're very committed to veterans affairs.

    I think it's quite fitting that this morning we're going to begin our hearings with witnesses from the Royal Canadian Legion.

    Allan Parks, I'd like to welcome you here. Allan is the Dominion Command 1st vice-president and chairman of the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee. We're very pleased to have you here this morning. And I believe we have Gordon Beech, a service officer, and Jim Rycroft, director, Service Bureau, Dominion Command, and secretary of the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee.

    It looks as if we all have a great deal in common, the work you've put into it and our willingness to learn from that.

    Mr. Parks, would you like to begin?

+-

    Mr. Allan Parks (Dominion Command 1st Vice-President and Chairman of Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee, Royal Canadian Legion): Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee. I'm Allan Parks, senior-vice president of the Royal Canadian Legion and chairman of the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee. Mr. Bill Barclay, our Dominion president, regrets that he is unable to be with us today, but he requested that I convey his very best wishes to all members of this subcommittee.

    I am accompanied by Jim Rycroft, director of our service bureau and secretary to the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee; and Gordon Beech, assistant secretary and Dominion Command service officer.

    By way of background, I wish to note that the Legion is Canada's largest veterans and community service organization, with over 450,000 members. We are also the largest contributing member to the Conference of Defence Associations. As such, the Legion is honoured to have this opportunity to speak with you today.

    The Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs can play a very integral part in influencing Veterans Affairs Canada to make appropriate shifts in legislation or policy to meet the needs of our veterans. We would hope that the recent formation of this subcommittee of veterans affairs will help sharpen the focus in that regard.

    For our part, the Legion hopes to raise a few observations on some critical areas that, as you will see shortly, have greatly concerned the Legion and other major veterans organizations.

    At the outset, I do wish to make it clear that the Legion executive regards Veterans Affairs Canada as a very progressive department. Under the leadership of the former Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable George Baker, we saw a number of issues resolved to the betterment of veterans. Deputy Minister Larry Murray has also been a force for much positive change.

    Just recently, the Veterans Independence Program perimeters were expanded significantly to include regular force as well as active force pensioners. This is a very successful program that allows ailing veterans to remain in their homes as long as possible rather than in institutions.

    However, I regret to advise you that, over the past year and a half, progress and meaningful dialogue has stalled in relation to three critical issues of concern. These three areas are national standards for long-term care for veterans, expansion of Veterans Independence Program benefits to surviving spouses for life, and enhancements to prisoner of war benefits. I do not use the term “critical issues” loosely, for as you know, we are losing our veterans at an alarming rate, approximately 70 per day. We cannot afford to delay any longer in implementing the necessary changes.

    Consequently, the dominion president wrote to the then Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Ron Duhamel, on November 23, 2001, stating our concern about the delay in dealing with these three issues. A copy of that letter has previously been provided to your chair, and a copy is appended to this presentation.

    The two other major veterans organizations, the National Council of Veterans Associations and the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, sent similarly worded correspondence. All three withdrew participation in two major Veterans Affairs Canada councils--the Gerontological Advisory Council and the Veterans Affairs Canadian Forces Advisory Council. To signal the degree of our concern and dissatisfaction, the Legion dominion president, Bill Barclay, made it very clear that we needed meaningful response on these three issues before our executive would meet with the minister or his officials in respect of the two councils or otherwise.

    The reaction from the department was to immediately seek ways to normalize relations between it and the Legion. After some exchange of correspondence, Minister Duhamel, on December 21, 2001, wrote a letter to the dominion president that was sufficiently positive in nature to result in the Legion accepting his invitation to meet on January 30, 2002.

    As we all know, the cabinet was changed on January 15, and the Honourable Rey Pagtakhan was appointed as the new minister. We welcomed his appointment, and he generously agreed to meet with us as scheduled. That meeting took place yesterday morning. I am pleased to report that we had a very positive meeting with the minister and his staff. The minister has given us a commitment to meet with the major veterans organizations at least two times a year, and more often as necessary on critical issues.

    With respect to the three issues, which I will address shortly, his responses were sufficiently positive that the Legion is now ready to resume its working relationship with the department at the executive level.

¿  +-(0905)  

    While it is too early to say to what extent the new minister will provide the leadership necessary to meet our concerns, we are optimistic that his background as a medical doctor will greatly assist in his understanding of the very complex issues of long-term care for veterans in an environment where resolution of health issues with joint federal and provincial involvement is challenging and rarely simple.

    As to long-term care, I would like to briefly outline the basis of our concerns with the issues of national standards for veterans in long-term care. In the 1960s the federal government directed the transfer of all veterans facilities to the provinces. Over the next 20 years or so that transition was made, except for Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal, which is still operated by Veterans Affairs. The care level in the programs there, in the view of the Legion, is second to none.

    However, other facilities, such as Camp Hill in Halifax, the Rideau Veterans home in Ottawa--which became the Perley-Rideau Veterans Health Centre--and Deer Lodge in Winnipeg, to name but a few, are operated under transfer agreements where, though I risk oversimplifying, Veterans Affairs pays the bills and the institution provides the care.

    However, to ensure that the standards in the transfer institutions provide the same level of care to the veterans regardless of the province in which they reside, there must be a definable standard. In December 1999 the then Minister of Veterans Affairs, The Honourable George Baker, made a commitment to the Legion that the department would work with the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation and the transfer institution to achieve and implement a common standard or common outcomes by June of 2000. But that was never actioned, and we continue to face different levels of care as provided by the various provincial facilities.

    The CCHSA is a national professional body that surveys institutions providing health care on a voluntary, confidential basis throughout Canada. The department did work with CCHSA and the Legion to develop ten outcome areas to support an accreditation process to meet the needs specific to veterans. This would have provided a fundamental national standard, but progress stalled after the departure of Minister Baker. Had Minister Duhamel in subsequent discussion not seemingly taken the position that the department had to defer to the provinces for the health care of veterans, the Legion would certainly not have had the degree of concern it expressed last November.

    Given the wording the former minister used, it seemed clear to the Legion that the department was trying to delegate the federal responsibility for veterans' institutional care to the provinces, and this the Legion could not accept. In 1964, in recognition of the sensitivity concerning the transfer process, Prime Minister Pearson made a very clear and strong statement concerning the federal government's responsibility for veterans' institutional care. A copy of that statement is attached. That is the commitment we need from the current minister. There is no difficulty in Veterans Affairs contracting with the provinces or otherwise to provide the care as long as the department retains responsibility for that care and ensures the mechanisms are in place to guarantee a common high standard of care across the nation.

    We hope this committee, after examining this highly important issue, will do whatever it can to make sure that the required standards are set, funded, and enforced. We do not believe there is any need for changes to legislation or regulations in this regard. Perhaps there needs to be a renegotiation of transfer agreements or a formalization of supplementary agreements to clarify the objectives and outcomes. However, the department, in our view, has all the tools it needs to do this. It has in Ste. Anne's Hospital an institution over which it has total control, and that includes all the programs and care-level indicators necessary to achieve a proper result throughout Canada wherever veterans are institutionalized. The recently appointed minister needs only to lead the way, and that is the challenge we issue.

    The two other issues of concern to the Legion do require legislative change, and that is the extension of VIP. The Veterans Independence Program, through provisions of payments to veterans for such services as housekeeping and groundskeeping, permits the veteran to stay in his home and often delays institutionalization for a significant period of time.

¿  +-(0910)  

    Indirectly, the spouse of the veteran also benefits. When the veteran dies, the spouse continues to receive the VIP benefit for one year. After that time, the Legion believes that if the spouse has a need in his or her own right, the benefit should be continued for life, as long as the need for the services exists. In our view, this will delay or avoid the need to institutionalize the survivor, which is a proper result for all concerned. The cost of VIP is, on average, some $2,500 to $4,000 per veteran per year. The cost of institutionalized care is in the order of $50,000 to $80,000 per veteran or spouse per year.

    The veteran's spouse commonly provides care for the veteran while living at home, and sometimes even after placement in an institution, thus greatly reducing the resources the department would otherwise have to expend. Given the self-sacrifice to care for the veteran, is it too much to ask to provide a survivor with this modest level of benefit for the balance of need, which would end with death or institutionalization?

    From a taxpayer's perspective, is it not the most cost-effective solution? From a health and well-being perspective, is it not better to maintain someone in their home and community as long as they can be reasonably accommodated there?

    You can also appreciate the mental stress a veteran must be subject to when he can no longer be cared for at home and must be institutionalized. The knowledge that his caring spouse will soon be cut off from VIP support and left to her own meagre resources must be devastating.

    The last issue is on enhancing the prisoner of war compensation scheme. For a number of years, the department indicated it was not even prepared to consider changes to the compensation scheme for POWs. Finally, in February 2001, the department signalled it was ready to hear from veterans organizations. The Legion then mustered the other veterans organizations, and all reached consensus on what changes would be appropriate. We then met with department officials, who indicated they would cost the proposal and get back to us. When no meaningful response had been received by November, we felt compelled to raise it with the minister.

    Before opening ourselves for questions on these issues, I would like to raise one last area of concern about certain policies of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. This is not one the minister can deal with, because all the ministers in recent years have taken the position that they cannot interfere with a quasi-judicial board. The reason we raise the issue with this subcommittee is that perhaps the only way to resolve the problem is to make some systematic changes to the VRAB.

    I would like Mr. Rycroft to continue.

¿  +-(0915)  

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft (Director, Service Bureau, Dominion Command, and Secretary, Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee, Royal Canadian Legion): Our service officer network of over 20 full- or part-time command service officers and some 1,600 volunteer branch service officers works well. In cooperation with Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Pensions Advocates, we represent veterans and survivors at all levels of the disability pension process. Many of our service officers have served in the Canadian Forces and have had firsthand experience and observations that could be useful and credible in dealing in this environment.

    The primary focus of our concern today has to do with the appeal process. By that, I'm referring to the review and appeal panel hearings of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. There is no doubt that VRAB decisions are made and published faster than was the case prior to pension reform. It is also true that many decisions are favourable to the veterans whose cases come before the board. Further, the board recently initiated a one-member panel process to deal with cases expeditiously. That is as it should be. However, the Legion, through its service officers, perceives significant problems with the policy and process of the board in a few critical areas. The first of these is the inability and unwillingness of the board to provide interpretations under the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act.

    An interpretation is a formal process mandated by the act, and it allows a particularly difficult or problematic section of legislation to be interpreted by the board for the clarification and guidance of board members, advocates—whether they're legion service officers or Bureau of Pensions Advocates lawyers—and the clients themselves. In the six years since its inception, the board has been unable or unwilling to hold a single interpretation hearing. The Bureau of Pensions Advocates, Dominion Command, and Pacific Command—now British Columbia/Yukon Territory Command of the Royal Canadian Legion—have all requested interpretations during the past five years. All have been rejected or stonewalled. As a result of this impasse, the Dominion convention of the Legion passed two resolutions, each of which provided $30,000 in funding to challenge in the courts two issues that have proved to be particularly frustrating for us and those we represent.

    The first of these challenges is the constitutional challenge to the budget legislation of 1995, which cut off allied veterans who did not have pre-war domicile in Canada from veterans benefits such as War Veterans Allowance. After entreating the VRAB to interpret the War Veterans Allowance Act in the context of the rights provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the legion finds itself in a position of having to present an individual case through the multi-level system. Then, if it is dissatisfied with the result, it will have to apply to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review, requesting the court to strike down the provision that precludes allied veterans resident in Canada from being eligible, on the grounds that the provision discriminates on the basis of national origin and therefore offends the Charter of Rights.

    The second interpretation issue for which Legion resources must now be expended in a court challenge has to do with the treatment of hearing loss cases. It is the legion's view—a view that is also held by the Bureau of Pensions Advocates—that the VRAB is not properly applying departmental policy on hearing loss. I can answer any questions and provide details to the extent you wish to explore this issue, but our view is that the intransigence of the board in this area has meant that many clients with hearing loss claims have had their cases put on hold for the past three years, until this matter can be formally sorted out. It is our view that had the board either adopted its own hearing loss policy or properly interpreted the hearing loss policy of the department, we would not be in the situation we are in today.

    In summary, the VRAB Act provides for interpretation. The current board chairman has refused to invoke the process. We believe it to be a valuable and useful one that needs to be reinstated.

¿  +-(0920)  

+-

    Mr. Allan Parks: To summarize, while we have been critical of the department and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board in a few problematic areas, I would like to end on a positive note.

    Veterans Affairs Canada is both a natural partner and source of expertise for the Legion's seniors program. Whereas many other seniors organizations represent very specialized interests, the challenge for the Legion is to provide guidance and a means for our members and seniors in their communities to access information and services, rather than duplicate the efforts of other organizations.

    We believe information technology is the key, and we encourage government initiatives such as Seniors Canada On Line as a complement to our own in-house communications. We are pleased to be one of the partners with the department and other key players in the launching of the Seniors Canada Partnership under the leadership of Veterans Affairs Assistant Deputy Minister Brian Ferguson.

    In addition, we have just executed an innovative agreement with Veterans Affairs Canada under the voluntary sector initiative to study policy capacity in seniors housing issues. In cooperation with Central Mortgage and Housing and the Royal Bank, we are working with our network of Legion branches to establish assisted housing. We hope that every successful initiative will take pressure away from the need for institutional care for veterans that otherwise results, at the expense of government.

    The Legion could not have achieved the success it has to date had Veterans Affairs not generously seconded their director of the Veterans' Land Act administration to our Charlottetown office for the past two years, with every indication the arrangement will be extended for an additional year.

    I have very much appreciated the opportunity to present these matters for your attention. In conjunction with my colleagues, I would be pleased to respond to your questions at this time.

    Thank you very much.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. Beech, did you have a presentation?

+-

    Mr. Gordon Beech (Service Officer, Royal Canadian Legion): Madam Chairman, I have no comments to make.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you. Then we'll get on with questions from members.

    Mr. Bailey.

+-

    Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris--Moose Mountain, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, gentlemen, for coming to this committee today.

    I think you realize and you brought to our attention something that Canadians could indeed not exactly be proud of, the difficulties that you people have had. Certainly, from what I have heard from the veterans, it's not one of the greatest times in our history, you can be assured, in veterans affairs.

    I'm not sure, but it seems to me that for the Legion and other veterans affairs organizations even to withdraw and refuse direct meetings with previous ministers of Veterans Affairs and officials, I look back and I think it was an unprecedented move in the history of the organization. But I must congratulate you for the stand you have taken in drawing this to the attention of the Canadian public.

    You mention the number of veterans who are dying each day. I worked with these people long before I became a member of Parliament, and the relationship of veterans within their own communities still remains quite positive, and you can thank the children and the grandchildren in many cases. But the relationship between the organizations that you have and the department have deteriorated so badly in a short period of time, and I hope my colleagues around this table and I will be able to answer and to work on the problems we have.

    My first question for you is, what will the department have to do? You've explained it in part, but have we missed anything that you may have to do or we may have to do to somehow renew that confidence? I think that's what every member of this board would have to say, that we have a big job before us to renew that confidence.

    I know we're going to go around, Madam Chair, but I'll throw one question out right now that deals with the situations we have heard of and I have seen in long-term care for veterans. I'm wondering, because as you go through, in my communities--and I went to visit some--the conditions are very poor. I just finished going through that with my own mother and father, who are now deceased, and I have had to purchase services, and so on.

    I know many of these people want to stay within the cities, but where I come from, just a few miles out of the cities there are all kinds of excellent care facilities that are available to anyone and would be most welcomed by vets. I wonder if anyone has ever looked at expanding those. They are private homes in some cases, but I had three of my family members there and I often wondered, in talking with the vets, if that was not a possibility.

    Perhaps you could deal with those questions, and then maybe, Madam Chair, we could have another round and talk about something else.

¿  +-(0925)  

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: With respect to the traditional facilities we talked about--I believe there were 18 that were transferred to the provinces--Veterans Affairs has done a rather good job of trying to expand that so there are beds for veterans in the community paid for and operated in the same circumstances.

    In our view, the director of residential care, John Walker in Charlottetown, is right on top of the issue. There is always the question of getting enough money for enough beds, but there is certainly negotiating and looking for beds in communities with the principle--and we fully support this--of having the veteran who has to be institutionalized as close as possible to family members, friends, and the support system.

    In fact, these 2,600 beds the previous minister announced in June of 2000, I believe, are now part of the funding, and the challenge is to find the actual, physical beds in the appropriate places.

+-

    Mr. Roy Bailey: The point I was making, sir, is that within 20 miles, which isn't very far today with the demographic changes that are taking place in many areas, you have the facilities there, you have the staff there, and you have beds there. Twenty miles today...my God, you drive that far in Ottawa to park. I think that if these places became aware that there were vacancies that weren't there10 years ago because of the change in demographics, we could easily accommodate veterans who need it immediately and are there.

    I think you and I should explore this between us at a different time, sir.

+-

    The Chair: Mr. Parks, do you have any comments to make on this?

+-

    Mr. Allan Parks: With regard to getting back on stream with the department, as you mentioned, with the working relationship we had previously, I feel quite confident after our meeting yesterday with the minister and his staff that we are back on the right track, that they are back on the right track, and that they're willing to negotiate and put things in place rather than just forestall us and not get the proper advice and answers back we were looking for.

    I think with the commitment yesterday from the minister, yes, we are back on that track, and we are ready to sit down at the table with them again, which we told them yesterday.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. Plamondon.

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu--Nicolet--Bécancour, BQ): Welcome to the committee and thank you for coming. I am going to give you a chance to hear how good the translation system is by speaking in French. You will see what a fine system we have here.

    How many veterans are there still living in Canada?

¿  +-(0930)  

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Yesterday, we were told that the number was 320,000.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Three hundred and twenty thousand. By veterans, do we mean all those who took part in the second world war, as well as in peacekeeping missions?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Yes, but the majority are from the second world war and the Korean war.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: An experiment was tried in Halifax, Victoria and Ottawa concerning a sort of VIP program for those awaiting placement. What do you think of this program?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: It is an excellent program, which now exists in Ottawa, Camp Hill, Nova Scotia and, as you pointed out, in Victoria, but I believe that the department is in the process of extending the program to all the regions where it is needed.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: How many more beds do you estimate that hospitals need in order to provide good service for veterans?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: It all depends on the region. For example, Ottawa is perhaps 200 to 300 beds short, but the situation is not the same throughout the country. There are situations in regions other than the three we have mentioned, but there is no shortage of beds for veterans.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: How much more does it cost to provide care for a veteran than for someone else with the same problems? How much more per person will what you are asking for cost? Do you have an estimate?

+-

    Jim Rycroft: Unfortunately, it is not entirely a question of money. It is a question of quantity of care.

    For instance, at Ste-Anne's Hospital in Montreal, over $300 a day per veteran is spent. Here in Ottawa, at the Perley-Rideau, the amount is $147 a day, plus a $12 supplement from the Department of Veterans Affairs, so about $160. If $300 a day were spent at the Perley-Rideau, we could perhaps say that the result would be--Editor's Note: inaudible--but that is not the case.

    Before the increase a few months ago, we saw that the level at the Perley-Rideau was under $100 a day per veteran, and this was increased to $160, but there has been no improvement in the standards.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: In other words, the average for others is $100 and for veterans, $160, but they are not receiving more care. Is that right?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: No. The important point which I have tried to make is that no link can be established between the amount spent and the outcome. It is more a question of control and accounting than of actual amounts.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: I will conclude, Madam Chair.

    Health comes under provincial jurisdiction and you are asking the federal government for something. This poses a problem. Health standards differ somewhat from province to province, do they not? So you can understand the problem this poses. I do not wish to defend the party in power, but I can understand the difficulty the minister is having enforcing a standard or answering your questions about a jurisdiction which is not his. In fact, all he can do, at the federal level, is transfer funding, period. And, since each province in Canada now claims that it is receiving less than it did prior to 1994-95, there is a wish for a return to the former levels.

    If cuts are made everywhere, this will surely have an impact on provincial veterans institutions, except when the institution comes under the direct jurisdiction of the federal government, as does Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal.

    But you are also telling me that it is not necessarily a question of money. It is hard to find a solution because, if the federal government were to say yes, the province would not necessarily follow suit, and money would not necessarily get it to change its mind.

¿  +-(0935)  

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Things are perhaps not that serious. As we said, the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation operates throughout Canada. This indicates that certain professional standards, acceptable for all the residents of these institutions, are identified for us.

    In addition, with a supplement for the special needs of veterans and with a bit of training from CCHSA teams, we think that it will be possible to identify the shortcomings in care and that Veterans Affairs will be able to provide enough funding to resolve a problem identified in this manner.

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Thank you. Do I have any time left?

[English]

+-

    The Chair: No, you don't, actually.

    Mr. Wood.

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    Mr. Bob Wood (Nipissing, Lib.): Thank you, Madam Chair.

    Mr. Parks, you were saying that SCONDVA in your mind can play a role in appropriate shifts in legislation. Other than some of the changes you've already outlined, are there any others you'd like to see?

+-

    Mr. Allan Parks: I guess there are all kinds of changes we'd like to see, but from our previous experience with committees when we've made presentations to them, we felt that they have a lot of influence and are able to support a lot of the recommendations we're going after.

    Jim is certainly our expert in the field of long-term care as well as the policy on pensions and the VRAB and so on. Possibly I could ask Jim if there are other specifics he could lay on the table in front of you.

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Actually, I think the best way to do it is to say that our wish list comes out during the course of our Dominion conventions, with the resolution process, and we provide that to each of the committee members. We also give the comment book, which is the response from government to the resolution issues, each year.

    This next convention cycle, it looks like the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee will be going forward with just under 30 resolutions--some of them you will have seen before and some of them are new.

    Our priorities, though, and the ones that were signalled to the Minister of Veterans Affairs in November, were clearly on long-term care. As we say, we don't think there needs to be legislative change. We simply see two things required--leadership and focus. That can be delivered by the current minister with his staff. I think with us, as veterans' organizations, and you, as an oversight subcommittee, watching and learning and seeing the challenges the department has to meet, we can be very vigilant, hopefully within the context of the focus we've tried to provide, to see that progress is being made.

    It's an extremely challenging environment with the provincial-federal relations on health, with the problems of finding the funding everywhere. There are challenges even with a simple thing, as we pointed out to the minister yesterday. For example, often spouses or family members have to come in to provide care to the residents of these homes, because there simply isn't enough nursing staff. Those of you who saw the Ottawa Citizen this morning will have seen that a nurse at the Perley-Rideau Veterans Health Centre actually had the fortitude to write a letter--and I'll table this if I may--showing just how the cuts at this particular institution have in effect doubled the workload of the nursing staff. How is that being picked up? It's being picked up by families. They're coming in sometimes 10 to 12 hours a day to help feed, to help care for their loved ones. And at Perley they get charged for parking. It's not a big deal, but if every day you spend $5 or $6 for parking and you in effect are helping out....

    This is the sort of challenge we have mentioned to the minister. If you go to Broadmead in Victoria you may have trouble finding a parking spot, but it's free.

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    Mr. David Pratt (Nepean--Carleton, Lib.): Madam Chair, on a point of order, could we get a copy of that news story? I haven't seen it yet.

¿  +-(0940)  

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    The Chair: I don't believe it has been reproduced.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne (Saint John, PC/DR): I have some copies right here.

    I have enough copies, Jim.

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    Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore, NDP): Madam Chair, on a point of clarification. You had mentioned--

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    Mr. Bob Wood: These guys aren't taking up my time, are they?

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    The Chair: No, they're not taking up your time. I would never allow that to happen to you, Mr. Wood.

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    Mr. Peter Stoffer: He had mentioned the cuts. Were these provincial cuts or federal cuts?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Both, right across the board. Ultimately in the institutions they're provincial cuts for those under provincial control. But if you look at where the money is coming from, you end up back in transfer agreements and so forth. Indirectly everybody is pointing fingers at everybody else.

    For veterans, though, the answer is fairly simple, because the federal government with Veterans Affairs Canada is charged with the responsibility of veterans wherever they decide to put them. If it's in a federal institution such as Ste. Anne's, it's probably more administratively easy because the minister owns that institution, owns all the employees, and controls the entire process. It's far more of a challenge, as has been suggested, in Perley-Rideau or Broadmead or Camp Hill, where each of the provinces has its own particular approach to how it is going to put money into these institutions. But there are transfer agreements and those transfer agreements put obligations on each and every one of those institutions.

+-

    Mr. Bob Wood: I'm sure you know this, but I was led to believe that Veterans Affairs sent people to those institutions once a week or every ten days to check on the care of the veterans. Is that true?

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I don't know that it's quite that often in all the institutions, but certainly there's a very significant effort on the part of Veterans Affairs to go to the institutions and address problems. I would also credit Veterans Affairs with doing a pretty good job of solving a problem when it identifies one. For example, at Deer Lodge in Winnipeg there was a problem with re-thermalized food; Veterans Affairs put several hundreds of thousands of dollars into finding a solution and came up with a new food system, and the problem was resolved. This was based on observations Veterans Affairs and veterans organizations had made about a deficiency, so problem solved.

    But contrast that with the problems here in Ottawa with Perley-Rideau, for example, where we and Veterans Affairs themselves identified some shortfalls. Veterans Affairs then put in, I believe, some $980,000 to supplement these levels we already talked about to avoid staff cuts and to provide more hands-on care for veterans, only to find out that the chief executive officer now says he has to lay off staff. So the problem is one of management, leadership, and control, not so much one of money.

+-

    Mr. Bob Wood: Regarding the survivors part of the Veterans Independence Program, have you in your deliberations and talks considered some kind of needs criteria rather than saying that every survivor automatically gets it?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: In fact, our resolution clearly states that it is needs-based, but let me be very clear. The need refers to the program, not financial need. And what I mean by a need for the program is that the spouse, in his or her own right, would have to require housekeeping or groundskeeping, just as the veteran did to be qualified in the first place.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: On page 8 I just need a clarification of some kind. In your presentation, the final paragraph, you talk about the spouse being cut off when the veteran is institutionalized. I should know this, but I don't. Does the VIP program end for a spouse when the vet goes to hospital, or does it continue for a year after the gentleman in question passes away?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: No, it would last longer if he did pass away. If a veteran is institutionalized, it's the VIP for the veteran, not the spouse. The spouse only benefits indirectly. When a veteran is institutionalized, although I dare say Veterans Affairs officials try to be as generous as they can, it's only about 30 days give or take before the administrators catch up and the program is cut off for institutionalization. There is a survivor benefit, if you like, for one year after death, but institutionalization brings a different result.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Mr. Rycroft, as to your concerns over the interpretation aspect of the board, you met with the minister yesterday. Have you approached the minister about this issue, and if you have, what was the response?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I have not approached this minister with that issue--we may do that in due course--because all his predecessors took the position that this is a quasi-judicial, independent tribunal and that they cannot interfere. In effect, that puts us as a veterans' organization between a rock and a hard place, or between us and the Federal Court, because while the minister might properly say that, it would mean that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board had no oversight.

    Now, one could argue that the Federal Court is a proper forum, but imagine each and every veteran who's aggrieved having to go through the Federal Court process at $9,000 to perhaps $20,000 each, something we're certainly not in a position to fund, in order to try to remedy the situation. In effect, what we are urging is a systemic solution that perhaps changes the legislative framework or puts more compulsion on the institution of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to use this, what we believe is a very valuable process.

¿  +-(0945)  

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    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. Wood, you've been amply rewarded for your patience.

    Mr. Stoffer.

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    Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

    Madam Wayne and I have to go to the House at 10 o'clock, so we'll make this very brief.

    Sir, on the letter we received on November 23 from Mr. Barclay to Mr. Duhamel, did you ever receive a response to that letter?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Yes, we did.

+-

    Mr. Peter Stoffer: Would it be possible to get a copy of that letter, at your convenience? I don't mean you have to have it now, but if you do have it, if you could send a copy to the committee, that'd be great.

    My other question, gentlemen, is the aspect of...and a report by the ombudsman that's coming out next Friday regarding stress and the psychiatric condition of our current military personnel and people who have left the military. I'm wondering if you folks have had any input into the report that'll be coming out, because that's a great concern of the current military and those who have just recently left.

    The other question is, I'm receiving a fair amount of documentation from a Chief Perry Bellegard of the Saskatchewan first nations in regard to aboriginal groups trying to access health care for aboriginal veterans in aboriginal communities. I notice you didn't mention the words “aboriginal veterans” in your presentation, but I'm assuming you bring all veterans' concerns equally and not necessarily separately. I was wondering if you could comment on the special concerns our aboriginal vets are facing as well as the concerns in the report coming out next Friday.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: First, on the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, indirectly we have told a number of our clients that they might want to use the office of the ombudsman to deal with some of the collateral matters. We will deal with the disability pension issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, but in some cases it's how they were treated in the service, how they were released, and so forth, so we have referred people through to the ombudsman. In hearing back from those clients who were referred, we know that the ombudsman has taken their concerns very seriously. That, if you like, is indirect input, and other than that we do not know what the ombudsman is going to say in the report.

    We've expressed a number of concerns to the department about how Veterans Affairs was treating PTSD as a disability, and frankly, they've done a very good job in raising the markers and making it much easier for both the client and ourselves in disability pension cases involving PTSD or other nervous conditions.

    With respect to the aboriginal veterans' situation, you're quite right. The Legion takes the starting proposition that all veterans are equal and that a veteran is a veteran. We've had conversations and discussions in correspondence in the past with the native veterans' associations and have invited those associations to use our resolution process and to communicate with us any specific instances where there were disparities or difficulties they wished to seek Legion support on.

    In fact, although we've had dialogue, there's never been an invitation or an overture to us as a veterans organization to take on a particular issue. We certainly would be more than willing, as we did with the merchant navy, to look at specific veteran inequalities for certain groups.

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    Mr. Peter Stoffer: I have more, but that'll be for another time, Madam Chair.

    Thank you.

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    The Chair: Mrs. Wayne.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Thank you very much.

    I read your report last night, and I can really relate to a great deal of it, I have to tell you. In Saint John, New Brunswick, the provincial government tore down our DVA hospital and then built a little, tiny hospital right next to the alcoholics rehabilitation centre. I thought that was an insult to our poor veterans. Nevertheless, that's where they are. We have been successful in getting an expansion, but we still have a hundred veterans who are in need of hospital beds, and they don't have them.

    When it comes to housing, as you know, we also had housing that fell under Veterans Affairs, and it has all been sold and privatized. I don't know why these things were taking place. I really and truly don't.

    But I have major concerns when it comes to what you brought forward with regard to the hearing problems, because I have a lot of veterans who are coming to me with that problem. Automatically, though, they're told it has nothing to do with them having been in the war.

    I had a veteran in to see me just a couple of weeks ago, Madam Chair. He had been overseas through the whole thing in World War II. He was living in the trenches, with all the bombs going off and everything else. He's having a terrible time, but they will not pay for his hearing aids or anything else—and his wife's dying of cancer.

    God in heaven above, we have a lot of work to do on this committee for some reason, Madam Chair. I don't know if it's because people perhaps don't understand what our veterans went through in the Second World War, but having had two brothers who were there through it all, I can understand it. I am going to work as hard as I can to bring about the changes that you have presented here and that you say are needed.

    We used to have two ladies who came in to our little veterans hospital. Because of the crafts they used to make, some of the veterans would finally get out of their beds and they would go down and do the crafts. Those ladies were laid off because of the cutbacks, so now the veterans just lie in their beds.

    So I really appreciate what you have here. I really and truly do. Is there any housing for veterans that is still under the Department of Veterans Affairs? Or have they all been privatized, as happened in my constituency?

¿  +-(0950)  

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    Mr. Allan Parks: I'd have to say the Legion is the largest supporter out there of apartments for our veterans and our low-income—

    An hon. member: Poppy funding.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Is that right?

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    Mr. Allan Parks: What are the numbers on what we have, Jim?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: The figure we use is 9,000.

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    Mr. Allan Parks: As I said, that's through our non-profit organization, different fundraising, and so on. So I don't believe there's really anything left under the VLA.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Just to re-emphasize, when the Veterans' Land Act administration system started to wind down, we did have the director of Veterans' Land Act administration seconded to us—he works for us right now—so at least we captured some of that expertise. He is working with our commands and branches to muster all of these initiatives that individual branches want to do in order to meet that niche or gap you've identified. So it won't be the government that is involved directly, but we think we've captured their expertise, and we're rather hoping that working together with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will help us to come up with solutions to meet that need.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Thank you very much. Maybe we'll be able to get back to this after we get through with what we have to do up there at 10 o'clock—another bunch of foolishness.

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Be nice.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne: What did you say? Take my time?

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    Mr. Bob Wood: No, he said to be kind.

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    Mrs. Elsie Wayne: I'm always kind, Bob.

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    The Chair: Mr. Bailey.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you.

    At times it seems so many of these problems could be handled more locally somehow than trying to go though bureaucracy, if I can use that word. But before I get to the main question I want to ask, I would like to say that one of the things that has always bothered me is foot care for veterans. We had a turnabout in this. We have in the city of Weyburn two specialists who do private work. They're in business and they teach the nurses. Every year they're seconded to go to teach the nurses about foot care. But all of a sudden, for 20 or so veterans who were getting foot care and submitting their bills, this can no longer be accepted because the care is not performed by an RN. Well, the strange part of it is, there is no RN who has the complete training and the equipment. It takes a lot of equipment to do it. I thought, how backwards can we be on something like this?

    I think we were able to straighten that out, but when we get into a regulation, and sometimes when you don't see things firsthand, the regulation makes it appear rather stupid.

    The biggest problem that confronts me, and I think all of us, is when you have a veteran appeal to you and submit for a disability claim. I wrote to the previous minister about this, and he replied that the board is a quasi-judicial body that is separate and independent of both the department and the minister. Now, let me get this straight.The board has its mandate--the ability to offer interpretations on the decision. But it doesn't. It seems to me that no one is going to take responsibility for this. The board continues to play God and there's no recourse to anyone. Your application is rejected, thank you, and they sign their name. Well, I don't think that's sufficient. I think at least they can give some statement as to why it was rejected.

    I noticed at a protest the other day a handful of veterans even claiming in relation to this that their health records had been destroyed. I'm not going to get into that. But for goodness' sake, when you're dealing with this, they are citizens too; surely to goodness a reason for their application being rejected should be provided forthwith, not just one sentence and somebody signs their name. That really hurts veterans.

¿  +-(0955)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Perhaps I can comment, Mr. Bailey. In anticipation of a question along this line, we had asked some of our clients if they would object to having their cases being brought forward in a public way to illustrate the very point you're trying to make. One of them, Mr. Wharton--and I would like to file this here with his consent--has agreed that the decision of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and the submission that was made by the Legion's service officer be given to you so that you can see how detailed the submission was and how, in our view, light the answers were in dealing with that submission.

    It's one thing to say no, but as you suggest, you really need reasons for the judgment.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Absolutely.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: And that's what I would suggest would be missing. But to give a human face to that--and thanks to Mr. Wharton who's prepared to have his case used as an example--I would like to present the subcommittee with documentation consisting of the decision of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and the argument that was made in written form on his behalf.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Good.

    May I have just one more quick question, Madam.

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    The Chair: No, we're down to five minutes now.

    Mr. Pratt.

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    Mr. David Pratt: Thank you, Madam Chair.

    I'd like to thank the representatives from the Legion for being before the subcommittee today and providing us with a lot of very good information. The issues you've raised here today are very important to the subcommittee, and they're very important as well to many of the constituents in my riding and in my community in general. I've certainly heard them raised on a fairly regular basis.

    Madam Chair, on a point of committee business, representatives from the Legion have raised some issues that involve the minister. At the defence committee yesterday, the steering committee meeting we had, there was a suggestion that we bring the minister before the committee or the subcommittee. Perhaps that's something you could give consideration to in your own steering committee.

    I would like to ask you about the standards of care and this whole business of the differential levels of care that veterans are getting across the country. Perhaps you could provide me with your analysis of where we're seeing the worst level of care right now, where we're seeing the best level of care, and who's in the middle.

    I'd particularly like to get your analysis of how we fix the problem at Perley-Rideau. I read this just a few moments ago. I think that sort of thing is very disturbing, when people feel they have to write letters to newspapers in order to bring these issues to the fore. I think on a local level, we absolutely have to grapple with the issue of Perley-Rideau to ensure that our veterans are getting the best possible care.

    You mention in your comments that, back in 1964, former Prime Minister Pearson apparently gave a strong, clear statement concerning the federal government's responsibility for veterans' institutional care. You say it was appended, but I didn't get a copy of it. I'd love to get a copy of that particular piece of information.

    As well, Madam Chair, I don't have a copy of the exchange of correspondence that occurred just before Christmas, and neither does Mr. Wood. It was already distributed to members of the committee, but I would find it helpful to receive that again.

À  +-(1000)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I understand that the copies were provided to the clerk this morning in our formal presentation. He may not have had time to distribute them yet.

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    Mr. David Pratt: Okay, fair enough.

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    Mr. Allan Parks: You have the outcome.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: In terms of addressing the parameters across the country, it's probably not that productive to take this forum to actually rate from one to ten who's best and who's worst, but I would like to address it in terms of a couple of concepts.

    The first is that Veterans Affairs Canada, with the major veterans organizations and the experts on the Gerontological Advisory Council to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, identified ten outcome areas that they felt were key to providing a basis for common standards across the country. I don't think anyone thinks it's possible to obtain exactly the same result everywhere with all these different jurisdictions, but we can talk about minimum standards. These ten outcome areas certainly help to do that.

    There are such things as safety and security; food quality; access to clinical services, which would include the podiatrist or the foot care that Mr. Bailey was talking about; medication regime; access to spiritual guidance; socialization; activation and ambulation, which relates to Mrs. Wayne's point about whether people are just kind of sitting in the room staring at the wall or whether they're actively engaging in programs; personal care; sanitation; and access to specialized services.

    If you read the Citizen article, you'll see that the nurse took the time to write, although he didn't articulate it in terms of those ten outcomes. As a veterans organization, we believe if they're satisfactorily met, these ten outcome areas will address both the concerns that the hands-on staff are addressing and also what we as Canadians believe we owe our veterans as a level of decent care in each of the institutions.

    I wish it were simply a question of solving the problem with so many dollars. As I indicated earlier, it's over $300 a day per veteran, per bed, in Ste. Anne's, and half that in Perley. At Broadmead in Victoria, I don't have the dollar figure, but I understand it's certainly less than Perley, and you have a much better standard of care than has been achieved at Perley.

    Sunnybrook Hospital, which drew a lot of complaints from the Legion a short time ago, has really moved mountains in terms of improving their ability to deliver a standard of care. It's been a very impressive progression towards a better result. It's short of perfection, surely, but much improved over what it was.

+-

    Mr. David Pratt: Perhaps I could interject here, Madam Chair.

    How do we get such different outcomes within the same province, in terms of Sunnybrook and Perley-Rideau?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I'm suggesting it's a management issue.

    Now, the ministries of health in the various provinces have their mechanisms to deal with that, up to and including replacing a board of directors at an institution and putting in a management board that can deliver on the criteria that the province imposed.

    It's not just as simple as funding cuts, otherwise you would have the same kinds of problems at Parkwood here in Ontario. The point is, they're all different, with the same provincial level of legislation and funding criteria. So one is left with the assumption that it has to be the management of the facility.

    The management of the facility, then, is under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, which can take the appropriate action. They're perhaps reluctant to do so, but if Veterans Affairs is paying a large portion of the bill, our position is that Veterans Affairs is in a position to put pressure-- financial, moral, and ethical--on the provincial government to do whatever they have to do to get a proper management team into a particular institution with problems.

À  +-(1005)  

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    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Plamondon, for being so patient. It's your turn.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon Thank you. I would like to raise three small points.

    Once again, thank you for the work you are doing with our veterans. There is one problem you have not raised. It is the one I have in my riding. I have been a member of the Canadian Legion for many years. I worked on celebrations for our legion's 35th anniversary. I organized a tribute dinner and sold 200 of the 350 tickets. I covered the cost of last year's 40th anniversary dinner, which was held on the building's patio. There was no roof and some veterans liked to spend the afternoon on the patio looking out over the Richelieu river. I contributed $2,500 from my budget to have the patio put in. So I am seen as a friend of the legion members. Every year on November 11 I lay a wreath. Every year, I send a letter to each of the veterans in my riding.

    I meet with them on various occasions, including at general meetings. They have a wonderful building that was donated to them. The city maintains the parking area, but they have to pay for the electricity and telephone and a few staff for the bar. They have no secretarial services. Every year, it is a major effort to make ends meet. They often tell me that they do not understand why the Department of National Defence or the directors of the Canadian Legion do not ask for money so that legions which have premises, which are a reminder to the public that people gave their lives for our freedom, can survive and flourish.

    They are in such straits that some day, a few years from now, they may lose their building and will no longer have a formal place to get together. There will just be one annual meeting in a different location. They do not understand why no one is helping. Are you asking the government for this help for legions in these situations?

[English]

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    Mr. Allan Parks: Basically, what the Legion is undergoing is much like what a lot of other non-profit organizations are undergoing right now. We're certainly experiencing a large decline in membership. We are promoting and are trying to raise our membership by going out in different directions. We're trying to bring in the ordinary person off the street in order to allow them to become members of the legion, so that they in turn can respond to the needs of the community and to the veterans in that organization within their community.

    We've put on several drives, and we've really put on a big drive with the Canadian Forces. We've been going across Canada to the different bases, trying to relay the message to those serving personnel that they're welcome at our doors and that we need them as members. It's our membership that keeps us going. It's the dues from our memberships that keep every branch alive across Canada. If you're losing memberships every year, it's very difficult to pay the bills.

    So I certainly see what your question is. There are a lot of small areas, small communities out there, that are struggling right now and are having a problem. We at the Dominion level are putting together different packages on how they should go out there to try to recruit in order to build our overall membership and build our strength that way. Other than that, though, we have no control over an individual branch. Each has its own autonomy. It's not like we can turn around and say their dues are $50 a year per member. We can't do that at the national level. This is bartered when you go to your national convention or Dominion convention, where dues are set and so on. It's very difficult to try to raise the dues, because the first thing is that even 50¢ makes a lot of difference to some our veterans out there. So we try to stay away from that aspect.

    But we do try to promote and give them national programs, so that they can build their forces and build their numbers within their branches. That then gives them income from the branch dues, allowing them to be able to do the things within the community that they should be doing.

    But we don't ask for any government help, no.

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Louis Plamondon: I am not asking you to use your money to help the legions, but I am asking you to ask the government for it. I wonder why you are not asking the government for money to help the legions survive, in terms of financial assistance with their buildings, just as you are fighting for veterans' health rights, for example. That is what I want to know. You have never asked the government to set aside part of the budget so that legions can remain present in their communities with their buildings. Right? For instance, they might need help paying the electricity bills, taxes and so forth.

À  +-(1010)  

[English]

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    Mr. Allan Parks: The branches have their own autonomy within their own communities, as well as their own command. Every command out there has been doing different bartering and has been working with their own provincial governments in different ways—for instance, to try to get tax relief, to get property taxes reduced to none whatsoever, or those sort of things—in order to keep their buildings going. Certain provinces across Canada have done certain things like that for their legions, but other provinces have not. But as far as nationally going to government is concerned, no, we haven't, and we have no intention of doing it, not the way it stands at this point.

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    The Chair: Mr. McTeague.

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    Mr. Dan McTeague (Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, Lib.): Jim, Allan, everyone, it's great to see all of you. As some of you know, I'm keenly interested in the concerns you have. We were successful some years ago in arranging a meeting with Minister Baker at the time.

    I have some concerns that were raised with me—actually through branch 322, in Ajax—with respect to standard care. And Jim, I was pleased to hear the comments you made with respect to Sunnybrook, because in the context of my own community, there were grave concerns with the treatment of veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital.

    I guess I subscribe to the view that all wisdom is not new wisdom, in that the 1998 report from the subcommittee of the Senate may provide a starting point for this committee to re-examine the recommendations. In the context of the standardization and the commitment that was made with respect to the CCHSA, I'm wondering whether or not we should begin by starting off with where we believe we've gone off the tracks.

    I guess your comment, Allan, was that the commitment on outcomes was never actioned. I understand you had a meeting with the minister yesterday, so I wonder if we indeed should be looking at that as a beginning point, first and foremost. In your view, would that be the greatest recommendation this committee should pursue in the context of all the work that has been done prior to?

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    Mr. Allan Parks: As of our meeting yesterday, the department has now signed an agreement with the accreditation people for these ten different outcome areas. Now the big thing with the department is to put a plan of action together to implement this across the country. So I would think our next big thing on it would be the implementation plan, the structure of how this is going to be done and those sorts of things.

    Jim is more involved in that section of it than I am, so he can answer that further.

+-

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I think you're right on the mark with the Senate committee report. Senator Phillips, in his preamble to that, said if there's one thing that can be achieved, of the 68 recommendations he made, it's national standards. In fact, he undoubtedly served as our inspiration as we were looking to focus on what was doable.

    In terms of the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation, the signing of this agreement comes none too soon. It was in December 1999 that Minister Baker made the commitment to work with them, and here we are much later, and whether it was the Legion and the other veterans organizations focusing on it in November that got the fire lit or not, I don't know, but the point is we now have that agreement signed and we can move on with it.

    There's much to be done, not the least of which--and this is the challenge we issued to the minister yesterday--is to work with the chief executive officers and others. You can't simply land now, as if you came from Mars, with an accreditation process with a veterans component and say, here we are. In our view, you have to introduce this with notice, with dialogue. So not only is there the training of the accreditation staff, but there also has to be some overtures to the institutions to let them know what's coming.

    I had a conversation with the chief executive officer of the Perley-Rideau here a few months ago, and he at that time knew very little other than the fact that Veterans Affairs was planning to do something with the CCHSA. But surely, after almost two years of thinking about the concept, it would be appropriate for Veterans Affairs to have made contact at that level to make sure he's either warm to the idea or gets warm to the idea by the time it happens.

À  +-(1015)  

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    Mr. Dan McTeague: It's interesting that we are having this discussion two years after I sat in a meeting with all of you and a commitment was made to bring you to Charlottetown to see this thing to fruition. I'm concern that we have to come back and revisit these issues every two or three years, and in the meantime, we all as members of Parliament take a tremendous amount of heat in our own ridings, as we should, with concerns when the system has failed.

    Is it your estimation, then, that perhaps the starting point of the committee should not be having to reinvent the wheel, but perhaps look very seriously at the bold recommendations made by the Senate and have that as a basis for recommendations for this committee?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: That's correct. There are some 68 recommendations in that report, and Veterans Affairs, and I'm sure the minister and his staff, will tell you, if you have them appear before you, that over 60 of those are already in process. We'd simply ask to take a close look at exactly what that means.

    There's no question that Veterans Affairs has focused on the report and has done a lot of things that are listed in it, but we also know that we have to watch closely whether that really solves the problem or whether we're far enough along. So it's an excellent checklist of things that need to be done, and I would certainly recommend to this committee using it.

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    Mr. Dan McTeague: My final question, Madam Chair--

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    The Chair: No, I have to move on to Mr. Bailey.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you, Madam Chair.

    This is just an observation. I'm from a part of the province where over half of the legion branches, maybe two-thirds of them, have closed in the last 25 years, which therefore leaves some isolated veterans out there.

    That said, when they come into the city for medical attention people don't know they're vets. Because they don't belong to a legion, there's no one to represent them. Therefore they have called upon me, and it seems to be imperative that, in getting a placement in a long-term care home for them--I appear with them and make sure they have their medical records, their numbers, and so on--you're able to say, look, this is a veteran and that's a point to his credit if there's competition for getting in.

    I don't see anybody out there doing it except me, because they see me as being closer to the legion. The next closest legion may be 50 miles away.

    I was wondering--and I just thought of it when David Pratt was bringing this up--the provincial command must know the number of vets that are living within the province. They must know, so that if someone lives in a vast rural area, I could quickly identify those vets and be able to lend some assistance to them. They should be going to the closest legion branch, but they don't know anybody there, so they come to me. It's getting to be a problem. I take great pleasure in helping them, but it's a difficult task.

    Is that possible, a legion branch with provincial command?

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    Mr. Allan Parks: It's possible in the sense that we have our service officers, who try to get the message out into these areas, of course, where we don't have legion branches. But it's not easy. What we can and can't do for them travels by word-of-mouth; how many veterans are in that area and whether they can get in to see us.

    But we have no qualms whatsoever. If we know there's a veteran out there, feel free to let the nearest legion know. They'll send their service officer to check it out and see if there's anything they can do.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: I've done that, as well.

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    Mr. Allan Parks: The only other way we have the information going out is through our legion magazine.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: On my final comment, under the VLA--maybe I'm slow on this one--if a husband and wife live together and require the VLA and one passes away, it's even more commonsense that if two couldn't look after it, one certainly can't. So why would you dispense with the program?

À  +-(1020)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Do you mean the VIP?

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Yes, I mean the VIP. I'm sorry; I'm back to the farmer days.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Thanks very much for that. The Legion and the other veterans organizations have taken the position that this is a very economical and proper solution, and not only for veterans' spouses; we could probably look at it in terms of Canadian society, for anyone requiring help to keep them in their homes. If you can do that for $2,500 to $4,000 a year, compared to the alternatives, isn't that the best thing to do for any Canadian? But let's start with the veterans and the veterans' spouses.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Right on.

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    The Chair: Mr. McTeague, you can have an opportunity now.

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    Mr. Dan McTeague: Thank you, Madam Chair, I'll be very brief.

    I received letters this morning from Chick Presley of Branch 22 and George Bourner of Branch 606 in Pickering. Both had concerns about something called the income-qualified clause with respect to veterans welfare. They cited examples of individuals who, with the $1,438 they receive every month, which is tested against other means, ultimately wind up either having to sell their homes, institutionalizing themselves, or taking on a condominium or apartment somewhere else.

    Could you shed some light on this matter? I understand it's been referred to in some of the comments and questions that have come around here. I'm trying to find out, specifically, if there's anything you believe we as a subcommittee could recommend to the government to ensure people don't have to leave their homes simply to qualify for this program under this clause.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Thank you for that.

    At the upcoming convention we anticipate a resolution, assuming it passes the various levels of our own organization, urging an increase in the threshold criteria for income, to qualify for war veterans allowance and associated benefits. That's a priority for us.

    Once a person qualifies for the Veterans Independence Program, their income can fluctuate up and down, and they will no longer lose the eligibility. It was a very positive step on the part of Veterans Affairs to make that change. But that only goes partway; it doesn't address the fundamental threshold concern you've raised. We're trying to address that through our resolution.

    I would urge you to support the resolution as best you can. Of course, copies of that will be going to you once we have our convention in June.

[Translation]

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    The Chair: Mr. Plamondon.

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: I have two small points, Madam Chair. First, when one becomes a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, one receives a magazine called Legion. Are you directly involved with its publication, or is it put out by a private organization?

    I will tell you why I am asking. When I receive my copy in Quebec, it is in English, except that the important articles have been translated and photos like this one have been photocopied, instead of being sent to me in colour as they are to everyone else, and all this is stapled into the middle of the magazine.

    So, as a francophone, I do not really have the same services. I sent the Commissioner of Official Languages a copy of the magazine, asking for information, and she told me that this magazine is published by a private company in British Columbia and that her office did not have jurisdiction in the matter.

    The name Légion royale canadienne is used but, in my opinion, the image does not do justice to the principle of two official languages. What, therefore, is your connection with this magazine, which I automatically receive when I become a member of the Royal Canadian Legion?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: The magazine is independent of the Legion. It is an independent organization. Today, we have with us, just behind you, a representative of the magazine, whose policy is set by the magazine's board of directors. There is therefore no direct connection between—

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: The only thing you do is pass along my name if I become a member. That is all.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: And you automatically receive the magazine when you become a member of the Legion. But you could decline this privilege.

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Yes, right. You have no connection. The magazine makes money on advertising and pays for itself.

À  +-(1025)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: That being said, Legion members may vote on the issue at the national convention and members from Quebec or francophones from anywhere in Canada can suggest that all publications be in both English and French—

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: And in colour.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: And in colour.

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: There you have it.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I think that, in the past, it was a question of money. But we decided that we could not—

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Yes, but all the same, one cannot, because of money, say that there are first and second class citizens. One gives the same service to everyone.

    This has bothered me for a long time and I always wanted to mention it. So, you are aware of the problem and so much the better if it can be corrected. For my part, I will continue to bring pressure to bear.

    There is another thing I wanted to talk to you about and which will probably strike you as more sensitive. I always promised myself that I would tell you this when I had the honour of meeting you. During the last referendum, in 1995, the Canadian Legion sent a letter and took a position for one camp. This was the first time that the Canadian Legion behaved in a partisan manner. Usually, during a federal or provincial election, the Canadian Legion never encourages anyone to vote Liberal, Alliance, or whatever.

    But this is a bit odd because I did a little survey in my legion. It turned out that there are several members of the Canadian Alliance, even one member of the NDP, seven members of the Bloc Quebecois, members of the Liberal party, all parties in other words.

[English]

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    The Chair: You're way, way over your time, sir.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: What I am saying is not offensive and I would like to finish; it will not take long. I merely wish to make one comment.

[English]

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    The Chair: But you're way over your time, we have others asking. You can continue after someone's had their turn.

    Mr. Wood.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Very well. I will speak when I have another turn.

[English]

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Mr. Rycroft, picking up on what Mr. McTeague said, what is that threshold of money now, around $12,000...or what is it now?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: I'd only be guessing, but I think it's $1,400 a month. I'd rather check that out, though.

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    Mr. Dan McTeague: It's $1,438 times 12.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: And what are you recommending in your resolution? Are you going to put a dollar figure in there?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Oh, yes, there's a dollar figure. Again, I didn't bring that with me. I could guess at it, and I'd be close, but not close enough. What I'd prefer to do is to get the resolution number and give you the number we're actually going to go forward with.

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    Mr. Dan McTeague: On a point of order, Madam Chair, because the committee may give a report prior to June, it may be helpful to get a ballpark figure.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: That's what I'm looking for. Is it $20,000, $25,000? Something like that, absolutely.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Basically, we're trying to keep things....

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    The Chair: Do you want to submit that in writing later on? You don't have to do it right now, but quickly.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Yes, we could certainly get it to you earlier than June. I simply don't want to guess at and get tied down to a number that's not floating around in my head right now.

    The Chair: Okay.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: All right.

    I have a question regarding the court challenge by the Legion. Did you people approach the minister or their staff before launching the court action, and if so what was their response?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Actually, if you like, I can go into a little bit of detail, because the people at the Bureau of Pensions Advocates have been good allies with respect to the hearing loss issue, which I can talk about first.

    In that issue, the Legion has to be very careful with its money. Now, we did vote $30,000 to be able to take the challenge, but the Bureau of Pensions Advocates had exactly the same concerns, and they do about 90% of the cases. We do about 10%. From conversations with the Chief Pensions Advocate, who is now Mr. Rick MacLeod, they agreed in effect to partner with us on a Legion case and to pursue the action through the Federal Court with their mandate. This is a win-win situation for us. Let me explain.

    First of all, we have the potential for saving our $30,000, because it would be funded at government expense with the Bureau of Pensions Advocates.

    Secondly, if we were to continue with our challenge, we would have to hire counsel who probably wouldn't be very familiar with the system and would have more difficulty than Bureau of Pensions Advocates' lawyers would in appearing before the Federal Court in this rather unique tribunal situation.

    So right now we have the Bureau of Pensions Advocates partnering with us, with government funding, taking the steps to launch the Federal Court challenge for the hearing loss issue. If they fail, then we will have our $30,000 to take another run at it, if necessary. That's a little bit of detail on that challenge.

    With regard to the second challenge, which is the allied veterans, we're under active discussions with the department and would prefer to come to a resolution short of having to launch a Federal Court action. We think that significant progress is being made there, but we're not in a position right now to be able to say how far along the line we are.

À  +-(1030)  

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Do I have any more time?

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    The Chair: One minute.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Just quickly, are you asking this committee to support the Legion on this? Was that the intent of all this?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: The intent was for you, as you take a look at what the various decision-making bodies are and their mandate authorities, to consider the legislative framework, particularly for the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to see if it provides enough guidance, direction, or structure to achieve the result.

    We think we've pointed out a deficiency--namely, that there's a provision for interpretations, but there perhaps needs to be a mechanism to determine when an interpretation is appropriate. Maybe that has to be done legislatively, since it won't be done, at least under the current chair, as exhibited by the last six years of our history.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Thank you.

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    The Chair: Mr. Bailey.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: I have two quick questions, and you don't have to answer them if it's not proper. But there are two, what you might say, class-action suits against the veterans now, one being the suit the first nations people have about following the war and so on. The other, of course, is the one dealing with veterans who are not capable of managing their own affairs.

    These are both before the courts, and I know you can't comment. But is the Legion itself involved in the discussions as to what's taking place in the progress of such? You don't have to tell me what they are. I just want to know if you're involved.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: No. The Legion's role in all of the class actions is to simply make sure that our membership is aware of what the issues are and how they can participate if they choose to, or in some cases they're drawn in automatically unless they opt out.

    So what we do is we communicate the structure around the class actions. There are not only the two class actions that you've mentioned. There's a third class action involving supplementary death benefits, which involves a public servant. That also affects Canadian Forces members, and we try to do the same thing there.

    We don't take a position. We're not a participant in the class action. We just want to make sure people know that it's going on, that it might affect them, and what the issues are.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: But as a group you're neutral.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: We're not--

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Unless you're seconded to come to testify.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: That's right. Certainly we have our views on it, but we're not part of the action.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you.

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    The Chair: David Pratt.

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    Mr. David Pratt: Thank you, Madam Chair.

    Given the problems at Perley-Rideau, I'm just wondering if the representatives from the Legion feel it would be helpful if this subcommittee took a trip out to the Perley-Rideau and spoke to the staff, the patients, the families, the administration to get their take on the situation. Would that be helpful under the circumstances at this point?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: The Senate subcommittee, before making its 68 recommendations, did a version of that, and I think they did find it very helpful.

    Certainly speaking from my own experience, it's one thing to get reports from other people; it's another thing to go there.

    There's one thing I would caution, though. This is a very impressive-looking facility, and so is Broadmead, and so are a number of them. What I would urge the committee to look at is what's under that impressive facility--apart from the palm trees and the very nice-looking--

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    Mr. David Pratt: Is this a picture of Dorian Gray?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: You really need to look particularly at cognitively impaired veterans and those who no longer have relatives or spouses who can provide supplementary care. Those are the kinds of people in these institutions that the Legion tries to concentrate on, because they're the most helpless, the most unsupported. So please, if you do go to the institution....

    Much is being done right. It's not a question of nothing happening there that's appropriate. But for the cognitively impaired, for those without the family support system, that is where we see the problems existing.

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    Mr. David Pratt: I'm hearing that you're recommending that we do go.

À  +-(1035)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Absolutely. I think it would be an excellent idea. You may want to do it in relatively small groups, because the residents are easily disrupted. You probably want to have a fairly candid interchange with the relatives and the residents.

    You may even want to take a couple of trips at it while different things are going on. The institution has certain events, for example. You could perhaps survey to see how many people, particularly cognitively impaired people, are able to get from their rooms to an event that the institution is sponsoring. Are there enough volunteers to move people around? Take a look at a mealtime. Have a meal there. There is a number of things you could do.

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    The Chair: Mr. Pratt, it was quite timely of you to suggest that we should be going, because we can then pose a question to you. Could we have a little money to facilitate this trip? Just a little.

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

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    Mr. David Pratt: Madam Chair, that is something I would have to take up with the main committee. Personally, having raised the issue of a trip out there myself, I can't see a problem, frankly, but it will have to be checked with the main committee. We have some members of the committee here with us today. I will obviously push very hard that we do have the funds available to perhaps rent a bus to take us over to Perley-Rideau.

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    The Chair: Great. Thank you.

    Mr. Plamondon.

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    Mr. Louis Plamondon: Thank you.

[Translation]

    I will conclude my remarks quickly. I had used up my time earlier, Mr. Chair. With due respect for what you did, I will conclude the remark I was making on behalf of members of my legion, myself included, who felt that writing a public letter and sending it to all members was a partisan gesture, given that, as I was telling you earlier, in my legion people belong to various political parties, including the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois. Naturally, during the referendum, some members of the legion were federalists and some were sovereignists, as was the case throughout Quebec.

    So I found it difficult that the national branch of the Royal Canadian Legion took a position in this debate. I am not deeply critical of you. The reason I am raising the issue is that members of my legion talked about it, and that it surprised me as well. I am raising the issue so that next time you will tread more carefully and will avoid taking a position that might upset certain members of your own legion, because just because we are members of the Royal Canadian Legion does not mean that we all think alike.

    I often say that, of all the political parties, we are all operating in good faith around the table. The Liberal Party favours the constitutional status quo, the New Democratic Party favours centralization, the Canadian Alliance favours decentralization, and the Progressive Conservative Party favours a reform based on the principles of Meech Lake, while we favour reform based on two founding nations with an economic tie, a partnership. And everyone thinks they are right.

    It is sometimes tricky to take a partisan stand in a debate such as this, although I have no doubt that you, personally, acted in good faith. But this does not necessarily represent certain members in Quebec. I thank you for hearing me.

[English]

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    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. Wood.

+-

    Mr. Bob Wood: I have just one question. It's on the hearing policy and all that stuff. That's been a problem, as you know, for a long, long time, and then you say that the current board chairman has refused to invoke the process.

    I don't know how to say this delicately, but is the problem in all of this with the chairman? As you know, in my previous...before Mr. Provenzano, was the Parliamentary Secretary to Veterans Affairs. It was a big problem, and nothing has been done.

    My own personal view is that it probably is a problem of the chair, but I could be wrong. As I say, that's my own personal view. I don't know if that's justified or not. Obviously he doesn't want to make a decision on anything, and is afraid to. Is it a money reason? Is there not money in there to help out these veterans? Is it because this guy doesn't want to cause any concern, or whatever? I think it could be both, but anyway....

    Tell me if I'm right or wrong.

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

    Mr. Bob Wood: Al, do you want to pass that over?

À  +-(1040)  

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    Mr. Allan Parks: I think Jim can certainly respond to it, because I can assure you that over many discussions I've been at with Jim and the chairman from that committee, it's been very active. So, Jim, I'm sure....

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    Mr. Bob Wood: I think the gentleman's a stumbling block.

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    Mr. Allan Parks: I'm sure Jim doesn't mind speaking on it.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: No, and I personally think the chairman is a stumbling block. How long is his appointment for?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Until next December.

    Mr. Bob Wood: Perfect.

    Mr. Jim Rycroft: If you check the record, you'll see that the Legion made a presentation in, I think, December 1998. Don't hold me to this; it was a few years ago. We raised some issues about the Veterans Review and Appeal Board that were very similar to what we're talking about today.

    The interesting thing is, we have had the chairman sit as a board member on cases where we have represented, and we could not have asked for a person who applied benefit of the doubt, all of the statutory requirements, better than he did. So we know that not only is the chairman fully aware of all of the provisions but also, when he personally sits as a board member, that's what we see in his decisions and in his treatment of veterans.

    So that really has us in a bit of a quandary. We see the chairman, when he is doing his operational role as a board member, and then we see the board as an entity seemingly going somewhere else.

    Is it possible in an appointment system for board members to have a critical mass of members on such a board that can be responsive to direction? I don't know; we're not privy to the direction that the chair gives to his board members. We hear periodically from board members about what their perception of it is.

    Perhaps I may be allowed to suggest another fruitful avenue for the.... Back at that time, the committee, which was the whole committee, said it was going to have Mr. Chambers come before them and answer some questions. Well, Mr. Chambers came before them, but the committee forgot to ask any questions about the issues we'd raised. They were asking about other things.

    So I guess what I would urge you to do is please take a look at what we've raised today, and then, if you do decide to ask Mr. Chambers--or whoever the chair is, however long this takes--to come before you, please ask the questions in the context of the issues we've raised, and perhaps close the loop on that.

    I've talked with Mr. Chambers a number of times. He's a very affable individual, very knowledgeable, and I don't think it would be fair to simply say “You're the chairman, figure it out”. But I do think it would be very interesting to hear from the chairman and get his views directly, to you, on his perception. I'm sure he will tell you about the challenge you face when you have people who are appointed in the way that the board members are, with their various knowledge levels, their various degrees of commitment, skill sets, and everything else, and then trying to turn them into adroit decision-makers. It's a daunting task.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: It is.

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: So what I would say is perhaps fruitful grounds for exploration.... It'll probably always be a partisan appointment system. Maybe that's a given. But if it is, maybe we could refine it just a little bit. Maybe the way to refine it is to first of all look at some fundamental skill sets that need to be there. They don't have to be military, for example, but administrative skills, decision-making skills, business skills--just a list of things, life experiences, that people have to have before they're considered for the appointment. Then you can be of the appropriate stripe. But let's perhaps take a look at some thresholds.

    Now, that is not to say there are not members on the board who are perfectly well suited. There are. But I think if we look at the number of board members, the number of appointments that are made, what we really want to do is achieve a critical mass with the appropriate skill sets. But we have to do it within the system, and as I suggest, perhaps it would be naive of us to think it would be anything other than a partisan appointment system.

+-

    Mr. Bob Wood: But it seems to me the gentleman says one thing and does the other. That used to bother me, and it obviously seems bother you, as well. And who can tell, on the hearing? I mean, it's a very difficult thing to assess, I understand.

    In my opinion, anyway, don't you think the benefit of the doubt--and I think this is Veterans Affairs' mandate--should always go toward the veteran? I think that's what they preach. Why isn't that happening, in your mind?

À  -(1045)  

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: The way the board members tend to apply benefit of the doubt is not the way we think it was written or intended to mean. To the credit of the department, there's a process called a section 82 review, under the Pension Act. It allows someone who's been turned down to go back to the department--not the Veterans Reviews and Appeal Board, but the department--for a second or perhaps third look at the situation.

    Frankly, we and the Bureau of Pensions Advocates' lawyers have found it is far better to take our case, if it has failed the first time, and go back under a section 82 review to the departmental adjudicators than to go to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. We've started to do that, and so has the Bureau of Pensions Advocates.

    We've done it to such an extent that if you look at the statistics on the cases that are now going before the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, I believe you'll find there are significantly fewer. But you also have to look at the number of cases that are going on section 82s to the department. They are rising astronomically because, as advocates, that is where we see our best chance for success.

    But you ask yourself if that is the right answer. Shouldn't the appeal process, the one that's legislated, be the place to go? Shouldn't it have the most generous application of benefit of the doubt, and every favourable inference in favour of the applicant? Really, that's the challenge we've issued to the board for the last six years, since its inception. That's not what we have seen in the main, in the results.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Do you have figures on how many went to the review and how many went under section 82?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: We would have to go to the department to get those figures.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: The Department of Veterans Affairs?

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    Mr. Jim Rycroft: Yes. Perhaps it would be best for you to go directly to the department.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Maybe we could do it, yes.

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    The Chair: We'll request those figures from the department.

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    Mr. Bob Wood: Thank you.

    Thanks, Madam Chair.

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    The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm sure you'll be watching us closely to see if we're addressing your issues. We hope you will be watching us closely, and we hope you will keep in contact and let us know if there are areas where you feel we're falling short in our hearings.

    We will be going to Perley-Rideau perhaps as early as next week. We'll certainly take into consideration and look for the things you have pointed out to us.

    I'm going to suspend the meeting. We have a little bit of business to deal with. Many thanks for your presentation today. I think we're off to a good beginning.

    Adjourned.