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ACVA Committee Report

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Government Response to ACVA’s Commonwealth & G8 report

The Government welcomes the opportunity to respond to the First Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, Shared Experiences: Comparison of Veterans Services Offered by Members of the Commonwealth and the G8.

The Government reacts positively to the report and the Committee’s recommendations. We are pleased that Canada compares well to other Commonwealth countries in providing services and benefits for Veterans. VAC continues to ensure our programs and services are meeting the changing needs of Veterans and their families, and support a seamless transition from military to civilian life.

The Government has carefully reviewed and considered the Committee’s report and is pleased to inform the Committee that it has already taken a number of actions with respect to addressing some of the recommendations.

RECOMMENDATION 1

That the government continue its review of the New Veterans Charter involving both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence to ensure that the compensation payments for the pain and suffering due to a disability and all the other financial assistance and services it provides meet the needs of Canadian Forces personnel, Veterans, and their families.

RESPONSE

The Government of Canada acknowledges this recommendation and is committed to ensuring that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Department of National Defence (DND) work together to provide the best possible services to Canadian Forces (CF) personnel, Veterans and their families.

The New Veterans Charter (NVC) reflects VAC’s approach of adapting and evolving these programs and services to meet client needs.  The VAC commitment has been to first ensure that the programs were operating as intended, then to address emerging needs as they became priorities.

VAC continues to work with external stakeholders to ensure that the New Veterans Charter continues to address the emerging needs of CF Veterans and their families; and that Canada’s programming for Veterans continues to be strong when compared to those of other countries.

RECOMMENDATION 2

That the review of the compensation and services provided by the New Veterans Charter be carried out with extensive consultations with Veterans and Veterans’ organizations.

RESPONSE

VAC notes this recommendation and recognizes the need to consult Veterans’ stakeholder organizations within Canada to ensure benefits and services provided by Departmental programs address the needs of CF members, Veterans and their families. VAC has a well-established track record of co-operation with Canada’s major Veterans’ organizations and key stakeholders, a reputation that is achieved through regular contact, consultation and communication. Two key activities feed this mutually beneficial relationship: consultation sessions and advisory bodies.

Consultation sessions with key stakeholder groups create visibility, solicit input, develop consensus and gain support for ongoing improvements. The groups consulted on a regular basis are: Royal Canadian Legion; Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada; National Council of Veteran Associations; Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association; Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping; and the Gulf War Veterans Association of Canada. In most cases these sessions are used to solicit feedback and advice on existing programs, policies and procedures, providing the Department with a clearer picture of what is working well and what could work better. In some instances, with the appropriate authority to do so, consultation sessions also serve to share information and seek input on proposed changes to program authorities.

VAC has established advisory bodies to conduct studies and provide expert advice to the Department on the implementation and effectiveness of its programs and services.  These groups bring together academics, representatives from key Veterans’ organizations, and other stakeholders. The New Veterans Charter Advisory Group (NVCAG) was established in 2007 to provide advice and recommendations to the Department as it implemented its modernized services and programs and to monitor the ongoing responsiveness of these initiatives in meeting the needs of Canadian Forces clients, Veterans and their families.  It is independent and operated at arm’s length from the Department. 

The Department is fully committed to preserving the mutually beneficial, interactive consultation process as an established part of doing business.

RECOMMENDATION 3

That the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to develop and expand its ties of cooperation with similar departments or agencies in other countries to exchange information on best practices concerning issues of interest to Veterans and military personnel, notably health care, compensation, and support for persons dealing with stress-related injuries.

RESPONSE

The Department acknowledges this recommendation and is committed to continuing to cooperate with similar departments and agencies in other countries to exchange information on best practices on issues of interest to Veterans and military personnel.

VAC participates in regular Ministerial Summits that bring together Ministers of Veterans Affairs from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. The Summit is a forum to discuss challenges and share ideas and best practices on programs that will continue to support Veterans’ evolving needs.

The Senior International Forum is also an opportunity for collaboration with Deputy Ministers and other senior officials from the same group of countries. It focuses on exchanging information, identifying challenges that face Veterans and their families, as well as exploring alternative approaches to meet these challenges.

VAC continues to participate in a Bilateral Executive Exchange Program with the Australia Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This allows for opportunities to expand and enhance ties between Departments.

VAC officials have presented departmental best practices on traumatic stress at major international conferences such as the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the European Conference on Traumatic Stress.

VAC officials also take part in various conferences and workshops hosted by other countries such as the Seoul International Workshop as well as more informal exchanges.

RECOMMENDATION 4

That the Department of Veterans Affairs, in cooperation with the Department of National Defence, encourage more exchanges of information with similar departments or agencies in other countries on ways of providing better support and services to the families of military personnel and Veterans.

RESPONSE

The Government of Canada notes this recommendation and recognizes the value and benefits of information exchanges with similar departments and agencies in other countries. As noted in Recommendation #3, Veterans Affairs does and will continue to participate in various formal and informal international fora and exchanges.

RECOMMENDATION 5

That the Department of Veterans Affairs expand its employee exchange program with similar departments and agencies in other countries, such as the one it has with Australia, so that its officials can have more opportunities to learn at firsthand the policies and initiatives being developed by other countries to respond to the needs of Veterans and their families.

Response

The Government of Canada takes it responsibilities and commitments to Veterans seriously. For close to 20 years now, VAC and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Government of Australia, have participated in an exchange of senior-level employees. Many important ideas on serving our clientele have been shared, key priorities advanced and innovations developed through these exchanges. The departments themselves, the governments and Veterans of both countries have benefited greatly.  Both departments are committed to the continued success of this program.

We are currently reviewing the exchange program, assessing how outcomes could be improved, and considering alternative exchange scenarios. VAC will also be bringing in the lessons learned from our latest exchange program with the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans’ Affairs, Republic of Korea.

As stated above, VAC is committed to its clients: providing its employees with those opportunities to learn from other countries in order to better respond to the needs of Canadian Veterans and their families is a mechanism that has been demonstrated to work, while requiring review.  VAC will therefore continue its review of its exchange programs with the intent of establishing even greater, more focused, effective and efficient exchange opportunities with Australia and with other countries.

RECOMMENDATION 6

That the Department of Veterans Affairs, in cooperation with the Department of  National Defence, examine policies and services developed by other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States in order to improve programs to assist all Veterans and their families during and after the transition from military to civilian life.

RESPONSE

The Government of Canada acknowledges this recommendation and is committed to ensuring VAC and DND work together closely to support Veterans and their families with the transition from military to civilian life.

In the development of its policies and programs, Veterans Affairs Canada considers similar policies and programs developed by other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. This includes an analysis of the policies and programs of both the ministries for Veterans and Defence. The resulting comparative analysis informs and supports the direction of Canadian policy.

Departmental officials continue to collaborate with our colleagues in other countries in order to share best practices, learn from one another in regard to policies and services to improve and enhance programs and services that will support and assist CF members, Veterans and their families during and after the transition to civilian life. 

VAC and DND work collaboratively to ensure policies and programs are harmonized and support a seamless transition for clients moving from military to civilian life. VAC and DND are working in collaboration on a number of research studies. The knowledge acquired from these joint research efforts will be used to guide VAC and DND policy and program efforts in support of the health and well-being of Veterans, CF members, and their families. 

RECOMMENDATION 7

That the Department of Veterans Affairs, in cooperation with the Department of National Defence, take into account developments in the United States and other countries to improve the electronic transfer of medical records of military personnel to ensure the speedy and effective processing of applications for disability and other benefits.

RESPONSE

VAC has established a National Health Records Coordinator that will review processes and provide recommendations for improvement concerning the exchange of health information between DND and VAC. DND, with the consent of the CF Member, has already identified the process that would allow VAC to have access to health information contained within the Canadian Forces Health Information System (CFHIS) concerning care provided at CF clinics; however, health information concerning care provided by provincial health authorities to some serving members and to all Veterans is also contained in provincial systems. The Federal Healthcare Partnership, which includes DND and VAC, has noted developments in the United States and other countries to improve the electronic transfer of medical records as well as the emergence of the pan-Canadian Electronic Health Record (EHR), that has been accelerated through the efforts of Canada Health Infoway, as a means to ensure the speedy and effective processing of applications for disability and other benefits.

RECOMMENDATION 8

That the Department of Veterans Affairs review its outreach and information programs to ensure that Canadian Forces personnel, Veterans and their families are as well informed as possible on the whole range of financial benefits and supports services available to them through the New Veterans Charter. 

RESPONSE

The Government of Canada is committed to communicating with CF personnel, Canada’s Veterans and their families to provide information on the full suite of benefits and services available to them through the NVC.  This is achieved through a number of activities and initiatives including transition services, targeted outreach at CF Bases/Wings, standardized outreach materials, publications and the VAC website. 

In May 2008, a broad-based NVC outreach strategy was implemented to improve outreach to CF members, Veterans and their families, media and parliamentarians.   The strategy helps ensure that CF members, Veterans and their families receive information on the suite of programs and services offered through the NVC; and explains transition services and processes.  Enhanced outreach opportunities through integrated presentations with partners in Veterans' organizations (e.g. Royal Canadian Legion), Military Family Resource Centres, and the Operational Stress Injury Social Support Program have also been pursued.

VAC members of District Office Client Service Teams are on-site at various CF locations across the country, as well as in the newly launched Integrated Personnel Support Centres. They work closely with the CF/DND to continuously improve the provision of information on VAC programs and services to both Regular Force and Reservist members, for example during face-to-face transition interviews, pre- and post-deployment briefings and Second Career Assistance Network seminars. 

Since June 2008, over 100 outreach events to CF members and their families have occurred.

The Department will continue to review and strengthen its outreach strategy to ensure the best use of traditional and innovative communications methods to inform CF personnel, Veterans and their families of the full range of financial benefits and support services available to them through the NVC and from VAC.

RECOMMENDATION 9

That the Department of Veterans Affairs explore with the Canada Revenue Agency the possibility of modifying income tax returns to allow Veterans and their families to identify themselves so that they can receive information on the financial benefits and support services available to them.

RESPONSE

Veterans Affairs Canada fully supports efforts to ensure that Veterans and their families have information about, and access to, programs and services to which they may be eligible. At present, the CRA Web site links to the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site to facilitate information sharing on matters of interest to Veterans. By contrast, the focus of CRA forms is on tax and benefit programs administered by the CRA. The inclusion of non-tax questions, or requests for information not related to benefits administered by the CRA, may create privacy concerns depending on the nature of the request or modifications to the CRA forms. At the same time, the increase of information in CRA forms and guides may result in larger documents, which run contrary to the Paper Burden Reduction Initiative, and other Sustainable Development commitments.