First of all I'd like to say that these SCANs are not mandatory. Some members are releasing without attending. However, throughout their transition we always recommend that they sign up and take part. Some members might attend these SCANs without even having a release date, but they're concerned about what's going to happen after release and they want to hear about us and our partners.
Again, the presence of members is not mandatory, but we strongly, strongly recommend it.
All right, what is a SCAN? It's to help prepare for transition, first and foremost, and to be there for the members to answer their questions. We always have a booth. Presentations trigger lots of questions, and then we schedule one-to-one meetings afterward. They are more personalized and a better environment to discuss members' concerns, the injuries they have, and the challenges they will have after release. Again, the objective of any SCAN is to prepare for the transition and set the tone that we're there for them today, before release, but, more importantly, after release.
What is a veteran? A lot of members think they are mostly the traditional ones, but veterans can be like my clients, 22-year-old privates, who unfortunately were injured and have to release after two years of service. A veteran is someone who could be relatively young with a shorter time in the CF, or someone who has had a very lengthy career with many deployments. They may have decided it is time to leave on their own, so they will voluntarily release, or they are being medically released because they no longer meet the universality of service criteria to be deployed.
That part of the presentation is about demystifying who a veteran is and making them understand that soon it will be them. We need to talk about that during meetings.
Our mandate—I never spend much time during the SCANs on those slides because they are self-explanatory—is to be there to provide care and treatment of the members, who are veterans at that point, and their families. During the SCANs, the family component is huge. Spouses are always invited to take part. We tell members that the injuries they have and the challenges they face have significant impacts on spouses, children, and loved ones, so those SCANs are always open to the family. It is not uncommon to see couples in the crowd, which is wonderful. So, it is to provide the care and treatment, and, most importantly, the re-establishment into civilian life of anyone who has served in the CF, again keeping alive the achievement and sacrifice of those who have served.
We're not talking about the Remembrance portion during the SCAN; it's not the intended purpose. However, we're more than capable of orienting whomever is interested into that portion of the mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada.
As I was saying on the re-establishment, we're looking at it in terms of three different phases: at work, in the community, at home. It is not uncommon that someone releasing is having a bit of a challenge at work in light of their injuries, and when they get home things are really difficult. We break it down into the barriers in the community, in their workplaces, and at home, and whether there are challenges in any of those three areas. Those are what we consider barriers to re-establishment.
With regard to our mandate, transition support, I work out of the IPSC of the JPSU, which is the unit in charge of releasing members. Transition service is why we are there. I do not work out of the district office. I am posted with the unit so that any members who are looking into releasing can have access to us. Transition is huge in terms of services and benefits. Keep in mind that someone serving has had the organization, the employer, providing for their support throughout their career, whether it was a dental checkup or a need to see a doctor because a knee was hurting.
However, what is going to happen when they release? They want to know, in light of a disability award or disability pension for which they might have applied, whether Veterans Affairs Canada will be able to pay for that after release. That's a huge concern: Will their injuries be recognized and will the benefits and treatment be received after release? That's the number one question that I get when I meet with my clients.
Again, there's commemoration; and we're not going to go through it today but it's nonetheless a very important component of what Veterans Affairs does.
It saddens me when a member comes to me and has never talked to us before. One thing the SCAN does, and I always tell the crowd, is the presentation plants little seeds. Hopefully, seeds of interest trigger some questions some members might have about their concerns. After the presentation—and this always happens—we have some who make themselves known to us. They listen and say, “You know what? I should have met with you guys a long time ago because of so-and-so.“ We set up a time to meet with them.
Transition starts now; whether you have a release date, whether your mission has been cut and you've leaving in six months, you have to meet with Veterans Affairs. “Have to” is a big term, you're strongly encouraged to meet with Veterans Affairs.
We screen for unmet needs. We assess the risk of the member, and again of their family, so planning now means attending a SCAN. When there are members in the crowd, I tell them that's the first thing. You are showing you're interested, in terms of your release and what's going to happen afterward.
Our website is getting better every year, getting more and more user-friendly. We strongly encourage our members to open their VAC account. Open your account, browse, click, look at what's going on there. During the SCAN, I often bring it back in terms of how the newest application can be done online a little bit faster than the paper way we've been doing it. Throughout the SCAN I tell them to stay informed, click, and look on the website. Open your account so you can have better access to us online.
The career transition is not a really big component of the SCAN. The reason is that since the new Veterans Charter in 2006, the rehab program was created for better or for worse. We don't often hear about it in the news—it's mostly the disability award component—but the rehab program is automatically offered. A releasing member who's releasing as a 3(b) for diabetes, which might not be linked to service, is automatically eligible. That's the huge lightbulb that goes on when we talk about this. Transition service is not something we tap into because the rehab program has a vocational component, which is much more interesting than the $1,000 that Veterans Affairs can put in place, let's say, to update your resumé, for example. That's not a huge part of my presentation. I do touch on it, but within all my time at VAC I've had little interest about this.
Hire a Veteran, Hire a Vet, often triggers lots of questions after a SCAN. Many companies throughout the country were asked to raise their hand if they want to give a veteran a priority for hiring. At the SCAN and at our booth, we always have the slides and the presentations of companies in Canada that would give a priority to a vet. The veteran has to mention in their cover letter that they have served in the CF. All of the companies that are listed have told us, guaranteed, that they will strongly recommend and consider someone who did mention it in their cover letter. Hire a Vet is new. It's something I have talked about at length after a SCAN, connecting veterans with the private sector, because it's not uncommon that someone releasing wants a second career. Not everyone releases after 35 years with a superannuation because they've contributed to it. The bulk of my clients are in their twenties or thirties, so they still have many years ahead of them. They want to know, who's going to hire me afterward? Do I have any skills that can be transferable to civilian life?
On the rehabilitation program, I think that for everyone who meets with me we will talk about it at length. For anyone starting at Veterans Affairs, it can take two weeks just to try to understand this program when you're front line. For me to give a little bit of a resumé in a few minutes is not possible. This program has three components: the medical, anything musculoskeletal; psychological; and vocational. Again, someone who releases who has barriers to re-establishment, who contemplates a career, might not have disability awards in place with us as of yet.
There is automatic eligibility in this program for someone who's a 3(b) release, who's medically releasing. It's nice to know—and we'll have a scenario afterwards—that for someone who is really afraid about who is going to take care of their medical needs and take care of their psychological condition in terms of treatment and guaranteeing that they can go back to school, this program gives a sense of relief. When you meet with someone who hears about this, it is wonderful. That's why I love my job and that's why I go to work every day: this rehabilitation program is tailored to someone's needs.
The earnings loss benefit is 75% of the pre-releasing salary. We do have to mention that superannuation has to be deducted, and any other type of income. The earnings loss benefit allows the member to have at least 75% of their pre-releasing salary while they're at school and while they're seeking treatment to address all of those conditions. It's nice to know that there's some type of financial support while you're on this program.
If in light of the injuries—and this is the part where I have to be careful when I present the slides and after when I discuss this with the members. We don't want to talk about the what-ifs, but sometimes we have to talk about the what-ifs. This is our safety net. If the injuries are so severe that a return to work, gainful employment, is not possible, then there are allowances we can tap into to provide for extra financial support: the permanent impairment allowance, PIA, and the supplement. I always mention those, but I felt that the members were not there. If you are in the process of releasing, we need to assess you in terms of how you will be able, as a civilian, to return to meaningful and gainful employment. If you're not there and we know you will not be there within the next few years, let's look at the allowances that we can tap into.
This is the point in the slides where I'll plant little seeds but I will not go into details. Lots of hands go up with this slide. That usually slows my SCAN presentation, but that's fine. It's a nice segue, because it leads to the other part about the disability award application. With the rehabilitation program, and the front line, we will swim in this day in, day out. We need to understand it. We need to verbalize it clearly to our members so that they understand what they're signing up for and that they're eligible the day after their release when they officially become veterans.
On health support, on the front line we have to screen for mental health. We have to ask those delicate questions. We have to talk about suicidal ideation. We have to screen for risks. This is why we're hired. We screen for risks for our members and we screen for risks for the family. The mental health part is big. We are blessed to have the OSI clinic in our city. They are our main partners. Thank God we have them. They're a single point of contact for someone who has an operational stress injury, or if we think there is one in light of the symptoms the member is reporting, that could lead us to believe that maybe something is not quite right here and we want to get an assessment. We refer members there who have not been diagnosed but who are reporting symptoms we're worried about. The OSI clinic is big. It's our partner. Prior to that we have to screen for unmet needs and assess their risk level.
On OSISS peer support, I work out of the IPSC with the coordinator. It's wonderful to have a peer assigned to you when you're not well. You know that they have an OSI also, but they're at a different point in their recovery. With operational stress injuries, it can take years before the symptoms are controlled and before you accept and grieve over the loss of your career or your quality of life. A peer helping a peer is someone who is at a different stage in their recovery and they're in a position to help and give that support. We are very lucky to have the OSISS peer support down the hall. They are very important partners for us.
VAC assistance service is a 1-800, 24-7 service if you're not well. I work for the government, and we close at 4:30. If you're not well, we have a VAC assistance line. There will be a mental health specialist who will help de-escalate the situation and take care of the crisis until we come back. We're not a crisis organization, but we work with clients in crisis all the time. It is what it is. It's the nature of the job.
We do have our VAC assistance lines for members if they need immediate assistance and they do not want to go to the hospital. Those numbers are always given out during the transition period. The CF has the same system. It's not uncommon for a member who is struggling with barriers. We're all pretty much into iPhones and smartphones and so on and so forth. Applications, of course, have been brought forward by Veterans Affairs. For someone who has an operational stress injury, they're in a crowd, they're not well, they have no one, and they need to ground themselves. The OSI clinic has brought forward an application that, in opening it, the member has cues in terms of how to try to control the symptoms until they get to a safe place.
For those younger crowds who are very much in tune with technology, I've heard wonderful feedback about some of the applications out there. Again, today is not about promoting which app is better than another, but members are interested in knowing, well, if I'm not in my comfort zone and I need support, I have my smartphone with me and I have an application that can cue me to get to a safe place and service providers.
I worked for years in a community that was funded by United Way. I work at VAC, and I realize that we can pay psychologists a very, very, very decent price per hour. We are so lucky in Ottawa to have service providers, from psychologists to physiotherapists to kinesiologists. In Ottawa, unlike for some of my members working in other places of the country, we have a provider for a member who has a particular injury, whether it be substance abuse or a gambling addiction. The providers out there know us. They know how we work. They know that we need full due diligence but also that we want to make sure that for the services we pay we're seeing gains, we're seeing markers that are moved.
Providers in the cities raise their hands to work with us. It's wonderful for a member to know that in light of seeking psychological support while they were serving for two years, that psychologist is also recognized with us at VAC, and the day after release they don't have to start new with someone else. We will continue with the same provider because they're registered with Veterans Affairs' Blue Cross. It's a huge reassurance when we meet. Nobody wants to keep repeating why they have an OSI. At the SCAN I tell them, “When you meet with us, let us know who you are seeing in the civilian...who is maybe paid by DND, and let's make it happen when you become one.”
During the introduction I talked a little bit about the family. I would reiterate that the family is what keeps the member together. It's not uncommon, when I meet with a member somewhere in their release, that by the time their release happens the member has left their home or the spouse has left them. We want to try to bring family reunification by providing support and a sounding board for the spouse and for the kids who've just had enough. At the IPSC we have the MFRC working with us, with our liaison officer. We have social workers who will link strictly with the kids, with the students, with the teenagers, with the young adults, and with the spouse who has pretty much had enough. It's huge for us to know what's going on at home and how we can also provide support for the family. The last thing a member needs, by the time he releases, is to go through a separation process.
With regard to the public service health care plan, Veterans Affairs will give it to the medically releasing member if they don't have 10 years of service. It's wonderful for the young, or younger, member who doesn't have 10 years but who needs the public service health care plan for their kids, for their wife, because they also have special needs; all of that because of the rehab program.
We talked about the special allowances if in light of the injury a return to work is not possible. In the rehab program, if we deem that the member, now a veteran, cannot return to gainful employment, we will give the chance to the spouse to go back to school. When members have served and been posted at many places, we know that the spouse was most likely the caregiver for the kids, because every time she tried to get a job, it was, “Guess what? We're moving.”
It's not uncommon for a member to say, my wife stayed home with the kids, and now they're older but I don't see myself returning to work, it's too difficult. It's great to know that the spouse has a chance for school at that point. It's also a big reassurance for the family that another income can be secured with the rehab program and with us training the spouse.
In the OSISS peer support we do have a coordinator who takes care specifically of the spouse. The releasing member has a spouse. She's tired, she's at her wits' end, and she also needs a sounding board, a peer helping a peer. A spouse of a veteran whose husband also has an OSI can be put in contact with that new client of ours so that she also can have a peer to talk to.
We have retreats that we organize just with them, and they're chances for them to be together and to say, I didn't sign up for this, and this is really not what I was thinking my life would be like at this point.
When this slide goes up, I get giggles in the room. I would say that it is not uncommon that I meet with someone who says, VAC, I don't like you guys. It's not you, Mélanie, I don't like VAC. I'm being released for my back, and VAC said it's not linked to service. I applied for a disability award and you guys said there's not sufficient information. I know that I'm not starting my intervention with my new client on an easy note, but I'm trying to reassure them that we have means and processes so that in light of a non-favourable decision we have recourse and we will see that it follows through.
When I hear the giggle it's about the crowd being full of members who had a non-favourable decision. Our statistics will say that there's a 79% initial approval rate for disability awards. I'm leaving it at that. They're statistics, and that's not what I do throughout the day.
On applying for the disability benefit, as you know, when a still-serving member is working with the CF, their employer's responsible for their care and treatment from the moment they enrol to the time they release. If a favourable decision comes on the table while the member's in service, what they will get from us is the money, the lump sum that we often hear about in the news, and the guarantee that from the day after release that treatment will be paid by VAC. They also have the guarantee that every two years that condition can be reassessed if they feel that it's more severe or that we didn't give them the percentage or the impairment that they feel they should have.
The initial application has to start now. We do have a turnaround time, and it's a few months. I tell the members, please don't wait. The worst that can happen is we meet when there's a release date the next month and there are no applications in the system. The member has never raised their hand to say, these are the parts of my body that are injured. SCANs often trigger a disability award application.
Okay, Mélanie, I heard you. I'm ready. I want to put in a claim for my knee, I want to put in a claim for my neck. As we start talking, six claims are put on the table. In the initial application we will pull out their medical records with their consent to know what has happened, who they spoke to, and what kind of treatment they had. In light of that a decision will be rendered.
Again, I tell members, please don't wait, come and meet us and let's start the process. It's stressful enough as it is to release. To know that VAC will cover that benefit or provide that treatment after release is a huge relief for someone.
If something happens, say the decision comes back and it's favourable but not what the member thought it should be, he can appeal. If it's not favourable, he can appeal. A lot of members, in light of receiving a non-favourable decision, get a little bit upset at us. We're so lucky, again, to have the Legion here in Ottawa, which will provide counselling.
They will provide guidance and also some advocacy. If a member wants to have his rights and he wants to have an appeal for a decision, he will seek support from the Legion, because for a lot of the members the Legion has always been viewed as very neutral and non partisan.
The English word won't come to me.
Yes. Therefore, we refer them to either the bureau of pensions advocates or the Legion, and they will get the support they need.
We will talk about a scenario. I won't take too much time, but I'll give you an idea of the kinds of clients we see day in, day out, such as Sergeant John, a real case, with nine years of service, which is not enough to get the public service health care plan. He is not a pensioner and has nothing with us. Also, he did not have enough years to have superannuation from DND. He doesn't have a pension plan.
For the salary per month, we show it here on this slide. He released as a sergeant. He released voluntarily due to too many things going on at home and too many stressors. He doesn't want to wait for that 3(b) release. It's long, it's stressful, and he wants out. Again, that's very frequent. He's concerned because the daughter has special needs. He has a service-related injury that occurred, but he never applied, and now, in light of it, he asks, “What am I going to do with my life?” He says the injury stops him. He's trying to apply for jobs, but his knees keep hurting and his back is hurting. This is a very typical scenario for a releasing member.
How relieved was this member when we told him that he was eligible for the rehab program?
There are two gateways for this program. A releasing member who has a 3(b) release is automatically eligible.
A voluntarily releasing member has to answer these three questions. Is there an injury? Is it linked to service? Is it a barrier to your re-establishment into civilian life—as I talked about in the beginning—at home, at work, or in the community? In his case, it was.
He was put on the program. He received the earnings loss: 75% of his pre-releasing salary. The public service health care plan was given to him because the rehab program gives it to our members.
The spouse was able to get support for school, and he also got it later on when things were better. We're hoping that it's going to be a support for him and his family in the next phase of his life.
This doesn't speak much to when I do a SCAN for the executive level. When the crowd of members I present to you are officers and above, they have a 35-year career, and they're at a very high rank, this doesn't have a connotation for them.
At the general SCAN and at a medical SCAN, usually I get questions about this, because I know this hits home. When I talked about planting little seeds at SCAN and when the member tells me afterward that this is their story, I say, “Okay, let's start.”
What can we do for someone who's still serving? It's case management.
We're trying to demystify this. Some members say they have a CF case manager assigned because “I'm posted at your unit” or “I'm medically releasing”. Veterans Affairs can offer case management up to six months before release, and that's where I come in. The case management service before releasing is the single point of contact for VAC for someone in the process who is scared about the future and who just needs to have the message repeated because the memory is no longer there and they can no longer concentrate on an intervention. Sometimes I meet with them five, six, or seven times and repeat what the rehab program is about because the member has a hard time retaining information in light of the injury.
Those three components of the rehab program—the income replacement, the public service health care plan, the disability award and financial advice—are why I'm posted at the IPSC. I have over 180 members who are releasing. It's very busy, but it's an inspiring group. Every story is different. When you're able to provide this to someone and see the sense of release for anyone who's struggling, it's your paycheque at the end of the day.
I talked a bit about our website before, but this slide shows you just an idea of what the browser for encouraging members looks like: click, stay informed, and look at what's out there. We often get calls because they hear what the members of Parliament have said before we hear about it. It's not uncommon for me to get a call first thing in the morning from people who are saying, “Mélanie, what's this about?” or “I heard...”. Our website keeps them informed and our clients are well connected, but it also allows information to be shared with everyone.
I won't spend too much time on MY VAC booklet. It's a way to tailor all of their conditions in one booklet. The members knows that in light of releasing, VAC has their backs, and then VAC will pay for the ramp to go into their houses, the stair glides, the home modifications, and so on and so forth. It's one way for the member who has conditions with us to know what that will translate to when they're released. VAC can pay for oxygen therapy, they can pay for a private room, and so on. My VAC booklet is new, and I get really good feedback about it.
Reiterating the sign up for My VAC account and their responsibility is how I always complete my SCAN seminar: “Set up your time to meet with us. We will not go to you.”
For every member we're releasing, the release section will send us a fax. They will say to call this member. If they are really unwell and their case is managed by DND because they are 3(b) releasing, Montfort will call us, but there are members we try to reach and they are not meeting us halfway. “Have the members make themselves known to us. Raise your hand.” Say, “I need to meet with VAC. I need my transition interview.” That is the exit interview for anyone who has served, and allows us to know what's going on, what has happened, how it is affecting them now, and how it can affect them down the road.
There are the inquiry numbers and so on, and that's where all the questions usually start.
That's a glimpse of what a presentation looks like to 300 releasing members. I'm hoping it gives you a sense of the information that is shared during those meetings.