Good morning. Welcome to the 50th meeting of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
This morning, we are beginning our study of division 17 of Bill .
To have a compelling start to this study, we will have the pleasure of hearing from two respected officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs during the first hour of this meeting: Michel Doiron, assistant deputy minister, service delivery, and Bernard Butler, associate assistant deputy minister, policy, communications and commemoration.
This half of our meeting will end at 9:45 a.m., at which point, we'll take a quick break. Then we will hear from Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman, joined by Sharon Squire, Deputy Ombudsman, Executive Director of Operations; as well as from Brian Forbes, Chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada.
Each stakeholder will make a seven-minute presentation. Normally it's 10 minutes, but we have more witnesses now, so we're going to squeeze you in. Members will then have an opportunity to ask witnesses questions.
Mr. Doiron, you may go ahead.
Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Chair, members, mesdames et messieurs.
As the chair said, my name is Michel Doiron and I am the assistant deputy minister for service delivery at Veterans Affairs. With me today is my colleague Bernard Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of policy, communications, and commemoration.
I wish to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on an issue of importance and great interest to veterans and their families, and that is those elements of the government's response to your committee's report of June 2014, titled “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, that are contained in economic action plan 2015, or Bill . The legislation, if passed, will amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly known as the new Veterans Charter, to address a number of the concerns and gaps that have been identified.
There are essentially five legislative amendments/provisions contained within the bill.
The first provision introduces a purpose clause “to recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada” and further provides that the “Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled”.
The second significant provision enhances Veterans Affairs Canada's ability to support transition to civilian life. It authorizes Veterans Affairs Canada to provide information and guidance to Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans on the benefits and services that may be available to them in order to help them transition and to make decisions on applications for benefits and services prior to release.
There are three additional amendments that effectively create new benefits for veterans. These new benefits will strengthen the government's support provided to seriously disabled veterans and their families through the new Veterans Charter.
The first benefit, known as the retirement income security benefit, RISB, would provide moderately to severely disabled veterans—those who need it most—with continued assistance in the form of a monthly income support payment beginning at the age of 65.
The second benefit, the family caregiver relief benefit, would provide eligible veterans with a tax-free annual grant of $7,238 so that their informal caregivers, often their spouses or other devoted family members, will have flexibility or relief when they need it while also ensuring that veterans' care needs are met.
The third benefit, the critical injury benefit, or CIB, would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
These new benefits will complement the existing suite of services and benefits available through the new Veterans Charter and add depth to the supports available both to those injured in service to their country and to their families from the Government of Canada.
As announced in the budget, additional staff will also address delays in service delivery, especially for the most seriously disabled and their families. We will hire more than 100 permanent case managers for improved one-on-one services. More than 100 new disability adjudication staff, temporary and permanent, will improve the processing time for veterans who submit an application for a disability benefit application. This is part of the department's commitment to service excellence.
Thank you for listening.
I will now open the floor, Mr. Chair, to any questions the committee may have for Bernard or for me.
Thank you, Mr. Doiron and Mr. Butler, for attending today.
It's amazing how Mr. Lemieux's questions just draw out the cynicism and the absolute doubting Thomas that exists, because I've seen this window dressing before when he purposely emphasizes the statement of the obligation that shall be “liberally interpreted” so as to recognize the obligation that must be fulfilled. I say that because over the time that I've been here, I've seen anything but. I've seen an Auditor General's report that talks about how many people are denied and how many of those people appeal with a 60% success rate. It's just fascinating the struggle that our veterans go through.
Let me take it to the legislation to tell you why I'm even more cynical. I look at the CIB, the $70,000 payment that's going to be available to certain veterans who suffer “a sudden and single incident that occurred after March 31, 2006”—I'm not worried about the date so much—“a sudden and single incident” with “severe interference in their quality of life”.
I've asked you folks and I've asked others and I've been told, “Well, that is not likely to include people suffering from PTSD because PTSD arises later.” Unless through the miracle of medical reports that can attribute that to a sudden and single incident, those folks are out of luck, and the answer is, “Well, they have other benefits available to them.” Well, so do those people who suffer “a sudden and single incident.” You further marginalize those who suffer from PTSD. That is the hidden injury.
So tell me, what benefit is that to those suffering from PTSD?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our witnesses.
I want to follow up on that a little. I think we're confusing the purpose of these benefits. Every benefit doesn't necessarily apply to every veteran. Every benefit, especially these new ones, is designed for specific circumstances and to close gaps this committee, among others, identified. It's not that this applies to everything. We can be cynical if we want, but the simple fact is we have closed a number of gaps.
The critical injury benefit is not intended to compensate for the long term, because we have the disability award for that, but it is intended to compensate for the short term for those people it applies to. So it does fill a gap. It's the same thing with the caregiver benefit. It is not designed to be an income replacement, because the veteran is already getting full-time care by whatever mechanism. It is simply designed to compensate, not on an income replacement basis, and give some relief to the family caregiver.
I don't want to put you in too much of a spot, but is it fair to say that the purpose of all these benefits is very specific? It came from this committee. My opinion is we can always do more and we always will try to do more, but these benefits have been designed and are going to fit the purpose identified by the gaps identified by this committee.
First of all, I want to clarify that Veterans Affairs accepts the diagnostics from CAF doctors. We do not provide diagnostics. We have doctors who may review a diagnostic to say, “Do we understand exactly what the medical doctor is telling us?” It would be the same thing from the private sector, not just CAF. So we do accept the diagnostic from the doctor, and from there, that's where we base our eligibility.
I do not want to talk about individual cases; I know very well about this case, but I do not want to, absolutely, for confidentiality purposes. But we do accept them.
When the minister talks about transition, there has been—I don't know for how long—a transition interview, but it was not as complete as it could have been. What we want to do now is ensure that this seam is eliminated, meaning that when the individual is to leave the forces, a fulsome interview occurs, and occurs long enough in advance, not two weeks in advance. This act gives us the authority to do that interview upstream, when they're still serving, so that we can look at the medical records, go through the medical records, and determine what the needs are. We can identify needs, employment, and various issues to help ease that transition.
For some soldiers, it's “I'm retiring”. It's easy. For other ones, it's a lot more complex to try to get them the care and the help they need when they leave the forces.
Thank you to the witnesses for coming here this morning.
Before I ask any questions, I want to comment on the issues that Mr. Rafferty raised about different diagnoses of certain mental conditions.
I also serve on the health committee and currently, we're doing a study on mental health in Canada. We have scientists and doctors coming before us, and unfortunately, medical science is not at the stage where the tests are developed that enable certain mental disorders to be confirmed or eliminated based on tests, as can be done in other health issues where we can do blood tests, and so on. Unfortunately, we have to rely on doctors' opinions and we have to give them credit for what they do, because it's not an easy task.
Perhaps I could ask Mr. Butler, through you, Chair, to finish his thoughts on the family caregiver relief benefit which he was not able to finish, on how that flexibility would work, whether receipts are required at the end of the year, whether the family or the veteran would have to submit certain receipts, or some receipts or no receipts. I think this is important.
The amount is not that huge. Sometimes the cost of caring for disabled persons is much higher than what is offered. Could you elaborate on this?
Thank you for touching on that, because that's one of the things I was going to talk about: terminology. You guys know your file, but to listen to you, a lot of it is wrapped up in the legislation and the words that carry it, but that's not how soldiers speak. You really need to simplify that understanding. This is a comment more than a question. We understand op orders; they're very simple.
The purpose is good, but the whole situation, mission execution part, they get that. I'm being overly simplistic, but I think if some of that is addressed and is provided with some examples, a lot of what you're doing now, a lot of what we're bringing in is outstanding stuff, but it has to be understood for the troops to be able to access it and to understand it and to know which benefits fit for them because this is not a one-size-fits-all, clearly. Every veteran, every injury or injuries, multiples, is different for every individual. I think that needs to be clearly understood, and how they can access those benefits that relate to them, whether short term or long term, needs to be clearly understood. I would highly recommend that terminology.
As another recommendation, the case workers as they come in need to be able to relate to the veterans this way too. They need to be able to speak in language they understand. I think if you're able to do that, a lot of these problems will be resolved. I think a lot of it has to do with an understanding issue, a comprehension issue, as to what's available for veterans. I think that's definitely a way to go.
Speaking of these case file workers, what's their expected caseload going to be?
Meanwhile, veterans are waiting. They are waiting until all of those case managers are on the job.
In any case, there is a lot I don't know about the issue, but it makes me think of my friend Jacques. He's 92. One of his legs was shattered in the Italian campaign when he was 18. His last leg operation was in February. He told me about the services he was receiving.
He said that his story was a simple one. He and 10 of his buddies set off crawling through the trenches and spent a year and a half being shot at. He buried half of his friends, and when he got back, he could no longer walk. His father had to lift him off the train. He was never able to do any sports. In a nutshell, he needed assistance in order to live.
While it may be a simple story, he still has to fill out paperwork, with all kinds of fine print to take into account. He knows how to use the Internet, he chats with his nieces and nephews, he isn't afraid of using a computer, but in his eyes, it's an insult to be forced to do it, to have that constraint placed on him. When you've been through what he's been through, you need to talk to a human being.
It's a bit long-winded, but—
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for inviting me to appear today to discuss division 17 of part 3 of Bill .
Thank you for the opportunity, and I also want to thank you for the critical role that you have played in the past couple of years that has brought us to this juncture.
Your report, “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, published in June 2014, helped to focus the debate, establish priorities, and bring the veterans community together. lt also provided government with a unanimously approved blueprint for moving forward to address veterans' issues. lt cannot be denied that this is now happening.
In retrospect, I am particularly pleased that the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman's “Report on the New Veterans Charter and Actuarial Analysis”, published in October 2013, was able to assist with your work.
The proposed legislation represents significant progress on several issues of long-standing concern to veterans and their families. Because it is narrowing the gap on needed changes, it is important that it pass quickly and be implemented without delay.
The work of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman has been effective to date because it is evidence-based. Results are measured against the fairness principles of adequacy—are the right programs and services in place to meet the needs of veterans and their families—the principle of sufficiency—are the right programs and services sufficiently resourced, in terms of both finance and human resources—and, finally, the principle of accessibility—are eligibility criteria creating unfair barriers, and can the benefits and services provided by VAC be accessed quickly and easily?
It is too early to offer you my opinion on the effectiveness of the proposed legislation. It is still before Parliament and its regulations have not been published, and as a result, implementation has not been initiated. However, I can share with you today my perspective, in principle. So let us look at the proposed initiative through the lens of fairness.
Do they address the fairness principles of adequacy, sufficiency, and accessibility? I believe that they do, in principle.
Adequacy is addressed by the new retirement income security benefit, which would provide moderately to severely disabled veterans with continued assistance in the form of monthly income support payments after age 65, therefore meeting a new need for the veterans and their families. lt also applies to the hiring of new front-line staff to improve one-on-one support for veterans.
Sufficiency is addressed in principle by the parity of the earnings loss benefit for injured reserve force veterans, who will now get the same minimum income support payment through the earnings loss program as regular force veterans do, again eliminating unfairness. The hiring of new front-line staff to improve one-on-one support for veterans also addresses sufficiency with regard to human resources.
Accessibility is addressed by the broadened eligibility criteria for the permanent impairment allowance, which, together with the PIA supplement, provides approximately $600 to $2,800 a month in lifelong monthly financial support to veterans whose employment potential and career advancement opportunities have been limited by a permanent service-related injury or illness. lt is also addressed by the proposed new critical injury benefit, which will provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
Going forward, while the changes put forward in Bill are going to have a positive effect on meeting the needs of veterans and their families, we need to address non-economic compensation for pain and suffering, transition from military to civilian life, and veteran-centric service delivery.
We also need to always remember that the new Veterans Charter is a living document needing timely reviews and updates.
Collectively, I think that we should be encouraged at this juncture that our efforts are making a difference in addressing long-standing issues affecting veterans and their families.
This does not mean that the gap has been closed, but it is narrowed. However, if these new initiatives are looked at as steps in a commitment to continuously improve and adapt benefits to the evolving needs of veterans and their families, then this is a very positive indicator for the future.
Mr. Chair, I would like to also inform the committee that just yesterday we published an update on the recent announcements in regard to your ACVA recommendations, on how they actually have improved things for veterans and their families. We have provided copies that will be distributed to the members afterwards.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'm ready for your questions.
NCVA welcomes this opportunity to speak to this committee this morning on Bill , with particular reference to that portion of the legislation dealing with the new Veterans Charter reform.
I first wish to state that it has become readily apparent over recent months that there have been a number of significant developments positively impacting on the operation of Veterans Affairs Canada and the department's relationship with the veterans community. We would be remiss if we did not commend the minister, , and the deputy, Walt Natynczyk, on their proactive engagement in the overall reform of the charter and the enhancement of the administrative culture within VAC.
With specific reference to charter reform, it is fair to say that significant momentum and substantial traction have been developed through the various recommendations brought down by the minister, culminating in the establishment of the current statutory amendments before Parliament, which clearly are the government's attempt to respond to their proposals made by this standing committee, the Veterans Ombudsman, the Veterans Consultation Group, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, and our NCVA organizations.
Unfortunately, many of the minister's announcements and proposed legislative amendments reflect, in our judgment, half measures and are clearly not fully responsive to the comprehensive recommendations made by this committee and the aforementioned multiple advisory groups. After years, however, of what I have described as unacceptable inertia within VAC, there are indeed solid indications that the first phase of positive, incremental change is taking place. It remains our mandate, and I might respectfully suggest the responsibility of this committee and veteran stakeholders, to maintain pressure on the government to complete this vital initiative in addressing the outstanding inequities which still remain in the charter.
Mr. Chair, I would now like to make a number of general comments on the bill and the impact it will have on the new Veterans Charter.
First, the clear focus on seriously disabled veterans is commendable as it has consistently been the position of NCVA that the highest priority of the veterans community and the government must be seriously injured veterans.
Second, it is self-evident upon a review of the substantive provisions of the statutory amendments that the devil will be in the details as there are a number of references in the legislation to regulations and policy guidelines that have yet to be formulated to support the general provisions of the act. It is my opinion that until these regulations are finalized, it will not be possible to evaluate the precise eligibility criteria for the newly proposed major benefits and the “factors to be considered”, which are often mentioned in the bill, in the administration of the new law. It will be incumbent on veteran stakeholders and indeed this standing committee to monitor closely the draft regulations and policy guidelines to ensure that the substantive provisions of the act are not diluted or unduly restricted.
Third, it is also readily apparent that budgetary constraints still exist. It is our opinion, upon a review of the minister's announcements and the statutory amendments, that the proposals have been structured to fit into the budgetary envelope, resulting in proposed benefits that are targeted to specific cohort veterans rather than the veteran population at large. Unfortunately, in our view, the government fixation with balancing the budget in this election year remains a restraint on the complete new Veterans Charter reform at this time.
Fourth, as I stated to the minister through recent correspondence and through my presentation to the veterans summit, much more needs to be done to rectify the voids that have been readily identified in the charter. The present state of development cannot be considered a total fait accompli, but merely a significant first stage of remedial legislation.
Mr. Chair, I know we're under certain time constraints and my brief is fairly lengthy. I've made it available to members of the committee, but I'd like to highlight some of my concerns with regard to the bill and those areas where there are still gaps and inequities in the charter which have yet to be addressed in this legislation.
First, the earnings loss benefit must be elevated from 75% of former military income to 100% in accordance with the long-standing and consistent recommendations of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, the Veterans Consultation Group, and NCVA—or at least to 90%, as proposed by my friend, the Veterans Ombudsman. The current reduction of 25% in income is unacceptable, particularly given that this loss of essential revenue is imposed when veterans and their families face a period of rehabilitation as they attempt to re-establish themselves in Canadian society.
This is particularly material to those who are permanently incapacitated. In this regard, the career probable-earnings approach identified by this committee should be implemented to ensure the true impact of the projected career income loss is recognized. This proposal can be implemented by further reform of the PIA or the PIAS, or alternatively by a separate evaluation based on the mechanisms used by the Canadian civil courts to ascertain future loss of income for severely injured plaintiffs
Second, the SISIP long-term disability policy needs to be eliminated from veterans legislation and be applied only to non-service related disability.
Beyond the unnecessary duplication of the programs—SISIP and ELB—the compensation of veterans and their dependants should not be a function of the insurance industry, whose mandate in many situations is to minimize exposure of insurers' policies when applied to injured or disabled individuals. I speak more of that in the paper, and I'll leave that to your reading at a separate time.
Third, disability awards commensurate with civil court general damages should be facilitated by VAC.
It is to be noted that in lieu of implementing this long-standing recommendation, the minister has opted to propose a new critical injury benefit in the amount of $70,000. This CIB is limited to the specific circumstances of a transitionally incapacitated veteran and to high-end disability award recipients. It is noteworthy in this regard that the CIB is fraught with definitional issues as to who is eligible for this benefit and what factors are to be considered by adjudicators in determining the scope and extent of this new provision. Although we support the establishment of the innovative CIB in recognition of the plight that seriously disabled veterans confront, the choice of VAC to compensate only this particular class of veterans, as opposed to incrementally increasing all pensions in the disability award system, is of concern. I might add that this recommendation has been consistently brought forward over the last six or seven years not only by this committee, but by all of the other advisory groups that have looked at the charter.
Fourth, improved access to permanent impairment allowance and entitlement to higher-grade levels of the allowance needs further evaluation. It will be recalled that the Veterans Ombudsman, Mr. Parent, in his empirical study of the charter identified that 50% of seriously disabled veterans were not receiving the PIA, and consequently the PIAS, and that 90% of these veterans receiving the award were only obtaining grade three, the lowest grade. The minister's proposal to widen the regulatory definition of PIA eligibility is commendable, but once again does not fully satisfy all aspects of the reform of this important allowance. This is particularly so for those seriously disabled veterans who fail to satisfy the criteria for PIA, but it is also of great significance when one considers that the amount of the PIA is a major element of the new retirement income security benefit, as was pointed out by Mr. Butler this morning.
We continue to strongly feel that our proposal to the standing committee in this regard is the best approach to improving this access to PIA. That is, once a veteran is deemed to be permanently incapacitated, the disability award received by such a veteran should be the major determinant in assessing his or her grade level of PIA. If you're over 78% disability award, you should be entitled to a grade one PIA. Between 48% and 78%, you should be at grade two. It's simple, straightforward, and triggered by the disability award.
Fifth, the family caregiver relief benefit requires further re-evaluation as it fails to comprehensively provide adequate financial support for the families of seriously disabled veterans where significant needs of attendants must be provided by a caregiver. This benefit, as brought forward by the minister, is commendable insofar as it goes, as a targeted support to allow caregivers appropriate respite or relief, but in my judgment, it represents only one element of the overall concerns confronting the caregivers of seriously disabled veterans in need of attendants. Such families are also facing, in many cases, a significant diminishment in income due to the fact that the caregiver spouse has been forced to give up his or her employment, and when coupled with the veteran's 25% loss of income, through SISIP or ELB, it often results in a financial crisis in the overall family budget.
I'll just be a couple of minutes, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
I'd also like to thank the witnesses for sharing their observations in their opening remarks. This is just the first step in improving the new veterans charter.
A lot of improvements still need to be made, improvements that appear in the ombudsman's reports over the past few years, as well as in the committee's June 2014 report. You called the legislation a step in the right direction, but I tend to view it as a half-measure as far as the three new benefits are concerned.
For instance, the retirement income security benefit is better than nothing, yes, but it only provides 70%. Mr. Forbes said that he was actually in favour of a formula that would provide 100%. Veterans should receive 100% of the benefit amount throughout their retirement years. Mr. Parent, I believe that was also one of your recommendations.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on each of the benefits, beginning with the retirement income security benefit. As the legislation is currently worded, does the benefit guarantee veterans financial security in their retirement years, post-65?
Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, I think there's been a bit of confusion. The percentage referred to didn't concern the retirement income security benefit post-65 but, rather, the earnings loss benefit, which Mr. Forbes said should be raised to 100% and the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman said should be provided at 90%.
I explained to the committee that what was important, in our view, was ensuring that a person participating in vocational rehabilitation receive the same level of income support. We would like to see the individual keep at least the same amount of money in their pocket. We are proposing 90% because people wouldn't have to pay into their pension fund, retirement fund and so forth.
As for financial security after the age of 65, I agree with you, it's a step in the right direction. It's very hard to take a position on that, however, because the regulations haven't been published yet. Once we know more about the regulations, we'll have a clearer idea as to the impact. Nevertheless, it does satisfy a need that both our office and the committee identified given that the new veterans charter didn't provide for any benefit after the age of 65. This way, at least veterans will continue to receive 70% of the amount they were getting from the department.
Thank you, Chair. To our witnesses, thank you for being here.
Actually, it's an interesting discussion. Let me just ask a question about that.
I think the ombudsman made a good point that a lot of these circumstances are very personal, meaning they are unique to the individual who is being considered for benefits. For example, sometimes it's easy to think that the ELB, which is at 70%, should be at 80%, should be at 90%, should be at 100%, but there are other benefits too that a veteran may have access to. It's very individual.
For example, if someone is a moderately to seriously injured veteran, is the disability award being taken into consideration there? That can be quite a large lump sum payment up to $300,000. In addition to that, there's the SISIP payment for dismemberment. If a member lost an arm, lost an eye, lost two eyes, lost an arm and a leg, there could be a significant lump sum payment that is in addition to any type of ELB they would receive.
The third thing I would mention of course is the military pension. It is true some soldiers are young and may not be in the pensionable window, but there are others who are and would receive their military pension.
I think there are a lot of factors. If I may, let me ask the ombudsman about that.
When you're advocating a position for the ELB, for example, are you taking into consideration these other benefits to which a veteran may be eligible?
Thank you for your question and comments.
Mr. Chair, I would like to point out that when we published the new Veterans Charter review, we actually made a point of not mixing up the pain and suffering amounts with the income replacement amount. There's a big difference between the two. In fact, you could say that under the new legislation, the critical incident benefit is a pain and suffering payment, not a replacement for income. If you mix the two, then it is very hard for young veterans to understand how beneficial the new Veterans Charter is compared to the old Pension Act.
In terms of the earnings loss benefit, we have always urged the government to up the benefit to, as I say, 90%, or no change in income. Obviously, the earnings loss benefit will change, as you say, depending on the other income received by the veteran. At age 65 a veteran may receive very little ELB because of his pension and other. The ELB is based on the pre-release salary, so at 65, a person might be getting very little earnings loss, and if they are getting PIA and PIAS, then they are benefits for life. They don't stop at 65.
What my conclusion would have been.... I thought I'd suggest it, Mr. Chair, if you'd allow me to get to that conclusion.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux: Absolutely.
Mr. Brian Forbes: The conclusion that we really wanted to talk to you about is that there is work to be done. There is a lot to be done in the charter. There are inequities in the charter. I think we all agree.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux: Right.
Mr. Brian Forbes: We'd like to urge this committee to actually obtain a formal commitment from the minister that he will look at these changes in the timeframe of the future that he can define, or that this committee can define, as a follow-up to the passage of this bill.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux: Sure, but we have to vote on this legislation.
Mr. Brian Forbes: Yes, but I think it's important—
Mr. Pierre Lemieux: What would be your recommendation?
Mr. Brian Forbes: —that you make that caveat part of the exercise.
Thank you both for being here.
There are a lot of moving parts in this discussion, and I think one of the problems that people are having from my point of view is understanding the purpose of some of these new benefits, the critical injury benefit, for example, and the family caregiver relief benefit. They are targeted and they are specific for specific needs that have arisen.
Regarding the critical injury benefit, for example, Mr. Ombudsman, somebody could collect that more than once. If you get shot somewhere, if you fully recover, you're not going to get a disability award because you've fully recovered—terrific. But you're still eligible for the critical injury benefit because you're going to go through some hell to get better, and that could happen more than once. It's a very specific benefit for a very specific purpose. I'll just use that as an example.
We talk about perfection, and obviously we always strive for perfection. Mr. Parent, will we ever get to 100%? Will it always be a work in progress? I think it will. We're always going to be striving to do more and better because things change. I've said this before, that in 1938 we didn't know we'd have hundreds of thousands of World War II vets. In 1948 we didn't know we'd have tens of thousands of Korea vets, and now we have tens of thousands of Afghanistan vets. In 20 years we'll look back and say that we didn't know we'd have tens of thousands of vets from something else. So are we looking at a work in progress?
When something comes out, and the ombudsman and the Auditor General always put out reports and there's some good news and bad news. The opposition always picks up on the bad news; that's politics. We always pick up on the good news; that's politics. But is it fair to say it's a work in progress?
This is progress. We need to vote on this. We need to support it. Frankly, all sides need to support it, but I know that won't happen because that's also politics. But are we just faced here with a continuous work in progress that we all have to be committed to, to make that progress and keep making that progress? Is it ever going to stop?
I appreciate that. I would just share our pain in the veterans' community.
In 2006 the Veterans Charter was enacted and we were promised, as a basic veterans stakeholders' group, that this was a living charter and that each year there would be a total review, as we're doing this year in 2015, of the charter to identify those areas where there are voids and inequities. It's the frustration, I think, of 10 years of waiting Mr. Hawn, through you, Mr. Chair. This has finally reached a point where there's an opportunity to get it right, and it is discouraging in a way that we have not yet taken on all of the elements of this new Veterans Charter reform.
That is why I feel it's important that we continue the momentum. It may seem like an insignificant thing to you, but I would suggest that getting the formal commitment of the minister that this momentum will continue, and I know he's made strong statements before this committee and in other places, like the veterans summit, to that effect.
I think it's important, and I give credit to this committee. In 2011, when you passed Bill , you made it a condition that the minister of the day would come back to you, as I recall, within six months, to take a look at the bill to see how effective it was. I would like to suggest you do that with regard to this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and through you, thank you all for being here.
Clearly, we're all seized with veterans around this table. There's nobody who gets up in the morning and asks, “How do we do it worse?” We all want to strive to do it better. That's something that we're all trying to do and, as my colleague said earlier, a lot do change. Back in the days when he was flying a Sopwith Camel in the First World War....
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Ted Opitz: I had to get that in.
But you know a lot did change then as it did in 1938. There's no possible way we could have anticipated the level of issues and Korea after that. For example, we went through shell shock and combat fatigue. PTSD was only diagnosed in the 1970s as an actual term. So there's a lot of flexibility here and latitude for discovering new things because as we progress, the war injuries are different and they're caused differently. They're caused through different weapon systems and other things. How do you treat that?
We have new treatments for PTSD every day that they're working on. DRDC, as the ombudsman well knows, and CIMVHR and others are working to address these things. They are trying to get ahead of the curve and identify people through genetic markers who might be susceptible to this and be able to treat that earlier or to be able to address it. There's a lot going on.
By the way, when we bring even a half-smile to the ombudsman facing me, it makes my day, so I'm happy about that.
As Mr. Hawn said, the minister is absolutely seized with it. He is absolutely committed to it. Sir, you had a veterans summit. That's commitment for this minister to be able to address that with stakeholders and to be able to talk about that. He has a deputy minister who, I think everybody here will agree, is top drawer: my old boss General Walt Natynczyk, who was just absolutely the right man for the job, is doing brilliantly.
There are a lot of vets on this side of the table, three veterans. Many of the minister's staff are veterans, one currently serving as the CEO of a medical unit still. So, I mean, if that doesn't say commitment, I absolutely don't know what does.
I know that this government and the minister are absolutely seized with moving the yardsticks forward on this and this committee, folks, will never be out of work. We will never be out of work. We will always have something to address year after year on this committee about veterans, because this is an ever-changing, ever-evolving issue with veterans. New things will happen. Things will change. New treatments will reveal themselves or new problems will reveal themselves, and we will have to address those. That's why this committee will always be here, I think, in perpetuity. We do have things to address. There is a gap. It's narrowing all the time but it may never completely close, and that's why I think we have to deal with that.
Our previous witnesses—to address some of the comments you made right now about what some of the problems are—addressed in their testimony that the language is going to change and how they're talking to veterans so it's much more understandable and doesn't sound like it's right out of the legislation. I mean, I have trouble with it; I have to read it two or three times sometimes to understand it, and I work in this environment. It needs to be made clear. They're going to do that. The new case workers who are coming on line will be educated and trained to work with this and to address it, so better communications are en route and getting done. Are they going to happen by tomorrow? No.
But there's going to be an option to, as this evolves, as the deputy minister said.... As they start to implement this plan with the changes, which I think we have agreement on that you all counsel this committee to vote for. It will be implemented and delivered as a service delivery, to use a term that you used earlier, to the veterans.
Given some of my comments and given the fact that previous witnesses already addressed what some of the changes are coming: being able to be more understandable, more flexible, making sure that the application process is simpler and quicker and that there is guidance given to veterans as well, as you all know, the initiative now is to blend. You know as soon as a recruit is taken on that they will learn throughout their career about VAC so once they retire, there won't be any mysteries. They will know how to access it. They will know how to deal with it much better. I think as we move forward over the next few years that will start to manifest itself.
Mr. Parent, would you have any comment?