Before we continue with the presentation, I would like to make an administrative clarification. You have been given our brief, as translated, and our presentation is clearly going to be quite a bit shorter than that. We won't be following that script exactly.
Mr. Chair and respected members of this vital committee, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association on service delivery to veterans. I am Ray Kokkonen, national president. With me is retired Lieutenant General Louis Cuppens, who is our special advisor. Also with me from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association is retired Colonel Tim Sparling, and retired Major David Hyman, who was the private secretary to Senator Roméo Dallaire for many years.
I should mention that General Cuppens has been helping veterans for 20 years. He was the Legion's representative on the Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Forces advisory council that eventually led to the creation of the new Veterans Charter.
About the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, the CPVA was founded in 1991 as a national, all-veteran, all-volunteer, not-for-profit, apolitical organization with chapters from Vancouver Island to St. John's, Newfoundland. We receive no public funding.
Our mission statement is to be a strong and leading advocate for all veterans and to provide a forum of comradeship for veterans. Our association is open to all veterans, and its membership includes World War II veterans, Korean war vets, peace support, NATO, the Balkan and Afghanistan missions, as well as RCMP and civilian police and some international members.
The CPVA has been instrumental in improving conditions of veterans with initiatives such as the start-up of the 1-800 VAC assistance line, the creation of the position of the Veterans Ombudsman, the initiation of the August 9 National Peacekeepers' Day, and the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal. The CPVA has also been active in work with the Veterans Ombudsman's office. Our members have served on numerous committees related to the NVC and other VAC committees. The CPVA has appeared before this committee several times over the years. I must say that I got to know all the other people; now I don't recognize anyone.
One fundamental element sets veterans in a unique place in Canadian society. They have served their country under the unlimited liability clause, which committed them, if necessary, to lay down their lives as the ultimate sacrifice. They have served under the legal obligation to obey all lawful commands, regardless of consequence to themselves. The significance of this commitment is an obligation most Canadians citizens do not fully comprehend. In return for their service, Canada has a duty to provide adequate and appropriate care for its wounded, injured, and sick veterans and their families so they can live out their lives with dignity.
Veterans Affairs Canada is the vehicle by which Canada meets its duty to the veterans, and by and large the department does a reasonable job, although it's seldom given credit for doing that. In recognition of that, the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association has created an outstanding service award, which it has given to elements of VAC that have done outstanding service. We do that at the provincial and the federal level.
As far as this study goes, there is a clear need for this study as media across Canada have brought the matter of VAC service delivery to the court of public opinion. The CPVA congratulates the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for undertaking this study. The CPVA has reviewed the terms of reference of the study and has examined the 13 questions that have been posed.
I would now like to turn it over to General Cuppens for the presentation.
Thank you. There's a distinct difference in how an injured citizen and a veteran are supported. The citizen may apply to workers' compensation facilities, and assistance in various forms is provided. The veteran cannot apply to this entity for assistance. VAC is the workers' compensation system for veterans. The veteran should at least receive equal treatment and compensation for injury as that given to civilian workers.
Within VAC, there's been real progress since the deputy minister has brought his leadership to the department, and there's clear evidence that change is occurring. The major factor in the delay of VAC delivery of service is the lack of documentation about injuries in veterans' records and files. Some delays occur at the VAC scanning centre in Matane, Quebec.
Archives Canada has reported that Canadian Forces members' records of service, including medical and personnel documentation, are not being archived in a timely fashion. They advise that DND has embarked on a new method of digitizing and preserving records, and delays of several months are being encountered when these records are requested. We're aware that the personnel resources of the department are being adjusted to repair personnel reductions and that a reallocation of resources to case management is occurring. Case managers are the front line of Veterans Affairs Canada's service delivery. These changes are most welcome.
Desired outcomes, not just treatments and compensation, were the goal of the new Veterans Charter when it was introduced. Unfortunately, what we experience today is a continuance of layering of regulations and policies that make it difficult for veterans and even VAC staff to come up with an appropriate action. There doesn't seem to be a focus on outcomes, but rather a development of a quick prescription to solve problems. The department needs to focus on outcomes, not repairing and adjusting the labyrinth of programs and regulations.
In some NATO nations, there is a focus on the release process, so much so that the releasing veteran is examined holistically by empowered medical staff to document the medical condition of the veteran. In so doing, the lengthy and very frustrating process in post-release applications for disability awards is diminished or avoided.
I'll use some acronyms, so I'll introduce them. SISIP is Service Income Security Insurance Plan, and LTD is long-term disability. On complexity, not including mental health, disability applications, and the issues related to long-term care disability provisions, there are signs that some processes of VAC are being streamlined. SISIP is a CF-wide compulsory insurance policy. This warrants further examination by your committee so that the impacts of long-term disability by SISIP on VAC services are clearly understood.
A veteran applying for a disability award will be processed using the date of initial application as a reference point. If the application was made before March 2006, the Pension Act is used as the adjudication for an award. For applications after March 2006, the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Regulations Act, referred to as the new Veterans Charter, is used. If there's a negative decision under the Pension Act, the member can request any number of departmental level reviews and/or appeals to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, with set limitations. Under the new Veterans Charter, only one application per departmental review is authorized, and the option thereafter is to go to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Why is there a difference?
The existing VAC service standards for departmental level reviews and for the Veterans Review and Appeal Board appeals are not promulgated. We have been advised by the Bureau of Pension Advocates that there is a backlog of cases and that they have personnel shortages.
In regard to wait times, because of the lack of documentation, internal and external to the department, delays in decisions occur. In client satisfaction data, we can find no reference to the achievement of the service standard of 16 weeks in rendering a decision on disability awards. The reasons for the timeline are not provided. Perhaps the reasons are document retrieval and a shortage of adjudication personnel. This should be examined further.
Decision times to allocate personal care have improved, but further improvements can be realized.
There is a lengthy process to obtain aids for living such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, hearing aids, lift chairs, and the like. The present system is not timely and is rather cumbersome. The VAC service standard is three weeks, but delays can and do occur when financial approval of the needed service is delayed for months as the veteran's entitlement to service is studied.
As for complexity, the more complex the case, the longer the adjudication takes. Factors such as privacy concerns, gaining the testimony of physicians and medical specialists, the effectiveness of the case managers and service officers, and internal processes are all linked to delays.
We realize that service personnel generally do not apply immediately for a disability award for injury while serving. The “suck it up, boys” attitude still prevails in the military and some stigma is attached to reporting and recording an injury while in the service.
Another issue is the VAC claimed benefit of the doubt. It's our experience that without a Canadian Forces 98 report on injury, or without the testimony of a witness, veterans' claims are not ruled upon favourably.
The number of trained case managers has increased and this will surely benefit veterans over time. The training and placements of these managers is redressing a long-standing need. The days of the walk-in trade are past and most applicants now apply for assistance from VAC by telephone or by the Internet. Some veterans still need active case management, and they require visits by the case manager to their homes.
Regarding partnerships with National Defence, since the promulgation of the Neary report that led to the creation of the veterans charter, there remains a quest to have a stronger relationship between VAC and DND. The initial aims were to have VAC hire more ex-military personnel and to provide timely counselling to releasing Canadian Forces members. Much progress has been achieved. The creation and joint staffing of the joint personnel support units are achieving superb results, and we note that further initiatives in this partnership are being trialled and examined.
At the federal and provincial levels, some good regulations and policies are in place for hiring veterans, both able and disabled. However, despite what is written as policy, the public service unions seem steadfastly against any priority hiring or employment being given to veterans. Policies have been announced, but more needs to be done. Ministers, VAC, and DND could lead and set an example and set realistic goals and demand adherence. For instance, setting a goal of hiring one veteran per ministry per month would send a powerful message to all the other ministries. Another suggestion would be to do what the U.K. government does, in stating that Her Majesty’s government will not do business with any firm that fails to have an active veterans hiring practice in place.
As for regional offices, modern clients communicate with VAC through the Internet and telephone. However, since several veterans rely on the office people to assist them, we support having VAC offices across Canada. The matter of providing VAC services to rural areas is easily solved using the advertisement and arrival methodology previously practised.
The initiative wherein Service Canada personnel are to provide assistance and services to VAC will benefit veterans across Canada. However, the complexity and the construct and linkages of the VAC programs are such that present Service Canada personnel are not capable of rendering a one-stop shopping solution for today's vets.
There are differences in the quality of medical care across Canada and in rural and urban centres. The quality of care that a veteran receives depends on the circumstances of the health care process where he lives. Special needs people residing in rural areas need more help.
Dedicated VAC counsellors greatly assist veterans in addressing their needs. Most VAC offices are staffed with nurses and occupational therapists who can refer the veteran to the appropriate medical system. Once a referral is made and costs are involved, it's our experience that with the exception of prescribed medical aids, claims are repaid in a timely manner.
In the case of mental injuries, once treatment is prescribed by a specialist, including group therapy sessions, the veteran is compensated in a timely manner. We note that RCMP veterans diagnosed with PTSD may receive treatment by specialists, and compensation is provided by VAC. This service should also be provided to veterans and their families.
As for mental health services, Canada has a shortage of mental health specialists, and DND and VAC are taking actions to try to resolve this. Operational stress clinics go a long way towards solving and addressing these issues.
With respect to rehabilitation, VAC has disbanded the program evaluation directorate, under which VAC would remain unaware of program satisfaction trends without conducting a client satisfaction survey, and there they would only get partial answers. VAC has a lot of data available, but staff to analyze the data are not present. We consider that the criteria for access to rehab programs should be re-examined. The SISIP, in which long-term disability recipients receive little or no VAC support until the two-year assessment period for a long-term disability is completed, needs to change. Once the long-term disability period has expired, veterans and releasing military personnel have appropriate access to rehab services.
As for long-term care, we're aware of the plans concerning St. Anne's in Quebec, but access to long-term care facilities for veterans across Canada has been and will be necessary for a long time. The present construct does not facilitate the co-location of the veteran and the spouse in a VAC-funded facility. In addition, depending on the province of residence, there is no guarantee that the veteran will be located in a facility close to his family. This situation is a matter of availability of beds, and VAC could provide enticement to the provinces to realize this simple need.
The veterans independence program is an excellent program. We consider it a model for the treatment of aged, stay-at-home persons for the consideration of provincial jurisdictions. VAC uses a telephonic tool to determine the amount of VIP assistance that the veteran may be entitled to. For some veterans this tool would be of benefit to VAC and to the veteran. We have complained to VAC that this tool is not useful for some veterans who have hearing disabilities or for those who are frail. We recommended that this tool not be used in assessing the needs of these veterans. Unfortunately, our criticisms were not heeded. We can attest to a number of cases where a veteran has been granted two hours per week of housekeeping. I could go on to explain that, but I won't. It's our considered opinion that the minimum should be three hours per week. Another matter is that, while VIP services are extended to the spouse at the time of death, the percentage of the deceased veteran’s spouse disability benefit is diminished.
I've already spoken about the handling of claims, and I said that most of them are done in a timely fashion.
At the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, there are staffing issues and delays. The service standard for the delivery of VRAB services should be reviewed. Some cases take a long time to resolve. During this time, veterans are denied benefits and they become frustrated. We're aware of the past transgressions by VRAB in law and practice, and the quest for change is noted. The practice of appointing members through political patronage, as well as the embarrassment of failing to heed directions of the Federal Court of Canada, has angered veterans to the point that many have lost confidence in this appeal process. Nonetheless, veterans must have an appeal process.
We're most grateful for the opportunity to provide this testimony. We realized that you were well into the information-gathering phase and that you'd soon be doing investigation and analysis before rendering your report. The CPVA stands ready to assist you and respond to your requests as needed.
Thank you very much.
I am Deanna Fimrite, the dominion secretary-treasurer of The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, or ANAVETS for short. It's a great honour to represent dominion president Brian Phoenix, our executive, and the approximately 15,000 members in 65 units from coast to coast of Canada’s most senior veterans organization.
Our association traces its history back to 1840 when a charter was granted by Queen Victoria to create a unit in Montreal, and we were formally incorporated under a special act of Parliament in September 1917. We therefore have a long history of contributing to the consultation process with governments of the day in relation to services and benefits affecting the well-being of veterans, current serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, former members of the RCMP, and their families.
When the men and women of this country decide to proudly don the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they have committed to a calling that may require the supreme sacrifice. With such a noble commitment comes an obligation from the people and Government of Canada to honour that commitment, that in such service, if they become ill, injured, or make the ultimate sacrifice, we will ensure that they and their families are cared for. It is the mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada to provide such service and care for those veterans, their families and survivors, on behalf of a grateful nation.
Today we are here to discuss the way that care is delivered and the opportunities that we have to make the process less complex and cumbersome for veterans and their families. We must bear in mind that the men and women leaving or being forced to leave the service often do so with physical, psychological, or a combination of injuries which can be exacerbated by trying to navigate themselves through a complicated system of benefits and eligibility requirements.
There have been a number of changes that Veterans Affairs has made to reduce the complexity of their application process and to improve service delivery. Some forms have been reduced in size, and there is ongoing work being done to make them more user-friendly. There have been efforts made to connect with members in the pre-release stage earlier than they previously had been.
The use of telehealth services has been employed for veterans in isolated or rural communities. The introduction of operations codes to connect service relationship to musculoskeletal injuries of the neck, back, hips, knees, and hearing loss for those military occupations that often see such injuries is a step in the right direction. The cultural change in the department demonstrating the new philosophy of care, compassion, and respect is slowly starting to take hold and brings with it the prospects of a comprehensive change in the way we service veterans and their families.
To facilitate the best possible transition from military to civilian life, we would like to see a better integration of the programs and services offered by the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. Certainly one of the first barriers faced by transitioning members is the overlapping programs offered by DND’s SISIP long-term disability program and the VAC rehabilitation program. For medically releasing members, SISIP is the first provider of services. Additionally, veterans must apply within 120 days of release to access the VAC rehabilitation program.
With past and proposed improvements to the income replacement and educational allowances on the Veterans Affairs side, we foresee increased problems and confusion in keeping both these programs separately. We would like to see the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada work together to eliminate redundancy and better streamline the transition process.
We believe that a more proactive and early engagement from Veterans Affairs in the release process would close some gaps in transition. As soon as the decision to release has been made, a VAC veteran service agent or case manager should meet with the veteran and his or her family to discuss their unique situation and needs.
As there is a minimum of six months between that decision being made and the release date, this would give Veterans Affairs' front-line staff the time they need to receive and review the service file, proactively communicate with the veteran and his or her family all the programs and benefits that they are entitled to, and to start the application process for those veterans. An early involvement of front-line staff will hopefully allow for benefit decisions to be made and program and treatment plans to be in place as soon as the release from the forces occurs.
This is a fundamental shift in focus, from having the onus being placed on the veteran to navigate the system to making Veterans Affairs responsible to clearly communicate the benefits and services to which he or she may be entitled. Moreover, assistance in applying for these benefits is certainly a more veteran-centric approach and corresponds with the ethos of care, compassion, and respect.
With the department hiring more front-line staff, and the government’s mandate to reduce the case worker ratio to 25 to 1, we believe that this vital transformation is achievable, but we are not there yet. Additional training and understanding of the programs and benefits, and the interrelationships between these benefits, by front-line staff is required to ensure that they can properly explain the services. I believe that the department is already taking this into consideration when training its new hires.
We also have to remember that operational stress injuries often take months or years to come to the surface—or indeed for the veteran to accept that they require help. We need to be ready to assist those veterans whenever they are ready to come forward.
We applaud the government’s decision to reopen Veterans Affairs offices where the need dictates. Certainly, the feedback in regards to Service Canada locations was not positive. Many veterans were frustrated when the Service Canada agents failed to provide knowledgeable feedback to their questions. From the responses we have received, Service Canada serves as no more than a post office for veterans applications.
In today’s computer age, with so many people looking for information and access online, the department has some work to do on the technology side of things. The My VAC Account requires a redesign, the website could use improvements in providing ease of access to clear information on programs and benefits, and the IT department should be constantly monitoring for any technical errors in its delivery of information.
Currently there are still delays in disability adjudication, which should be improved. Processes must be simplified, and communication with the veteran as to what is required must be enhanced. There is certainly a disconnection between the length of time the process takes from the veteran's perspective versus that of Veterans Affairs. The current 16-week timeline, which starts only after the determination of a complete application being received, is unwarranted. When coupled with wait times to see specialists, or to be assessed at an OSI clinic, the overall process will well exceed the current four-month commitment.
We encourage veterans to seek help with their applications, and we instruct our service officers to connect them with the Royal Canadian Legion service officers who have professional training and client service delivery network access. They can help to ensure that the application goes forward in a complete fashion the first time around.
The department has also hired more adjudicators to work through the backlog of cases and to improve services delivery times. I hope we start to see some more evidence of improvements in that area.
Recently we had a veteran whom the department asked to pay back thousands of dollars relating to an overpayment. We requested a departmental review, provided additional information, and received a positive decision back within six to seven weeks of the request. That was certainly an encouraging outcome.
With regards to health care and the VIP program, we have received some reports of difficulties garnering approvals for health care for consequential health issues related to the pensioned conditions. This causes frustrations for the veteran and often out-of-pocket expenses. We would like to see more partnerships with provincial health care systems in regard to assisting veterans and their families, and to finding family doctors and other health care providers.
We are encouraged by the department’s use of telehealth opportunities for those living in rural areas, and would like to see this explored further. Long-term care for veterans in their communities, or close to family, should be further explored with provincial authorities. We would like to see veterans retain priority access, with Veterans Affairs providing the funding similar to what they provide currently for veterans of World War II and Korea.
The VIP program is well received by most veterans, who would like to stay in their homes for as long as possible. We have encountered some delays in approvals for necessary home adaptions to make the lives of our veterans safer and easier. For the elderly World War II veteran, who needs a walk-in bathtub with a seat, months of waiting for approval and financing for the renovation is clearly not acceptable. The response needs faster consideration and action.
We all know that families play an integral part of service to country. When there are severe illnesses and injuries, it is not only the veteran but the entire family that is overcome with the stresses of adjusting. We would like to see family members have access to related treatment in their own right and increased training to understand how to best care for their loved ones and themselves.
In this regard, Veterans Affairs and DND have partnered with The Royal Ottawa to create a new online OSI resource for caregivers, as well as the veteran family program pilot project in conjunction with seven of the military family resource centres across the country. We look forward to hearing back on whether these programs are helping families transition.
Mr. Chair, on behalf of President Phoenix and all of our members, I appreciate the dedication and effort of this committee to ensure that we give our veterans and their families the best possible service and care, which they so justly deserve.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to begin by thanking the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for inviting us to help explain the difficulties that veterans face when they submit a claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs for benefits or compensation to which they are entitled.
I hope the answers to the questions that will be asked today will enable you, in a direct and helpful way, to understand the process aimed at facilitating veterans' access to their benefits, so that the processing of pending and future claims for these benefits will take less time.
First of all, I should note that our group, Veterans UN-NATO Canada, has over 9,000 veterans—new generation veterans and others—throughout Canada. We also have service points for Canadian veterans who live abroad, in places like Germany, France, and Thailand, and who have the right to receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.
We have set up a very effective communication system, which includes more than 27 private or secret Facebook sites, an official national website at www.veteransunnatohq.com, and my Facebook page, Fondateur Veterans Un Nato Canada, which is devoted to the accomplishments and events to date, and is open to the general public. These sites enable us to get information out very quickly, and save lives.
Through our group, we've become acquainted with veterans who give of themselves voluntarily, without the slightest compensation. What they have is heart, along with natural abilities they can use to help their brothers and sisters in arms. All these veterans have the same objective: to secure the appropriate benefits and care for all veterans in need who are having trouble navigating through the relevant benefit processes put in place by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In this regard, I would like to introduce Ms. Brigitte Laverdure, who is part of the Veterans UN-NATO Canada group and who, as a peer support worker, has looked after more than 42 cases in four years, with a 100% success rate. The answers to the questions she will be asked today will show you how challengingly complex the department's administrative system is when it comes to us veterans obtaining the benefits we're entitled to. We have the evidence to back up everything Ms. Laverdure will be saying today. A list of names that must remain confidential, and cannot be disclosed here, can be made available for your consultation outside the context of these proceedings.
We are speaking here about veterans who achieved success with their applications, and who, thanks to peer support workers like Ms. Laverdure, now enjoy a better quality of life. As a result, these people, whose personal and family situations were critical and desperate, are still among us. I can assure you that I know what I am talking about: I was one of those people.
Bear in mind that it's not the mission of Veterans UN-NATO Canada to do administrative work and complete case files for the purposes of benefit or other applications. Rather, our mission is to bridge the gap between the street and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is why, after our involvement, the veterans concerned are entrusted to the care of other veterans, who have the skills necessary to give them urgent help in the short, medium and long term.
I want to point out that many of the instances in which we managed to obtain benefits and care for veterans were cases that had been rejected by other official bodies that provide assistance. The veterans had been told that, according to the administrative criteria of those bodies, they were not entitled to the benefits or assistance programs involved. This suggests that these bodies are misinformed about the criteria or the benefits to which veterans are entitled.
Since the creation of Veterans UN-NATO Canada some eight years ago, nearly 500 veterans have benefited from front-line assistance through our involvement. When I say front-line, I am talking about finding a veteran in major psychological or financial difficulty, who might even have become homeless. The task at that point is to help the person out of that predicament within about four weeks, and ensure that the person can obtain a guaranteed income, and personalized medical and psychosocial support, through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I will now turn things over to Ms. Laverdure so she can answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I'm grateful for the honour to participate in your important study today. With your encouragement, I prepared a short statement describing the nature of the RCAF Association.
The association was conceived in 1944 as the Second World War continued to be waged. Formalization of the association came in May 1948, with an order in council that also provided for a $15,000 annual grant. You'll probably be grateful to know that that will be the extent of my historical recap of the association. Unlike my colleagues in the ANAVETS, I'm not able to reach back to 1840. The technology of airplanes just wasn't there yet—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Dean Black:—although when Lieutenant-General Cuppens started his flying career, it was somewhere around that time.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Dean Black: That's the point, namely, the technology of airplanes Your predecessors in the mid-20th century determined that it was so complex through the war and immediately after the war that they would benefit if Canadian citizens were informed of the whole sphere of those activities. That's what motivated the creation of the air force association. We were there to serve Canadian citizens, to keep them informed, and to provide them with information so that they, in turn, would be able to help your predecessors pursue the right kinds of projects, products, and activities that would benefit and be helpful to Canada and Canadians going forward. We were on the same payroll as your predecessors after the war—on the same side, definitely.
As the association was established, uniformed personnel were encouraged to make as many social connections as possible through the association's chapters across Canada, and with individual members everywhere, all in an effort to ensure that the dialogue that would ensue between Canadians and parliamentarians on the subject of national air power would be understandable, reasonably accurate, helpful, productive, and positive. All of this is to say that the kinds of needs on which this committee is focused, the needs of veterans, were not part of the original mandate and mission of the RCAF Association. For that I apologize.
Today it's a different story. The care of air force veterans emerged long ago as a latent function of the association. Today, our RCAF Association community leaders have argued that caring for air force veterans needs to be a bigger part of our mission going forward. The state of global security and the military operations in which Canadians have participated over the past several years have contributed to this evolving need.
When it comes to supporting veterans, our default has been and continues to be to defer to the Royal Canadian Legion, where the expertise and resources are truly to be found. To that end, the RCAF Association is an active participant with 30 or so organizations in what's referred to as the Veterans Consultation Assembly, so that the information and requests you receive have at least been constructed by a group of similarly-minded folks who agree to reach some sort of helpful consensus for your benefit.
With this background in mind, I would be pleased to respond to your important questions, which I will do to the best of my ability.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As I mentioned in our testimony, veterans can access Veterans Affairs services either on the Internet or by telephone, or by going into a Veterans Affairs district or area office. Those are not extant in all communities.
You mentioned Saint John. There is the area office in Saint John that has quite a staff. Also, they're next door to the largest army base in Canada, Base Gagetown, where they have a Veterans Affairs group of people embedded in the joint personnel support unit. Serving veterans and even veterans who live in the nearby communities can go there for assistance.
If you reside in other rural areas in New Brunswick—in Sussex, in Moncton, or out in the countryside—and need special assistance, you would have to commute to those facilities and meet with a counsellor or a case manager. You can contact the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, the Legion, or ANAVETS, and also the many reach-out organizations, including the Red Cross and the medical society. All these folks know how to find resources to help veterans, and if they don't know, Veterans Affairs hasn't been doing their job to communicate.
You were asking about veterans facilities. It's very much the same in many places in Canada. New Brunswick has four large wings for veterans. One is located in Saint John and is called Ridgewood, and we have one in Moncton, one in Fredericton, and one in Edmundston. These are located near the big centres and affiliated with the local hospitals there. Veterans have access to these facilities, but only World War II and Korean veterans may go there. Spouses cannot be collocated with the veteran when admitted there.
As the client base from World War II diminishes to zero, which according to demographic predictions will happen within 5 years, then you're into the Korean veterans, and the demographic prediction for them is the same only 11 or 12 years away, so these facilities will have no veterans in them. The whole methodology then would be to transfer them, since we haven't changed the eligibility criteria, to provincial health authorities for full-time use.
Modern-day veterans—and I'm talking about those who have served since Korea—can access the facility if their disability is related to a service condition and they're being treated for something they've already been given a disability award for by Veterans Affairs. They can go there, but again, spouses may not.
I hope I've answered your question, Alaina.
I think I can shed some light on the subject.
On December 7, 2010, I came to meet this committee and I explained all this. You can refer to what I said at that time.
DND is responsible for the active forces. When those soldiers leave the army, the responsibility passes to VAC. The problem is simple. Soldiers who are still active are told by the defence department, their regiment, or their battalion that they will be paid during the two-year transition from military to civilian life. However, nobody tells them that VAC will be able to take responsibility for them immediately thereafter.
So the person is in a stressful situation because they think that, once those two years have elapsed, there will no longer be any help. That's what the problem is. The way things really should work is that, when a soldier joins his or her unit or battalion—not when he or she is recruited into the forces, because that would be too early—there should be people designated by VAC to provide mandatory information sessions for them. That way, the soldiers will know that, if ever there's a psychological or physiological problem, they have a recourse. They are not just shown the door, like I was in 1992. This approach would dispel any uncertainty for them. Thanks to such VAC information sessions, they would know what help they can count on from their release onward.
I never got the benefit of a program. DND had nothing for me. I was simply sent home. Fourteen years went by before I was paid any benefits. These days, a person can get help after four weeks. This proves that VAC works very well. There's still a lot of work to do, and there are still many shortcomings to address, but it works. The key is to know how it works, however.
These days, there's a lot of focus on active military who are about to be released. The situation they face isn't so bad because they have at least two years in front of them without needing to be too concerned. They know that as soon as they leave the ranks, they'll be looked after. And yet I know people who have been waiting for three, four, five or seven years, and still haven't received a thing. They are completely destitute, and if we weren't there to look after them due to the fact that someone, by sheer happenstance, referred us to them, they'd no longer be part of the population. They would have hanged themselves.
Do you understand what I'm getting at? It's all well and good to have discussions about this, but everything that's been said up to this point was already said by me in 2010. Can we not make some progress now? Could we talk about real situations? There are people dying, and DND's response is that its statistics are not all up to date.
I'm not blaming DND, or VAC. However, a great many veterans are not being taken care of, and are ending up in hospitals in various provinces, having fallen between the cracks. Those veterans are not included in the statistics. So there's a huge gap that still needs to be filled. VAC needs to provide mandatory information sessions when the soldiers joins their unit, so the soldiers know they'll have access to the help they need one day.