I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everybody. I'd like to welcome all of our guests today and all our witnesses who are here testifying as we resume the study of barriers to transition and measurable outcomes of successful transition.
The panel today consists of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence.
From the Department of Veterans Affairs, we have Elizabeth Douglas, Director General, Service Delivery Program Management, and Susan Baglole, National Manager, Rehabilitation, Career Transition Services, and Income Support. They will focus on the new Veterans Charter transition program, vocational rehabilitation programs, and statistics.
From the Department of National Defence, we have Commodore Sean Cantelon, Director General, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, Military Personnel Command, and Phil Marcus, Vice-President, Operations and Support Services. They will focus on support services, service income, and security insurance plans, or SISIPs. To respond to questions about SISIPs, we welcome, from Manulife Financial, Kathleen McIlwham, Vice-President for Wellness, Disability, and Life.
Ms. Douglas, you have the floor for five minutes.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, Mr. Vice-Chair, members of the committee.
My name is Elizabeth Douglas, Director General for Service Delivery Program Management for Veterans Affairs Canada.
I'm responsible for approximately 200 employees, located primarily in Charlottetown, in the areas of online services, strategic and enabling initiatives, case management and support services, health care programs, income support programs, rehabilitation services, vocational assistance, and long-term care.
I would like to thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today. Joining me is Susan Baglole, the National Manager of Rehabilitation, Career Transition Services, and Income Support.
I'm also pleased to provide an overview of our rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program. I note that you emphasized the importance of vocational rehabilitation in your “Comparative Study of Services in Other Jurisdictions“ report and concur that workforce reintegration is one of the keys to successful transition. At VAC, the 2016 “Life After Service” study, conducted internally, identified that 52% of our veterans report easy or moderately easy adjustment to civilian life and that veterans who are employed have lower rates of difficulty with transition to civilian life.
Employment can impact health, social integration, and finances. Also, health, social integration, or financial problems can affect the ability to find or retain a job. Research shows clearly that participation in paid employment is beneficial to health. VAC's programs provide an opportunity to close this gap for Canadian Armed Forces personnel in their transition to civilian life. As we will discuss today, there are programs in place that are closing that seam.
Our LASS research shows that overall, veterans do well in the labour market, with 65% employed at the time of our last LASS study in 2016. In addition, 49% of veterans are able to transfer their military skills, knowledge, and abilities to comparable civilian occupations. Also, the unemployment rate for veterans is the same as that of the Canadian general population.
However, veterans are more likely to have activity limitations at work and to face barriers to labour force participation. Some veterans are retired and are not interested in working, while others are at school or pursuing other interests. However, 22% of those not in the labour force reported being on disability.
There are also other subpopulations who may have more difficulty in post-military employment success. These include women, those with fewer years of service, those who are younger, and those who served in the army. While veterans in general are doing well integrating into the civilian workforce, some still need support.
For those who are unable to transition successfully, VAC's rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program provide eligible veterans and their spouses or survivors with medical, psychosocial, and/or vocational services. The intent of the program is to support restoration of functioning in areas such as mental and physical functioning, social adjustment, family relationships, financial security, and employment.
Participants in the rehabilitation program often have complex needs in a number of areas and require medical, psychosocial, and/or vocational services. As of June 30, 2017, 12,245 veterans and 196 spouses or survivors benefited from rehabilitation services.
Vocational professionals work with the veteran to help them transfer skills and education to the civilian labour force. These vocational supports may include help to identify suitable employment, job search skills, resumé development, and financial support for training and related costs. In the first quarter of 2017-18, 76% of veterans were more employable upon completion of a vocational rehab plan.
Education and training may be an important part of a plan for some veterans. Through the rehabilitation program, veterans can access up to $75,800 for education and related costs. Veterans can work towards a university degree, attend a technical college, or partake in a variety of educational programs.
In most cases, rehab services are provided through a network of local experts. A VAC case manager works with the veteran and their family to help determine what is needed and how to access these services. On behalf of VAC, Canadian veterans vocational rehabilitation services provides the vocational rehabilitation and assistance to help the veteran build their vocational rehab plans and achieve their goals.
Shortly, you’ll hear from my CAF colleague about SISIP. Some veterans may be participating in VAC’s rehab program, receiving medical and psychosocial rehabilitation services while receiving vocational assistance from SISIP. CAF, VAC, and SISIP case managers work to coordinate these services across organizations.
There are significant efforts under way between the CAF and VAC to enhance transition and to align programs and services. The identified closing the seam between CAF and VAC by reducing complexity and strengthening partnerships as the first priority in the Minister of Veterans Affairs' mandate letter. In an effort to ensure CAF members, veterans, and their families have a successful transition from the military to civilian life, a CAF-VAC seamless transition task force was established in 2016.
Early engagement and intervention is one of the most critical components of a successful transition process from CAF. In 2016, in response to the June 2014 report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, we launched the CAF-VAC enhanced transition services. This initiative is about VAC engaging earlier with medically releasing VAC members and their families. This results in building stronger relationships with medically releasing members prior to release, the determination of eligibility for programs and services pre-release, and the strengthening of joint case management activities between CAF and VAC.
In conclusion, I want to note that every veteran is different. However, one unifying experience is the major life change that results from the journey to life after service. The most successful transitions occur when a veteran has a positive state of well-being, which is a balance of financial, mental, physical, and social factors. Financial security is critical, but financial security is just one of the domains essential to the overall well-being of the veteran.
The rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program provides individualized, needs-based services to veterans and their spouses and survivors. The program aims to support restoration of functioning in areas such as mental and physical, social adjustment, family relationships, financial security, and employment.
Thank you again for the invitation to speak to you today. I appreciate the opportunity to support the work of your committee and consider what it may hold for the future of Canada's services to veterans and families in the recognition of their extraordinary contributions and service.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, as the Director General of Morale and Welfare Services, I am also the Managing Director of Non-Public Property and the Chief Executive Officer of the staff of the non-public funds, Canadian Forces. It is in these capacities that I'm responsible for over 5,000 staff of the non-public funds Canadian Forces employees on bases, wings, and units, as well as at the Canadian Forces morale and welfare services headquarters here in Ottawa.
CFMWS works to enhance the morale and welfare of the military community, thus contributing to the operational readiness and effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces. The programs and services under my authority are the personnel support programs, or PSP; the CANEX retail operations; military family services; the support our troops program; the Canadian Forces appreciation program; and the Canadian Armed Forces service income security insurance plan, or, as it is now known, SISIP Financial. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to talk specifically about SISIP Financial products, services, and benefits.
Joining me today as CFMWS's subject matter expert is Mr. Phil Marcus, our Associate Vice-President, Operations, at SISIP Financial, and from Manulife, Ms. Kathy McIlwham, Vice-President of Wellness, Disability, and Life Group Benefits and Retirement Solutions.
SISIP Financial is a non-public property entity created under the National Defence Act in 1969. In the Canadian Forces, the chief of the defence staff is the vested authority for non-public property, and he has delegated the management functions to the managing director of non-public property, who happens to be me, the director general, morale and welfare services. The Canadian Forces morale and welfare services organization is responsible for administrating non-public property on behalf of the chief of the defence staff. SISIP Financial is a key division of the Canadian Forces morale and welfare services. Its revenues contribute more than any other division's to corporate non-public property.
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to the care, health and well-being of all military personnel and their families. Canadian Armed Forces members have excellent benefits, including world-class health care and rehabilitation services, monetary compensation and benefits, a government subsidized insurance program, a comprehensive transition support, and a rich network of support to military families.
The Canadian Armed Forces long-term disability plan is a key component of the Canadian Armed Forces' suite of group benefits. It provides ill or injured veterans with income and vocational rehabilitation support after their release. The CAF long-term disability plan provides up to 75% of a member's salary at release from the Canadian Armed Forces for both service-related and non-service-related illness and injuries. It is a premium-based disability insurance plan that provides financial benefits, including vocational rehabilitation, to medically releasing members or to members who take a voluntary release and qualify as totally disabled.
All Canadian Armed Forces members are automatically enrolled in CAF long-term disability coverage and are eligible for benefits starting from their first day of service. Personnel who leave the Canadian Armed Forces because of medical limitations receive income support for up to 24 months, or to age 65 if they're unable to return to work.
A component of this program is a vocational rehabilitation program that enables participants to restore their vocational capacity to prepare them for suitable gainful employment in the civilian sector. To this end, the program focuses on the veteran's abilities, interests, medical limitations and potential economic viability of their chosen plan to help establish their future. Recipients receive training that takes into consideration experience, any existing education plans prior to release and the economic realities in their geographic location. The vocational rehabilitation program support can start up to six months prior to release and is often coordinated with the member to ensure continuity after release.
In 1975, the CAF LTD insurer developed a vocational rehabilitation program tailored to former military members. Typically, employers provide a return-to-work rehabilitation program. However, fundamental to the Canadian Armed Forces is the principle of universality of service. It holds that Canadian Armed Forces members, regardless of rank or occupation, are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties. Those in breach of universality of service are subject to an eventual release from the Canadian Armed Forces.
This open-ended nature of military service is one of the features that distinguishes the Canadian Armed Forces from a civilian notion of employment. Therefore, a vocational rehabilitation plan was created to provide specific vocational training and assistance with job search to a group of members who could not return to their previous occupation.
SISIP Financial also provides optional life insurance coverage for Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their spouses. This coverage varies from $10,000 to $600,000, and premiums are paid by members. The member chooses the level of coverage they desire.
The Canadian Armed Forces pay all premiums for accidental dismemberment insurance, which provides coverage up to $250,000. There is no qualifying period. Similar to the public service where accidental death and dismemberment is offered though their optional life insurance plans.
In addition, all Regular Force and Class “C” Canadian Armed Forces members are provided with supplementary death benefit coverage, which is equal to two times their salary rounded to the nearest $250.
SISIP Financial also provides Canadian Armed Forces members the expertise of qualified financial advisers who understand the military environment and the complicated pay, pension, and benefits regime—including severance, pension transfer values, payment in lieu, and lump sum payments—and can provide them with sound financial advice. With 22 offices at major bases and wings across Canada, SISIP Financial is able to deliver personalized service, tailored advice, tailored product solutions, and an exceptional customer experience to meet those needs.
I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to appear, and I would be pleased to respond to any questions from the committee.
Again, Brigadier-General Misener will be well positioned to speak to this issue when he testifies.
When I spoke to the panel last year, I was responsible for transition services. This is part of how the chief of the defence staff is increasing the commitment toward our enhanced transition, which is one of our mandate commitments and is in the “Strong, Secure, Engaged” policy.
We've brought a new director general to lead this program, to be in charge of the JPSU. Additional staff are being added. That's exactly the focus: to make this a seamless experience. No one leaves uniform without having either a job set up or the support programs, either from long-term disability or from our colleagues at Veterans Affairs. Their education plan is rolling, or if they're employed, they're straight into their employment, and their adaptive needs, through benefits, are all there. That's the goal.
In reality, there are, unfortunately, a few—usually in the single digits annually—who do slip through those cracks now. Brigadier-General Misener will be able to speak to the total flow that we've seen and how we're going to enhance that and make it.... The goal is always zero. No one will fall through the cracks and no one will be unsupported.
First of all, yes, those are correct. On the MFRCs, just to nuance a bit on the funding, the $6 million came from National Defence for serving members, and over $140 million is coming—over years, not annually—from Veterans Affairs for enhanced veterans services, which are being rolled out across all MFRCs. The $6 million is annual, so it depends on how you do your math.
The MFRCs remain a very important organization for us. We know that they directly impact about 15% of families. Those are families in crisis, and they touch on up to another 50% of families in guidance. When we deal with the challenge transition—I think this is the key part—MFRCs will remain a key partner going forward. Where are we going to go with that was your question.
We are working with our colleagues through my non-public authority hat, with a memorandum of understanding between Veterans Affairs and the non-public organization, to deliver more services. At the same time, we're working with National Defence on enhanced transition, which has been nominally captured under something we call “the journey”, which is the experience of a family. That family's experience starts from the day the person walks into the recruiting centre and continues all the way through.
We're working with academic colleagues, such as through organizations like CIMVHR to look at family personas, understanding that a young family transitioning is fundamentally different from a single member who's got parents. We've now found, for instance, that we have several hundred families that have declared their parents as a dependant in that type of program.
What we are going to do in the future is get smarter at targeting the types of services to the persona of each of those families, working with our partners in the family resource centres to understand each type of family and where they are and what they need. We'll reflect that with our veteran colleagues, the idea being here that as they take off that uniform and they transition out, the family is so instrumental to a successful transition that supporting the family so they understand the stressors or non-stressors there....
We have some expertise in this, but we have not brought it to—if I was doing a sports analogy—the professional level. That's where we're going in the future. We're involved in that right now; I don't want to give the implication that we're not. The research is going on; I have a new director under the comprehensive military family plan who is leading that, working with Veterans Affairs while working inside of National Defence.
In the strategy for Canadian Forces morale and welfare services, the whole point of non-public property is that we're a member-driven organization. The money that we manage and the services we deliver are the members' money, and the services are there for the members. In one way you can think of it as a co-op: every member of the Canadian Armed Forces is a member of this co-op, and we manage all of these services.
We are extremely client-driven. We've just initiated a survey with Nanos on our services. When we look at one of those cases that speaks to frustration, as Phil would know, the moment I read the headline, he has an email in his inbox about two minutes later asking for the status of the file and where we are.
Ms. McIlwham used an excellent example. When we've had a process in the past that caused one of our members friction, the entire point is to learn from that, so when we see those problem headlines, we immediately go into them. For obvious confidentiality reasons, we can't speak to them, but I can assure you that we have looked, for instance, in the financial sphere when anyone comes out and said they're financially challenged. We do monitor Facebook, and we're actively involved. We determine whether or not their disability payments have gone out on time or if there has been a snag in the file.
We don't forget that one of the key points of this whole organization or structure is that the chief of the defence staff is our boss. He is the chairman of the board, so appeals go to him if necessary. She touched on the appeals; I'm pleased to say that not one has gone to the chief. We've managed them internally and turned them over in favour of the members, because it's a member-driven organization. We're not profit-seeking, we're member-seeking.
Again, before this study is over I'd like to have exactly the pinpoint—one, two, three.
Let me lead into the third question, which I think is essential. I know there are two departments. There's Veterans Affairs and there's DND. I'm not saying today we should join them, but should we join them when it comes to seamless transition release? I don't mean the bodies, but should we have a joint, seamless transition in which that team is solely responsible for ensuring that no one is released before everything is in place and that everything is in place.
It's not as a criticism, of course, but three times in the discussions so far I've heard, “Not in my responsibility, not in my jurisdiction.” No one could say that if that body were there. I know you're not going to give your opinion, but I'm just asking, what are the positives? Would you see any positives in having a joint team? On the release, no one is released unless everything is in place, and who is to be in charge of that? It's not one or the other, but a joint team.
Thank you all for being here today.
I'm not sure if my colleagues will agree, but I have to say it's great to see DND and VAC at the same table answering questions. We've heard a lot about the VAC portion of available benefits and services because we are the ACVA committee, but seeing it from the time that you're still an active member until the time you become a VAC client is, I think, really important.
On that note, I'm a very visual person, so while you were talking and giving your testimony, I was drawing my little timeline here to walk myself through the workflow process of somebody leaving the Canadian Armed Forces involuntarily due to a medical condition. For instance, the person becomes ill or injured and goes into the JPSU for a maximum period of three years. At some point during that time they are identified as breaching universality of service, and then six months prior to release they start having the conversation regarding LTD and so on.
When they leave, regardless of whether they're receiving their CAF superannuation pension, with LTD they can go up to two years. Is that correct? When do they fall into the VAC client pool? Does the LTD impact what they would receive in VAC?
I just want to make sure I'm walking through the timeline correctly.
Okay. I will start at the very macro level. I will also recommend to my colleague when Brigadier-General Misener comes that perhaps he can submit an actual graphic through the clerk.
It would show that, which will help everybody to understand.
Very quickly, they are going to find out. You have a problem, you go to the doctor. I will use myself, because we can't breach my confidentiality if I use it. I'm bicycling home. I have an accident. I break my collarbone. I have to go to the medical clinic because I now have a broken collarbone. This immediately results in a restriction on my ability to do activities. I would go through that process of physiotherapy or all the normal things anyone would go through.
If I'm okay, then I'm returned to full duties. If it turns out I've had a complication, then I would go from a temporary medical category to a potential review for what we call a permanent medical category.
That is the policy decision that says this medical category may put you in breach of universality of service. You're not even necessarily at the JPSU yet. You may be there because of your circumstance, or you may not be.
Once that permanent medical category decision is made, you're then on track for a medical release. I will let Brigadier-General Misener speak to that process because that's the core transition piece, but at the end of the day you are certainly engaged both by SISIP and by Veterans Affairs prior to your medical release.
For comment on the offsets of incomes—because the income aspect is complex—I will let Manulife speak to that.