Thank you to the committee for inviting me here today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am entering the last year of my mandate, and this may well be the last time I appear before this committee to discuss transition from military to civilian life. On the subject of a seamless transition, I believe the cycle of constant review is doing more harm than good to the current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. This committee is currently studying the barriers to transition. The barriers are well known; hundreds of recommendations have been made to fix them by this committee and others over the course of successive governments. Dozens of recommendations have been accepted and implemented, however, many more have not.
Ladies and gentlemen of this committee, in 2010, Veterans Affairs Canada conducted a major survey on transition in concert with Statistics Canada. A related study with Statistics Canada was also done in 2012. The release of the results of another StatsCan survey of over 400 Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families on the subject of transition and well-being is anticipated this month. I can guarantee you that those results will tell us exactly what we know. Enough is enough.
Prior to this committee appearance, I circulated my testimony at previous committee appearances. The points I will make on transition today are the same ones I made in the reports produced by my office. I believe that much of what you are looking for has already been presented by me and other witnesses.
If at the end of my appearance here today I have persuaded you to shift direction and focus on implementing what has already been studied, then I—indeed all of us here today—will be doing right by our transitioning members. They and we do not need another study into transition. We just need to do it. We know what needs to be done.
I would respectfully suggest to members of this committee that you take a hard look at why, after years of studies and ignored recommendations, so little has been done. Senior leadership needs to be held accountable for implementation, not tasked with more research. The recommendations I have made to government are scarcely given credence. This includes one simple recommendation that would greatly benefit our transitioning members: authorizing the Canadian Armed Forces to determine if a member’s illness or injury can be attributable to service. As I have said, the Canadian Armed Forces knows when, where, and how you have become ill or injured. The Canadian Armed Forces should tell Veterans Affairs Canada that the illness or injury is attributable to their service, and this determination be accepted. This recommendation would significantly decrease wait times for veteran services and benefits. I made this recommendation in 2016, and Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces keep passing the hot potato back and forth, creating some very fanciful excuses as to why it cannot or should not be done. The only thing they seem to agree on is maintaining the status quo at all costs. That is a problem of bureaucracy; it serves itself.
Between the two parliamentary committees, both ACVA and NDDN, 14 studies have been conducted, with 190 recommendations made. The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman and my office have also made a number of recommendations. As all of you are aware, my recommendations are based on evidence. Evidence is not created, it is uncovered. True to mandate, everything our office publishes is evidence-based and factual. To contribute to lasting improvements for the defence community, we take our research seriously. Evidence-based decision-making is championed across government. Political parties and senior public servants commit to its principles. However, my fear is that little of what our government does for its ill and injured members is measured in a way that can be easily understood. The outcomes of various programs are simply not well known. Yes, there is some tracking on turnaround times, on adjudications, and some basic operational items. However, there is no reporting on rehabilitation programming and other key indicators that any private sector benefits administrator would follow.
As a result, current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces, members of Parliament, senators, and the Canadian public have an incomplete picture of where the issues lie. To change what ails us, the bureaucratic approach and the bureaucratic systems need to fundamentally change. We need a transition process informed by evidence-based, user-centric design. It is not enough to try to fix inefficiencies here and there when the system is broken.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a five-year appointment. I know the exact date I will vacate my office. Similarly, you, as members of Parliament, know roughly when you will have to seek re-election. We do what we do because we want to make positive and lasting changes for our constituencies. Bureaucracies cannot do this for us. If you want real change, I encourage you to pressure senior leadership and hold them accountable to measurable promises. Please take a hard look at some of the evidence-based solutions that have already been suggested. Of course, there is the need to be up-to-date on transition, and it is helpful to be aware of best practices and other solutions that may be adaptable to the Canadian Armed Forces context. However, I fear that a redundancy of studies only feeds bureaucracy. It lets senior leadership off the hook. When questioned, one can respond, “We are studying it”. The ill and injured continue to lose out.
Like the Veterans Ombudsman, I have begun publishing report cards that reflect the status and effort that has gone into implementing accepted recommendations. It is my humble opinion that asking the government why accepted recommendations have not been implemented will bring timelier, more concrete results than doing an additional study. The current system is broken, however it can be fixed. Please do not be an impediment to transition by standing in the way of action. The people who make up the members of the defence community are important. I ask that we stop defending positions on the subject of transition that are indefensible.
Now, I stand ready for your questions. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Right now, when a veteran is applying for a service or benefit at Veterans Affairs Canada, there's a 16-week adjudication process. Veterans Affairs can take up to 16 weeks to just determine whether or not it is attributable to service. Their service standard is to meet that 80% of the time. The last stats I looked at in October, they were nowhere close to meeting that number. That's how it gets measured.
I have to be careful. We know how it gets measured. We know the two programs are there. Where we go from here is the question. I'm not quite sure if I have an answer to that question. I go back to it again. I keep going back to it. We know what, where, when, and how, but I want the....
I mean, if you go to a private sector insurance company, you're hurt or injured, and you ask for service, they want to know when, where, and how you got injured. We know when, where, and how a soldier has become ill or injured. That's enough to release them from their career, but not enough to be accepted at Veterans Affairs Canada. That, for me, is a problem.
What would happen in my world is the member would leave with their piece of paper saying that this illness or injury is attributable to service that happened on such a date, and we have the evidence for that. Veterans Affairs then takes that file and just determines the level of impact of this illness or injury on the person's life. That would make a tremendous difference on the ground.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen.
I want to thank you for your invitation today to offer insight regarding services for military and veteran families in transition.
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 of the Canadian Forces.
I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to talk about our military family services division, whose mandate is to ensure the Canadian military family community is well supported and that military families specifically are able to lead positive, nurturing lives comparable to other Canadian families.
Joining me today is Colonel Dan Harris, the director of military family services.
The military family services division is composed of regular force; reserve force; civilian, non-public fund staff; and public servants. This division oversees three major programs that serve to address the unique aspects of a military lifestyle. As the military family services program is a publicly funded program, it's delivered through a non-public property framework, and it includes funding to third-party, non-profit organizations, known as military family resource centres. We also have the children's education management program, a publicly funded program that manages education with compensation and benefits to military members and dependent children. This program includes the recent addition of a guidance counselling component, delivered by non-public funds staff, which has proven highly beneficial to military families as they move and transition.
The veteran family program is a program funded by Veterans Affairs Canada. It's executed by Canadian Forces morale and welfare services through a memorandum of agreement. This program extends the military family services program to all medically releasing members and released members and their families.
The military family services program is available to families via three access points so that families can access the services they require in a manner that best suits their needs. First, families can visit one of 32 non-profit military family resource centres located on bases and wings across Canada. We also staff military family services points across the United States and Europe so that families who are posted outside of Canada, known as OUTCAN, can receive the same level of support services. The staff who work OUTCAN are employees of the non-public funds, unlike the staff at the military family resource centres in Canada who have a voluntary board of directors as their own employer of record.
Secondly, families can access our services through our 24-7 family information line. This service provides bilingual, confidential, and referral information services to families by trained counsellors who know how to navigate the often complicated life of the Canadian Armed Forces federal, provincial, and municipal policy infrastructure. We've also recently extended this service to now include scheduled phone or video sessions to make it easier for families to connect with our counsellors.
The third access point to the military family services program is through a central online source of information for military families at a website called CAFconnection.ca. This is a mobile-friendly web portal that allows families to access all of the military family resource centres as well as national information and resources relevant to all military families. This would include veteran families in the transition program.
The Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman's report, “On the Homefront”, which was released in 2013, was an important report that identified three aspects specific to our military lifestyle: the constant geographic relocation, the extensive absences from loved ones, and the risk inherent in the profession of arms. It is these three characteristics that set our serving members and their families apart from civilian families and define their needs for supports and services.
The government's new “Strong, Secure, Engaged” defence policy recognizes the important sacrifices made by families in their role as a major source of strength and support to serving members. As part of “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, and in the first phase of increased support to military families, $6 million per year in new funding has been authorized to modernize the military family services program and provide additional support to military families, allocated to the military family resource centres and the military family services.
“ Strong, Secure, Engaged” also directs a second phase of support through development of a comprehensive military family plan to augment support services and to stabilize family life for Canadian Armed Forces members and their families. The development of the comprehensive military family plan also falls within Canadian Forces morale and welfare services' responsibility on behalf of chief military personnel. Challenges such as establishing relocation expertise and engaging federal, provincial, and private sector partners to improve the coordination of services across the provinces are some of the issues we'll be tackling in this plan.
In the context of today's appearance, I'd like to touch specifically on the realities of a medically releasing member, their transition, and what it means in terms of family support, the challenges faced by those families, and how the military family services program is responding. Releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces can be challenging and emotional, and becomes even more so when it's the result of a medical condition, where a medical release is concerned.
When a serving member leaves the Canadian Armed Forces, their family does as well. The entire family is a step away from their extended family and support structure, the Canadian Armed Forces and our service. The serving member and their family have to consider how to find those services in the areas of health care, employment, and education, and navigate in areas that are unfamiliar to them.
This is why the veteran family program, which began as a pilot program in November 2015 at seven family resource centre sites, was initiated for medically releasing members. As of April 1, 2018, all medically releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces and their respective families will be eligible to access the veteran family program through all access points, such as the MFRCs, the family information line, and CAFconnection.ca. There is no specific end date to their eligibility. The focus is to support their transition to civilian services and programs.
The veteran family program is intended to ease the transition for the entire family and provide familiarity within a framework of services that are already well known by the military family. It's meant to provide a seamless transition of support and services at a time when medically releasing members and their families are struggling the most.
Our Veterans Affairs, military family services, and military family resource centre teams have been working closely together since the budget announcement of March 2017 to operationalize the nationalization of this program and ensure a seamless transition for all. Military family resource centres have hired veteran family coordinators, and joint training for new coordinators and VAC service case managers is taking place and will be completed at the end of February to ensure an alignment of information and services.
The move to nationalize the veteran family program is a testament to the efforts of seven pilot centres and the working groups who work diligently behind the scenes to lay a solid foundation. For your information, the seven pilot centres were in Esquimalt, Edmonton, Shilo, North Bay, Trenton, Valcartier, and Halifax. They have been consulted extensively, and have imparted their insights and learnings from the initial two-year period.
During this pilot period, from October 2015 to October 2017, there were over 11,000 interactions with medically releasing members, spouses, and family members at the pilot sites. Additionally, there were over 1,200 family information line interactions with releasing members, spouses, and family members, and another 15,500 unique page views on our CAFconnection website.
We at Morale and Welfare Services and Military Family Services are eager to launch the new Veteran Family Program, along with our MFRC and community service partners and to continue making a real difference in a lives of members, veterans and their families.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today.
Mr. Chairman, I would be pleased to respond to the committee's questions.
I appreciate your comments. It is not simply, for example, just opening up the doors of the MFRC and then all of a sudden our veterans and their families can come in and take advantage of the programs that were already offered. There are fundamental differences between the military family services program that we have now and the VAC-sponsored veteran family program.
For example, our whole program is built on the three unique characteristics of military lifestyle that families endure: frequent geographical relocations; extensive separation from families; and the risk of the profession of arms, which can result in illness, injury, or death. The program is built to help the families of Canadian Armed Forces members adjust to those living conditions as they're going across Canada.
Also, note the difference in the programs. For example, the CAF member, as you know, is looked after by the Canadian Armed Forces. All of a sudden, when you take off your uniform, you don't have that care from the Canadian Armed Forces. Under the veteran family program, the veteran and the family are now included. There's a distinct difference between the MFSP and the veteran family program.
As you can see, it is now totally turned opposite. A veteran and their family no longer have geographical relocations; in fact, they're permanently located in the community wherever they may live, and we don't know that at once when they're retiring. They don't have extended absences from their family, and that, of course, can have its own issues in many cases. Thirdly, not only do they not have a risky profession anymore, they have the whole culture shock of taking off the uniform.
The veteran family program is really geared to integrating a veteran and their family into the new life that they're going to be experiencing, into their community permanently. That's going to involve all kinds of community partnerships and we're going to have to educate and inform the community of what they're receiving for the ill and injured veteran and their family.
First of all, we have to recognize that the family has its own transition. It's not necessarily always linked to the member. We have to think about the families. We plan on doing that, but specifically to answer your question, we need to link up with the releasing member and their family immediately, because all the ill and injured are posted to the IPSCs, the integrated personnel support centres. We need to get linked up, right at that starting point, as soon as a member releases as an ill and injured member. We have to continue that process straight through with the family. We do have family liaison officers under the military family services program who are integrated into the IPSCs, so they will be able to start the comprehensive analysis of the needs of the family.
The beauty of the veteran family program is that it's tailored for the specific needs of the family. It's not a matter of you coming in and taking one of these and one of those. It's “What do you need?”, and we will develop a program for you to meet those needs.
The veteran family part is what Colonel Harris has touched on. The entire goal here is to bring the family in, or meet them at a location that's comfortable for them, and do exactly that, talk through their needs and their expectations.
Specific to the Canadian Armed Forces and the serving member, there is also a process and interviews there. Really, I'm a bit ahead of next week's witness. I have the right week this time with General Misener, and that's part of that as well in terms of what they are trying to achieve. That's part of what they do: holistically, what do you need in terms of rehabilitation or vocation? Prior to release, ideally we're dealing with this in terms of looking for another activity for them to do, preferably with an occupational transfer to a different trade in the Canadian Forces and how that would go through.
It's the same type of family services. As you can imagine, in this case, the good news is that it's not a universality of service, or we've modified that policy so it's more flexible.
Let's use the air traffic controller example. If you're an infanteer in Petawawa....
That's a bad example. There is an aircraft tower in Petawawa. There are aircraft there.
I'll put you in Gagetown, where there's no permanently deployed squadron. You want to go work in Greenwood, so we're going to need to transition you to Borden for training and all of that. Your family is going to need those services. That's exactly where we would bring you in to provide those service supports through our integrated process, through the existing military family services program.
Yes, there's an interview. Yes, there's one for the families. General Misener can speak more specifically to the Canadian Armed Forces for the serving member, but that's exactly the point of this program.