I call the meeting to order.
I'd like to welcome everybody today. Today we have, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), studies of barriers to transition and measurable outcomes of successful transition.
In the first panel today, from the Department of Veterans Affairs we have Elizabeth Douglas, director general, service delivery and program management; Nathalie Pham, acting area director, Montreal office, field operations; and Mark Roy, acting director, case management and support services.
As well, from the Department of National Defence we have Brigadier-General Mark Misener, commander, joint personnel support unit, military personnel command.
Thank you for joining us today.
Go ahead, Mr. McColeman.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
My name is Elizabeth Douglas, director general for Service Delivery Program Management for Veterans Affairs Canada.
I am responsible for 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 and vocational assistance, and long-term care.
I would like to thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee with my colleagues Nathalie Pham, acting director for the western Quebec area, and Mark Roy, acting director for case management and support services.
I am pleased to provide an overview of Veterans Affairs Canada’s work in the integrated personnel support centres.
As you know, our mission is to improve the well-being of veterans and their families. Through a comprehensive approach to veteran well-being, we are committed to ensure a seamless and simpler transition to civilian society for Canadian Armed Forces members.
There was an increase in medical releases from the Canadian Armed Forces between 2013 and 2017, going from an average of 1,200 per year to 2,500 in the years 2016-17. The Canadian Armed Forces are projecting 2,500 medical releases per year over the next five years. Since 2013 the average number of total releases from the CAF is 9,107 per year.
What we have learned from the 2016 life after service studies is that although 52% of regular force veterans report easy or moderately easy adjustment to civilian life, 32% report having trouble adjusting. This is a clear indication for VAC that we need to strengthen our transition services for all members who are transitioning to civilian life.
Over the years, VAC and the Canadian Armed Forces have made many improvements to programs and services for members and veterans and for their families. We have dedicated even more resources to improving transition services and we are committed more than ever to working with the Canadian Armed Forces to better support our veterans.
VAC is present at a total of 24 integrated personnel support centres, or IPSCs, and at seven satellite centres. These support centres are located across the country, providing one-on-one contact and support for serving and former Canadian Armed Forces personnel and their families. More than 130 VAC staff are serving veterans and CAF members from these locations every day. Some centres have full veteran service teams, including case managers, veteran service agents, managers, and admin staff; others, depending on the size, will have one or two case managers or veteran service agents. The integration of VAC staff within the IPSC has permitted VAC the opportunity to better understand military culture and the issues facing ill and injured veterans and the opportunity to work with the other partners serving this population.
VAC's presence at the IPSCs allows for earlier and immediate intervention in the event of casualties involving members who are still serving. Upon notification of a casualty, a case manager is assigned and can work directly with the IPSC staff and CAF officers to support the member and family, providing information on benefits, services, and support that could be of help to them. If the member/survivor or family representative is ready to proceed with applications, the VAC case manager can assist with completing applications and gathering supporting documentation as required.
Members and veterans are informed of VAC programs and services while serving and during their transition to civilian life through a variety of outreach activities and initiatives such as the second career assistance network, the SCAN seminars.
VAC staff participate in these outreach activities in order to share information on the programs and services available to Canadian Armed Forces members making the transition from military to civilian life. In 2017, VAC front-line staff delivered more than 70 SCAN sessions to serving CAF members across the country.
Since September 2015, VAC and the Canadian Armed Forces have worked together on the enhanced transition services, which are focused on supporting collaborative work at local levels. Specifically, the Canadian Armed Forces nurse case managers, the VAC staff professional case managers, and veterans service agents have been working closely together to ensure earlier intervention in support of effective transition services.
Moving forward, the enhanced transition services will continue to focus efforts on improving transition services for those medically releasing. While we are moving in the right direction, we know that some members continue to face challenges transitioning to civilian life. That is why we've been working closely with the Canadian Armed Forces in our efforts to improve the transition process, and we will continue to do so.
Thank you again for the invitation to speak to you today. I very much 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 recognition of their extraordinary contributions and sacrifice.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today, along with my colleague from Veterans Affairs Canada, to speak on the subject of transition.
As commander of the joint personnel support unit, I'm responsible to ensure that the ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces personnel, former personnel, their families, and families of the deceased are properly cared for and receive administrative support during all phases of recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration, whether they are returning to service or transitioning to civilian life. This is accomplished through an integrated team with Veterans Affairs Canada and approximately 400 Canadian Armed Forces military and Department of National Defence civilian staff members on bases, wings, units, and at the joint personnel support unit headquarters here in Ottawa.
As commander of the joint personnel support unit, in addition to an overall emphasis on continuous improvement, my top priorities are caring for and supporting our ill and injured members and their families, renewing the joint personnel support unit, and planning for the future transition group, while working closely with Veterans Affairs Canada.
As background, the Joint Personnel Support Unit, the JPSU, was created in 2009 to give ill and injured members the opportunity to recover, to return to duty, or to give them time and support to transition to civilian life.
The number of JPSU supported members has nearly tripled in size since its creation. Today, approximately 1,500 ill and injured personnel are currently posted to the JPSU for periods of six months or more. The JPSU also directly supports approximately 4,000 additional ill and injured members and their families by providing information, advocacy, referrals, and the delivery of numerous services and programs.
This support takes place across Canada at the JPSU's 31 integrated personnel support centres. These IPSCs are the local face of the joint personnel support unit, providing a one-stop centre delivering integrated assistance to the ill and injured.
My top priority is providing care and support to the ill and injured members and their families. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to the care and well-being of all military personnel and their families. Part of that commitment is provided through the JPSU, ensuring that no one is released until all administration is complete and appropriate benefits are in place. All transitioning members require support, but the needs remain most acute for our ill and injured posted to the JPSU. Improving our daily support and service is an ongoing effort. One very recent and tangible example of this support was the acquisition of 17 new wheelchair-accessible vans that were delivered to integrated personnel support centres across the country in January. An additional 16 wheelchair-accessible vans were provided to various bases. These vans will increase transportation capability and support ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members in getting to and from their medical appointments.
While the JPSU has assisted numerous ill and injured women and men over the years, there is room for improvement. That's why my second priority is JPSU renewal. The JPSU has grown and is currently undergoing a renewal to better meet its core mandate of service to our ill and injured members.
The JPSU has been organized as a formation with a general officer—myself, currently—at its head. While retaining its regional structure, JPSU regional headquarters have become units with designated commanding officers and more authority and responsibility to have a positive influence on members. These commanding officers will be “up-ranked” shortly in some regions from majors to lieutenant-colonels to better highlight their important responsibilities in working with Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs, and other partner organizations to assist and support our ill and injured members.
At our IPSCs across the country, there has been an increase of staff to better meet the demand in services. In 2017, 31 regular force members were added and funding was secured for 28 more civilian staff. The year 2018 will bring further augmentation to our staff to provide better support and more favourable ratios. As a direct result of this staffing, we are hoping to achieve a ratio of one section commander for every 20 personnel posted to the JPSU, as opposed to one for every 26 currently. What this will mean in practical terms is better oversight, support, and personalized service for all ill and injured posted to the JPSU.
In addition, JPSU headquarters is undergoing reforms to its structure to prioritize the effort on transition services. These changes put in place a director of transition services to continue efforts to focus priority on transition programs and services.
My third priority is the creation of the Canadian Armed Forces transition group. As you are aware, in June 2017 the government introduced Canada's new defence policy of “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, setting out defence objectives for the next 20 years. Since it was released, we've been busy planning for a new transition group, which will be established over the next few years to provide professional, personalized, and standardized support to all Canadian Armed Forces members to seamlessly transition to post-military life and to ensure all benefits are in place before their transition, with particular attention paid to our ill and injured members. Support will also be provided to former veterans and their families to facilitate integration back into civilian life after service.
Professional support means a transition group that is adequately resourced, with personnel in place who are properly trained. It also means a deepening integration with Veterans Affairs Canada to provide more closely coordinated service.
Personalized means a needs-based approach, which tailors services to the individual and their family needs.
Finally, standardized means that the same services are available to every member of the military and their family, whether reserve or regular force, from Esquimalt to St. John's, as they experience transition.
This is an ambitious and complex undertaking that will take some time to build. However, in order to advance it, we will begin a trial this year in Borden, which will allow us to implement some new initiatives with an opportunity to test and adjust them prior to implementing them Canadian Armed Forces-wide.
Finally, tying these priorities together is an ongoing effort, a commitment to implementing continuous improvement while deepening integration with Veterans Affairs Canada. As transition is a shared responsibility between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, close coordination and integration between both departments is vital in ensuring a successful and seamless transition from military to civilian life. Together with VAC, we've made improvements and continue to improve programs and services, and we have introduced new programs and services that are more aligned between the two departments.
The goal is to better enable our people to successfully transition to civilian life through enhancing training and readiness, promoting recruitment and employment, and nurturing collaboration among those in the veteran employment community. This close collaboration is ongoing. For example, the Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Armed Forces seamless transition task force has been established to ensure early intervention, continuity in health care and support, and simplification of processes. This work includes, for example, advancing an integrated case management model, improving alignment between the departments' health benefits, and developing new transition tools focused on overall well-being.
In summary, my goal, the goal of the JPSU, and the goal of the future transition group is to ensure all members and their families are informed, prepared, and empowered to conduct a successful transition. Many of the pieces for a successful transition are already in place or being put in place. Timing, communication, and access to these pieces is in the process of being improved. New support services and programs are being put into place where required, and planning toward the stand-up of the transition group is under way. This stand-up will require a commitment of time and resources over the next few years, in particular men and women who are devoted to providing support to others in helping them achieve their transition goals. This commitment is of vital importance, as nothing is more important to the Canadian Armed Forces than the well-being of our people and their families.
Mr Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I would be pleased to respond to any questions.
If I may, I will answer that question, because case managers or veterans services officers work in the field of operations in the regions.
For a few years now, and the positions posted attest to this, we have been recruiting case managers who have varied academic backgrounds, but who have experience in case management. This is one of the essential requirements for our case managers.
Of course, when they come to Veterans Affairs Canada, they have to develop department-specific knowledge, particularly with respect to programs and services. They must also be familiar with the department's culture so they can adequately assume their role as a case manager or other role in the delivery of services.
We have an orientation and training program for new employees. This program, which spans several months, ensures that new employees acquire the knowledge and skills required to perform their role properly. They can also be mentored by a case manager or other experienced colleague.
As Ms. Douglas mentioned, a new program will be launched in April 2018. All of our employees will then have to undergo prerequisite training, as is the case every time there is a new program.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It's always a pleasure to be back at the veterans affairs committee.
It's nice to see all the witnesses. It's nice to see you, Ms. Douglas and General.
I have a number of questions, but I'm going to try to limit them.
I would like to inform my friend Mr. Fraser that more than 300 of the people he referred to as being hired were hired when I was minister, including 146 in Atlantic Canada who would serve his region. I know that they're working hard to try to help our veterans and get the wait times down.
My question is about the recent contract to a company named Agilec on the transition front. What is funny about this is that I've worked on transition of veterans probably more than anyone else in the country for over 10 years as a member of Treble Victor, as a volunteer, and as a mentor.
I also represent part of the city of Oshawa, so when I heard that an Oshawa-based company got that award, I was happy but puzzled, because I'd never heard of them before. Certainly I was familiar with Canada Company. Then a CBC report said that they are well known for ties to the Ontario Liberal government. That certainly caused me concern, because transition is critical.
My question is this. Were there any veterans involved at Agilec in its submission, and how many veterans are employed by that company to run this program?
Thank you for the question.
Coming back to my opening comments, we're definitely ensuring that we retain our people, unless they want to leave. We make sure that prior to departing, all their administration is done and we line up the benefits. We also want, however, to enable them to do other things.
Well before somebody is released, we ask them if they want to do something else in the military. The reason they would come to the IPSC is likely their having a medical limitation of some sort. Through that process, if they're not able to serve in their current trade, they might go to do something else in another trade. We offer them the opportunity to do something else in the military well before releasing is an option.
Even after that, if they choose to release, we obviously try to set them up for success as much as possible, which might mean remaining and trying to become employed as a DND civilian. Many of the civilians in my organization are former military members, veterans who have retired, who wanted to come back to use their expertise of transition to help others.
Lastly, obviously they have an opportunity for public service priority hiring, so they can then continue to contribute to the public service.
What we try to do is retain as many of our experienced personnel as possible before they release.
Thank you for the question.
The JPSU is a very important capability. It was a capability that was born out of the Afghanistan conflict to take care of our numerous casualties from that conflict. It was a very good idea that was put in place very rapidly to deal with a very challenging and important situation. It has continued to grow and develop in that time—almost 10 years now.
What we've done is go from basically focusing on physical wounds, which is what was happening in Afghanistan, to taking care of all of our complex ill and injured cases. With that comes more complexity.
You have also heard that through that timeframe and the awareness of the JPSU as a place to go if you're ill or injured—a place to go to recover, to reintegrate, to heal—more people have come up, so the demand also grew.
I think what happened over the years is that the demand likely outstripped the capacity to provide the same personalized service they had been doing. We've been slow, but are now catching up, adding additional resources to get to ratios that I feel are good to be able to provide that service again.
We have been adding additional personnel over the years to grow the capacity to deal with all of the ill and injured in complex cases. Concurrent to that, we have also been streamlining many of our processes, as I was saying earlier, and bringing many of the partners together at that one location so that it becomes a one-stop shop, and it has become a one-stop shop for all of our ill and injured who are being cared for there.
Yes, certainly. Thank you for the question.
One thing I would hope to get across is that we at VAC are continuously looking at and take very seriously concerns and problems that have been raised by veterans as to our programs since 2006, the period of time when our new veterans charter came in. It, of course, has been aligned with our well-being model and the indicators of well-being.
Our new programs coming in place on April 1, 2018, do address well-being, perhaps even more than our programs have in the past. There is, then, continuous improvement.
Also, we listen to what people say who want to advise us and make recommendations to us. We look at their input and find out what's meaningful for us and how we can incorporate it. As I pointed out, we are doing a service delivery review, and it is touching everything that we look at.
We're looking at our applications. We were criticized for our applications. As a result, we are looking to streamline. We're absolutely ensuring that we do not have a VAC application that asks someone with a double-limb injury to come back and prove that they have that double-limb injury. That does not happen at VAC.
We have streamlined several applications and letters in the past period of time, over the past year. We are working with our veterans on our client surveys, in which we get some good results on certain areas. That's not to say that we don't have great results in other areas. It will be those areas that we will go back to, doing a deeper dive to see how we can improve: in terms of working with my colleague at CAF, how do we go forward, and what have we done over the past few years by way of enhanced transition?
When we put our case managers and our VSAs into the IPSCs, all of that makes us a stronger organization collectively to better serve our members and our veterans.