I call the meeting to order.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the committee will now study the main estimates 2018-19 for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, minus the interim estimates the House agreed to on March 22, 2018. A number of votes were referred to the committee on Monday, April 16, 2018: votes 1 and 5 under the Department of Veterans Affairs; vote 1 under the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
I'd like to welcome our Honourable Minister, Seamus O'Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs; and General Walter Natynczyk (Retired), Deputy Minister of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
We'll start the discussion by calling on the minister. The floor is open and then we'll go to a round of questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I know we're tight for time given what is happening in the House, so I'll go at Newfoundland speed through my opening comments.
I think this is a different department from what it was three years ago. We are driven by a new vision and a sharp focus on the overall well-being of our brave Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families. We immediately reopened front-line points of contact closed by the previous government. We started staffing up after years of cuts. We brought benefits into line with where they should have been for years. Year over year, since we came into office, we have been committing more money to veterans' programs and benefits, ensuring more and better support for veterans and their families.
Our overarching purpose is to enhance the well-being of veterans so that they can make a successful transition to life after military service. Our commitment is clear. You can see it in these main estimates. An important consideration is that 90% of our budget, 90% of what you see in the numbers before you, go directly to veterans and their families.
The past three departmental budgets reflect the efforts we've made to make sure that we treat our veterans with the care, the compassion, and the respect they have earned. We have used our resources to reopen the nine Veterans Affairs offices that had been closed, and we opened a new one. We hired more than 460 staff across the country to deal directly with veterans and deliver services where and when they need them. We increased outreach in the north. We opened new operational stress injury clinics to help veterans with service-related disabilities.
We increased the amounts of benefits veterans received. We refocused them to address real-world needs. We continue to do that. As you will see, everything in the main estimates goes to improving the well-being of veterans and their families. For example, on April 1 this year, we launched eight new or enhanced benefits that address education and training, financial security, and families and their well-being. Really, they are all designed to enhance veterans' well-being.
The new caregiver recognition benefit provides a monthly payment to people who provide care to veterans with a service-related illness or injury, and we have expanded access to the military family resource centres for veterans' families. These new programs are central to the recognition of the importance of families and caregivers in veterans' quality of life.
For veterans, the department will pay for education and training to help them get the careers they want. If they want guidance about what path might be best for them, we're providing career counselling and job resources. Since April 1, 2018, nearly 400 veterans have been approved for the education and training benefit, and more than 350 CAF members and veterans are already working with career transition services. The new veterans emergency fund provides immediate financial support to deal with urgent and unforeseen circumstances.
Two weeks ago, I was able to announce that with the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, we are setting up a centre of excellence on post-traumatic stress disorder and related mental health conditions. This centre will create and share knowledge of veterans' mental health treatments that work and place that knowledge directly into the hands of mental health professionals and others working with veterans on a daily basis right across the country.
Last December, I announced that we will fulfill another item in my mandate letter when we restore the pension for life option for ill and injured veterans by April 1, 2019.
I want to tell you about another driver of change at Veterans Affairs Canada. It's about listening to veterans, families, and their advocates. It's about hearing them and taking action on what they tell us. I have held town halls in provinces from coast to coast to hear first-hand the concerns and inputs of veterans and their families, and I will continue to do that through the summer. We have made, and continue to make, changes to respond to those concerns. We are continuing to improve.
For years, veterans have been telling the department that it can be difficult to navigate through all these programs and processes. We've improved our approach and our people are informing and helping veterans access the benefits they are eligible for. We reach out actively to the veterans community to make sure that they know what they're eligible to receive and then we help them get it.
The effects of this about-face are showing up in the numbers. The main estimates for the coming year show increased demand for treatment benefits. The reason for this is that more veterans are applying for and receiving benefits. That is a good thing. It shows that our increased efforts in communicating and reaching out are starting to have a positive effect.
In the coming year, we are enhancing our benefits and programs further. Recognizing costs for psychiatric service dogs in the medical expense tax credit will help veterans cope with things like PTSD.
We are not forgetting our commitment of keeping alive the memory of the achievements and sacrifices of the men and women who have served our country in times of war, conflict, and peace. This year, we are commemorating the centennial of the end of the First World War and Canada's contributions to the last hundred days that led up to the end of the hostilities. We will also mark the 65th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, and we're investing $24.4 million to eliminate the backlog in repair and maintenance of some 45,000 veterans' graves.
We're going to continue to listen to veterans to hear their concerns and to take action. We're going to hold more summits across the country, where veterans and their advocates can tell us their concerns, and tell us how they think we're doing.
Listening—it seems like such an obvious thing, a simple thing, and yet it is a very powerful thing. By following through on our promises, we are demonstrating our powerful commitment to those who have served Canada proudly.
Veterans today are not the same as the veterans of the 20th century. The needs of the veterans' community will continue to evolve. Their needs, and needs of their families and caregivers, will also evolve. This department will continue to evolve to ensure we are meeting their needs, enhancing their well-being, and helping them to successfully re-establish in life after service.
Good to have you here, Minister, and Deputy Minister as well.
It would seem that unnecessarily complicating things is what sets standards for psychiatric service dogs back. One of your assistants tweeted on April 19, “There was no consensus on a new standard for all service dogs, so instead we're going to work with stakeholders on psychiatric service specific ones,” as he put it, so that “veterans with PTSD have access—as quickly as possible”.
Minister, I'm wondering if you're aware of the extensive research, specifically on service dogs, that's going on at both universities in Saskatchewan, with Audeamus, a veterans group. It stands for “May we dare”. Really high-quality testing and research is going on. Are you planning to include them and their work in determining these standards? The level of standards here is phenomenal. Plus, these individuals working on this are providing these dogs free of charge to veterans. They're of the highest quality. Are you aware of them, and are you planning to incorporate them?
I've travelled across the country and visited several of the MFRCs. They are doing extremely good work. As we mentioned earlier, we've expanded access to ensure that there is uninterrupted access to these 32 military family resource centres. This goes, again, to closing the seam.
One of the things that Walt and I heard, tangible things about.... I grew up in 5 Wing Goose Bay and the base gym was kind of the centre of life. We didn't have an MFRC there at the time, but we had the gym and the gym is still a huge thing. So it's not just the MFRCs, but suddenly you're released and you can't go to the gym anymore. This sounds small, but it's where you see your buddies, it's where your wife or your husband may go, and sometimes they are involved with day care, children's activities, and those sorts of things. So it's just about getting rid of that abrupt end, which causes so much anxiety and can lead to a lot of other problems when it comes to transition.
The expansion of services at the MFRCs is a $147-million commitment over six years. In addition, I should add, we're putting $22.4 million over three years to better inform people of the services that are there. Some of that is for paid advertising. Some of that we'll get out through social media and general access points.
We're in the middle today. It's unfortunate that both of these events coincide, but that's how it happens. Today we have a full-day homelessness summit at the Delta Hotel, just down the street. We heard video testimony from one veteran who said, “I didn't know that the supports were always there. They just seemed hidden.” I'm not saying that all the answers are already there. It's just that there are a lot of things, unfortunately, that people don't know about. That is a small portion of it, making sure people are aware these things are available. Where there are MFRCs, though, I expect that word will get out very quickly on bases and in surrounding communities.
At the round table, you have some 70 organizations from across the country—some big, some small, some national in scope or ambition, and others extremely local. I was only there for an hour and a half before we had votes, but I would say that we are not there to talk; we're there to listen. Actually, I think the most exciting part of it is when they talk to one another. We're already seeing that dynamic around the various tables in the room.
Let me run through some of this for you. We have committed $4 million to the veterans emergency fund. As I think I mentioned to this committee before, one of the, I don't know, oddly humbling experiences was in my first brief with the deputy on my first day. The department, despite its vast budget, as members of this committee are well aware, doesn't have the flexibility to actually help an individual when we find out that somebody is homeless. I think members of the committee can take comfort in the fact that every single dollar seems to be earmarked. That's good from a taxpayer's point of view, and I'm happy to see that, but then we don't have flexibility.
We were relying on wills bequeathing funds. People will money for homeless veterans, but often under various conditions and often geographically specific. People want to help people in downtown Winnipeg, or people want to help people in Victoria. One of the deputy's jobs was just to figure out which trust fund or will bequeathment he could find to help a veteran get off the street, which was ridiculous. Now we have that flexibility. Certainly in a 24-7 news cycle, as soon as there's a news report that a veteran has been identified as homeless, everybody around this committee, and any Canadian, would say that we want to get him off the streets right now. Well, at least now we have the ability to act immediately. If they self-identify, we can worry later about where they served or whatever and just get them off of the streets immediately, which I think is really important.
To get back to the homelessness summit, generally speaking, as our colleague Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary, spoke to as well, this is getting people out of their silos so that we can really talk effectively about how we deal with this issue in order to eliminate it.
Minister and Deputy Minister, thank you for being here.
The Veterans Affairs Canada website details the department's risk response strategy. As part of maintaining core services, the department admits the following:
Veterans Affairs Canada may have difficulty providing timely, high quality core services and benefits to Veterans and their families while simultaneously implementing several new initiatives and programs from multiple Federal Budgets.
I want to underscore “core services and benefits”.
Minister, I know that veterans appreciate that your government is trying to address the backlog of applications. However, I've heard from many veterans who are unaware of the benefits they are allowed to receive. You touched on that recently. Similar to the $42.8 million you've given to address the backlog over two years, I want to know your plan, and veterans want to know your plan, with regard to how many resources you need to make sure that veterans know about their benefits. As well, what is it going to take to reduce that backlog to zero? We still do not have an analysis of how you came up with the $42.8 million and what it's going to take.
What's terrific is the fact that veterans are getting over the stigma and are coming forward and asking for help. To see upwards of 20% to 30% more veterans coming forward and presenting is terrific.
We're in a catch-up game. We're trying to catch up, and that's where the backlog is coming from. We're going through the process now of legislation, Treasury Board submission, getting the approval, and then recruit, train, and deploy. There's a lot of concurrent activity right now.
We're anticipating the approvals through legislation. We're anticipating the Treasury Board approvals, because without the approval, I can't spend the money. At the same time, we're creating the pools of those candidates who are coast to coast—
We're looking for the right Canadians to be able to bring into the front offices. I was just in Brandon and Shilo last week, again looking for folks to be able to serve in Brandon and on Base Shilo with the right skills.
However, the other thing we've learned just over the past two years is through the digital means, using My VAC Account, the fact that we were able to deploy the education and training benefit, as well as the career transition service, in a digital way. We're actually able to encourage folks to use a digital means so that their application and their approvals are much faster.
As the minister indicated, we already have now over 400 veterans who are in the process of getting the grant for education and training, and over 300 veterans in the career transition services program.
The long-term plan is that balance of face to face with great employees, but also digital, where folks can—
I appreciate the innovation and the efforts made to be innovative. When you talk about catch-up, you've identified that it's because more veterans are coming forward, but also you're playing catch-up because there were huge cuts to the department in 2012. Those cuts are going to create a backlog.
What we're hearing is that the department is not adequately resourced to deal with the backlog from 2012. When you have cuts such as that, of course you're going to be cutting in terms of service levels. We saw that with the ratio. The government made a promise to get to 25:1. You're not there yet. What is it going to take to get to those ratios and to get the backlog to zero? We're still not getting those answers.
That's what I'm saying. Again, looking at the website, you have been told by the department that they're going to have difficulty providing core services. I would like to see the department come back with what you need to make sure you're delivering the mandate.
My next question is around the lack of post-traumatic stress injury treatment. We know the significant contributing factor to some recent deaths by suicide of our veterans has been the need for PTSD centres. We heard from veterans loud and clear that they want residential care. We appreciate the new funding that's going into research. Everybody does, and I want to commend the government for that, but we still haven't heard any news about a residential care facility.
In my understanding, the government committed to at least two centres, but the need is probably greater. We're hearing that four centres are needed, some regional centres certainly, and maybe some that could be culturally appropriate for indigenous peoples.
Is the government moving forward with a commitment to create a residential care facility for people suffering from PTSD?
We are indeed. There is representation from across the country, as I said, of some 70 organizations. The important thing, which will come out as everybody is talking to one another, is again the solutions that each one has found unique to their circumstances. I'm anxious to get back there and to spend as much time as I can there today.
We can talk about indigenous veterans, and there are particularities with indigenous care that are common across the country, but there are also specifics whether it be the north and what parts of the north, whether it be Winnipeg versus Saskatoon versus Halifax. That's why drawing upon local expertise is especially important. There are commonalities that people will reach and things that governments will learn from one another, and then there are some things that are extremely specific.
We don't have all the answers on that but what we can do is help support those who do.
That's why the family well-being fund is very important. I'm not keen on the name. I never have been because it's a bit innocuous, but really it is an innovation fund so that when you have great ideas, whether in a particular city or town or whatever, indigenous or otherwise, and they seem to be working, we can put money toward them to see whether or not they could work on a larger scale, to see if they are something that could perhaps work across the country or in similar communities. That gives us a tremendous advantage.
I can also add that I appreciate the work you are doing in studying aboriginal veterans' issues, especially as many of our veterans, after extraordinary service in the Canadian Armed Forces, return to their communities which are often remote, and therefore the difficulty of providing them with a full suite of support is always a real challenge. The fact is thousands have served in both world wars, and in peacekeeping missions continuing to this day, so their problems are really unique.
It is terrific that we have the aboriginal veterans association, which is represented at the summit today. Aboriginal veterans are represented on all of the minister's advisory committees and substantially in the summits whether they be regional summits or the national summit. Their voice is very loud and clear in all of the outreach that we are doing with different veterans' communities.
With regard to service in the communities, we not only have our offices fully staffed but then are also able to use electronic means, whether between Veterans Affairs and the veterans or in fact between mental health practitioners. We are encouraging the health authorities across the country with whom we partner for the treatment of mental health. We have 4,000 mental health practitioners coast to coast who deal with veterans on a daily basis. We also have 10 stress injury clinics, including one residential at Ste. Anne's Hospital, leveraging telemedicine and telehealth. Whether the veteran be in a remote community, say, in northern Manitoba, or whether that serving member be on CFB Shilo, we can connect the psychiatrist, psychologist, and mental health nurse with them no matter where they are across the country.
We have to get better at that and up our game because no matter where these folks are, we need to provide them with a standard level of service.
I think the first thing we've done is attempt to change the culture of our front-line staff, which is something I think we talked about. I went to Charlottetown on day two, I think, and spoke to them. I think I might have mentioned this to the committee the last time I appeared here, but it's important to reiterate that we want them to be proactive. Don't hide the benefit of service because we're looking after the bottom line. Obviously, we want to keep an eye on that, but it's really important that we put the benefits and services in place to make sure people can avail themselves of them, right?
We're letting our front-line staff know to ask the questions they need to ask to make sure the veteran or caregiver or family member is availing themselves of everything we're working hard to fund for them. Hopefully, that culture change.... Actually, it's not hopefully: that culture change is taking effect, because word has gotten out.
There are days that, as minister of this department, I can tell you that Facebook and Twitter are the bane of my existence, but it can be very effective on the flip side in getting the word out; and the word has gotten out that (a) these new benefits and services are available, and (b) we will work hard to make sure you get them.
Welcome back, Minister and Deputy Minister.
I'm assuming we're over our jet lag from Korea. I was honoured to be on that trip with you and Mr. Johns and Mr. McColeman. It was a great experience.
On the study of various transitions, we identified something that, although it is a policy in the Canadian Armed Forces, has a direct effect on veterans. You being, of course, the associate minister of defence, I thought this was germane.
We talked about the concept of universality of service and how that seemed to be having a great deal of negative effect on a lot of veterans who might have been able to serve in some capacity, if not a 100% deployable capacity. Our recommendation in our report on transition was that the CAF apply a measure of flexibility to the concept of universality of service for selected members.
From the defence department we received a reply that they were going to review this and compare jurisdictions that have something like it, like the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Have you been able to take any steps on it so far? Have you been able to review this or have any updates from your point of view on this?
I'd like to know something about keeping track of the vets. In our recent tour we were in Beauval, Saskatchewan, and the will know that I encountered a 98-year-old veteran of Sicily, Italy, who had walked over 100 miles to enlist back in 1939. I wonder, Minister, is there a data bank where you can punch up the name of Louis Roy and determine that he's still alive.
I've been looking up the stats on older veterans, and the latest one I have is from StatsCan 2017. About 50,000 Second World War veterans were still alive. You'd probably figure it's 40-something now. These are very elderly individuals who may need very serious care for themselves. Do we know who and where they are? How do we identify them? How do we keep track of those folks?
Can I just add, and say exactly with regard to the pension for life, that now we will have that monthly connection between the department and those new Veterans Charter veterans.
For those under the old Pension Act prior to April 1, 2006, we would know about your 98-year-old veteran if he was actually a client of Veterans Affairs and he came to us.
Often, for some of these generations of veterans, as you can imagine, they're independent and don't want help from anybody. We had an incident here in the city. You might have heard about the 100-year-old veteran who had a break and enter at his home. This fellow had been a lieutenant-colonel and had landed at D-Day. He had been the deputy minister of six departments. After this attempted murder of him, we rolled in and asked, can we help you? And he said, back off. I'm fine. This guy had been a former deputy minister of Veterans Affairs. He said, I'm not a client. I'm good. So we need to reach out when these veterans want to come to us.
When we opened the office in Prince George, British Columbia, I was at the opening of that office last spring, and there were three door crashers there.
One veteran is a 94-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force World War II veteran. He was at the front door, and said, “I don't need any help at all. I'm living 200 kilometres north of here on a 250-acre piece of property. I have no electricity and no water, and someday they're going to take my driver's licence away from me and I just want to make sure you're here.”
Thank you, Minister, for being here today. Thank you, General.
We don't have much time, of course. They left me to the last here, so I'm tailing on what's left. I'll have to hit questions, and perhaps you can provide me with some answers.
The centre of excellence is a big piece of what I think is important. Regarding its structure now, I'd like to see how provinces that are leaders in research and veterans, like Halifax for example, fit into that centre of excellence. What is the communication? How can we identify and make sure that the best practices they may have or that may come up nationally can be shared so that, through OSI or other programs, we're able to support our veterans?
Second, as you noted, we see an increase in the number of requests, a 32% increase in the number of people, and we know it's because we're doing a better job at awareness. Do we have those numbers as far as regions are concerned and indigenous veterans? Of the 32% increase, how many come from what province? Are they rural compared to urban, and do they include indigenous veterans?
My final question is in regard to the $26.3-million investment for the Canada remembers program and Last Post. What types of services do these organizations provide for veterans? That would be my only question. The other stuff you can send in.
I just want to reinforce what the minister indicated. You'll be aware that the department runs 10 operational stress injury clinics coast to coast, which are outpatient. In Ste. Anne's Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Montreal, we have a residential program, and we fund veterans going into residential programs coast to coast.
When we worked on the centre of excellence, we went to our American friends, who run their own medical system with 1,500 point-of-service hospitals and clinics for their folks. They have created centres of excellence across the country. They found out that it is better to have a combination of physical locations and virtual networks with respect to centres of excellence. For example, their PTSD centre of excellence was in Vermont, but that wasn't enough. It was just one location for research. They needed to network all of the best minds across the U.S. and internationally, because the challenge is upping the game of all the practitioners.
In our country, as I mentioned, we run 11 OSI clinics, both outpatient and residential, and we're connected to seven operational stress injury clinics run by the Canadian Armed Forces. We are partnering with all of the provinces from Nova Scotia to British Columbia—
I'll call the meeting back to order, please.
In the second part of the meeting, we have the pleasure of having, from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Charlotte Bastien, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Oversight and Communications; Bernard Butler, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy and Commemoration; Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery; and Elizabeth Stuart, Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Services.
We'll start with questioning, and Ms. Wagantall is up first.
It's good to see you again. Thanks for being here.
I'd like to talk about the monthly pension side of things to get a little clarity there.
The maximum lump sum amount is $360,000, with a monthly payment of $1,150. Nothing else has changed as far as determining the lump sum amount is concerned. It's tax-free, and determining the degree of disability hasn't changed.
However, under the Pension Act previously, which had exactly the same objectives, the amount was $2,793 for a single individual without children. Here we're looking at $1,150. What's the rationale for that?
Under the pension for life framework there are basically three elements to be considered. The first part of it is converting the disability lump sum award to a monthly pain and suffering compensation award. That's the $1,150 you're referring to.
The second element of it is again a non-taxable benefit, the additional pain and suffering compensation award, which will be paid to the more seriously disabled veterans who are experiencing permanent and severe impairments that are creating barriers to re-establishment. That benefit will be paid according to the degree of impairment at three grade levels: $500, $1,000, and $1,500.
Then, in addition to those two non-taxable pain and suffering compensation elements, there will be a third element, the new income replacement benefit element, which is 90% of pre-release salary, adjusted and so on.
It's very important, when we look at the pension for life proposal, to consider it as three elements. It's the sum of the whole. It's not a single element that is to be considered.
Mr. Samson, I know as long as you have that issue, I will have the issue. I'm aware of that. We've chatted about it.
I'll follow up—I thought we had sent a list to your office. On marijuana, I'll restate what I think I've probably stated often at this table. The responsibility of giving, I hate using the term “ prescription”, because you do not give a prescription for marijuana—it's a script—resides with the medical doctor.
Veterans Affairs in this case is actually the payer. I won't say “only the payer”, because we do oversight and we work, but we're the payer. If it's over 3 grams, they have to see a specialist. We all know there are challenges across the country, as you've heard the minister and the deputy minister talk about, associated with getting doctors in certain areas of the country to...even more so if you need a psychiatrist because of mental health issues and you want a psychiatrist to prescribe. We've had the conversations about Saskatchewan multiple times. It's not always easy.
There is a list of people out there who will help veterans to get that script. I'll make sure your office has received that. There are a couple in Nova Scotia, so I'm a little....
As you know, we've been having a lot of trouble with that and it's not right if other provinces or individuals have access and we don't, because this is crucial.
I have to say we have Christian, who I think is here now and he's doing a good job, so I wanted to share that. I think he's drilling deep for us and trying to find answers. That's very important for any MP. It doesn't matter who you are, it's extremely important that these individuals want to find the right answers and that they do so.
I'm still hearing about delays. There are still delays. How are we doing? I know you came last time and said that there was improvement. I know there are a lot more demands. The minister shared that as well—a 32% increase, I think, in the number of requests. Are we getting there? If not, what's the plan, and if so, what's making it different?
Thank you for the question. I knew this one was coming.
We're not making progress to the level I would like. I'll say that right up front at the table. Our incoming requests are exceeding anything we've ever seen, which is, as the minister said, good news, but it is my challenge to try to fix that, and I will admit it is daunting.
Our pending files are now around 33,000. That does not mean files that are late, by the way, but the work in progress. Depending where you work, people use different terms. We call it “pending”. With that are the requests under the new programs from April 1. Our backlog is just above 10,000.
We've undertaken multiple stuff, amendments, to fix it. We will be staffing up once we get all the authorities, but as the deputy minister or the minister said—I forget which one—we've actually gone out now to do pools so that when we get the money, we hit the button and people get into the seat. Sorry, I usually use another term, but to get into the seat.
The reality is that we have to get to the fundamental basis of why there's a backlog. Numbers are one thing—
Okay, thank you. I know you'll get those questions. I don't mean to cut you off. I apologize.
I want to touch on the last one. It's important. It's the pension for life. You know, we still are trying to drill in and get a good comprehension of that.
If you already received your lump sum, which also would have included your increase in the lump sum on April 1 of the additional $50,000—depending on your percentage—can you still get on that track? How do you get on, and how does it work? Just take a basic formula because there are all kinds of categories: pain and suffering, additional pain and suffering, 90%. I don't want that. Basically, if you received your 100% lump sum, are you still able to get on, and how do you track on?
But the reality is that the incoming applications are out-pacing production.
Now we're into working with my colleagues in policy and in finance to determine whether there are other ways we can tackle this to make it easier for the veteran, to simplify and accelerate the process. There are some systemic issues related to this when you talk about the backlog.
As an example, it takes us on average close to three months—I'll be careful with the number of days—to receive files from the Canadian Armed Forces, and that's 25% of my workload. I'm not faulting my colleagues or my partners because they actually have to go and get the files from the bases and get them to us, and I have four months in total to process a file and the medical records, that means I now I have one month left to process. The four months to process this, to make sure that we have all the information, falls to one month.
With the Canadian Armed Forces, we're looking at ways to accelerate the electronic file, the medical file. Are there things we can stop asking for to actually accelerate it? If I don't need the file, let's not ask for the file, which means I just saved three months.
That's what I mean when I say we have to get beyond just asking for resources. I'm a public servant, and I'm here to serve the government—all governments—and Canadians. At the end of the day, that's what I do. I serve Canadians. Okay, we have money. We have amounts. How do I now get to meeting program obligations within what the Government of Canada has decided to give us? That means looking at removing the bureaucratic barriers, the 40-page forms that doctors don't like to fill out, and there are some forms.
The psych form went from 16 pages down to six. Now you would say that it's still too much, and my deputy is challenging me to get it to one page, but we actually need a diagnosis, and we need information because it is a disability program. It's not as if you can just show up and we're going to give you money; there are criteria in the law, and this committee is very well versed on that because you've worked on it.
We are working at the other matters, not just adding people. To your point, yes, adding people is important, but how do we get to the processes and eliminate and become way more lean, not necessarily the lean methodology but leaner in our processes.
This is probably the one that I'm, believe it or not, the most excited about. That is the area where I always felt we didn't have the penetration that we should have. I have had to go in front of the media and everything else in the last couple of years to say that we have 23 funds; one may be depleted, but we're trying to work, as the minister described.
On this one, $1 million a year will go a long way to help our veterans who are homeless or maybe not so homeless sometimes but perhaps couch surfing. They're not all on the street, when we say “homeless”.
It is determined by our field operation people. There is an app. You can use it, or walk into one of our offices.
After hours, we set up a whole system. We have a 1-800 line associated with Health Canada, where veterans can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get services. Now, as part of that call, if a call comes in that somebody has an emergency, they need whatever, whether it is at three o'clock in the morning or on Sunday, the Health Canada people have been trained, and they now will refer the call. We have people at the end of another phone. It's seamless for the veteran, by the way; the call is transferred to a front-line worker who will ask “What is your emergency?”.
I'm pleased to report that we've had none of those calls after hours or on the weekend. We're going to reassess if that's working after six months.
The local office, the case manager, or the veterans service agent will make the determination whether this is a genuine emergency.
I will be honest; we've had people who have tested the system in the three months. You know, they want to get their roof fixed. Well if you're on ELB at 90% and you're bringing in a fair amount of money, your roof may be broken but it doesn't necessarily mean it's an emergency. It may be an emergency for you.
I live on the coast, and every once in a while the wind rips a couple of shingles off my house, but it doesn't mean that it's an emergency.
If they can't pay their electrical bill and they're going to be expropriated on a Friday night, that's an emergency. We do what we can to make sure they don't land on the street. The front-line staff are doing that. We've worked with our finance colleagues to have a way to pay immediately. We're also working with the plethora of associations out there that work in the realm of homelessness and people at risk, to be able to get these people a shelter, a hotel room, a meal, whatever.
It's only been three months. We're still learning. We may have to tweak some stuff. I'll be honest that, with these types of programs, you always....
As of now, we have received 183 requests for the veterans emergency fund. I thought that 100 was favourable.
That ends our time for committee questions.
We now have to vote.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the committee will now dispose of the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, minus the interim estimates the House agreed to on March 22, 2018.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Vote 1—Operating expenditures..........$1,036,044,570
Vote 5—Grants and acquisitions..........$3,327,017,000
(Votes 1 and 5 agreed to)
VETERANS REVIEW AND APPEAL BOARD
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$9,584,154
(Vote 1 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall I report the votes to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all of you for appearing today, for taking time out of your day, and for all the work you do for veterans. I know there were some questions asked that you might get back to our clerk about.
May I have a motion to adjourn?
Mr. Darrell Samson: So moved.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: The meeting is adjourned.