I'll bring this meeting to order.
I want to welcome all to meeting number eight of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on October 27, the committee is resuming its study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial health of veterans organizations.
I'd like to welcome all of the witnesses who have taken time out of their busy days to join us today.
First, from the 420 Wing Oshawa Inc., we welcome Mike Gimblett, president.
Appearing as an individual, we have Max Gaboriault. Welcome to you, sir.
From the Royal Canadian Air Force Association, we welcome Linda Brimson, director of the 427 London Wing.
From the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, we have Deanna Fimrite, Dominion secretary-treasurer, Dominion Command. Welcome to you.
From the True Patriot Love Foundation, we have Mr. Nick Booth, chief executive officer.
We have a very large panel here today, so we're going to get right into it. Each of you are going to have five minutes for opening remarks and then we'll get into rounds of questions from the members of Parliament.
My role is the official interrupter. That tends to be what I have to do more than anything. When you're speaking or when you're answering questions, there is a timeline. If we get down to one minute, you will see me raise my finger. Don't panic. A minute is a long time to wrap up your thoughts. You will see me do that throughout, whether it's with the questions or the opening statements.
We're going to get started with opening statements. To kick us off today, from 420 Wing Oshawa Inc., we have Mike Gimblett, president. The next five minutes is all yours, sir.
Good afternoon, honourable members, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.
Our small, independent club serves all veterans while leaning towards ex-Air Force. We have a heritage building, one of three remaining buildings left from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan base in Oshawa, built in 1941 to train pilots for the war effort.
We are an independent, Ontario-incorporated, not-for-profit business entity whose mission is to serve our veterans and promote aviation in Canada. We also help sponsor three local air cadet squadrons financially and with the use of our building. We also support local groups that provide support to women in abusive relationships and the local soup kitchen to help the homeless. Being independent, we do not come under a central command structure, and we have no one to rely on but ourselves.
Our members are 95% seniors. For the most part, we are their only social life, and we are an extension of their family. Our members gather in our club to socialize with like-minded people and enjoy the camaraderie of this.
As a small, not-for-profit business, we do not have excess funds carried over each year. Our mandate ensures that any surplus we have gets invested in the people and programs we support.
We own our building and have a lease arrangement with the City of Oshawa to lease the land. The land, in part due to our efforts, is in the process of being designated a historically significant district to recognize the contribution to the war effort that we owe our freedom to.
We also rely very heavily on our core group of volunteers to do much of the heavy lifting to staff the club and provide our services to our older members. Because we keep our operating expenses low, we have not qualified for any of the programs so far such as the CEBA.
Our revenues are down approximately 80%—about $60,000 so for this year. We were locked down and closed for three months this spring, and now with the latest red zone for Durham region, we are again closed and cannot have any people inside the building. We had to cancel two major rentals in December, resulting in further lost revenue.
During the first part of the pandemic, our monthly expenses were approximately $1,000 per month, or $8,000. We were able to cover these expenses by utilizing our patio for outdoor service when the weather permitted and running a take-out meal program every two weeks staffed by our volunteers, with much of the food needed being donated.
Now with the cold weather and being restricted to a maximum of 10 people inside, we have been forced to close until further notice. Our monthly expenses still continue for electricity, phone, Internet and water service, and now we have the added burden of heating the building and our snow removal contract. We are anticipating that our monthly bills for the winter will be $2,000 per month, or $10,000 for the next five months, doubling from the summer. We have also just had our insurance renewal come in at $5,600, which is due in December.
We have undertaken to continue our take-out meal program and anticipate that we can cover about half of our expenses. To survive this pandemic, we have increased our online presence to keep our members informed and together, but getting through this winter will be really tough. We have applied to the $20 million program for help with just our insurance bill.
The sad thing is that we are closed, funds are limited to keeping us operating, and as such, our ability to deliver the programs that our veterans and seniors need is strained. Also, our commitment to the future of Canada through our local air cadet squadrons is on hold.
Forty-five years ago, I was an air cadet in Oshawa who was supported by the 420 Wing. Air cadets taught me leadership and citizenship that have served me well in life. Not a day goes by that I don't use lessons learned in a program supported by the 420 Wing.
What we are asking for now is not a handout, but rather a helping hand to help keep us open through this unanticipated pandemic. For over 72 years, our club and members have given freely of our time, efforts and funds and to be able to continue in the future, we need help now to get us through the next short period.
I'm not as eloquent as the previous speaker, so bear with me. I have brain damage and, at the moment, severe anxiety.
I am Master Corporal Gaboriault, retired signal operator. I served in the army for 13 years. I was part of the first rotation into Afghanistan for nine months. I was an operator under General Fraser. I'm also a first-generation electronic countermeasures driver—jamming bombs—and I was a C9 gunner providing security.
In the last four years, I have been advocating on issues in regard to VAC and cognitive injuries and problems in policies that need to be changed. It has yet to happen. As my health is degrading, it's getting harder and harder to pursue that vein.
As for my diagnosis, I suffer from mefloquine toxicity, with complex PTSD symptoms, and I'm borderline psychotic, meaning that I have been living for the last 15 years in survival mode, and I'm stuck in that situation.
COVID has been not too impactful on my daily living, as I don't really mingle well in society and go out a bare minimum. However, it has impacted my treatment, which has been going on for about a decade or so now. Because my body does not relax on its own, I rely on chiropractors, acupuncturists, physiotherapy and mental health counselling that has been moved to over the phone. We both know that this is not quite as impactful. My medication has not been affected as of yet, although there were some delays with the mail, but it's no big deal.
All in all, I'll just answer questions from the members. I think it's going to be easier that way, Mr. Chair.
Thanks so much. I'm just thrilled to have this time to talk about the wing.
We've got a great group, about 130 members, mostly seniors. We've got a heritage building that we think is just a gem. We mix innovation and tradition in our program, and continue to educate present and future generations on the importance of Canadian history, and honouring all that. We look forward to continuing our sponsorship and hosting of six air cadet squadrons as they study and work to achieve private pilot licences during a six-week summer stay.
Right now, we can't have the events that generate their funds through a 50-50 draw. We think that's an important contribution to the future of Canadian aviation. We supported the development of London Parkwood hospital's clinic post-traumatic stress disorder veterans support unit. Our volunteer members maintain close contact with veterans residing there.
This year two quilts of valour were presented to very deserving vets and we had two great group visits out there.
I'll tell you a little bit about our association and our building. It was formed in 1947. It occupies the original building on land now owned by London International Airport. It was built in 1939-1940 as an airmen's canteen. The wing building was part of Station Crumlin, site of No. 3 Elementary Flying School and No. 4 Air Observer School. This was all under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
The wing is believed to be the last representative and still usable building of its time in southwestern Ontario.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was essential to Britain's survival during World War II. It was a project of incredible scope and expense. It was bigger than building Canada's national rail system. Sadly, this history has not been taught in Canadian schools. It falls to non-profit veteran groups and aviation organizations to share this important story.
Of the Canadians trained at BCATP bases all across Canada, we had pilots, navigators, air bombers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers. Also essential were the ground crew and the technical trainees for instrument and aircraft repair. This was a most critical Canadian contribution to the Allied war effort. Canada's 151 BCATP schools and bases Canada-wide provided safety from enemy bombing for U.K. air crew and ground force training, and quickly mobilized an incredible force of civilian and military personnel.
Post war, the wing building remained in use throughout the Korean and NATO eras until purchased by 427 Wing in 1959. I'll quote our wing director and Canadian Forces veteran Chuck Hardy, who stated:
We are so very proud that we have created a space for many Air Force veterans, their loved ones and people from the general community to come together and socialize among such incredible local and national historical artifacts.
We have been working really hard to find financial supports or alternatives to save our organization since COVID-19 forced us to shut our doors. Our members and volunteers are especially vulnerable due to age and health challenges. We have applied for government programs, grants and local initiatives. Sadly, we may be forced to declare bankruptcy. Wing members and friends of the Wing have donated generously, but we are missing all revenue from events that also include the wider community. Ongoing expenses for building maintenance, utilities and insurance continue with no event income to pay those bills.
We have done two appeals. The second one was better in reaching a wider public. We've received funds through GoFundMe and CanadaHelps. The CanadaHelps money is constrained. We can't use that for operating expenses.
We have submitted an application for the period from December 2020 to June 2021 for these categories: wages and benefits—we have one paid employee, our wing manager; professional fees needed for an auditor, an archivist and an assistant for museum programming; our insurance, which is very heavily invoiced at $17,281.32 annually—you can believe we are shopping around; utilities, which continue to be high; our rent to the site holder; building upkeep—we need a replacement fire alarm panel and replacement lighting; materials and supplies; PPE; disposable, take-away food supplies; printing and communication for our education program; updating displays; new signage; and administrative costs.
In a happier, healthier future, the wing will once again host gatherings when people can safely come together.
Thank you for your time, attention and consideration.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for having me here today. We certainly appreciate the committee's concerns about the financial health of veterans associations.
I'd like to give a quick background for those members who may not have an ANAVETS or an ANAF unit, as they are sometimes known in their ridings.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, or ANAVETS for short, is the oldest veterans association in Canada. Our history can be traced back to 1840, and we were formally incorporated under a special act of Parliament in September 1917. Today, there are approximately 13,000 members in 61 units spread across eight provinces in the country.
The effects of COVID-19 have been particularly difficult for ANAVETS and many other veterans associations. Not only did the initial shutdowns lead to complete loss of revenue in the first few months of the pandemic, but the subsequent restrictions, once the associations could reopen, vastly restricted the main sources of revenue our units rely on.
In our original report to Veterans Affairs in early June, we estimated that about a quarter of our units had minimal concerns regarding continued operations. Half had moderate concerns, and another quarter had serious concerns. By the beginning of September, the situation was worsening and Dominion Command returned over $43,000 in membership dues to units in need. Additionally, many provincial commands assisted their units financially where they could, either by foregoing portions of membership dues or loaning or gifting their reserve funds to units to help pay for operational costs.
Federal government support programs were initially of little help to many of our units, with approximately 40% being ineligible for the Canada emergency business account, due to their being volunteer-run operations that did not meet the payroll requirements of the program. The emergency community support fund looked promising, but it was only applicable to new or ongoing projects and not operational expenses, and not-for-profits were not eligible for regional development funding.
Most units laid off staff when they closed, with only a handful keeping on one staff member. As units reopened, we encouraged them to utilize the Canada emergency wage subsidy, but many have not rehired full staff due to decreased operating hours and revenues.
In most ANAVETS units, revenues fall into two broad categories. The first is hall rental and catering. This year our units had to cancel most of their hall rentals due to their closure, and then the capacity and social distancing restrictions. The wedding season was a complete loss for the year, as were smaller celebrations and corporate events. Even now there is uncertainty as to when this capacity will once again be allowed. The rentals in the past were often accompanied by large catering contracts and bar sales, all of which have literally disappeared.
The second main revenue source of our units comes from gaming and sports leagues. Bingos, meat draws, video lottery terminals and other provincial lottery proceeds are not only a major source of funds to our units, but they are also the basis of the community support provided by our units to other veterans and local charities and programs. These too were affected by closures and restrictions, with their capacities decreased by at least half.
Our units are also popular facilities for sports leagues, like darts, shuffleboard and billiards. Again, restrictions have drastically reduced these leagues and their participants. In many cases these main revenue sources can make up between 65% and 80% of a unit's overall revenue in a year, with entertainment, special events, lounge sales and membership dues rounding out the rest, all of which have been negatively affected. Those losses have short-, mid- and long-term consequences.
The initial closures forced units to burn through reserve funds to continue to pay operating expenses. Then they needed to adjust operations to ensure that they had all the required protocols to reopen, such as enhanced cleaning, distance markers, physical barriers, staff and volunteer safety equipment and sanitizing stations throughout the buildings. As mentioned before, most could not afford to reopen with the same operating hours with the enhanced restrictions curtailing their revenue-generating operations.
In addition to decreased revenues, our association has also been hurt by a dramatic reduction in our volunteers. A large majority of our volunteer base comes from the retired seniors demographic, which unfortunately is a higher risk category for COVID-19 severity.
To add salt to the wound, some operating expenses have exponentially increased. Liability insurance is increasingly difficult to even source, and is coming in at thousands of dollars over last year's costs, which adds additional financial pressures to all of our units.
The realities of the second wave are upon us now, with units in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the greater Toronto area and the province of Manitoba all being hit with secondary mandatory closures.
That is why the association is so grateful for the Government of Canada's recent $1-million grant from the veterans organizations emergency support fund to the association to assist with the operating expenses of our units across the country. This funding will be a lifeline to many units to be able to keep the doors open and the lights on, and to continue to provide veterans and their members the social support and camaraderie that are so vital to mental health.
Although we cannot predict how much longer this pandemic may last, or the long-term impact on all of our units, we do know that without this funding many of them would most certainly have struggled to maintain our long history of serving veterans, their families and our communities.
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of President Burke and all of our members, I appreciate the dedication and effort of this committee to understand our current situation and to ensure that we can continue to give our veterans and their families a place to come together again, when it's safe to do so, and help provide the best possible service and care that they so justly deserve.
Thank you, sir, and thank you to the honourable members for inviting me to address you today.
For context, True Patriot Love is Canada’s leading national foundation supporting its military. We exist to help members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans and their families by raising awareness of the challenges arising from service and funding much needed programs in local communities across the country.
We work closely with the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces leadership, and our mandate is to deliver significant impacts across four key areas of focus: building stronger military families and, in particular, assisting the children and spouses of those who serve; supporting the physical and mental well-being of military members and veterans; enabling the rehabilitation and recovery of our wounded; and, connecting veterans back into communities following their transition.
We've have been in operation since 2009 and have distributed over $30 million in funding across every province and impacted more than 33,000 lives, in particular in assisting those more recent veterans who served in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda and other conflicts.
We also campaign on behalf of Canada’s veterans and their families, advocating for their health and well-being, shedding light on the impacts of service and funding important research into the needs and realities of the military community.
As with many charitable organizations, the global health crisis has presented us with an unprecedented challenge.
Since the start of the pandemic, our operations have been under significant stress due to an increased demand for our help, in parallel with cancelled events and reduced donor income. By the end of quarter one, we were facing a drop in revenue of 79% and, overall, our year-on-year income has fallen by more than half.
In response, under the direction of our board, we initiated an emergency response plan. We stopped all recruitment and froze vacant posts, reducing our staffing by a third, and held all other variable costs. Despite this, we've been forced to dip below a five-month operating reserve, which was established as a minimum safety level by the board. As at the end of October, the organization stood at 4.3 months' forward reserve, representing a position of considerable vulnerability.
As we look to the first half of 2021, with the continued restrictions on events, declining donations and economic uncertainty, we anticipate True Patriot Love will continue to show a revenue decline of at least 50% due to the pandemic, leaving us with a projected operational shortfall of $2.9 million over the period.
As an organization that exists to serve the health and well-being of the military community, these financial challenges inevitably have a direct impact on our work with Canada’s veterans and the funds we have available to grant to vital community programs across the country.
As a result, we are most grateful to the veterans organizations emergency support fund grant, which has provided significant help towards the foundation’s operational costs. Without it, we would have been forced to lay off or furlough staff and restrict grants, severely limiting our capacity to provide the veteran community with the support they need now more than ever.
We know from our outreach that veterans are struggling amidst the pandemic. Programs they have relied on for support have been cancelled, and social and geographic isolation has become a greater concern. The pandemic and the restrictions it has brought have magnified pre-existing mental and physical health conditions for those already struggling.
True Patriot Love is doing what it can to serve this community. Despite our significant financial setbacks, we have stepped up to provide funding in a number of vital initiatives over the course of the pandemic period.
We expedited our Bell TPL fund mental health grants for those struggling with psychological challenges, especially during this period of social isolation.
We funded online mental health services that will connect rural communities in eastern Quebec with the Valcartier Military Family Resource Centre. This is particularly critical at a time when military families may face geographic isolation or are unable to receive face-to-face support.
We supported Team Rubicon Canada as they adapted their programming to meet urgent community needs in the crisis, despite public health restrictions.
Funding was given to Camp Maple Leaf to develop a free Camp @ Home program for children from military families unable to enjoy this year’s camp in person.
We sponsored the CIMVHR symposium on moral injury, a topic that has implications for both veterans and front-line health care workers.
As well, in partnership with the Vanier Institute of the Family, we are conducting the only national survey specifically aimed at understanding how the pandemic is impacting Canada’s veterans and their families.
True Patriot Love’s key position in the sector is to provide a strong and independent role, working with government, including Veterans Affairs Canada, to ensure the voice of our beneficiaries and program partners is heard and to direct funds and policy to areas of greatest need.
If not for the veterans organizations emergency support fund grant, our long-term viability would be uncertain, leaving a significant gap in support for the brave individuals who have served, and continue to serve, in Canada's uniform.
Thank you once again for the grant and the opportunity to speak with you today.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank all the witnesses for being here today. This is such an important study.
Welcome, Mike Gimblett, from 420 Wing.
Mike, if you see, I'm wearing the 420 Wing tie, and I'm very proud of Oshawa and our community and all the work you do.
On Remembrance Day, I remember talking to some veterans who were very appreciative of the $20 million for veterans organizations, but at the time, many people thought it was just for the Legions. Now we see that there is some $6 million for the service clubs.
Again, a member mentioned to me billions of dollars in fraudulent CERB payments being given out, and that the amount going to veterans organizations is really not even a rounding error in comparison with those amounts. Therefore, there was some frustration there.
These clubs are starting to close and many of them are in crisis. It has been about eight months since the start of the pandemic. Do you think more clubs could have been saved if the money was sent out earlier?
We provide support. As 427 Wing and other wings and Legions, we are an extension of our veterans' and seniors' families.
We're finding now, with our seniors and veterans, their children who are out in the community and in the workforce are fearful of being around their parents, so they're Skyping, making phone calls and doing everything like that with their parents, but their parents are missing out on that actual human-to-human physical contact, sitting across the table, having a laugh and forgetting the situation we're in.
It's very important to everybody's mental well-being to be around other people. We have some members right now who are very fragile. We have them on a call list. We have people calling them, checking on them, doing wellness checks on them.
Being shut down again, as we are now, is giving them a taste of what would happen if clubs such as ours would close.
I'm sorry, I never want to cut off Ms. Blaney; however, I have some questions that I want to ask Ms. Brimson.
I'm so glad to see you here today, Linda.
I'm a proud member of Parliament for the area that represents 427 Wing. I'm also a proud member.... I don't have my tie, like Mr. Carrie; I have a pin, however.
Many of my questions are very similar, but specifically for the 427 Wing.
In your testimony you talked about the importance of the history that the 427 Wing brings to London, but also the surrounding southwestern Ontario region. There are incredible benefits just within the canteen itself and in the history of the canteen.
You didn't have a chance to mention Spooner Memorial Gardens, the Spirit of Flight Aviation Museum or the Secrets of Radar Museum, which I know are also key parts of the wing.
I'm so grateful that it's in the community. I'm also grateful for the community's recognizing its value and coming together for a temporary fix. However, the money that was received from the publicity ads that we were able to get out in the news media is temporary. You spoke about the wing permanently closing if you don't get continual funding.
Could you talk about the services that would be lost in addition to what you've already mentioned? Hopefully you can talk about the impact on the members, many of whom, of course, are seniors, and the emotional, social and mental isolation this has caused and the problems it has caused for your members.
Going forward, you also talked about the operational costs versus the project-based funding with which you've had to try to make ends meet. How important is it for the government, in some of the upcoming funding, to consider operational funding and costs as you go forward?
It would be key if funds could be allocated without the restrictions. I think we'll be able to access some of our programming money through public donations, which will probably be pretty good for the next six to nine months. However, the operational costs are killing us. They're $17,000 plus. The insurance bill is huge. During COVID we're proud that we have paid off a $10,000 roofing bill, but some of that was because members and executive members kicked in money themselves. We did not want to stiff a local contractor who had done a good roof in good faith. It comes down to that we're part of the community.
We're proud to be part of an aviation hub. We have the Jet Aircraft Museum. We have the International Test Pilot School. We have Fanshawe College Norton Wolf School of Aviation Technology. There's such a great aviation resource right around us within walking distance, for instance Diamond Aircraft. We realize there's something there to build on, but it's hard to be doing those five-year plans when we have fires to put out. Five senior men and I have met every week putting out crises and deciding where we could juggle, how could we meet our commitments to be a community member.
We have people who have kept in contact with our members. Sadly, we're losing members to dementia, to poor health. Many have spouses in care. That's a big concern right now. We continue our Parkwood links, as I mentioned. We have Hilda, who's great with our contacts there, getting veterans some smaller things they might need. That continues. But all of the social aspects, the Friday lunches that brought in all kinds of previous pilots, all kinds of veterans, not just air force.... We don't want to have in-person eating right now; they're too vulnerable. With winter weather, it's just going to be harder for everybody to get there.
We continue sourcing grants, but again, some of those have strings and our national air force association—the one that has the charitable donation, the charitable registration.... I think some other non-profits have found themselves in that catch-22. We are a non-profit. We generate funds from events, but we're certainly not taking in a great amount of funds.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank the witnesses for being here today.
Mr. Gaboriault, thank you for your testimony and I salute your courage. We are very grateful to you for appearing before us.
There is no doubt that it is important for Canadians to understand the challenges you face. I think it's important that you're here today. Congratulations.
I have questions that I would like to direct to the organizations that are here today, because I want to try, for the sake of enabling the evidentiary record of this study, to take a look both backward and forward and just get a broader sense, in the context of the support that's being provided in COVID times, of what the financial trajectories of your organizations are, setting aside COVID.
I wonder if each of the organizations could give us a sense here of what kind of revenue trajectories your organizations have been on in the past 10 years or so. Are they stable? The same? Have they gone down over the past 10 years or have they gone up and, if so, by what kind of percentage? I'm looking for really short answers here because I have more follow-ups based on that information.
Thank you to each of you.
Perhaps we can start with Mrs. Brimson.
I've been the chair of our organization for the last two years. Before that, I was kind of on and off the executive but very active in the wing.
Ten years ago, our membership was probably 135 people. Right now, I think we're sitting at 115. We launched a very early and aggressive campaign to renew memberships this year, which came in very well. Quite a few members gave us donations in addition to their memberships. That definitely helped us.
All service clubs are faced with new challenges. The new generation just doesn't want to commit to anything. I can't even get my kids to tell me if they're coming for supper until they know that they don't have a better offer.
That being said, through our community outreach and our fundraising efforts, we're making efforts to involve the community, to get them in. In terms of our building there, we are part of No. 20 Elementary Air Training School of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. We inhabit building No. 10 from it.
I also recognize the historical significance of our building, and therefore we've been a driving force behind the historical conservation district encompassing the three remaining buildings and Airmen's Park.
In our fundraising efforts, we've gotten very aggressive over the last couple of years. I'd say our revenues probably increased about 7% or 8% from 2018 to 2019. Obviously this year, we're down 80%.
I cannot speak of when I retired because I can't remember, but it is a bureaucratic nightmare for any aspect of dealing with VA, more so.... It's hard if you lose a leg, an arm, or any part of your body and then have to deal with that, but it's even harder when your injury is cognitive.
The one thing I can recall—because I have been dealing with VA since 2008 for various injuries—is that when you were denied in some aspect, you were informed verbally, and you could appeal verbally. Now—and I can't tell you as of when—it has changed. It has been burdened with written appeals.
I have one in the process for which I was informed that I need to go the second level of appeal, but that requires me to write that appeal, which is difficult for me. I've been trying to.... Various services or available programs are endless paperwork of my life story because departments don't talk to each other.
I don't qualify for the disability tax credit, but I'm close to 120% disabled. That's a ton of paperwork. I have been attempting to apply for CPP for five years now, but I keep forgetting because it's such a daunting task for me.
It's the same thing with VA. Every department makes life difficult when you're disabled. Nothing is streamlined, and everybody's trying to justify their job.
There are a few photographs around the house, and lots of stories. So thank you for bringing that back to mind. I do appreciate it.
I have the great honour of representing Halifax in the House of Commons. As we have a significant presence of all three branches here, it wouldn't come as a surprise to any of you that the serving population and the veteran community form an everyday component of our experience here in the city. It's just part of who we are here. I am deeply plugged into the challenges that are being faced. Aside from having three Legions in this district, there are two service organizations. Unit 373 is in Halifax, and we have our Royal Canadian Naval Association, Peregrine, here as well. As you can see, we live this every day here.
One of the things that I have come to learn from all five of these organization—the three Legions and the two service organizations that I visit regularly—is that the financial challenges didn't just crop up because of COVID. Sure, we could talk about how quickly COVID-related funds were released, but this is really a longer-term decline. The ability of organizations to draw in new members, to build membership and maintain members, and to continue to have the cash flow to offer the programs that are so important to veterans, all of these things have been getting more difficult over time.
As they should, the organizations are turning primarily to the federal government. In fact, you will know that it's been widely reported that about $95 of every $100 of COVID-related relief in Canada has flowed from the federal government, and there's nothing wrong with that.
I was encouraged, Ms. Brimson, when you were talking about some of the other things you're looking at, and that's really where I hope to go when hearing from the witnesses today. We're all talking about pivoting and finding new sources of revenues to adapt to COVID. I'm wondering, Ms. Brimson, if you or any of the other organizations could go a little further in discussing the efforts you have made to find other sources of income, other programs that could be helpful to meeting the tremendous need that we know exists. If anybody has anything to add here, I'd ask you to go ahead.
I think it's essential. If an organization can't grow and change, see new needs, respond to them and innovate.... We need to appeal to different generations. Our education programs have to be presented in different ways—with audiovisual equipment, different from just a speaker in a classroom.
Charley Fox, was a well-known and decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. He was a member for 20 years at our wing. He never glorified war, but because he had lived experience, he could go into a school. Soon there won't be those members who had Second World War or flying experience. There will be some from Korea, NATO and the Cold War era, but it won't be the same.
Yes, in a way it will be survival of the fittest. The groups that don't innovate, that don't really.... We want to keep that social warmness, but we'd better be offering a very good service to the community and to the wider community; hence this idea of an aviation hub in London. Even our business neighbours are hurting through this COVID. It's a very tough time to be approaching a manufacturing aviation partner right now and saying, look, we're wondering how we can support each other. However, collaboration is a key thing that we will be doing.
Thank you, Madam. It's a very good question.
We do actually maintain a dedicated fund for women veterans. It's called the Captain Nichola Goddard fund.
As members may know, Captain Goddard was the first woman killed in the Canadian Armed Forces, in Afghanistan. In her honour, we've worked with the Goddard family over the last two to three years to build a dedicated program for women, both veterans and those still serving.
We certainly do provide support for those who've suffered sexual violence whilst in the military, and we have funded some women-only mental health community programs through some of our partners. Through the Veterans Transition Network, for example, we funded very specific, dedicated women's programming.
If there are women, or indeed men, who suffered from sexual violence during their service, we would certainly be very keen to ensure that they receive the services. I think the 16 Days of Activism to make sure that what has remained a relatively taboo subject, despite the chief of the defence staff's commitment to raising it.... I think women are a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces, and I would commend them for that. However, through the Goddard fund, we're very committed to making sure that women, both those serving and veterans, receive all the help they can get as they move on from experiences they may have suffered.
Because, plain and simple, it's policy. I can feed myself, dress myself and bathe myself. For those reasons, I don't qualify for the disability tax credit either—it's the exact same reasons. It discriminates against cognitive injuries, meaning brain injuries, and this is my fourth year of advocating. I think I started about three years ago, and nothing whatsoever has changed.
COVID is just making things worse for me. I'm a psychotic patient. I have to try to remain calm at all times. I'm sedated to function in normal life. As an example, on my own, I found a treatment, but it's in Victoria. I have a driving service that can take me to it, but I have to wear a mask.
I can't wear a mask for a long time because all of you look like terrorists to me. I was wearing a scarf while on patrol doing my job. I'm not going to explain that further because it triggers me. This means that even if everything goes through, I won't be able to go and get the treatment I need because it triggers me, which could put the driver in jeopardy. I have to abstain from a lot of things because of it. I can wear it for a very short amount of time. Now, though, I think it's required everywhere in B.C., indoors and probably in other places, which makes it very difficult for me. On top of that, I'm hard of hearing, and I can't see anybody's face to read their lips so I could function better.
I don't know if I answered your question, because I'm getting lost in my head.
One of these days I'm going to get that right, Mr. Chair.
I want to dig in a little bit deeper into recommendations and what MPs and the government can do to help keep these veteran organizations viable and surviving past this pandemic. I think the services you provide are going to be needed even more in our community. I know that's the case in Oshawa for sure.
Mr. Gimblett, you suggested that perhaps if the programs were a little bit more flexible—you mentioned if the organization had an HST number, for example—that would allow organizations to get that necessary support to keep open over the winter months.
Do you or any of the witnesses have suggestions on what we could do to ensure that these organizations remain open? The more I hear about what you do, I realize it's so important, and you really are so cost-effective. I just wonder, if you close, what Veterans Affairs will do basically to pick up the slack that your organizations provide for our veterans. Do you have some good recommendations for us on how we could help you make it through this second and, hopefully, last wave?
Thank you very much for that.
We just completed a study on the backlog and we see so many veterans not being able to get their support, sometimes waiting years for it. What really impresses me about your organizations and why I see you as so vital is that a veteran can walk in the door and immediately see a familiar face, somebody who can relate to them, have conversations with them, like-minded thoughts and experiences, and make them feel comforted in their community.
Do you see yourself over the next couple of months being able to bridge the challenges coming out of the pandemic? I know that the program that was announced was for $20 million. The Legion has access to $14 million.
Mr. Gimblett, my understanding, because your organizations aren't part of the Legion, is that you don't get that funding downstream, as Ms. Brimson mentioned. You have to come up with some other ideas. My understanding is that you found out about the program funding for the $6 million last Wednesday. You had four days to make the application. Were you able to get your application in on time? Did you find out how the decision-making process was going to be? How long is it going to be before you get those decisions so that you can make plans to make it through the winter months?
That's December 7 or Wednesday, December 9 that we could move this to.
I am concerned about Wednesday's meeting more than I am about Monday's because that is the day we're going to be reviewing the report on the backlog. Of course, the number one priority of this committee is to get that in before we rise for the Christmas break. I am being told that it is a fairly short report; it's about 27 pages.
What we are planning to do is to extend Wednesday to three hours, which would hopefully give us more than enough time to finish and approve the study on Wednesday. We're going to need to really buckle down and do that in order for me to have the runway to be able to table it the following week, which is the last sitting week of the House.
There are really two questions I'm asking. One, are we going to move Monday's meeting to the 7th, which is currently open? Two, do I have approval to extend the meeting to three hours? Obviously, we'll build in some bio breaks, if needed.
I do think the will of this committee is to get this study done and wrapped up before we rise for the holiday.
Are there any thoughts?