I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to the fifteenth meeting of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
I would also like to welcome our colleagues Ms. Kusie and Mr. Lauzon, replacing Ms. Roberts and Mr. Rogers.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on February 8, 2022, the committee is meeting to continue its study of survivor pension benefits in cases of marriage after age 60.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants to this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen are not permitted.
If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly, and when you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
As a reminder, all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses.
From the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, we have Dr. Eric Ping Hung Li, associate professor, University of British Columbia. From the Department of Veterans Affairs, we have Crystal Garrett-Baird, director general, policy and research. From the Treasury Board Secretariat, we have Nadine Labrie, senior director, pensions and benefits; and Simon Crabtree, executive director, pensions and benefits. Finally, from the the Department of National Defence, we have Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, director general, compensation and benefits.
You will have five minutes for your opening remarks, and we will then go into rounds of questioning. I was informed that the Treasury Board Secretariat does not have opening remarks, and they will only answer questions from the members.
We will begin with Dr. Eric Li, and then we will move on to the Department of Veterans Affairs and finally to the Department of National Defence.
I would like to invite the participants to take the floor, starting with Mr. Li.
I will signal you when you have one minute left or your time is up.
I'd like to invite Mr. Li to open his mike and to start his opening remarks for five minutes.
Please go ahead, Mr. Li.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, committee members and honourable guests. It is my honour to be here today to join the meeting.
I'm Eric Li, associate professor at the faculty of management of UBC's Okanagan campus. I would like the opportunity to share the key findings and recommendations of the qualitative study of financial well-being of military veteran survivors, funded by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research.
The well-being of military veteran survivors is insufficiently understood. This raises concerns regarding the inability of spouses who marry or enter into common-law relationships with the veteran after he or she turns 60 to access the superannuation benefits.
To better understand the scale of this issue, between the months of March and October 2020, we interviewed seven survivors and three veterans. Even though the participant pool is relatively small, these 10 interviews were sufficient for our research team to capture four themes related to the changes in financial well-being. These are survivors' adjustment and compromise in lifestyle, concerns about home ownership, financial stability and independence, and their views on current pension policies.
Our findings indicate that being ineligible to inherit veterans' pensions makes a very large difference to the lives of survivors. The participants who did not receive veterans' pensions had to make some drastic changes to their lifestyles. For example, one participant had to sell her townhouse after her husband died in order to reduce her expenditures, as she now has to be very careful with her expenses. Her opportunities for socialization have been limited, leading to loneliness and depression.
Some irregular and unexpected expenses—such as prescription glasses, home repairs or renovations, or car maintenance—can cause extra stress for these survivors. Many also worry about their future, as they anticipate that their health-related costs will increase as they age. Struggles are even greater for those who are not eligible for veterans' pensions. Most military spouses are unable to sustain full-time employment and have limited personal income and savings.
Based on our findings, we offer three recommendations for policy and program review. First, to ensure that surviving partners of military veterans, who have also made many personal sacrifices, are recognized for their partnership with our veterans, the Government of Canada should consider removing the age limitation on pension inheritance.
Second, the Canadian government's programs and service operators should also be reviewed. Communication platforms should be streamlined to ensure ease of access to all programs, benefits, privileges, entitlements and associated eligibility criteria. In our study, we also recognized that peer support should be recognized and enabled to enhance support groups in other ways to ensure that survivors use social media or other communication platforms to support each other.
Third, survivors who enter into a relationship with a veteran late in life feel psychological strain due to various social stigmas. For instance, many of our participants mentioned that they're being labelled as “gold diggers”, which is unfair to this particular population. Those who received benefits upon their husband's death in service also feel guilty about getting money. These and other issues remain unaddressed, as the survivors are not provided counselling. Thus, social workers and psychologists should be made available to both veterans and their survivors.
In summary, our study showcases the struggles and challenges that veterans and their surviving spouses face. It is particularly noteworthy that survivors who married a veteran after his or her 60th birthday suffered the most, as the substantial cut in their income due to the loss of the military pension forced them to change their lifestyles considerably. Veterans who started a relationship after the age of 60 also concurred that the current policies on pension inheritance created uncertainty for their partners.
To end my presentation today, I would like to share two quotes from our research participants.
This is what one survivor told us: “My late husband was in the military for 32 years. He literally gave his life for the country. Now the legislation states that at age 60, you no longer are going to be interested in getting married. At age 60 you are too old to have a relationship any more. In normal circumstances, you can still have another 20 years with a partner. We do have concerns. The government really needs to look at that.”
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to be with you today.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land I am speaking with you from is the traditional and unceded territory of the Abegweit Mi'kmaq first nation.
I welcome this opportunity to speak with you about the concerns of both veterans who marry after the age of 60 and their spouses and survivors. We are happy to engage in this very important discussion.
I would like to begin by outlining the services and benefits currently offered by Veterans Affairs Canada to support survivors under two pieces of legislation, the Pension Act and the Veterans Well-being Act.
Survivors may be eligible for income support as a result of the veteran's disability pension, namely through a disability benefit survivor's pension. This is entirely unrelated to superannuation. Payments may also be made through the income replacement benefit. Additional compensation may be paid if the veteran's passing was service-related.
Some low-income survivors may also be eligible for financial support through the war veterans allowance or the Canadian Forces income support program. In addition, survivors are eligible for the veterans emergency fund, which provides financial assistance in the event of urgent and unexpected situations.
Finally, surviving primary caregivers of veterans may be eligible to receive veterans independence program housekeeping and grounds maintenance, provided that the veteran was in receipt of the service at the time of their passing.
As part of Budget 2019, the Government of Canada committed $150 million over five years to establish a survivor fund that would aim to better support veterans who married over the age of 60, as well as their spouses, and ensure that survivors have the financial support they need.
It is important to note that this fund does not change the marriage after 60 clause in the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. This act is under the responsibility of the Department of National Defence.
After the veterans survivors fund was announced, we recognized that we needed information about these survivors' needs and the magnitude of the issue. This is because the only administrative data we knew with absolute certainty was the number of veterans who select the optional survivor benefit.
To this end, we collaborated with Statistics Canada and the Canadian Military and Veterans Health Research Institute to determine the size and characteristics of the survivor population.
This work was delayed by the pandemic. However, we have since received the results of this research and learned the following about living survivors.
An estimated 4,500 people entered into a marriage or common-law relationship with a veteran after the veteran's 60th birthday. In each of these cases, the veteran was a Canadian Armed Forces superannuate. Virtually all were female, and 90% were age 70 or older. Most had higher incomes compared with other Canadian females in the same age group. Their median income was $34,900 versus $25,600.
Finally, over 1,200 survivors, or 27%, were in receipt of the guaranteed income supplement. Approximately 850 of the 4,500 living survivors, or 19%, had incomes below the low-income measure, which was $24,890 before tax.
On this last point, we should consider the budget 2021 commitment to implement a 10% increase to the old age security program for those 75 years and older. This increase starts in July 2022. With this enhancement, it is anticipated that about 250 of the estimated 4,500 living survivors will have incomes below the low-income measure.
Now, let me be clear. We do not see this as an insignificant number, and we realize that it's not just about money. It is also about recognition.
We care about the needs of survivors, which is why we offer a number of benefits and supports in the package of programs I have just outlined.
We are using the results of this to best inform how to move forward with the veterans survivors fund.
Let me conclude by saying that Veterans Affairs Canada recognizes that the wives and common-law partners of veterans play a crucial role in the care of our veterans.
We are committed to ensuring that those who served and their survivors have the support they need.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, the director general, compensation and benefits for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me here today.
I want to highlight that compensation and benefits for the Canadian Armed Forces are a topic of great importance. My responsibilities in the area of Canadian Armed Forces compensation and benefits include policy management and service delivery administration for everything from military pay and allowances to release benefits and military pensions.
You have just heard from my colleague at Veterans Affairs Canada, and I would like to take this opportunity to outline the role of National Defence in regard to the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act.
The , under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, is responsible for the overall management of the pension plan, including the financial management of Canadian Armed Forces pension funds. My organization is responsible for the oversight of the pension plan, contribution calculations, financial analysis, program advice, and interpretation and preparation of the annual reports, all in support of the minister's role.
We also conduct and contribute to the analysis, design and policy of the pension programs, including working alongside the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board when analysis is required for any changes or amendments to the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act.
I will be happy to take your questions.
Thank you for inviting me this afternoon.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you all for being here today. We appreciate your participating in this issue. As I'm sure you're aware, it has a great deal of emotion attached to it. You recognize that, and I appreciate that we have to consider that in the midst of all of this.
Dr. Li, first of all, I have a couple of questions for you.
When you mentioned the number who were engaged in the study and you gave the reasoning with respect to why there weren't more, you mentioned the impacts of COVID. You mentioned the inability to meet.
I know our Legions have a significant role in bringing people together, and I wonder whether there was an effort to engage the Legion to assist people in taking part in this via Zoom. I'm assuming a lot of the older individuals weren't familiar with those sources of communication. Was that something that was considered and attempted to any great degree?
I will jump in to provide a response.
Just to be clear with respect to when an optional survivor benefit is established, the actual funds that are now taken by the annuitant making that decision never actually leave the pension fund. It's not like in a divorce where you would receive in the division of assets a cheque for an amount of money.
While there is a reduction of payments to the annuitant, those funds are still in the pension fund. That means that, in the event of the death of a spouse, they may revoke the optional survivor benefit and, therefore, the pension amount received by the annuitant goes back to 100%. While that benefit had been set up, the annuitant is not going to suffer on the death of their spouse.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to pick up exactly where Ms. Wagantall left off, because I am interested in the conversation around the optional survivor benefit.
To come back to her scenario, we have a veteran who decides to take a lower monthly amount in exchange for the right for his surviving spouse, in the event of his death, to receive a reduced pension. There has been concern expressed by the committee and by some of the witnesses that, where that happens and the spouse dies, the amount that has been forgone by the veteran effectively lapses.
I heard Ms. Tattersall indicate that if that death happens while the veteran is still drawing, that he or she is fully made whole.
My question is this, and I don't want it to appear cold or callous. These types of defined benefit programs are all based on actuarial calculations that factor in death rates and the like. If someone lives to be 100, they would draw more than the average. If someone dies the day after the papers are signed to make the transfer, they make less. Is that not the theory behind why what seems to be unfair to a certain group of people?
Ms. Tattersall, would you like to take a run at this? The person from the Treasury Board may have some comments as well.
Thank you for the question. It's one that I'm not perhaps prepared to give you a fulsome answer to.
You're quite right that, in the broader sense, this is based on actuarial assessments. That means you will have some individuals who will draw five years of the pension benefits they have worked their entire career for. Equally, you may have someone who in fact receives a pension for over 40 years because they happen to have that longevity. It is all calculated on the basis of trying to achieve the best investment, so that the funds will be there to try to ensure you continue to receive your benefits, whether you are short-lived or long-lived.
I'm not sure whether that gives you a satisfactory answer. Perhaps this might be one that, because it applies to all the plans, Treasury Board might be better placed to answer.
It's just that it's my understanding that this is the nature of these types of funds. That probably didn't satisfy Mrs. Wagantall's curiosity, but I think we're both curious about the same topic, so we'll come back to it.
I want to come to you, Ms. Garrett-Baird.
What we're studying, of course, is focused on what survivors of veterans don't get, and you gave us a long list of what survivors of veterans do get. One thing you mentioned was a payment that is for survivors of veterans if the death is service-related. Can you expand on that a little more?
I also referenced the disability pension, which is the monthly amount.
If we look right now, from the veterans emergency fund in last fiscal year, just over $1 million was provided in support to 574 veterans and survivors. We also have the veterans independence program, which provides a number of supports and services to veterans. For example, right now it is supporting 28,000 survivors alone. The income replacement benefit is being provided to approximately 400 survivors. We have disability benefits being provided to over 36,000 survivors as well.
That gives you some scope on the number of survivors we are supporting through a variety of mechanisms, both shorter term, such as the veterans emergency fund, and longer term, through disability benefits and the income replacement benefit.
I'd like to tell the members of the committee that while there was no address from the Treasury Board Secretariat, we have two representatives with us today: Ms. Nadine Labrie, the senior director, and Mr. Simon Crabtree, the executive director, both from pensions and benefits. They will also be available to answer your questions.
I saw a hand raised at one point. Mr. Crabtree, I assume you wanted to answer a question that was asked. Members of the committee can direct questions to you in a future round.
The second vice-chair of the committee, Mr. Luc Desilets, now has the floor for six minutes.
I would reply that we have had several difficulties in terms of the [Technical difficulty—Editor] of a pension.
The fact is that we have not examined this particular issue, but it is one we are aware of. We regularly receive questions about this issue, which we provide responses to, but it is not, at this time, one that I have had the means to engage a specific study on.
Again, it is an issue that is not just specific to the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. It also impacts the public service, the RCMP and I believe a couple of the other acts, which I think my colleague from the Treasury Board would be well placed to explain.
I thank all the folks who are here testifying today. It's very helpful and interesting.
My first questions are going to be for Dr. Li.
First of all, thank you very much for your presentation, and I thank you for including the quotes from some of the folks you worked with. I found those to be very impactful.
You talked in your written remarks about the difficulty in finding veterans and survivors to participate in this study. Obviously, COVID was a considerable challenge. I would also argue that another challenge is the fact that the people you were asking to do this work are very dedicated to this country and very service-oriented. They don't like to say anything bad about the country they were willing to put their lives on the line for.
I guess my question to you is how you found the 10 participants. Was there any modification in how you attracted those participants based on their service history and the fact that this is a group of people who largely served their country and don't complain? What were the criteria? Where in Canada were those folks living? I just want to get a sense of whether they were across the country or located largely in one or two centres.
They are across the country. We got individuals from Atlantic Canada, Ontario and B.C., and couples from Alberta. We have a pretty good selection with those 10 people.
Our recruitment strategies were through multiple networks. We ran some Facebook ads and also tried to join some community groups from that. It turned out that the next generation referred their parents or their moms to join our studies, and we went through the different personal networks we already had in the veterans community. At UBC, we have the STAR office, which has a really good relationship with DND and also Veterans Affairs. They helped us to find some leads here and there for that.
You're right about COVID. Our first few studies were really impacted by COVID. Also, thinking about the demographics, it was really hard to use electronic media to reach out to them for that, so there was a lot of relying on personal connections and multiple layers. That's really the challenge we had.
Mr. Chair, it's great to see you again.
I thank all the presenters today.
I have to say that we've sat through numerous meetings concerning this subject. We've heard a lot of testimony, and to finish this off with you is great. I want to say thank you for your service. Thank you for what you're doing. I appreciate it.
Mr. Li, as I go through your report, it's been highlighted that you met with seven people. We heard from Statistics Canada that there are close to 6,000 veterans or survivors that are currently affected by this. Before you started doing your report, I'm sure you had something envisioned in your mind. How many people did you think you were actually going to be able to connect with over this?
Please don't take this line of questioning as reflective on your performance.
What I find that I'm having a hard time bringing together here is that, through personal testimonies, this is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people, so when they have an opportunity to speak to it and get engaged I find it very.... Like I said, I can't reconcile the fact that those numbers don't seem to line up.
Thank you for that. As I said, it's not reflective on you. I'm just concerned about the engagement on this report.
Is your report public or has it just been disclosed to the veterans affairs committee?
I'm going to have to rely on the witnesses to decide who the best person is to answer this question. I think it may be Mr. Crabtree, but if I'm wrong you will let me know.
I am trying to understand, because this is unique. When we think about the folks who are in this situation with the marriage after 60 clause, they are the ones who fill out the optional survivor benefit. That is not a normal practice for other pensions, from what I understand. We won't get into that.
What I am trying to understand is, if a member fills that form out and gives up between 30% to 50% of their pension.... For example, one of the veterans we are working with now has submitted over $150,000 to put away for his wife when he passes. Now the wife is not doing well and it doesn't look like she's going to be with us much longer. When that happens, I understand that the veteran is removed from the OSB program and his pension returns to 100%, but what happens to all of that money? In this case, it's $150,000?
Will that money come back to the veteran? This is them giving up their pension. To me, it's not the same as being a person who lives five years to 40 years. It is about saying, “Here's some of my money. I'm giving it up because I don't want this person to be without.”
Can somebody please explain? Does that money stay in that big pot, or does any of that money come back to the person whose pension it was and who signed off on the optional survivor benefit?
I'm going to actually follow up because I believe that MP Blaney kind of stole my thunder there.
I'm really having trouble with the numbers with this and how it all works. As the panel has probably gathered, one of the biggest points of contention is a veteran attempting to provide for their spouse or partner and the money they attempted to provide for their spouse or partner ultimately is relinquished and does not come back to them.
I'm sorry. I just launched in because I was so inspired by MP Blaney's question. First off, I thank you all for your service and for being here. I neglected to say that right from the get-go.
This is for Mr. Crabtree or Brigadier-General Tattersall.
I'm going to use an example because I'm having a lot of trouble visualizing this. For me, it's helpful if we use tangible numbers.
Let's say a veteran has a $4,000 pension monthly—a big pension. They can give 20%, 30% or 50% or something along those lines and they decide to give 50%. That means that they're putting away $2,000, as I understand it, every single month. That $2,000 is there to compensate in the event that the veteran passes prior to their surviving spouse. Is everybody with me so far?
After four years, roughly $96,000, by my math, has been put aside at $2,000 per month over four years. If I understand this correctly, hypothetically, if the spouse or common-law spouse passes away at the four-year mark, is that $96,000 never to be seen again?
I will go on this one first.
In essence, you're right that the amount that's reduced of the benefit is forgone. Pension plans are a pooling of risks between members. They're not designed to pay out in every case for exactly what people pay into them. There are many employees or members who pay into these plans who never receive what they paid into them because they are deceased before they can yield those benefits or otherwise. That's true across all of our public sector plans.
As I said, I would look at the optional survivor benefit like purchasing a term life insurance policy. You are paying something for an insurance benefit that would be paid out to a spouse, but if that spouse predeceases you, those contributions you made to that term life insurance policy would not be returned to you afterwards. It is an insurance that you'd be purchasing, essentially. This is similar.
Thank you to all the witnesses joining us for this important study. We've spoken to many witnesses, and as my colleagues have mentioned, this topic is very sensitive and a lot of them have been very impacted by this.
I'm going to direct these questions to Ms. Garrett-Baird. Hopefully they are for you, and if not, you can redirect me.
You mentioned that the $150 million has not been used as of yet, and obviously the work, it sounds like, is now under way with the report that's been put in front of us. Are you able to share what alternative programs, if any, can be used to distribute the $150 million? Are we at the point where you're formulating or thinking through what we're able to distribute or hoping to distribute?
I can speak to this at a very high level.
We know that only a few pension plans in Canada offer a survivor benefit to a spouse or common-law partner whose union begins after retirement. As you pointed out, there is the Quebec plan, but there is also the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, both of which have those. In both cases, the benefit is provided to the spouse at death and is only provided to that one survivor. That's to say that a married spouse would have priority over a common-law spouse in cases where a plan member was, say, separated at the time of death.
Even in plans that may offer that postretirement benefit, there are still obviously some eligibility restrictions. That means the person living with the member may not, upon their death, receive a survivor benefit.
It should be noted that these plans provide a benefit that's a percentage of what the member was receiving rather than a percentage of an unreduced pension benefit, which is what we offer under the public sector plans here in the federal government.
Thank you, Mrs. Valdez.
I'd like to propose to all of you, witnesses and members, that we do another round of questions for 25 minutes, and after that we can take a health break. We have until four o'clock. Are there any objections? Can we go on with another round of 25 minutes?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: That's great.
I invite Mrs. Wagantall, for five more minutes, please.
I look at this, and it concerns me deeply. I don't think we're advising our veterans on the best direction of action to take as they get older. If they choose to get married at 60.... Obviously things are different now from what they were many years ago, and this is a norm.
I am concerned that, since 1994, there have been nine private member's bills on this issue, a motion in 2006 and then a 2015 mandate letter from the Prime Minister that made it a top priority to eliminate the marriage after 60 clawback clause. Then, of course, in budget 2019 that was all gone, and we're into a veterans survivors fund approach.
Clearly, I don't think our government is in a position right now to look at what this would cost to make those changes that, on a personal level for these veterans, should really be there.
I have a question about that $150 million over five years, and that it hasn't been spent. The way I read it, it says, to better support the surviving spouses married after age 60, budget 2019 announced $150 million over five years starting in 2019 to create a veterans survivors fund. However, as you were saying, that needs to be created—$30 million a year. Why is there not far better research going into what this needs to be moving forward? It looks to me that it's not going to be set up well, if it is set up at all, and it needs to have proper research.
Dr. Li, what would you have liked to have available to you to do a more rounded approach to the particular study you did?
I hear you. That's fair enough. It's important that we understand these things and that veterans understand these things.
I have a question for Ms. Garrett-Baird.
You mentioned the different programs that are available for survivors to access. One of them you mentioned is the VIP, but again, here's the catch. It says it had to be used by the veteran.
I can tell you that it's one thing to be the veteran if you're the male in the family who may continue to do things like shovel and cut the grass, but if he is suddenly gone and the wife.... I can attest to the fact that I would struggle with those responsibilities, yet here it's attached again to whether or not the spouse needed it before passing away. This, to me, seems unreasonable. If we're truly concerned about meeting the needs of that veteran's spouse...and you're right, as Mr. Crabtree said, we're talking about people in their seventies, eighties and now occasionally nineties.
Mr. Chair, can she give a brief reply?
I'd like to begin by thanking the witnesses for being here today, on this Friday afternoon.
Mr. Li piqued my curiosity when he talked about the difficulty of reaching people on the ground. Little has been said about how the pandemic has made things more difficult over the past two years.
How to reach seniors is a concern, given the connectivity issues in some rural areas, where the Internet is not available. In addition, seniors have difficulty using the Internet and various communication technologies.
What difficulties have you had in reaching seniors in rural or remote areas? What were the barriers related to technology?
We rely on the second generation. I briefly mentioned that, so if they can help us to set up.... Let's say video conferencing is good, but I did have some interviews done on forms. They don't have the Internet access but can join the call and then we set up our one-hour telephone conversations with them. We still can kind of reach out to those individuals.
A good number of those participants are living in remote regions, but having said that, COVID really limited our outreach. I would say, in the ideal or dream scenario, I would like to go to those places and interview them in their own houses and see their situations.
We work closely with the Legions, but their lunches or veterans gatherings were all cancelled during that time. Having said that, these would be some of the vehicles, as I mentioned, if not interrupted by COVID.
With that being said, I think we got a lot of clarity on what is and what isn't at this point in time.
I am very concerned about another promise in 2019 of $150 million. It was supposed to kind of appease this whole concern about survivors receiving a portion of their loved one's pension when they pass away, and none of those funds have gone out yet. To put that money forward before being ready is a trademark of this government. They make announcement after announcement, even with COVID, and nothing has been established or put in place yet.
I would ask those of you who are engaged on that particular issue if you could please, even now, having had a little more time, Ms. Garrett-Baird, explain to us where that process is at. When and what can we expect to come out of that in light of the fact that it appears to me that there's not a will or perhaps an ability at this point in time to come forward and meet the desire of our veterans and their spouses, as was outlined in the 2015 mandate letter.
I do appreciate that. That is what we need to hear because that kind of confirms what I'm saying here, I guess.
What we're doing, then, is what I see has been happening for a very long time in Veterans Affairs. We try to create something else to deal with the problem, rather than to streamline and make things simpler for our veterans as far as how those needs can be met. Can you give us just a sense...? I appreciate what you're saying because you're starting at ground zero, really, with this whole issue as far as having any kind of ability.
I'm sorry, Dr. Li, I didn't mean “ground zero”, because there's been an effort made to do something on that file.
Realistically, how long do you think it will take to create this program, and how much has the department spent within itself at this point in time trying to do this to date?
I just would like to begin by stating that I don't think we should be playing political games or using comments about this government making promises. I mean, we lived through 2005 to 2015, with major cuts to Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Armed Forces from the Conservatives. We didn't talk about that, but maybe we should have. The last speaker was saying that we made some promises, and the Conservative government was in power from 2005 to 2015 and didn't do anything on the survivor fund for those aged 60 and over. Let's just focus on getting this job done.
I'm glad for the discussion. I want to thank all members who are here today, and I want to thank Ms. Blaney for bringing the topic of the study up. I think this is very important, and there have been lots of discussions around that.
I guess I'd like to begin by asking—again, maybe you could identify this—has the Treasury Board, National Defence or Veterans Affairs...? How much are we hearing questions around the veterans' pensions after 60 survivors fund? Are we getting calls? Is it something that's being asked of us or asked of your responsibilities?
I guess I'll start with Mr. Crabtree. Are you having some requests or questions on that topic?
Thank you, Mr. Crabtree.
Ladies and gentlemen, as agreed, we're going to take a 10‑minute break. We will return for the final round of questions, which will be initiated by Mr. Frank Caputo.
It's exactly 3:11 p.m.
At 3:21 p.m., Mr. Caputo will have turned on his microphone and he can begin.
With that, I will suspend the meeting for 10 minutes.
The meeting is suspended.
Thank you. I may not need all five minutes here.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to finish up with Mr. Crabtree. I see that MP Blaney is jumping up and down, but I don't know what she could possibly be trying to say to me.
Mr. Crabtree, I really want to make sure I understand this, because this has been a huge issue. I'm going to summarize what I perceive your message and your evidence to be, and then could you please confirm whether or not I got it right?
If I have it right, when a veteran contributes on behalf of their spouse.... We really should say “when a veteran and their spouse contribute” because it's the two of them. Let's say when they contribute that $2,000 a month for a total of $96,000 over the course of four years, if I understand it correctly, that $96,000 is essentially—forgive my language—almost like hedging a bet, if you will, saying that, in the event they perish, that $96,000 will go to pay me, would it be, $2,000 a month for the rest of my life or however much is to be paid?
Is that accurate?
Once again, it's a pleasure to participate in the discussion and ask questions. I'd like to go back to the topic that was already discussed with Ms. Garrett‑Baird.
The question I asked you earlier was about your responsibilities for the new pension plan. In the current model, the three pension funds have been amalgamated into one.
What are the benefits of this pension model for veterans?
Can you describe some of these benefits?
If you are referring to the Pension Act, the new veterans charter and pension for life, the advantage of pension for life—and the new Veterans Charter, which was the precursor to pension for life—is that we now have a suite of benefits and services that can be provided to veterans and their families. It includes areas such as rehabilitation and financial support, whether it's the income replacement benefit or the Canadian Forces income support benefit. Those are areas that we did not have pre-2006. We only had the monthly disability pension and supports such as the attendance allowance and exceptional incapacity allowance for veterans who had very serious injuries.
We were able to step back and realize that this model was not enough for our modern-day veterans. They were in need of rehabilitation and support such as career transition services. Move forward to 2019 when we identified gaps in education and training, so we launched the education and training benefit. We also put in place supports such as the caregiver recognition benefit for family members or caregivers of the most seriously disabled veterans, to ensure they are getting what they need.
That whole suite of benefits is encompassed by a very strong case management system and other supports such as the VAC assistance line. We are working with our Canadian Armed Forces colleagues on the veteran family program to ensure that there is a seamless transition once a member is released and comes over to VAC for support. We are always looking at ensuring that Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and their families are getting the supports and services they need.
As mentioned, where we have identified gaps in areas such as education, training and the caregiver recognition benefit, those supports have been put in place. Even if we step back again, since 2016 over $11 billion has been provided for veterans through our budgets. Most recently, in budget 2022, there was additional funding of over $201 million to continue to reduce wait times and address veterans' homelessness.
We continue to evolve to ensure that our programming is supporting the needs of those we serve, which is the most important thing—their well-being and their health.
My first question is for Mr. Li.
Mr. Li, I respect the work you do at the University of British Columbia. You have a doctorate and you have done important work in the past.
Here's what concerns me. The sample for your study was small and nothing happened the way you wanted it to. This is not your fault. People, legions and others did not respond, which is a great shame.
Do you believe, as an academic, that your study meets the high standards of research quality and that we can really consider investing millions of dollars in light of your three recommendations?
Thank you for your question.
I would say that the small sample size is the reality of that, but I think that in the quality of the conversations we had with the veterans and the survivors, we covered some of the ground that we wanted to in going back to identifying the reasons and what would be their financial well-being.
We had qualitative researchers trained in anthropology backgrounds as well. We had a smaller sample size, but that is sometimes good in the calibre and quality of the information we are getting. I think we captured quite a lot of the voices. Are we going to be saturated in some ways in terms of the themes...? I can see that more samples would be good and more of a time frame spent with veterans and survivors would be helpful with that.
But I think that in this exercise we did our very best in the pandemic times to collect those voices to present to you. I would say that we did pass along good qualitative research.
If I could ask a question through you, Chair, of Ms. Tattersall, my question is this: Is she aware that REGS, another committee in this place, has requested that the attend to explain the government's intentions regarding eliminating this clause on after 60...? That's question one.
The second one is this: Has she been called on to provide briefing notes about this clause to anyone in National Defence and, if so, who?
They're having trouble tracking who's doing what at this point in the day, I think. That's fair enough.
I just have one question for Ms. Garrett-Baird.
In regard to Statistics Canada, the data tables requested by Veterans Affairs Canada were to provide a broad and general understanding of the financial situation and occurrence of low income among spouses of veterans who entered into a new relationship at age 60 and after. I believe that you clarified that this is what was asked and provided by them to VAC.
However, according to Statistics Canada, it has never been asked by Veterans Affairs Canada to do any specific analysis on the impact of the marriage after 60 clause or the veterans survivors fund. I just wonder, in light of all the information that is needed to be able to deal with this as quickly as possible to come up with decisions around that fund, why was that the case? Why were they not asked to do that additional work?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with MP Valdez.
I want to pick up where Ms. Garrett-Baird left off.
Ms. Garrett-Baird, I think you indicated now a couple of times that the research that was done indicated there were 4,500 survivors who, if the clause were eliminated, would be receiving a pension.
Do I have that right, or is it simply 4,500 who married after 60?
Okay. I see that Mr. Crabtree has turned his mike on. Before I go to him, I want to point something out. Maybe you can incorporate this in your answer, Mr. Crabtree, if you are inclined to participate in this discussion.
When we had Statistics Canada in front of us, they told us that the number who married after 60 presently stands at between 4,000 and 6,000. The number who have had their spouses deceased is between 2,000 and 4,000. The number we're getting from Ms. Baird is 4,500, and the number that we got from Statistics Canada, as of 2018, was between 2,000 and 4,000.
Did you have something you wanted to contribute?
I heard several committee members today talk about the Quebec provincial pension process. I'm just wondering if we could direct the analyst to be able to reach out and get more information so that when the report is written he has access. We are hearing a lot of anecdotal information, which I really value, but I think it's important that we actually get that information. I don't think we have a lot more time in our time here.
I'm just wondering if it's okay with you, Chair, that we ask if the analyst could retrieve that information directly from the source so that the report captures that.
Thank you. I'm sorry for interrupting.
I listened to the conversations too, but from my point of view there was no official yes or no. In order to avoid re‑contacting the witness, we could listen to the recording with the analyst and the clerk to verify this information.
With that, members of the committee and witnesses, I thank you once again. I would like to mention your names before I let you go.
We had with us Dr. Eric Ping Hung Li, from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. Dr. Eric Ping Hung is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. We also heard from Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, director general, Compensation and Benefits at the Department of Defence; Ms. Crystal Garrett-Baird, director general, Policy and Research at the Department of Veterans Affairs; Ms. Nadine Labrie, senior director, Pensions and Benefits at the Treasury Board Secretariat; and Mr. Simon Crabtree, executive director, Pensions and Benefits at the Treasury Board Secretariat.
Again, thank you very much for participating in this session and for answering questions from the committee members.
Before adjourning the meeting, I would like to inform the members of the committee that as of June 3, for the next meetings, we will be studying the report that we started on service dogs for veterans. If we have enough time, we will study the report on the desecration of monuments in honour of veterans.
I would also like to inform the members of the committee that there was talk of receiving Major Brandon J. Archuleta, but unfortunately he declined the invitation. So on June 3, we will move on to the consideration of those reports, and we will certainly continue that consideration on June 10 and June 17 as well.
With that, I would like to know if members agree to adjourn the meeting.
There is no objection. Again, on behalf of all of us, I thank all the technical team, the interpreters, the analyst and the clerk who have accompanied us during this session.
With that, I wish you all a fine end to the day and an excellent long weekend.
The meeting is adjourned.