I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 26 of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Monday, October 3, 2022, the committee is resuming its study on the impact of the new rehabilitation contract awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the role of the case manager and quality of service delivery.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of Thursday, June 23, 2022.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules for witnesses and members to follow.
If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice of either floor, English or French.
As a reminder, all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
Pursuant to our routine motion regarding connectivity tests, I want to let the committee know that the witness went through the necessary testing before the meeting.
I would like to welcome our witnesses.
We have Ms. Angela Aultman, case manager and president, local union 90002, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees; Amanda Logan, case manager and president, local union 60006, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees; and Whitney McSheffery, case manager, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees.
Yes, Mr. Richards.
I have a point of order.
I'll just say this briefly because I don't want to take time away from our witnesses. I think it's very important we hear from them. I wanted to make a quick comment as a point of order this morning.
We had received an amended notice for this meeting indicating committee business time in the last 15 minutes, during the time when we do have veterans. I guess it's been changed now and there's only one veteran, but we did have veterans scheduled.
It's concerning to me that any time we have witnesses scheduled and particularly when it's veterans.... They're given a very short period of time. To schedule that kind of committee business situation and cut into their time should only be done where it's absolutely necessary.
I would ask that you, as chair, commit to having a conversation with, at minimum, the vice-chairs of the committee and, ideally, the members of the steering committee in the future before making such a decision, to determine whether that is, in fact, a reasonable incursion on witness time.
I'll ask if you could commit to having those conversations in the future, prior to cutting into witness time.
Thank you, Mr. Richards.
I understand your concern. As you know, it's extremely important for us, and I think for all members of the committee, to work for and listen to veterans.
At the same time, I have to tell you that you have elected a chair and we also have a clerk working with us. We are doing everything we can to have the committee functioning correctly.
Sometimes it's happened, as in this situation.... Right now we have one hour with three witnesses, and we were supposed to have two witnesses for the second hour. The clerk deals with those witnesses every day. One of them said at the last minute that she was sick and couldn't be present. Even this morning, the clerk got in contact with her again and she said that she was not available.
With the other one, there was a lot of discussion, and we are pleased that in the end he said that he was going to buy a headset and would be able to participate.
I saw that we had one hour with one veteran—one witness. Also, this is our last meeting on that study, so we have to give instructions to the analysts to do the report. It has to be in camera.
We also have the budgetary allocations.
The agenda is extremely tight. That's why the chair, in discussion with the clerk, came to that conclusion. Even during the weekend we discussed that. You have to be confident in the chair with the schedule.
Thank you. I'll be starting.
Mr. Chair and committee, thank you for inviting me here today to speak about this important issue impacting our Canadian veterans.
I began my career at Veterans Affairs Canada six and a half years ago with the belief that I would be able to positively contribute to and enhance the livelihoods and well-being of our Canadian veterans and their families. This position was a perfect fit, considering my education as a social worker. As well, I was the daughter of a veteran, experiencing my father being deployed and the struggles we faced as a family upon his retirement. Four years later, my older brother would deploy to Afghanistan, again in 2012, and most recently to Latvia. I am also the spouse of a U.S. Army veteran of the 101st Airborne, who deployed to the early invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and was injured in his last tour. I have personally witnessed how war changes our loved ones.
I am all too familiar with and extremely proud to be part of the lives of military families and military culture, but for many civilians, there exists an ignorance as to what the reality is truly like in re-establishing in civilian life after these experiences. Veterans' physical and mental health issues are often complex and multi-layered. Operational stress injuries, moral injury, chronic pain and psychosocial issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
My great concern with this rehabilitation contract is that privatizing these services will only serve to further isolate our veterans from their government and their community—and from the public service employees who have their best interests at heart, rather than a bottom line, a policy or a profit. Our veterans already face difficulties trying to relate to others who do not understand their experiences and the residual impacts those experiences have on their social integration, emotional support, self-esteem, identity, sense of coherence and trust. This contract will undoubtedly exacerbate these psychosocial challenges.
I cannot explain to you the helplessness I feel when my veterans ask me what this contract means for them and their re-establishment. I am unable to provide them with reassurance or comfort when I myself am faced with so many unknowns about what my work will look like and how much control I will have in ensuring that they get what they need. I cannot ensure that they won't have to build trust with yet another stranger, expose their vulnerabilities and retell the darkness they are living in.
I fear that for a long time the department's expectation of case managers has been to simply placate and manage veterans' anger and frustration. As a social worker as well as a public servant, I have the responsibility and an ethical obligation to respect the dignity and worth of the person, uphold integrity, and advocate for the importance of human relationships and social justice. The uncertainty of this contract prevents me from espousing these values and ethics, to the point that this year I chose not to keep my social work registration. I felt I was unable to uphold these values and ethics within my workplace.
I'm left with the feeling that the department is using this contract to further distance themselves from veterans and their families, and that it serves to abdicate their responsibility to uphold their very mission, mandate and values by minimizing the relationship with their case managers. Since March 2020, I have been unable to see my clients face to face. My office remains closed to the public. The department has ceased our ability to perform home visits with veterans and their families, which was a critical tool in building rapport and trust. Building rapport with clients by phone or virtual call is nearly impossible. These decisions do not honour the sacrifices of these dedicated heroes, and they certainly do not foster the trust, care, compassion or respect that they deserve.
During my first month on the job, I was given 45 files, which steadily climbed to 62. When we expressed our grave concerns, not only for our own mental health but for the quality of the service to the veterans, management's only reply was that the work would always be there. Within a year, I began experiencing severe burnout and anxiety, to the point where I was waking at night with panic and with nightmares of my clients dying of suicide because I couldn't keep up.
Many times we were working not with a sole veteran but also with their spouse and children. We were managing families. This is a grave responsibility when you feel as though you're drowning. Life as a case manager is incredibly challenging, but it's also one of the most rewarding experiences I have had the honour of doing. The ratio of 30:1, let alone 25:1, has never been a reality for us. We have been told that this is an unrealistic expectation.
Being silenced, gaslit and invalidated by the department has been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my life, but I vehemently refuse to give up advocating for better service for our veterans and our heroes. That is why I am here today.
Mr. Chair and committee members, my name is Amanda Logan and I'm a local president in New Brunswick. I've been a case manager for almost five years.
I was taught from a young age that it is important to be able to speak and interact with others, to get to know people, learn about them and understand them. My strength is my ability to connect with others. When I meet with a veteran, I genuinely enjoy getting to know them and taking the time to listen and ask questions. I am interested, and I want to help.
When people talk about their passions, I think this is mine. This is why I became a case manager. This trusting relationship or working alliance allows veterans to share their trauma, the challenges they deal with each day, their fears. This trust allows them to feel comfortable to voice what they need. Can you imagine being in that position, being vulnerable in this way? It is not an easy thing to do to share this information with a stranger, and it is even more challenging during a global pandemic when we are unable to see veterans in person.
This relationship is the foundation that a veteran's case plan is built on.
Right now we are under tremendous pressure to meet deadlines for the transition of case management services to the third party contractor. We are doing this at the same time as we are trying to help veterans and their families. Since June, we have asked questions about the implementation of the new contract, only to be told that this information is forthcoming—a time that has not yet come.
There has been no meaningful consultation with case managers. We've been instructed to adhere to the changes and to do it quickly. We have not been properly trained on this new rehabilitation contract. We have only been provided with an informational 52-step process and new acronyms.
It is very challenging to know what to share with our veterans to prepare them for these changes when we do not know ourselves. Our worth as case managers is no longer measured by our ability to connect with veterans and assess and develop their case plans with care, compassion and respect. Our worth today is measured by data, stats, ribbons, complexity levels and concluded files.
We often talk about high caseloads. The promise of managing 25 cases never happens. Let me be clear. This has a direct impact on our ability to meet our mission of providing exemplary client-centred services. With upwards of 40 files, our process becomes diluted. We are more susceptible to making mistakes. This has consequences for our health and well-being. Quite frankly, it keeps us up at night. We worry whether something has been missed and what kind of impact that could have on our veterans and their families.
I often hear from our veterans that they are coming to us after struggling on their own for so long. In the past, we have had the autonomy to develop that individualized plan. This allows us to put measures in place to ensure that our veterans feel safe so they can begin to heal. Case managers work at the veterans' pace, meeting them where they are, bridging the gap between our expectations and where they are coming from. We do this because they have been injured serving our country and their lives have been completely changed because of it.
I am afraid that in the future, this piece will be lost. I am afraid that veterans will be forced to adhere to rehabilitation plans that are guided by specific and hard timelines, and that their rehabilitation plan will be prescribed by a contract that was awarded through a tendering process, not developed from the veteran's physical and mental health needs. I am afraid that if they are not able to participate in the streamlined process, they will face cancellation of the program and file closure, a financially and emotionally devastating measure.
As case managers, we are worried about how all of this will affect our veterans. I am afraid that this new contract will reduce the role of a group of workers who are an experienced, well-trained group of professionals who want to serve our veterans and their families. We have knowledge, integrity and commitment to service. We take pride in our role as public servants. We can make effective decisions and are accountable for our work to our employer and, most importantly, to our veterans and their families. Just imagine how well we could do this work if we had appropriate resources and permanent funding in place.
As a final note, I want you to know that I love my job. I'm honoured to work with veterans and their families. I'm thankful for the organization and my colleagues. This is why I'm here today sharing my concerns on behalf of my union and my fellow case managers.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today in support of my colleagues and my veterans.
I've been a case manager just shy of six years. Prior to coming to VAC, I was in a case management role with another federal government department. A key factor in in my decision to change departments was the opportunity to make a real impact in the lives of our esteemed veterans, as well as their promised commitment of a 25:1 caseload. A lower caseload was appealing, as I believed it would allow me to effectively invest my time and resources, and that I could develop strong and trusting alliances with the veterans I serve. This is something that can make all the difference in whether intervention is successful.
Within my first six months with VAC, my caseload was up to 48. It is currently sitting at 40. This means that it's harder to be as effective as I’d like to be and to give my veterans the time and attention they deserve. As a result, I'm skeptical of the reassurances that the new contract will not mean the loss of case management positions.
Case manager retention has been a problem with the department since before my time. At one point in 2018, I was one of two case managers in my office for a period of three months, as case managers left due to burnout. I have continued since this time to see good case managers doubt their skills and abilities and leave the department, noting that this is not what they signed up for—not because of how they interact with veterans, but because of the heavy administrative burden within the role and the prioritization of documentation over quality client contact.
Measures put in to provide support are temporary, and it's hard to balance our commitment to the work and service to our veterans. Term employees know that their position is not guaranteed and could be terminated at pretty much any time. That's a disservice to all case managers and to our veterans.
Coming back to the rehab contract, we anticipated a new provider for vocational-specific services, not the contracting out of the entire rehabilitation program. We were told we could shape what the contract would look like. We were told we would have meaningful consultation in the process. Even as part of the working group, this did not occur. Over the past 18 months, much of our information came from town halls that didn't allow any dialogue. They called it consultation, but it was presentation.
This contract has caused a lot of stress. We were pressured to close files, complete a six-page document outlining how to best work with the veteran, and complete complexity assessments. This meant more time with paperwork and less time with veterans, and I simply did not get the necessary training to effectively navigate this transition for myself or for my veterans.
On November 1, we finally got a question period. I was alarmed to learn that while veterans migrating to the new contractor can keep their providers, new applicants will have to use the contractor providers. Failure to do so means cancellation from the program for non-participation. This is a significant loss in veteran autonomy, which is a key point in re-establishment in civilian life. Providers with extensive veteran experience have voiced concerns about registering with the contractor, as it would mean lower pay. My concern is that veterans will not have access to local providers as a result.
In light of my experience with veterans, I need to say that my greatest concern is for our veterans navigating the onboarding process of the new rehabilitation program. We have yet to see the new computer system, and I have not been advised as to how to initiate the referral to the contractor in the first place. More importantly, I implore you to consider the newly released unwell veteran having to navigate these various systems and having to retell their story while struggling with complex needs and without resources.
Gone is our opportunity to stabilize these unwell veterans before referring them to a contractor. Under the new process, everything is happening in tandem. The veteran will undergo assessment with us, Veterans Affairs, and with the rehab service specialist. They'll do a case management plan with VAC and a rehab plan with the contractor, and all of this is prior to connection with providers.
It's my experience that when these kinds of veterans encounter this many challenges, they will disengage. The unwell veteran is whom we're going to lose and who will fall through the cracks. This is where lives are at stake, and this is what keeps me up at night.
I’d like to share a story. It's one that all case managers have experienced. A veteran comes to us seeking help via the rehabilitation program. They're focused on their physical condition—it could be their lower back or rotator cuff, for example—and are identifying this as their only concern. I recognize that there's more going on, because I’m engaging with this person. I suspect PTSD. The veteran is defensive about their mental health and denies any challenges or impacts, stating they're just there for that physical condition. Over the next six months, I utilize motivational interviewing and I connect with gentle conversations regarding mental health, at the end of which the veteran states, “I don’t trust psychologists, but I trust you, so I’m going to do the assessment.” This starts a path of healing that changes everything for that veteran and that veteran's family.
I can do this because I don't have a bottom line to answer to. We all have our success stories, and we carry these with us. A veteran once remarked to me, “Please don't ever stop doing this. I can tell this is more than a job for you. This is a calling and veterans need you.”
I'm a case manager, and despite all the challenges that entails, I've been very proud to be a face of this government and proud to support our veterans. I'm humbled and honoured that veterans have allowed me to walk in darkness alongside them. I strongly believe that the veterans who have been injured in service to our country at the direction of our government deserve a government face in their healing and not a for-profit company.
To veterans everywhere, thank you for your service. Thank you for trusting us with your experiences, your stories and your rehabilitation. We continue to carry you with us.
Thank you so much, Chair.
To each of you women, I want to say thank you. You are the voice of our veterans in this circumstance, and I deeply appreciate your bravery in coming and sharing your hearts today.
Briefly, I would like to ask the three of you about this. You talk of 40 to 60 files and the promise of 25. The Auditor General's report made it clear that VAC has not lived up to this promise, and certainly has not created the environment that needs to be there, which means more case managers like you, yet the decision has been made to change the whole process. It deeply concerns me.
We have $5.6 million over five years, with 25% of that going to profit a company, as you mentioned. On your response to the comments that this is being done because of the administrative burden you face, which would be lessened by bringing this about, I would like to know if that administrative burden would be lessened significantly if more case managers like you were hired, to the point where you were dealing with 25 cases.
If you could each just briefly comment, that would be wonderful.
Do I see Whitney?
Yes, certainly. Just the volume of work definitely impacts that. Also, the promise that our administrative burden will be lowered by this contract, I believe, is false, because in the one Q and A we got, back in August, it specifically stated that the contractor is not even able to do letters, which is what they initially sold us on to try to get our buy-in on this contract. They said, “You will be doing less letter writing in terms of the resources you're putting in for veterans.” In fact, that's not the case, because the contractor does not have the delegated authority of case managers.
That's just one part of the puzzle: volume, letters and things like that. There are lots of things that the department could be doing to lessen our administrative burden with administrative assistance, but they have chosen not to do that.
Yes, the administrative burden has been an issue for a very long time. What we were asking for—and have been for a long time—is a reduction of the administrative burden. I do believe that with 25:1 and a streamlining of some processes, particularly the elimination of duplication of documentation and those sorts of things, this would be more manageable at 25:1.
Initially, when I first started and was promised a 25:1, which didn't happen, part of the training was that for two weeks I had a caseload of 22. Then they jumped it up to 48 within two or three weeks. Even during that two-week period, I felt like I was more effective, more engaged and more accessible to the veterans.
In fact, one of the veterans complained to my manager following that rapid increase. They noticed that I wasn't as accessible as before. The direction to me from that was that I had made myself too accessible at the outset, because I was very invested. It wasn't that the caseload number was the problem; it was that I was too accessible at the outset. I do think that at 25:1 I could definitely be more effective in case management.
Amanda, maybe I'll get you to respond to this concern that I have.
I'm very connected, as many of us are, with rehabilitation service providers that exist. A lot of them have veteran programs, created by veterans, that are incredibly effective. I see the approach being taken here, which gives the impression that we shouldn't worry and that we'll have plenty of lead time, but we have a situation here in which people who've been making a significant difference through you are no longer going to be allowed to do what they are very passionate about.
What are your concerns about those individuals or organizations that will no longer be part of serving our veterans?
Thank you for your presentation.
It's evident that it's a very difficult job. You're doing an excellent job of supporting our men and women who have served and who continue to serve. It's a crucial job; it's a frontline job, and it's a personal job.
Finding ways to support the job you do is also crucial for the department. Finding ways to relieve some pressure and maybe to deviate from some burdens you may have to allow you to have more face-to-face time with our veterans is crucial.
It's my understanding that the new company will support over 14,000 veterans with approximately 9,000 medical professionals right across the country from remote areas to urban areas.
Would you agree that it is the objective of Veterans Affairs and the company to deliver that service?
I feel very strongly about this point.
Our numbers don't often go up and down; they stay very consistent. When you have a caseload of 40, for it to decrease significantly, there has to be a significant change, like a new person maybe coming onto the team and that type of thing.
As we know, rehabilitation and service-related injuries do not have a timeline. It makes sense that we case-manage for a notable amount of time. Because of that, our numbers go up, and they kind of stay up unless there is a big change like bringing on more resources, more people or more case managers.
Yes. Case managers have started to get calls from the rehab service specialists who are representing the contract—they're employed by the contractor—to begin facilitating this transition process. It has, quite frankly, been more confusing.
I've had a number of case managers reach out to me a little bit more since we did a presentation about a month ago. People with concerns have been reaching out, and there have been a number of case managers who've been connected. The rehab service specialist has reached out, and they've actually advised that the contract go-live date is being pushed to the 29th. That's what they've been advised, but we haven't had official documentation or official clarification from our department about that.
Additionally, I know a number of case managers who attempted to prepare for the transition by having their veterans undergo assessment to save it having to be done under the new contractor, so that the case manager had more ability to support their veteran through the stress of that assessment. The rehab service specialist has indicated that it's insufficient, even though it's current, and that they will have to undergo a specialized assessment with the contractor. So now there's more burden.
I appreciate your testimony today. It's evident how much you care. We're hearing that there are a lot more questions than we have answers to. That's what's going on here.
With that in mind, I'm going to move a motion:
That the committee hold two more meetings on the impact of the new rehabilitation contract awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the role of the case manager and quality of service delivery on or before December 5th:
One in which the committee calls potentially impacted service providers and veterans to appear before the committee for no less than two hours.
One in which the committee calls the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Affairs Canada officials to appear before the committee for no less than two hours.
The reason I'm moving that is that we've heard lots of concerns today about the affected service providers and what that will mean for the quality of service for veterans. We're going to hear from one veteran here, shortly. There is certainly a need to hear about the impact this is going to have on veterans, because, from what we're hearing, it sounds like it's going to be pretty significant. Obviously, there are a lot of unanswered questions. I think it would be very helpful for this committee to hear from the and his officials, so they can answer some of the questions that are arising.
We have heard concerns about the fact that there have been no mental health services provided to veterans in new situations over the past month. We're hearing that case managers have no idea what is happening. This is supposed to start tomorrow. Veterans are confused. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. We need more time.
That's why I'm moving this motion, and I hope all members of this committee will pass it expeditiously, right now.
We have another study that is due very soon on employment strategy. I understand that the national forum is taking place as we speak on that. The department was here Thursday and gave its feedback, and so did the minister. Calling them back, in my opinion, is not necessary. I would be open to maybe having one extra meeting with some veterans. However, again, you have to keep in mind that this has been in the works for one year. Nothing was said except a week or so ago. I know that there are opinions on both sides, and I respect that sincerely.
I also know that there were six town halls that were held with various teams, with case workers and others—delivery staff—with over 800 people in attendance. There has been quite a bit of consultation. I believe that we could support one more meeting with veterans so that we can get more information to provide a report, but this work has been in the works. It's moving forward, and our objective should be focused on how we can support the work of our case workers and this company with over 9,000 support staff in giving access to veterans and their families right across the country, from urban to rural communities.
That would be my suggestion. We would be okay with one more meeting, but bringing back the department and the minister, who were just here last meeting.... I believe we need to continue the work that we have planned to deliver as we've set forth.
It's always interesting to insert yourself into another committee's business, as I've had to do again on this one. I'm not entirely sure of your schedule or your calendar as it's set out, but I know that Ms. Blaney is particularly concerned and wants to move forward with the study and the report on the gold digger clause as well, which needs to be completed.
We are in support of those two meetings, considering that there has been such a juxtaposition, I guess, of positions on this, for clarification. In terms of the minister coming before this committee, I think that's acceptable. Again, it has been made clear by the workers and by the union that the relationship needs better clarification.
I also note that the minister is already invited to come before this committee for another study, on MAID, so perhaps that invitation could be extended for a longer committee meeting with the minister so that you could hear on both subjects.
That would be my insert on this. We are in support of the motion.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I don't want to repeat any of the points that have been made, but I would like to raise a couple of procedural things.
It's most unfortunate that Mr. Caputo and Ms. Blaney are not here.
I'm glad to see you in the chair, Mr. Chair, and Mr. Desilets here, because you two were party to the discussions that led to the setting of our agenda and the allocation of time to the various topics. You are fully aware of the conversations that happened and the compromises that were made in camera. I am not allowed to speak about those, because they were, in fact, in camera.
It's unfortunate that Ms. Blaney and Mr. Caputo aren't here, because they were involved in those discussions, made those compromises and arrived at the calendar that we now have. They gave certain assurances at that time.
All of those things are being thrown out the window if this motion is adopted. I think as members of the subcommittee, we should be able to rely on the good faith of the colleagues on that committee to honour the agreements that were made at that committee and to honour them when they come here. This would breach that.
That's the first thing I have to say. If this motion passes, I personally feel betrayed.
The second thing I would mention is just the irony of the opening intervention of today's meeting, where the vice-chair complained about the lack of a heads-up over the insertion of 15 minutes of committee business, and yet this motion happens without any discussion, any consultation, out of the blue, in front of witnesses, in a manner that will impair the amount of time we have with a veteran.
I am very mindful of the points Mr. Casey raised. Without going into detail, I will say that there were assurances on our end. I will also say that thousands of factors can cause the committee's meeting schedule to change throughout the year. We agreed on the timetable for this study. Two meetings have been cancelled since, and more could be cancelled with the sitting hours of the House being extended until midnight. I am still in favour of holding two more meetings.
I'm not comfortable ending the meeting like this. We are almost out of time and we aren't hearing from more witnesses. I'm uncomfortable concluding our discussions on this issue with so much still unclear. Let's put ourselves in the analyst's shoes. What is the poor analyst going to put in the report? This was a point of disagreement, that was a point of disagreement and so on? We need time, and we're going to have even less of it today.
I'm sticking to two meetings, but I would support revisiting the committee's schedule so we can keep our word.
Perhaps you have something to say about it, Mr. Chair.
I'll be speaking against the amendment.
There's been some concern raised about changing the agenda that was agreed on by the previous subcommittee. What's important to point out is that we've heard a lot of things in the last couple of meetings that cause great concern. As you've just said, Mr. Chair, it was stated that there would be at least two meetings. We've heard lots of testimony in the last couple of meetings that would indicate a need to continue with this study. That is, simply, what we're seeking to do here.
It still allows us to finish the report that we're working on, which we will hopefully finish next Monday. It still allows us to conclude the final meeting of our study on the MAID issue. What's left on the agenda is several meetings on a new study.
We might as well conclude what we're doing and be able to wrap up and provide reports on the things that we're working on, and then we can still begin a new study. I don't really think this impedes the business of the committee in any way. It actually improves it.
I would encourage everyone to oppose the amendment and support the main motion.
I hope that we can go to votes on both of those now, so that we can hear from the veteran who's waiting to hear from us. I hope that we won't have a filibuster from the government here.
I, too, want to move things along, but first, I must thank the witnesses for being here today. Their input has been very valuable to the committee.
We are going to have to suspend now. On behalf of the committee members and myself, I would like to thank Angela Aultman, case manager and president of local union 90002, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees; Amanda Logan, case manager and president of local union 60006, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees; and Whitney McSheffery, case manager, Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees. We appreciate your participation. Until next time.
Now we'll break for a few minutes, before we bring in the next witness.
Honourable members, the meeting is suspended.
We can now proceed to the second panel of this meeting.
I have a quick reminder for our witness. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
Members of the committee, I would like to welcome our witness. He's on video conference. He is Kelly Carter, master corporal, retired.
Mr. Carter, you're going to have five minutes for your opening remarks. After that, members of the committee will ask you questions.
Please turn on your mike and go ahead. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, for the study on third party contracting out of services.
My name is Master Corporal Kelly Carter, retired, and I am a 30-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces army logistics branch. I retired out of Garrison Edmonton in Alberta on August 14, 2013. I have six recognized operational and service-related physical injuries, all chronic, with varying degrees of mobility issues and with pain management that I deal with drug-free.
I left the military with all my weight-bearing joints suffering from osteoarthritis and was bone-on-bone for what has now been mandated for Veterans Affairs Canada to recognize as cumulative joint trauma. The Land Forces Command physical fitness standard, also called the battle fitness test, or BFT, and weekly training for the annual test of forced rucksack marches with a 25-kilogram load I directly blame for approximately 75% of my cumulative joint trauma, now legislated and mandated as a recognized pensionable condition by the veterans charter and Veterans Affairs Canada.
I served on two tours of duty in airborne special operations positions and self-identify approximately 15% of my cumulative joint trauma on airborne parachuting and operational missions.
I was a professional athlete for the Canadian Armed Forces triathlon and swimming teams. While the cycling and swimming were lower-impact, to the running training for the Olympic triathlon distance of 10 kilometres I attribute 10% of my cumulative joint trauma.
I would like to bring forth to this committee my dealings with VAC third party contractors that Veterans Affairs Canada has farmed out their federal public service duties to. I have had horrible experiences with third party contractors, including the organization doing business as “Canadian Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Services”, or CVVRS, once in my home in Calgary, Alberta, in May 2017, and several times in B.C. in late 2020.
On May 9, 2017, a man who worked for CVVRS entered my home in Calgary and had me answer a series of questions pertaining to my personal life, income and expenses and do physical tests that I can best describe as “dog tricks”. While I was standing in my living room, he had me conduct a series of physical tests while he sat at my dining room table taking notes.
The tests had me pretending to pick up a box, simulating walking up and down stairs and going down and crouching like a tiger about to pounce. At one point, he asked me to go down on my hands and knees and crawl around my floor while he stood up and watched me crawl around. It was at this point that my Irish anger came out. I terminated the testing, asked him to leave my home and escorted him out of my home.
I then filed a formal written complaint to my VAC caseworker Brian Rees, and later initiated a ministerial inquiry to the VAC minister and Calgary member of Parliament Kent Hehr. My letter has been provided as documentary evidence for translation and the public record.
My other incident with CVVRS was in Victoria, B.C., in the fall of 2020, on the telephone with a woman by the name of Anita. When I asked her for a list of all the Canadian companies that want to hire veterans like me to be sent to my email address, she laughed at me, mocked me and thought it was funny. During an ATIP request, I found evidence of her mocking me on my VAC notes.
I was forthright with CVVRS that if they could not provide me with the list I had requested, they were a group of fake phony-baloney frauds who were not there to actually help veterans find a job but to administer to VAC proof that we were applying for five to seven jobs per week and not actually helping us find employment. My VAC caseworker, based out of Nanaimo, B.C., whom I have never met in my life—she was a work-from-home-in-pajamas employee—lied to me when she said that the CVVRS organization was not the same CVVRS organization that I dealt with in Calgary on May 9, 2017.
In 2019, while I was employed with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, I wanted to pursue a course held twice a year in B.C. I completed the Veterans Affairs Canada education and training benefit short-course forms required and, with a cover letter, asked VAC to contact me for other questions that I had. I missed the spring and fall 2019 courses, with no response from VAC.
We are threatened by the letter of authorization, which has been provided as documentary evidence for translation, that we cannot enrol in these programs until authority has been given by VAC or we will not be reimbursed.
During a 2020-21 formal investigation I ordered to be conducted by Veterans Affairs Canada, I was told by my caseworker, Ms. Danielle Roline-Dilbert, that VAC does not administer the education and training benefit, which is $80,000 for me. It is handled by a third party—
It's obviously appalling to hear that veterans have not been consulted when you're talking about a change that's going to have a significant impact.
I don't know if you have been following along, but, in the last panel, we heard something that I was quite shocked and appalled by, which was that over the last month in the lead-up to the changeover tomorrow, case managers at VAC had been told not to initiate any new medical or psychosocial services for veterans during this transition period.
Does that concern you? What kind of impact do you think that's going to have on veterans, particularly those who come with mental health challenges?
We have a motion to adjourn on the table, so we must vote.
Are there any objections to the motion?
I see no objections.
Master Corporal Kelly Carter, I know that it was a short appearance with us, but it was really important to have your testimony. We're going to have more meetings on this study, so maybe members of the committee will invite you. It will depend on you.
On behalf of the members of the committee and myself, I would like to say thank you for your 30 years of service.
I hope your health improves.
On that note, the meeting is adjourned.
(The meeting was adjourned)