Mr. Chairman, fellow members of Parliament, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for the first time. I appreciate the good work that members do on behalf of Canadian veterans and their families. I want to thank you for the hard work that went into your most recent reports, “Reaching out: Improving Service Delivery to Canadian Veterans” and “Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: a Family Purpose”. The former already precipitated a great deal of change since it was tabled a year ago and the latter is very near to my heart as a long-term advocate for mental health awareness.
We have been taking action on your recommendations to ensure the programs that we deliver are efficient, valued, and meet the needs of our veterans. As I'm sure you're aware, our own internal report, “Delivering Service Excellence”, released earlier this year, complemented many of the recommendations that you made. We are committed to improving our current system. We have a plan in place to address the recommendations. We are hard at work implementing them. We are overhauling how we deliver services. While it will take five years to successfully complete the transition, 90% of the recommendations will be completed within three years. A few of the things that will take longer rely on other government departments or policy changes that are outside our authority.
Those changes are key improvements to the many systems, services, support measures, benefits and programs that veterans need to successfully transition to civilian life. I am proud to take office during this pivotal time in order to help implement them.
I talk many times about my own connection to the Canadian Armed Forces: the fact that I grew up at CFB Goose Bay, and that my brother Danny is a lieutenant commander in the Royal Canadian Navy. Actually, growing up at CFB Goose Bay—I don't know if I've ever told you, Mr. Chair—I was taught at a very early age that Trenton was nirvana. All the CAF forces at CFB Goose Bay couldn't wait to get back to Trenton. I said, “Someday I have to visit it.”
In discussions with my brother, he made me aware of some of the challenges even before I came into this role. It was quite fitting and an honour and a privilege to be named Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Associate Minister of National Defence, and to work alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, veterans, and their families. This has given me the opportunity to take on these essential tasks of improving service delivery, closing the seam between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, and ensuring financial security for the most seriously ill and injured veterans.
We are here today to talk about what my department is doing, how the supplementary estimates reflect our approach to veterans' well-being, our accomplishments, and the work that remains to be done. Specifically, Veterans Affairs will receive an additional $26.1 million in these supplementary estimates, a 0.6% increase to $4.7 billion.
Before I speak to where we increased our estimates for new programs, it's important to point out that 90% of that budget figure represents payments directly to veterans and their families. For many veterans, this means the pain and suffering disability award in recognition of her or his injury. More than that, though, it goes to the earnings loss benefit of 90% of their pre-release salary, paid out during vocational rehabilitation. It also goes to the vocational rehabilitation that works with the veteran through the injury, which might be a barrier to finding her or his new normal.
If that veteran cannot re-establish after rehabilitation, it provides through the extended earnings loss benefit of 90% of pre-release salary paid out until the age of 65. It also goes to the career impact allowance if the veteran has a severe and permanent impairment, and to the career impact allowance supplement if that impairment results in a diminished earning capacity.
When a veteran turns 65, it goes to the retirement income security benefit or the supplementary retirement benefit.
Ultimately, all veterans who come to one of our many area offices can now be assured that most of our funding is used to recognize their pain and suffering and to set up and maintain wellness programs that provide a safety net during their recovery.
Let me say this again because it's an important point. Ultimately, for any veteran who comes to the door of one of our many area offices today, they can rest assured that the majority of our funding is going towards recognizing their pain and suffering, and establishing and maintaining the well-being programs that provide a safety net while they are mending.
But we still have work to do. We are enhancing the financial security and wellness elements of the new Veterans Charter to help veterans and their families transition to civilian life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be work, education, or other activities.
These supplementary estimates (B) primarily include funding for several budget 2017 initiatives. This funding and our overall guiding focus is about improving the lives of Canadian veterans, whether it be through enhanced education and employment services, the new caregiver recognition benefit that will provide $1,000 a month tax-free to the informal caregiver, or other critical programs we introduced in budget 2017, which will be implemented on April 1, 2018.
Of course, some of the funding went to the Invictus Games Toronto 2017, where veterans and active military members alike embraced the power of sport as they pushed through barriers and proudly represented our country. While it was an incredible event for the millions of spectators, I know there are many veterans who need more support from us, and that's why we're here today.
We are on the right track to improving our support for veterans. For example, of the 67,000 individuals who received the disability award increase reflected in these estimates, which put approximately $700 million in the pockets of our veterans, around 37,000 received their amended payment immediately, as a result of our move towards a fully automated system.
Having already done so much in reinforcing the benefits that make up our wellness model and bolstering the successes of the new Veterans Charter, we will announce more details on our monthly pension option for veterans shortly. We know this is an eagerly awaited announcement. We are committed to giving veterans and their families the best options to ensure their financial security and getting them the best possible support in their post-military lives.
We are all here to serve Canada's veterans. At the end of the day, those who need our assistance now or in the future need to know that we are here to assist them, and that we will continue to expand and adapt to the needs of our growing and diverse veterans community, especially with the help of this committee.
Thank you for your time.