Good morning and thank you very much.
I will make my presentation, after which Robert and I will be pleased to answer your questions.
Today's presentation will be about benefits and services that Veterans Affairs Canada provides to our veterans.
Who do we serve? We serve over 200,000 clients ranging in age from 19 to 90. These clients include war-service veterans, Canadian armed forces personnel and veterans, RCMP veterans and members, as well as survivors.
There are over 700,000 veterans in Canada, of whom at least 200,000 contact the department to ask for assistance.
You will see that the department's program expenses for veterans are
of over $3.568 billion, of which 90% flows directly to veterans.
On the next slide you will see the demographic profile, of participants which has changed over the last few years. Unfortunately, we saw the decline and attrition of Second World War veterans and Korean War veterans, as well as an increase in the number of veterans from the modern era.
The average age at release from the Canadian Forces is approximately 35 years old. The average age of Canadian Forces veterans is 58 years old.
As to the benefits and services we offer, there are disability pensions and related allowances to recognize pain and suffering resulting from service-related injuries. We have program expenditures of $1.6 billion for disability pension and allowances flowing to nearly 115,000 veterans and survivors.
We also provide war veterans with an allowance, that is financial assistance for low-income veterans of the Second World War and Korea. Expenditures for that program total $11 million, paid to just over 4,000 recipients. Those who receive the supplementary allowances may also be eligible for other special allowances, including allowances for health care, clothing and exceptional disability.
We offer treatment benefits for all veterans, traditional and modern day. We provide a range of treatment benefits that we refer to as the 14 programs of choice, which include support for aids for daily living, ambulance services, audio services, dental services, hospital services, medical services, medical supplies, nursing services, oxygen therapy, prescription drugs, prosthetics, orthotics, related health services, special equipment, and vision care.
The department also provides support for services such as health professionals, occupational stress injury clinics, and medicare premiums.
Veterans may qualify to receive financial support for one or more treatment benefits if they are receiving a disability benefit, participating in a rehabilitation program, receiving the VIP, the veterans independence program for long-term care, the war veterans allowance, or the Canadian Forces income support.
The expenditures on treatment benefits were $538 million last year, paid to over 97,000 veterans.
On health-related travel, travel expenses incurred by a veteran when travelling to receive health care services or benefits may be reimbursed by the department. Health-related travel costs include items such as transportation, parking, meals, lodging, out-of-province travel, and when required, an escort, meaning someone to accompany the veteran if he is travelling to receive treatment.
Recent changes to the program mean that veterans do not need to submit receipts with their travel claims unless we ask for them. A veteran must still obtain receipts or appointment verifications and retain the original receipts for one year in case they are requested. We have simplified the process for the reimbursement of health-related travel for veterans.
The veterans independence program, or VIP, has been referred to as the gold standard of home care programs. It is designed to assist veterans and survivors in maintaining their independence through the provision of home and community care, and includes services such as personal care, housekeeping, ground maintenance, ambulatory services, transportation services, home adaptation, and nursing home care.
In budget 2012, one of the specific measures announced included replacing the existing contribution agreement for the housekeeping and ground maintenance component of the VIP with an annual grant, which began in January 2013. Recipients of these services no longer need to obtain, track, and submit the receipts and wait to be reimbursed. This makes it faster and easier for them to get the support they need when they need it. The initiative is cutting red tape by reducing millions of transactions each year for more than 100,000 veterans, caregivers, and survivors who receive assistance for services such as mowing the lawn, removing snow, or cleaning the house.
With the new program, as I explained, instead of sending receipts in on a monthly or regular basis, veterans now receive up front twice a year two installments of the financial arrangement that they require for their groundskeeping and housekeeping.
With respect to the long-term care program, veterans are supported in three long-term care settings: in community beds in facilities that provide nursing home care to veterans and other provincial residents; in contract beds in facilities with beds designated through contractual arrangements for priority access for veterans; and in departmental beds such as Ste. Anne's hospital, which is the only federally owned facility. The eligibility differs and depends on the type of military service, income, and whether the need for long-term care is due to a service-related disability.
Most war veterans are eligible for care in a contract or community bed, or at Ste. Anne's hospital. Their care does not need to be related to a service-related disability. They may be eligible if they served overseas during the war, or if they are in receipt of a disability pension, or are low-income war veterans.
Canadian Forces veterans are eligible for support in a community bed if the need for long-term care is due to an illness or injury directly related to their military service. The department is financially supporting over 8,700 veterans in 1,750 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across Canada.
In 2006, Veterans Affairs Canada introduced the New Veterans Charter, which provides financial security to veterans who are unsuitable for civil employment and provides programs to help injured veterans live a healthier, richer and more independent life following their military service. The new charter includes the following elements: the Disability Payments Program; the Rehabilitation Program; the Allowance for Temporary Earnings Loss Program, now prolonged and improved; career transition services; the Permanent Impairment Allowance and its supplements; the Income Support Allowance for Canadian Forces, and Supplementary Retirement Benefits.
As of December 2012, over 40,000 veterans and families have had access to various programs or elements of the New Veterans Charter. Disability payments make up the largest of programs resulting from the New Veterans Charter. The program aims at recognizing and compensating the economic effects of disability or death that are service-related, by providing lump sum payments. In 2011-2012, that program made up 82% of expenditures related to the new charter. That represented $360 million in program expenditures under the new charter, out of a total $440 million.
Improvements were made to the new charter in 2011, in order to correct unexpected gaps in the areas of financial and other assistance. These improvements guarantee that veterans that are registered in the rehabilitation program have a minimum income of $40,000 per year. These improvements also increase seriously injured veterans' annual minimum income. That amount has increased to $58,000 per year. The eligibility criteria for monthly supplementary allowances have been made more flexible, creating a new monthly supplement. Such improvements also allow for new payment methods for the disability payments received by veterans, which was previously called the lump sum. Those improved payments total over $2 billion per year during the lifetime of the program and ensure that vulnerable and seriously injured veterans receive the financial assistance and support they require, at the right time, for as long as necessary.
With respect to mental health services, Veterans Affairs has a wide range of services and benefits for veterans, Canadian armed forces personnel, RCMP members, and the families of those living with a mental health condition. We have the operational stress injury clinics, the Canadian armed forces operational and trauma stress support centres, the chronic pain management clinics, specialized community in-patient treatment, community mental health services providers, clinical care managers, the operational stress injuries social support program, and a 24-hour toll-free VAC assistance service. We also have a number of partnerships to enhance capacity to assist veterans.
I remind you that the Veterans Affairs Canada OSI clinic locations are Fredericton, New Brunswick; Loretteville, Quebec; and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec. We also have the residential treatment clinics for operational stress injuries in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec; Ottawa, Ontario; London, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Edmonton, Alberta; Calgary, Alberta; and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The veterans transition program works with the University of British Columbia to provide support for veterans during the transition.
I mentioned that we have a network of community mental health service providers. We have over 4,000 providers in the community. We also have the chronic pain management clinic that is available for veterans.
Our core business at the department is case management. We have a number of case managers throughout the country located in various offices to provide case management services for any veterans and their families who would require such services. They are there for veterans and their families who have complex needs, especially those with serious injuries or illnesses. As of December 2012, we had approximately 7,200 case-managed veterans across the country. The core case management functions, in case you are wondering, include engagement, assessment, analysis of the need, case planning, consultation, monitoring, and evaluation.
We also provide transition services. These services are offered to members who are about to be released from the Canadian Forces. We provide a transition interview to determine whether needs associated with the person's release could hinder their transition to civilian life. In the case of members about to be released and their families, we work in collaboration with Canadian armed forces personnel.
Between April 1 and December 31, 2012, Veterans Affairs Canada conducted 3,179 transition interviews. We have also created additional programs and partner with groups to facilitate a veteran's transition into civilian life. Some examples are the Helmets to Hardhats program,
which is Helmets to Hardhats,
the Hire a Veteran program, which was implemented in December 2012, and the Prince of Wales' Operation Entrepreneur.
This is the Prince's Charities organization, which provides support to veterans seeking self-employment, who wish to start up their own business. It's a potential source of funding. There is also coaching and training to set up their own business.
We also offer levels of appeal for a veteran who is not satisfied with a decision by the department regarding his disability. The next charts describe the various levels and a mechanism that's available for a veteran to appeal his or her decision.
Regarding points of service, Veterans Affairs Canada has approximately 1,800 people spread among more than 60 locations across the country, in addition to the head office in Charlottetown. We have a network of interdisciplinary client service teams at area offices across the country. We also have more than 100 staff who work on bases, what we call integrated personnel support centres, located on or near the 24 Canadian Forces bases and wings. Veterans and families can also reach us through the toll-free line in both English and French, through the My VAC Account, and also through our website. The users of My VAC Account can update their address, phone, e-mail, and direct-deposit information. They can fill out and submit a disability benefit application. They can track the status of the disability benefit application. They can also fill out and submit a request for reimbursement for health-related travel. They can track their documentation. They can also view their Veterans Affairs Canada benefit, and they can communicate securely with the department.
Looking forward now, we continue to modernize our service delivery in order to cut red tape when it comes to accessing our programs and services. Our focus is on improved, faster and more efficient service to our veterans and their families. We continue to reduce complexity of access to our programs and services by offering more one-stop services, as well as more online options to access information and services. We have also improved our wait times in terms of processing applications for benefits and services. We continue to establish and maintain strong partnerships with DND, the Canadian Forces and other stakeholders to provide and improve service delivery to veterans.
With respect to other points of service and where to get assistance, in addition to Veterans Affairs area office staff, there are other organizations and partners that are ready and willing to help veterans and their families to apply for VAC benefits at no cost.
The Bureau of Pensions Advocates will represent, free of charge, any veteran who would like to appeal a pension or a disability decision with the tribunal. They are available at a number of locations throughout Canada. They also have a toll-free line where they can be reached.
We also have local veterans organizations, such as the Royal Canadian Legion, that offer services at their various branches. We provide training for the service officers on how to fill out applications and assist veterans in applying for benefits and services.
We also have a partnership with Service Canada, which offers assistance with accessing our services and programs throughout their 600 points of service across the country.
There is another part of the mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada. Not only does it provide services and benefits for veterans, but it also includes commemorating the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans.
The Canada remembers program endeavours to keep alive the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served Canada in times of war, military conflict, and peace, and to promote an understanding of the significance of those efforts in Canadian life as we know it today. We also have the maintenance of the government's memorials and cemetery program. We have the community engagement partnership fund. So far we have 128 projects approved with a total funding of more than $1 million. In addition, we have the cenotaph and monument restoration program, through which we have approved 55 projects for a total of $409,000. We have the community war memorial program, where we have approved 16 projects for a total of almost $573,000.
The recent budget announced $65 million over two years to enhance the funeral and burial program. The plan for this investment is to simplify the program for veterans' estates. As well, it has more than doubled the funeral service reimbursement rate, from $3,600 to $7,376.
We also support national and international ceremonies and events for commemoration. We also develop material for the promotion of learning opportunities, educational material, and public information regarding commemoration.
Regarding the outcomes of some of the programs, Canadians' attitudes toward veterans remain strongly positive. Virtually 91% believe that Canada's veterans should be recognized for their service to Canada. There is also widespread acknowledgement that Canada's veterans have made major contributions to the development of our country. A large majority of Canadians, 84%, consider Veterans' Week to be important, with 64% saying that they consider it to be very important. Approximately 76% of Canadians said they participated in Veterans' Week in 2012. This rate of participation is slightly higher than the rate in 2011, which was 73%.
We also have the wreaths for parliamentarians program, which provides wreaths to parliamentarians who represent the Government of Canada by laying commemorative wreaths during Remembrance Day ceremonies in their constituencies. The wreaths can be ordered from September to November by calling a 1-800 number.
We also make 10 Canadian flags available to members of Parliament for the sole purpose of providing a flag to families of veterans who have passed away. The flags can be ordered by contacting Canadian Heritage.
As I mentioned earlier, the commemorative wreaths program is also available to parliamentarians. Please do not hesitate to make use of it. Wreaths can be ordered from September to November. All you have to do is contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at the toll free number on the screen.
That concludes my presentation. We would be pleased to answer any questions.