Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Welcome, Minister, and officials. Thank you all for joining us today to discuss the main estimates.
Minister, one of the most significant programs your department is responsible for, of course, is the employment insurance system. As a member of Parliament obviously I'm helping my constituents out from time to time with these issues. There is absolutely universal agreement that, thank God, Canada has such a program that helps people who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own and in fact helps parents and mothers, because we have maternity benefits and parental benefits.
I was just reading an article last week. There is a big debate now in the United States because they don't have maternal and parental benefits in their employment insurance or social security system. We have those great things in Canada.
I want to ask you a few things about our EI system. Obviously, Canadians pay into the EI system through payroll taxes and these premiums fund the administration of EI. Obviously their employers make a contribution to the EI system as well. It's a great social safety net program that we have and I think all political parties cherish the EI system and the important role it plays.
I understand that Service Canada recently brought on additional staff to assist in the processing of EI claims. As a result, can you confirm that Canadians can expect to have their EI claims processed within the 28-day service window? Service Canada's standard, I understand, is 80% of claims processed within 28 days. Are we currently meeting that standard? I can certainly tell you that in my office I'm getting very few constituents coming in indicating that they are having issues with the processing of their EI claims, which tells me that it must be working, because otherwise, they'd be in my office.
Can you give us an update on that? Where are we on the service standards, and where are we generally on the strength of this very important program for Canadians?
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
The anecdotal evidence you observed in your riding is a microcosm of what has happened across the country. Because of the very good management of public servants and the very wise decisions they have made to allocate the right resources towards this service standard, I can confirm that over 80% of eligible applicants are receiving payment in under 28 days. That is the 80 in 28 commitment with which you are all familiar, and I can confirm that it is now being met.
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thanks very much, Minister, for being here with your officials.
Minister, are you quite confident that in 80% of the cases people are receiving EI benefits within 28 days?
Louise Levonian
View Louise Levonian Profile
Louise Levonian
2015-05-28 16:01
They are put in pay. They are paid within 28 days. That's the term, from the date of their application and put into pay, so they are receiving funds within 28 days.
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
Lib. (NS)
Beyond that, the stress level in these kitchens, the stress level with these Canadians now, when they phone the call centre.... Before your government cut 600 jobs, closed 100 EI processing centres, which the former minister said would make the “service faster, more effective, and more efficient”, dealing with the call centre calls, the service level was such that 95% of the calls were being answered in three minutes. You weren't hitting that number, so you cut it down to 80% of the calls being answered in three minutes. You weren't hitting that. You cut it down last year to 80% of the calls were being answered in 10 minutes.
I'm starting to pick up a bit of a trend here. Are you not seeing that yourself, Minister? If you're not hitting the numbers, you're changing the rules and you're lowering the standards. Is that acceptable to you?
Louise Levonian
View Louise Levonian Profile
Louise Levonian
2015-05-28 16:04
Service Canada definitively tries to meet the service standards that are set out there, and we try to do that in the most efficient and effective way possible.
View Scott Armstrong Profile
CPC (NS)
Wow, that's impressive.
Minister, going back to the EI numbers and the progress we've made, it wasn't too long ago that we were hearing a lot of complaints in MPs' offices across the country about the rate at which people were able to receive their EI benefits. It was far below the 80% that we were looking to get within 28 days. It's great news that we've been able to now achieve that benchmark goal.
Can you talk about some of the steps that were put in place to try to make the difference for Canadians looking to receive their EI benefits?
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Under the leadership of my predecessor, frankly, the department made a decision to hire about 400 additional processing employees to help deal with the challenge of shortening the wait time. They have allocated resources and provided good solid training to these new workers. The result is that we've now achieved the goal of providing payment to 80% of eligible applicants within 28 days.
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
Lib. (NS)
Okay, that's great, because the number that I cited, 54% of calls being dropped, was a 2013 number. It's actually gone down to 33%, so there's been improvement. I think the case can be made that additional staff is not a bad thing for efficiency within the EI call processing centres and the call centres.
There are two questions I want to get at here.
We brought the standards down year after year, from 95% in three minutes, to 80% in three minutes, to 80% in ten minutes. Are we hitting that number?
Benoît Long
View Benoît Long Profile
Benoît Long
2015-05-28 16:56
Our goal throughout the year has been to meet our standard vis-à-vis the answering of the calls we get. There are a number of factors that drive the—
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
Lib. (NS)
I only have five minutes, so I appreciate that.
Getting back to what the minister said about 80% payment, was he referring to speed of payment? When Finley was here and she was the minister, she said she couldn't tell us because speed of payment was still notification of non-payment and notification of payment, and she couldn't extract those two numbers from that number.
Louise Levonian
View Louise Levonian Profile
Louise Levonian
2015-05-28 16:57
Benoît can correct me if I'm wrong, but it's actually 81.4% now, and it's from application to being put in pay. Am I saying that right?
Benoît Long
View Benoît Long Profile
Benoît Long
2015-05-28 16:57
The standard applies to both, i.e., the number of people who will be put in pay within or fewer than 28 days as well as the notification sent to claimants who are not eligible that they will not receive a payment.
Ricky Fontaine
View Ricky Fontaine Profile
Ricky Fontaine
2015-05-28 9:35
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Kuei.
Good morning.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for giving me this time to make this presentation on access to capital.
I will give you a brief description of who I am and the community I come from—which is the same as Jonathan Genest-Jourdain—its problems and its development. I will conclude by giving you a few recommendations about access to capital.
My name is Ricky Fontaine and I am an Innu from Uashat mak Mani-utenam. I have been a certified administrator since 1983. I am a member of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association, and of the Collège des administrateurs de sociétés, whose members manage public corporations. I am also an auditor in the context of the Quebec land management program.
I began to do economic development work very early in my career. I worked on the economic development of the community at the regional level, and I also worked at the national level for many years. My career has already lasted close to 40 years. It's sad to say, but we don't get any younger.
We have faced a series of problems with regard to access to capital, and this will be the topic of my presentation.
In the beginning of the 1970s, Uashat mak Mani-utenam was a band registry agent, a secretary and a first registration program for Indians from the community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam. In 2016, it has a budget of $70 million, $58 million of which are for government services offered to the population of 4,500 souls who reside in Uashat mak Mani-utenam, close to Sept-Îles. This $70 million is made up of $58 million in transfer funds for government services, and $12 million in independent revenue.
The community also owns 14 different businesses in the construction, fisheries, real estate, services and processing sectors. All of this was done within the framework of the Indian Act, as it remains the only way to bring about development. The problems are great and the delays are long. Opportunities arise and disappear. The Indian Act is totally inadequate.
In 1974, we built a shopping mall. It was the first major project for the community; it cost $8 million. At the time, the financial structure was as follows: $300,000 in equity,and $7,700,000 in loans. That was a good recipe for disaster, all the more so since the iron ore sector took a nose dive after that.
But the mall is still active. It has been renovated and expanded. The company opened another supermarket across the way. The mall covers 250,000 square feet, and we have developed an additional 60,000 square feet in rental space just across from it. Last week, we opened a 60-room hotel. I would say that access to capital is a weekly issue.
I said that we have $12 million in independent revenue. What has happened in the course of the last few years? We signed five impact and benefit agreements with mining companies. This brought in additional capital, but by the same token, the income derived from that is much riskier than income from federal and provincial agreements. Because two mining companies filed for bankruptcy, the community lost $6 million in operating income, which caused major problems.
That is something else we are dealing with currently.
Uashat mak Mani-utenam is to some degree the regional service centre for the Innu nation, since Sept-Îles, which is right next door, is the regional service centre for the region. Government services are present in Sept-Îles, so everyone goes there.
In the near future, we will be dealing with some major investments for a third rail line, a $1.8-billion project. We have proposals for participation in equity and funding. We are talking about mining projects, getting involved in the supply chain, and accelerating things in order to be able to leverage the impacts and benefits from impact and benefit agreements.
Of course up until now, the negotiation model has been one where royalties were paid according to production, which meant that the impacts were immediate and the revenue highly precarious. This has caused major problems. Several major projects are in the pipeline, and funding remains an issue.
As I was saying regarding access to capital, the Indian Act is a major issue. The operations of the community have changed a great deal and that also is a factor. The level of risk has changed, governance has not followed the evolution of the various files, and the constraints are growing.
The size of projects has changed a lot as well. In 1976, a major project was an $8-million one. Now a major project is a $1.8-billion one. Even with a normal financial structure, the participation of the community in these projects, even on the order of 5%, may represent tens of millions of dollars, and the tools are not there.
The timelines for these projects are generally very long for the private partners, but short for the community stakeholders. The various Canadian government programs at this time apply criteria that are extremely difficult to meet for any community whatsoever. We are talking of course about national institutions that are quite far away. And so we have to find new ways of solving the problems that this causes.
I gave the clerk my brief, and so I am going to speak to my main recommendations.
The first recommendation is to encourage the development of financial know-how. You have heard about financial literacy. This isn't just lip service, it is an obligation. The community environment has changed a great deal and the governance has not evolved very much. We absolutely have to increase financial literacy.
Secondly, as for access to capital, I strongly suggest that you chart the products and services offered to aboriginal people, that you identify areas of overlap and ensure that financial activities are coordinated and that you support projects that reach communities that really need help. Just about all of the private sector businesses will head for the low-lying fruit and will collect those, but everyone will go to the communities that do not have an acute need for these services. Capacity development is an essential element, and I consider it the government's responsibility to facilitate entry into the market for the communities that have the greatest needs.
The third recommendation is to support the development of indigenous financial institutions and the efficient use of the resources at their disposal, and encourage the ones with a development plan that allows the largest number of aboriginal persons to participate. Put simply, there are a lot of players and everyone seems to want to play in the same service areas. Please--we need someone to coordinate the projects. The Government of Canada will be called upon to invest in all of these projects.
And so I strongly urge you to ensure coordination in the delivery of programs and services, to specify who does what, and if these people function efficiently, to continue to support them on condition that they have a development plan that involves as many aboriginal persons as possible.
Fourthly, you must ensure that the delivery of services is adapted to Quebec and takes the legal environment into account—the Civil Code seems to be a very serious deterrent for almost all of the national institutions—as well as aboriginal languages and French, and I ask that you be mindful of the large distances that separate the nations or even the communities of a single first nation.
To go from Montreal to Sept-Îles costs $1,250. If you want to go to Schefferville you must add $1,250. What this means is that if you set up the head office of a national institution in Toronto or Vancouver, you will not have any visitors.
The fifth recommendation is to give priority to aboriginal bodies that are the closest to the communities for the delivery of services. There are networks; tribal councils are one example. In this era of computers and electronics, I think it is possible to ensure local delivery of services, even from a distance.
The sixth and final recommendation is to ensure that government bodies whose mandate is to support local governments are present and develop an appropriate strategy for aboriginals. The Government of Canada has a fiduciary responsibility in aboriginal matters, and not just Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Because I worked at Industry Canada, I know that this department has tools that are sometimes better adapted to intervene in particular projects than those of other departments. And so, please, review the mandates of everyone involved and ensure that their service offer is appropriate.
Thank you.
Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2015-04-23 9:52
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you.
Before we begin, I would like to thank you for your unwavering support of veterans and their families. The recent announcements by the Minister of Veterans Affairs are narrowing the gap in areas of the new veterans charter that you identified in your June 2014 report, “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”.
The announced changes do not encompass all that is needed for veterans but they have kick-started the renewal process, and your leadership played a big part in making that happen. As veterans ombudsman, I thank you and look forward to continued progress.
I have read all of the testimony to date from your hearings on the transition of our servicemen and women from military to civilian life. I find most of it focused on individual services and programs. While that is important, I believe that it is of equal importance for you to look at transition from a holistic, veteran-centric and strategic perspective.
The complexity and confusion of the transition process, accessibility to programs and services, and the eligibility requirements are evident in the testimony to date. In order to make meaningful recommendations we need to understand the transition process, issues, and requirements. This is why my office has joined together with the office of the ombudsman of National Defence and Canadian Forces to identify the hurdles experienced by our medically releasing CAF members and to suggest some solutions.
As I see it, a key transition issue that has been overlooked by almost everyone is the impact of military culture and ethos. From the time a young man or woman joins the Canadian Armed Forces, everything is mission-oriented. Every detail of his or her life is looked after in order to accomplish the mission.
Our servicemen and women are known for their can-do attitude, for making the impossible possible, and for protecting the weak and the vulnerable. We need to make the transition process mission-oriented and CAF should provide ongoing support to members throughout the transition process. That will give our releasing members a positive, focused experience that will generate hope.
Our joint systemic review began in early 2014 as a result of the well-documented need to ensure that the transition process be as seamless as possible. The goal of this joint effort is to identify and recommend ways to streamline processes and support services for transitioning members and their families.
During the initial phase of our review, we mapped the transition process and experience of medically releasing a regular force member from the time a permanent medical category is assigned until the member is integrated into Veterans Affairs Canada. In the course of this work, over 50 recommendations and responses from recent House of Commons, Senate, and Auditor General reports have been reviewed.
There are five core issues to a seamless transition that our team has noted to date: governance, program-centric service delivery, financial aspects, families, and communication.
Within governance there is no integrated CAF-Veterans Affairs Canada accountability framework with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. We have two departments supporting transition with each operating within their own accountability framework. This results in duplication of effort, gaps, and inconsistencies across groups and geographic regions. There is no single, central tracking, monitoring, or follow-up system for all medically releasing CAF members. There are no integrated CAF-VAC service delivery standards to measure successful transition outcomes or criteria to evaluate the transition process.
For program-centric service delivery, the programs and services for medically releasing servicemen and women need to be veteran-centric. At the moment they are not. There are some specific areas of concern. Within the CAF-VAC there are at least 15 key organizations, each with their own business process, often delivering transition services in silos.
Currently both CAF and VAC case managers work independently with no formal coordination or monitoring. Resource constraints, including the number of available CAF and VAC case managers, result in interview delays and inconsistent service standards across the country. Today approximately 10% of all medically releasing members are deemed to be complex cases and receive an integrated transition plan.
All medically releasing members should have the opportunity to plan and coordinate their transition.
There are two primary vocational rehabilitation programs: service income security insurance plan, SISIP, and VAC's rehabilitation program. Each program has different eligibility criteria, different assessment requirements, and different benefits. A third-party review is needed to make an informed decision prior to any changes.
VAC must be engaged earlier in the transition process to ensure benefits and services are in place at release. Currently, VAC's initial engagement begins with the transition interview after receipt of the release message, generally within six months of the release date. That is too late.
Available services at the joint personnel support unit and integrated personnel support centres are not consistent across the country, and the partners are not always co-located under one roof to provide the veteran-centric, one-stop shop. Importantly, only those medically releasing CAF members with significant medical employment limitations are posted to the JPSUs.
Individual consent is a barrier to seamless transition as consent is required from each service provider to share information. Without it the service provider cannot share information, nor engage in substantive discussion about transition needs.
Concerning the financial aspect, the 2013 “Life After Service” study identified that those who had a medical release experienced a 20% decline in post-release income. This stresses the importance of ensuring benefits and services are in place at the time of release to alleviate the financial strain for vulnerable CAF members and their families. The current 16-week delay of the Canadian Forces first pension payment is problematic, as many CAF members do not have sufficient financial resources available to compensate for that delay.
Now, let's turn to support for families. Transition services and programs are not easily available or accessible to spouses and children. If spouses work outside the home or have childcare responsibilities, they may not be available during regular work hours to participate in the integrated transition plan interview.
Relative to communication, as others appearing before you have also emphasized, the volume of information a member receives during transition is currently overwhelming and may contribute to what is already a stressful and confusing situation for an injured member who may not be leaving the forces voluntarily.
There is currently no single point of contact or face-to-face navigator to advise, assist, and monitor the development and implementation of a transition plan. Some CAF members are not aware of the IPSCs and services offered, while others are still reluctant to access them. Unfortunately, as attendance at the SCAN program is not mandatory and occurs late in the release process, members may not be well prepared for their transition.
In conclusion, a successful transition for a medically releasing serviceman or woman is key to financial independence, quality of personal and family life, and improved health.
The goal of our joint project is to build on the mission-oriented military culture and ethos, and work toward ensuring that through clear communications and an integrated approach transition, services and benefits will be ready at the time of release.
I hope that our final product will be as useful to you and the veterans community as was my 2013 report on the new veterans charter. I believe that with a focused effort, leadership, and vision, we can create a world-class transition experience to integrate medically releasing personnel, veterans, and their families into civilian life. They have so much to offer Canadian employers due to the skills, experience, leadership, and personal attributes they acquired through their military service. Investing in their successful transition is not only good for veterans and their families, it is also good for business and good for Canada's economic prosperity.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
View Frank Valeriote Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Frank Valeriote Profile
2015-04-23 10:17
You mentioned case management in point 2 of your presentation, as well as the independence of the CAF and VAC case managers, and the lack of coordinated transition. I recall some testimony that was given by a young veteran who appeared before us who said that his medical reports, which caused his medically related release from the forces, identified very severe injuries, emotional and otherwise. Then, when he got to VAC, he essentially had to start all over again with new assessments by VAC doctors, which disregarded in fact the severity that was identified by the forces' doctors.
Is that a gap that actually exists? I was overwhelmed by that. Is that the case, that they don't know the situation from which the force member is coming when they come into VAC?
Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2015-04-23 10:18
I think one of the important factors there is the disconnect between CF case managers and VAC case managers, and the inability to pass on the right information because of privacy issues, privacy matters. As I said before, the DND case manager is based on a healthy transition to medical care, the spectrum of care, whereas in the VAC, one is looking at the psychosocial.
But there is an interaction between the two and the information must be passed on. At this point it's not, so there needs to be a better flow of information from one to the other.
Steven Clark
View Steven Clark Profile
Steven Clark
2015-03-24 8:50
Thank you very much.
Good morning, everyone. It is a great pleasure to appear here in front of your committee this morning. I am pleased to be able to speak to you on behalf of our Dominion president Tom Eagles and the 300,000 members of the Royal Canadian Legion and their families.
I'm Steven Clark, acting Dominion secretary. With me is Carolyn Gasser, service officer in the Dominion Command service bureau and someone who has gone through the transition process herself. We've been asked to discuss the programs, services, and support that the Royal Canadian Legion offers our veterans and their families in their transition to civilian life.
The positive transition to life after release is essential for Canadian Armed Forces members, whether they be regular or reserve force, the RCMP, or of course their families, because they constitute an important aspect as well.
The experience of life after release is different and unique for each veteran. Some voluntarily leave after a short period of service. Some are single, some have young families, and some are in need of employment. Others retire after 30 or 35 years of service, with grown families and with very good financial security. Some members who retire are injured as a result of their military service and they must make this transition under difficult circumstances. It is therefore important that the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the RCMP put in place complementary policies, practices, and programs supported by a sustainable research program, with the goal of enabling the healthy transition of all veterans and their families through this change in their life course.
The Royal Canadian Legion is the only veteran service organization that assists veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. The Legion's advocacy program is core to our mission. We have been assisting veterans since 1926 through our legislative mandate in both the Pension Act and the new veterans charter. Our 23 professional command service officers are located across the country and provide free assistance to veterans and their families to obtain benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada. Please note that veterans do not have to be Legion members to request our services.
Our national service bureau network provides representation, starting with first applications to Veterans Affairs Canada, through all three levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board—the VRAB. Through the legislation, the Legion has access to service health records and departmental files in order to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost. Last year, our service officers prepared and represented disability claims on behalf of more than 3,000 veterans to VAC and the VRAB. There is no other veterans group with this kind of direct contact, interaction, provision of support, and feedback from veterans, their families, and caregivers.
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2015-02-26 9:47
As often as is needed.
In the case of Sydney, in the case of all those areas, I'm presently looking at the workload in those areas: how many people? At some offices—and it's a misconception—we've had zero traffic at the Service Canada office, where we have embedded employees, since the closures of the offices. We have to be careful. At some offices we've had traffic. We are looking at making sure there is an even better presence, let's say case manager presence, in some of these locations to ensure that there is no wait for that veteran in that location. I have to say no veteran who is case-managed, or needs nursing services from us, is having to travel to one of the other locations.
View Frank Valeriote Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Frank Valeriote Profile
2015-02-26 9:49
Okay. We read recently you've cancelled the survey. I asked you about this yesterday, the one that was done in 2010, and there's a declining satisfaction with Veterans Canada. I know you're trying to change that. I'm not diminishing your efforts in any way, but in the absence of a survey I want to ask you this final question. Can you tell me your understanding of all of the complaints that veterans have been voicing—a lot of veterans, not all of them, but a lot of veterans. Goodness knows you've heard them and I've heard them. What is your response to those complaints?
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2015-02-26 9:50
Those would include delays in receiving certain services. Receiving “no” as an answer is a big complaint. I want to be clear, “no” is often the right answer. We have to remember that. If there's a committee that knows it well, it's this ACVA committee, after the review and everything you've done for Veterans Affairs. I do thank you for that, because it has helped me. It has to be linked to service. When Mélanie was talking about disability benefits and people not being happy with us, it's true. However, our act is linked to services. So when I get a lot of complaints of “You said no”, well, you know....
I get complaints about timeliness; we talked about that yesterday. The OAG highlighted it in their report that we can be more timely. We've agreed with that at the department. We're working to improve that.
The wait time to see a case manager is a problem in some locations of the country. I mentioned that yesterday also. The average across the country is 1 to 34. Some case managers are managing 50 to 55 veterans.
Now, let's understand that the complexity and the intensity of that work is different. For some veterans it's one phone call a month: “How are you doing on your vocational rehab? Is everything okay?” That's an easy call. However, for a veteran who is struggling with mental illness, or an addiction, or maybe homelessness, it's not quite the same effort. That is a high-intensity effort.
We do try to balance the workload. That said, 50 is too high. We're trying to work at that.
Then there's the one that I don't hear that much about but I'm sure you hear a lot, and that's the pension issue. I hear it because I read all the clippings and everything else, but they don't come to me about that. The ones I get, because I'm the service guy, is more that it takes too long to see a case manager or that I gave a “no” decision.
Those are the two major ones I would get, to be very honest.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
CPC (AB)
There's the whole point about forms, and that is an issue.
One of the things Service Canada folks do is to make sure the form is complete. With respect to providing services, how common is it that a screwed-up form delays things and you have to go back and get them to redo it, and sometimes they're remote and it's hard to get hold of them, and so on? Is that a pretty common occurrence?
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2015-02-26 9:56
It is a common occurrence. I wouldn't say it's a common occurrence when they come from Service Canada; I think they do that part very well. But it is a common occurrence that we receive forms not fully completed or properly completed.
View Frank Valeriote Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Frank Valeriote Profile
2015-02-26 10:46
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'll be quick.
This is on the heels of the Auditor General's report, Peter's question about those who are told no, and your answer that some people don't like no for an answer. I get that, but we know that, of the 15,000 over the last number of years who applied, 24% appealed and 65% were successful. That means that 2,386 who were originally told no were later told yes. We also know that 128 of those who were told no had to wait more than three years to ultimately be told yes.
The Auditor General, in short, said Veterans Affairs should provide additional assistance with the application process. I think he means Veterans Affairs, not the Legion, but Veterans Affairs. You're the boss. What effort is being made to actually say more than, “Okay, we'll review the application and we'll call them back before....” I'd like to know why you can't be a service provider who says, “Get the heck in here. We'll help you fill out your application because we don't want you to be one of the ones who falls through the cracks.”
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 15:31
Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present our Fall 2014 Report which was tabled in the House of Commons last Tuesday. I am accompanied by Assistant Auditors General Ronnie Campbell, Jerome Berthelette and Wendy Loschiuk.
We are reporting on seven audits which examined a number of different government activities and programs. As is typically the case with our audits, we found good practices in some areas, and we found some practices that need improvement. One concern that I have in looking at these audits is that departments need to have a clearer understanding of whether the services they are providing are truly meeting the needs of Canadians.
In the first of the audits we're reporting on, we looked at how the Government of Canada provides assistance in response to the onset of humanitarian crises in developing countries. We found that Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada considers the needs of affected populations and works through appropriate partners in providing humanitarian assistance in crisis-affected areas.
While we found that Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada can respond quickly to humanitarian appeals and proposals, we also noted that for one third of the projects we examined, responses took three months or longer. There is an opportunity for the department to analyze the timeliness of its responses and find ways to improve response times.
Our second audit looked at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP, Liaison Officer Program. Overall, we found that this program works well to support Canadian law enforcement in combatting transnational crime. Liaison officers are well-qualified and develop good productive working relationships with foreign law enforcement agencies.
There are, however, some opportunities for improvement. For example, we also noted that in general, the RCMP could not access information on Canadians arrested, charged, convicted, and released from prison abroad. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and the RCMP need to work together to identify any additional information that can be shared legally.
Turning now to our audit of mental health services for veterans, we found that Veterans Affairs Canada has put in place important mental health supports. However, in many cases, these supports do not facilitate veterans' timely access to mental health services and benefits.
Veterans Affairs Canada needs to do more to overcome the barriers that slow veterans' access to services and benefits. These barriers are a complex application process, delays in obtaining medical and service records from National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, and long wait times for getting access to qualified health care professionals and government-funded operational stress injury clinics. This means that from the time they first contact Veterans Affairs Canada, about 20% of veterans have to wait more than eight months before the department gives them a green light to access specialized mental health services.
In this audit, we also looked at what Veterans Affairs Canada is doing to increase awareness among various stakeholder groups of the supports it makes available to veterans.
We found that the department delivers a variety of outreach activities that target its existing clients and soldiers being released from military service. However, it could do more to reach other groups who can encourage veterans to seek help, in particular family doctors and families of veterans.
This report also presents our findings about how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian armed forces have managed selected requirements of the government's 2009 contract for integrated relocation services. Overall, we found that the RCMP has improved its financial and administrative controls for relocation files. For example, it has recently introduced national standard procedures that are intended to ensure that RCMP members receive the appropriate benefits, that the requirements of the Financial Administration Act are met, and that relocation files are handled consistently across the country.
While the Canadian Armed Forces has taken steps to improve the management of the 2009 relocation services contract, we noted weaknesses in the way it verifies relocation transactions. The Canadian Armed Forces should improve its processes to ensure that members consistently receive relocation benefits that meet the requirements of the Financial Administration Act.
For our audit of the support to the automotive sector, we looked at how Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada and Export Development Canada managed the $9 billion of financial assistance provided by the federal government to support the 2009 restructuring of the Canadian operations of Chrysler and General Motors. This financial assistance involved complex transactions, high uncertainty, and tight time frames. These circumstances had an impact on what Industry Canada could do to manage the assistance.
We found that Industry Canada, Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed the financial support to the automotive sector in a way that contributed to the viability of the companies and the competitiveness of the sector in Canada over the short and medium terms. Industry Canada adequately assessed the recovery prospects of Chrysler and GM and monitored the companies' production commitments in Canada.
However, we also identified weaknesses in the way the assistance was managed and reported. For example, Industry Canada had limited information on concessions and on GM Canada's pension liabilities, making it difficult for the department to understand the impacts on the long-term viability of the companies. Also, there was no comprehensive reporting to Parliament of information about the restructuring assistance. This makes it difficult for government to draw lessons for the future from this experience.
This report also includes an audit of the Nutrition North Canada Program. We found that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has not taken enough measures to meet the objectives of making healthy foods more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated northern communities.
Food costs are significantly higher in the north. lt costs on average twice as much to feed a household in Nunavut as it does elsewhere in Canada. One of the problems we found is that the nutrition north program does not identify eligible communities on the basis of need. For example, there are two communities in northern Ontario that are about 20 kilometres apart and are similarly isolated. One is eligible for a full subsidy of $1.60 per kilogram of food, while the other is eligible for only a partial subsidy of 5¢ per kilogram.
We also found that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has not done the work necessary to verify that northern retailers are passing on to consumers the full government subsidy on eligible foods. If the department was able to verify that this was the case, some of the public skepticism surrounding the nutrition north program could be lessened. This would benefit the department, northern retailers, and the residents of Canada's remote northern communities.
Moving on to our last audit, we looked at the preservation of government records of historical value.
We looked at how Library and Archives Canada acquires and preserves those records, and what it does to facilitate access to them for current and future generations.
We found that Library and Archives Canada is not acquiring all the government records of archival value that it should from federal institutions. Of what it has acquired, 98,000 boxes are waiting to be processed, and some have been around for decades. The backlog includes approximately 24,000 boxes of military records.
We also noted that Library and Archives Canada spent over $15 million on a digital repository that was tested, approved, and ready to use but that ultimately was never used. Library and Archives Canada still does not have an integrated system to manage the electronic transfer, preservation, and storage of digital information. Library and Archives Canada has stated that by 2017, digital will be its format of choice for receiving records. However, we found that the institution is not prepared to manage the volume of digital records it will have to acquire, preserve, and make accessible.
The findings we have presented in particular in our audits of Veterans Affairs Canada, the nutrition north Canada program, and Library and Archives Canada underscore the disconnect that happens when departments don't have a clear understanding of whether the services they are providing are meeting the needs of their clientele. When departments do not fully consider the on-the-ground impact of their activities, they are missing opportunities to verify that they are hitting the mark for Canadians.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.
We will be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you.
View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2014-11-27 15:56
Let me take you to chapter 3, which is one where we see a lot of issues. If memory serves me correctly, in your opening statement you spoke about two distinct things here in this veterans disability program, the rehabilitation program and the longer disability benefits program, if you will, if I can use those terms.
One seems to work relatively well. That's the rehabilitation program. Is that correct?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 15:56
Remembering that what we were looking at was access to the two programs, not the services that are being offered, yes, access in the rehabilitation program was adequate, but in the disability one we felt it took too long.
View Alain Giguère Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank the Auditor General and his team for coming to present their report.
I would like to go back to paragraph 3.26. I see a problem here, because once the application has been completed, the Department of Veterans Affairs allows itself 16 weeks to examine the application and another 6 weeks to send out the card.
So that means 22 weeks to say “yes” and to send out the “yes” or “no”. Administratively speaking, that seems extremely long, because the application has been completed. I am ready to accept that the government—if we think about Canada Post—is not particularly efficient, but generally, Canada Post is still able to deliver a letter by mail within a week.
So it seems to me that 22 weeks to provide an answer to someone whose application is complete is a little too long. What do you think?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 16:06
Well, the standard is 16 weeks to provide a yes or no. Then of course there is the additional six weeks after, which you noted, in order to get the health card. The other thing we noted was that it takes the veteran an additional 16 weeks just to complete the application form. When you look at it from the point of the veteran, it is 16 weeks to complete an application form and then another 16 weeks to get an answer. Then the veterans have to find a health service provider to give them the service they are looking for.
Again, that is under the disability benefit program. When you look at the rehabilitation program, the access is much quicker, but there are fewer people in that program and it's looking at different types of needs.
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
Very good.
The place where I'd like to start is in relation to paragraph 3.20, which indicates that the rehabilitation program is one of two gateways through which veterans can access Veterans Affairs Canada mental health care support. I just want to make sure that I'm correctly understanding that you found that the rehabilitation program does allow veterans to access specialized mental health services.
Is that correct?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 16:13
Yes. In fact, we were satisfied with the way that the department was processing applications through the rehabilitation program.
View John McCallum Profile
Lib. (ON)
Five minutes, thank you.
I noticed that approximately 65% of the requests that are turned down and appealed are ultimately accepted, and I'm wondering why such a high number. I wonder if it means that the people doing the adjudicating are inadquately trained if two-thirds of them are subsequently overturned, or if Veterans Affairs would have undertaken to train them better, or if there is some other reason for such a high proportion and what they might do to improve it.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 16:18
What we say in paragraph 3.46 is that “we found that Veterans Affairs...knows that most successful reviews and appeals rely on new information or testimony presented by the veteran or the veteran's representative”. So it's a case of, during that appeal process, new information coming forward. We feel that's something the department needs to analyze to determine whether they should be asking for more of that information earlier in the process.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and as the son of a father who had a 37-year military career and sisters...cumulatively, I have over 100 years of direct military experience in my family, so I am acutely interested in the mental health services for veterans.
However, I think I'm going to shift the focus a little bit to chapter 4, which deals with providing relocation services. My first question is specific to performance measurement. I understand this is a follow-up audit to an audit that was done in 2006. In 2006, you noted that the Canadian Armed Forces had not developed the tools or indicators needed to assess the performance of the integrated relocation program or that of the contractor. That is what you noted in 2006.
What is your assessment now in comparison to what it was in 2006?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 16:23
I think in understanding whether the contractor is fulfilling his responsibility, certainly the Canadian Armed Forces have improved what they are doing fairly significantly.
They are monitoring the level of overpayments and underpayments under the contract. The total of overpayments and underpayments is supposed to be at about 2% and based on our review of the sample they were selecting, it seems as if the error rate is around that 2% for overpayments and underpayments.
They should be monitoring a couple of other things. One of them is member satisfaction. They are doing surveys to monitor member satisfaction, but we feel that the response rate they are getting is not sufficient for them to be able to rely on the results coming in from those member satisfaction surveys.
Finally, we talk about the fact that there's another performance target, that no more than 5% of the files they look at have incomplete data. Again, they are doing work to determine the number of files that have incomplete data, and we found that it does appear that it could be more than 5%.
The good part of that is it doesn't seem to be affecting the dollar error rate, which is at 2%, but it's a risk that it could result in more dollar errors, if you have that level of errors.
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
What I want to know about is which veterans it applies to. Does it apply to the veterans who have only accessed mental health services through the disability program?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 16:46
I guess it applies to all veterans who have applied for benefits under the disability program. Some of those veterans, as we talked about earlier, may have also accessed benefits under the rehabilitation program, but for all of them who have applied under the disability benefit program, 20% of them will wait more than that eight months.
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
I think I also understood that your auditor, Mr. Berthelette, may have verified at least two out of the percentage figures that I put on this chart. May I just ask which one of them he verified for me, or was it two of them?
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
Very good. Those are saying in fact that 90% of the non-appealed Veterans Affairs eligibility decisions on disability claims were made in less than one year. Is that correct?
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
—that's different as well. That I understand, but I'm just concerned that the same services are available at an early stage.
While I'm on that subject, I also have a note that Veterans Affairs Canada operates an assistance service, a free telephone counselling and referral service available 24/7, delivered through a nationwide team of mental health professionals.
Did you audit the mental health services that are provided through that program?
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-11-27 17:00
In paragraph 3.19, we identified the various types of services that are available through Veterans Affairs, whether it be the operational stress injury clinics, their case management services, or the Veterans Affairs Canada assistance service, which I think is probably the one that you are referring to. In the audit we did identify that these types of things are available to veterans as well.
Timothy Egan
View Timothy Egan Profile
Timothy Egan
2014-10-29 15:36
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the committee for the opportunity to speak today. I've a short statement on two of the specific items contained in our submission provided to the committee in July particularly of relevance to the topic that's been put to this panel—maximizing the number and types of jobs for Canadians.
CGA is the voice of Canada's natural gas delivery industry. The map on page 2 in the package distributed to you illustrates natural gas distribution and transmission companies that deliver energy solutions to more than 6.5 million Canadian customers.
Today, over half the Canadian population relies on the natural gas delivered to their homes, apartments, buildings, hospitals, schools, and businesses, using almost 500,000 kilometres of underground delivery infrastructure and storage facilities. Since 2005, the distribution sector has invested over $25 billion in this extensive national network, to ensure the safe, secure, and reliable operation and maintenance of our system.
As all of you know, we use energy in three principal ways: for heating, for power generation, and for transportation. Natural gas is used for all three, although to date its greatest use has been as a heat source. We often talk about how natural gas is an ideal energy choice for any of these applications because it is affordable, clean, safe, and reliable. But today, given the topic of this panel, I want to focus on the affordability attribute, and how this affordability has meant significant savings for consumers and growth for economies as investors have been attracted to our markets' low energy input costs.
I'll also highlight the opportunity for the natural gas distribution industry, working in partnership with all levels of government, the private sector, and homeowners, to continue to help drive economic growth, investment, and job creation.
If I could draw your attention to the chart on page 3, this graph illustrates how natural gas reduces energy costs for homes, businesses, and institutions. As you can see, in 2003 the average Canadian household spent between $1,300 and $4,300 for space and water heating. Natural gas is by far the most affordable choice.
At the end of the day, we know that for all energy users any reduction in energy costs, while enjoying the same level of comfort or maintaining the same or improved level of service or production output, is a significant benefit. It means money in the pockets of consumers, for families in their homes, or for businesses to become more competitive and to expand and grow.
Because of the abundant supply and ongoing affordability of natural gas, coupled with the rising cost of many other energy options, Canadian utilities are building out their delivery systems to reach more Canadian communities, industry, and the transportation sector. However, there can be challenges in connecting some communities and industrial customers.
As you may know, natural gas utility investment activities are regulated, and they must apply to their provincial regulators for approval of the investment costs associated with connecting a community. In most cases these costs are approved because the benefits to the community justify the cost, and utilities proceed with the investment. But when the communities are smaller and farther afield, the total benefit may not outweigh the cost to connect the customers, and regulatory rules restrict the amount of cross-subsidy that can flow between consumer groups and regions. This can rule out a community connection project, despite the significant savings per year for homeowners and industry in these regions.
Let me give the committee some examples of recent partnerships that made up that shortfall through cooperatively funded distribution system extension projects, and give you a sense of the economic benefits seen in each case. The map on page 4 illustrates some of these examples.
A $40-million project to build a 43-kilometre pipeline into Red Lake, Ontario was funded cooperatively by the federal and Ontario governments, by Goldcorp, the municipality of Red Lake, and Union Gas. The federal government's contribution of $2.7 million was made through FedNor to help support the engineering, design, and construction costs related to establishing the natural gas link to service businesses and residences in the community. Completed in 2012, natural gas became not only an affordable energy source for area mines owned by Goldcorp, but the project brought a lower-cost energy choice to homeowners and local businesses, and served as a catalyst for regional economic development, enhancing business competitiveness and attracting private sector investment to the region.
Timothy Egan
View Timothy Egan Profile
Timothy Egan
2014-10-29 15:40
Red Lake mayor Phil Vinet said in 2012, “Thanks to FedNor's support, this project is a win-win situation. We're seeing cost savings for local businesses, new jobs being created, plus new opportunities for businesses throughout the region.”
The mayor also noted that natural gas could reduce the cost of living for residents and help reduce energy costs for about 180 businesses. At the time of completion, the expansion project had created over 100 jobs.
The map shows you other examples: in Quebec, in Thetford Mines; in British Columbia, from Squamish to Whistler, B.C.; and another one in the Northwest Territories, where we're trucking gas over 3,600 kilometres.
The role of the federal government, we believe, is to facilitate these projects, and we have specific asks in terms of reallocating the existing program or infrastructure money for northern communities and for local communities, and supporting an accelerated capital cost allowance for LNG facilities. Each of these offers direct benefits to Canadians and communities across the country, lowering energy costs and delivering more opportunity for Canadians.
Thank you.
Graham Fraser
View Graham Fraser Profile
Graham Fraser
2014-05-08 8:46
Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, honourable committee members, good morning.
It is a pleasure to appear before you today to present the main estimates of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has a budget of $20.8 million to carry out its mandate during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. This amount includes $13 million in salaries, or 62.8% of the main estimates. Our workforce consists of 170 full-time equivalents.
Our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians language rights, promotion of linguistic duality and internal services.
Before we examine these activities in detail, a word about our recent move is in order.
On March 17 we relocated all of our employees in the national capital region to new offices, at 30 Victoria Street, in Gatineau.
The decision to move from our downtown Ottawa location was made about a year ago, for the following reasons: first, to foster cooperation and share common services with other agents of Parliament already located at 30 Victoria Street, notably the Chief Electoral Officer, Privacy Commissioner, and Information Commissioner; to embrace the new work environment, known in the public service as workplace 2.0, which is more conducive to collaboration between employees; and to take advantage of lower rental costs resulting from a smaller office footprint, which in total represents about $800,000 in annual savings for my office for the taxpayer. An advance against future appropriations was provided to fund the costs associated with the Office of the Commissioner's move in 2013-14.
To protect the language rights of Canadians, the Office of the Commissioner investigates and resolves complaints, conducts audits, evaluates the performance of federal institutions and intervenes before the courts, when appropriate. The expenditures planned for this activity in 2014-2015 are $6.8 million, which amounts to 32.8% of the total budget.
Over the current fiscal year, my office will carry out audits of the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Air Transport Authority, Elections Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat. In addition, we will begin an audit of the Canada School of Public Service, we will publish follow-ups to our audits of Air Canada and Industry Canada, and we will begin a follow-up to our audit of Parks Canada.
I will continue to intervene before the courts on behalf of Canadians. For example, we are currently awaiting a Supreme Court ruling in the Thibodeau v. Air Canada case, and the case against CBC/Radio-Canada is still active.
In total, more than 400 admissible complaints are filed with my office every year. We will continue our ongoing efforts to reduce the length of our investigations. Recent efforts to improve our investigation process have included the launch of a web complaint form and a client satisfaction survey.
Expenditures linked to the promotion of linguistic duality account for $6.5 million—a sum that represents 31.5% of the total budget. To promote Canadian linguistic duality, the Office of the Commissioner communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public.
Our research, our studies, our distribution of information products, and our exchanges with many key stakeholders and community representatives contribute to the promotion of linguistic duality among Canadians. That is an integral part of my mandate.
As part of our many planning activities, we will continue to work with federal institutions and organizing committees to help them integrate linguistic duality into the various activities leading up to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. Canada's official languages are an important part of the country's history and a key component of its future.
We want to take a closer look at immigration in official language minority communities, as well as early childhood issues. In both cases, we will collaborate with governmental and community organizations already at work in these domains.
We will intervene with federal institutions to follow up on the recommendation of our August 2013 study concerning the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary. On a related note, we are organizing a conference on access to justice with the Bar of Montreal.
Our third program activity, internal services, allows the office of the commissioner to assemble resources that support the organization as a whole, including asset management, finance, and human resources management. This activity has been allocated a budget of $7.4 million, which constitutes 35.7% of our total budget. These services, essential to any organization, ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used efficiently and transparently.
In addition to completing the logistical and administrative arrangements associated with the recent move to Gatineau, we will explore opportunities for further collaboration with other agents of Parliament on the delivery of the Office of the Commissioner's internal services, while upholding our mandate and maintaining our independence.
We will also migrate to the Government of Canada's PeopleSoft human resources information system, harmonize our employee performance management program with the Treasury Board Secretariat's new directives on performance management, and implement the shared case management solution for small departments and agencies. Lastly, we will develop additional technological tools to improve efficiency and employee workflow.
Mr. Chair and honourable committee members, thank you for your attention. I'd be pleased to discuss any aspect of our operations in more detail.
View Joyce Bateman Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses, and a special welcome to Madame Lagacé.
This is her first time appearing before the committee, I believe.
at least while I've been here.
I have some very specific questions, just because I want to understand how these documents work. Thanks to our wonderful analyst Lucie Lecomte, we have great little tables that have been provided to us with the three key pillars: linguistic rights protection, linguistic duality promotion, and then, of course, internal services.
I'm just referencing your report on plans and priorities, and I see in the back—maybe you can help me with this—the analysis of the full-time equivalents relative to each of those three pillars. It occurs to me you're in the business of providing a very important professional service not only to Parliament but to Canada. Professional services are always human-intensive, and you have the 63, 59, and 48 full-time equivalents in that order. You have the highest cost for internal services with the lowest number of FTEs, and that doesn't usually make sense, because you guys are always in the business of providing professional services. I'd just like to understand that if I could. What accounts for that difference?
Graham Fraser
View Graham Fraser Profile
Graham Fraser
2014-05-08 9:19
Let me give you a partial answer, and I'll ask Madame Lagacé to provide more of the details.
There are certain elements in internal service costs that I think are a bit deceptive. For example, all of the costs of my office, including my travel costs, are defined as part of internal services. Similarly, there are—
View Jason Kenney Profile
CPC (AB)
Thanks very much, Chairman, and good morning colleagues. I'm pleased to be here with the team that has been introduced. Particularly let me welcome Mr. Siddall, who has recently been appointed president of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. They are very important responsibilities and he's off to a great start.
I'm pleased to be with you today to discuss the 2014-15 main estimates for Employment and Social Development Canada and to highlight some of our key areas of investment.
In this fiscal year, we are planning expenditures of $44.5 billion in income security. This amount includes payments through old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, the registered disability savings plan and the national child benefit.
Payments through old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are increasing by $1.6 billion, and of course, we can continue to expect to see that as our population ages and the number of retirees increases.
ESDC is planning expenditures of $3 billion in the social development program area. This includes the homelessness partnering strategy, for which Minister Bergen is responsible, the social development partnerships program, and the new horizons for seniors program, for which Minister Wong is responsible.
It also includes the recently created Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children. This program is a new measure from our government to help families going through a very difficult period.
The social development program area also includes the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which is part of our government initiatives to help Canadians with disabilities. I would like to recognize the efforts of the committee chair for Canadians with disabilities. We recently created a workplace stream of this program to increase the ability of Canadians with disabilities to participate in our labour market.
Finally, the social development program area also includes payments directly to parents through the Universal Child Care Benefit—which our government is extremely proud of and which was one of our most important 2006 election campaign commitments.The increase in this area is because of an increased number of children entitled to this benefit. That is good news. By paying this benefit, the government recognizes that parents know best what child-care is best for their children. The Universal Child Care Benefit provides support to over 2 million children annually and has lifted 24,000 families out of poverty.
In the Learning Program area, the department plans budgetary expenditures of $2.3 billion. This program area includes the Canada Student Loans and Grants Program and the Canada Education Savings Program. The non-budgetary section of the 2014-2015 main estimates in this program area is the expenditures paid out in student loans, which are loans we expect to be repaid. Increases in this area are the result of more students receiving this support, more families saving for their children's post-secondary education and an increase in repayment assistance.
In the skills and employment program area, ESDC has planned expenditures of $1.1 billion in the main estimates before you. The main estimates before you show a $500 million decrease in this area from the year before. The reason for this is that the labour market agreements, which now include the Canada job fund and Canada job grant, were still being negotiated at the time the main estimates were tabled. We'll be bringing forward the $500 million in supplementary estimates as we have signed agreements in principle with all 13 jurisdictions for the delivery of the Canada job fund or grant and indeed final agreements with, I believe, five provinces. All this is to say there is not a $500 million cut. It just wasn't ready, frankly, to put in the estimates.
The skills and employment program area includes a number of our government's priority areas, including the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, known as ASETS, which I think is a great program; the skills and partnership fund; the first nations job fund, a new initiative to try to get young aboriginal, able-bodied folks to move from welfare to work wherever possible; the Targeted initiative for older workers, which we've just renewed with a number of provinces; and the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. The old agreements were sunsetted at the end of the last fiscal year, and we have been renewing them with provinces. There is also the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities; the Red Seal program, a very important part of our skills agenda; apprenticeship grants; and others.
Our ministry is planning expenditures of $168 million in the integrity and processing program area, which is obviously very important. This is responsible for ensuring that taxpayers' dollars are being disbursed correctly and only to those actually entitled to the benefits. This is particularly important in a department like ours, which is entrusted with a significant amount of taxpayers' dollars.
To provide you with a recent example, earlier this month a Toronto man was charged for allegedly collecting his mother's CPP and OAS benefits for 15 years after she died. Police alleged that this individual collected nearly $200,000 in fraudulent benefits. The reason this branch exists is to ensure that these funds are directed to those who paid into the system and truly qualify. This is also the program area responsible for processing specific benefits, including our very successful apprenticeship grants. ESDC is also planning expenditures of $118 million in the citizenship centre service program area.
ESDC is also planning expenditures of $118 million in the Citizen-Centered Service program area. This is the program area of the department responsible for ensuring that the department provides timely and quality service to Canadians. This is particularly important for a department like ESDC that deals directly with Canadians to deliver many programs.
One area here that I would like to highlight, on which we're particularly focused on improving the department's service delivery performance, is in employment insurance, EI, processing. Mr. Cuzner keeps offering constructive criticism in this respect.
When I was named Minister of Employment and Social Development, one of the early things I did was ask my parliamentary secretary, your colleague Mr. Armstrong, to conduct a review of EI processing.
He has been out meeting with Service Canada front-line staff and management across Canada to find ways to be more efficient and fix bottlenecks in the system. I look forward to hearing the results of his review and am hopeful that as a result we will be able to improve the department's service to Canadians in this area.
Finally, we are planning expenditures of $224 million in the internal services area, which is a reduction of about $54 million from the previous year as the department continues to look for ways to save taxpayers' money.
By reducing administration and back office expenses, we're able to provide more benefits to Canadians and more support for front-line service.
These are the summary highlights of our planned spending in the 2014-15 main estimates, Chairman, and I'm happy to take questions.
Minister Bergen, do you have an opening statement?
Mark Fuchko
View Mark Fuchko Profile
Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 15:49
I'd say they're quite a bit different. I'm actually just starting to move into the Veterans Affairs program, although I have utilized certain assets from Veterans Affairs.
One of the great difficulties I had with the military was that there was an atmosphere that was totally unprepared to deal with the catastrophically injured. When I first came home, I was not the first amputee from the war in Afghanistan and I constantly ran into hurdles that really affected my quality of life and my family's as well. Things like aids to daily living were almost impossible to obtain. Just to get my house accessible took over a year. That was a really long drawn-out nightmare. I'm not the only one who actually experienced that. There seemed to be kind of a battle with what was covered and what was not and who would cover what. That was quite a challenge, and it seems to me that there was a lot of overlap, but people weren't necessarily sure if Veterans Affairs or the military was going to cover it, and things like lead time, house modifications, and stuff like that were a real challenge for sure. I would say that probably the one common thing is housing, especially for the severely disabled.
The military originally took this on but there is a whole group of caveats that make it difficult for the delivery of this in a timely fashion. For example, some people find themselves severely disabled coming back to houses that they can't physically occupy just because their houses are not wheelchair friendly, wheelchair safe. They essentially require a whole new house to live in.
In my case the biggest problem was that the rules stipulate that you have to have three quotes to obtain an actual work order. The problem was, in Calgary, I could only obtain two quotes, so thus, the work order would never proceed. Luckily I had a switched-on troop warrant who was able to connect with my case manager and eventually got the ball rolling.
Again, there were other problems. For example, the contractor who bid the lowest was awarded the contract to do my house. However, I have a seven-year-old, and they were going to build me an elevator with no doors because that was the cheapest one, and that wasn't included in the quotes. Here I was; they were going to build me an elevator with no doors so I'd just have this gaping elevator shaft.
That's just my own personal story. I'm sure as other veterans come before you, they will all bring up that housing was a major issue for them, not just from the military side, because I know Veterans Affairs typically only covers aids to daily living once a member is out, but that might be something that should be looked at, that one or the other should cover it. Because Veterans Affairs is going to have the member for the rest of their life, it would probably be more beneficial for them to take care of that because they're going to have the member for a lot longer during that transition and that release period. With the military, it seemed like the job kept getting passed on and passed on, and guys were essentially treading water and not getting the items that they required.
Mark Fuchko
View Mark Fuchko Profile
Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 15:52
I have two case managers. I have a Veterans Affairs case manager and I also have a DND case manager. My case manager in Calgary, Mimi Fortin, is a retired lieutenant-colonel from Canadian Forces. She handles things like whenever I need new legs and things like that, helping to get the ball rolling on that because there is, again, a whole bunch of hoops that have to be jumped through. It's been fairly difficult for me to get anything delivered in a timely fashion just because of the amount of hoops, just because the dollar figure is quite large for prosthetics. The system has gotten better for me in Calgary just because there's more familiarity with what needs to be done and things like that.
I have not had the opportunity to talk much to my Veterans Affairs case manager. One of the biggest problems I had was with the veterans independence program. This was originally covered by Veterans Affairs. Then it was dropped for serving members and it was covered by the military. It took me over two years to get the veterans independence program in place after qualifying for it.
The main problem was, when you ask for it, you're essentially given a phone book of people to call who can “deliver the service”. I think I called 15 different service providers who said they did not provide the service. A lot of members get fed up with this. They get frustrated and they give up.
I would have liked to see my case manager take a little more proactive role and kind of say, “Hey, here's a company that we're already doing business with. Here's their number. I'll link up the contact.” rather than the onus being on the member because it's frustrating; you're in a new life. I was in a wheelchair, I couldn't walk a whole lot, and it was pretty hard because I put on my brave face every day and it was really tough to see my family members look at me with really sad faces, and the fact that I had to go through this binder to contact service providers who had no idea what I was talking about....
Every time I brought it up to my Veterans Affairs case manager, they just provided with me with a brand new updated list, and I just kept running into the same problem over and over again. One thing I would look at is streamlining that system, absolutely.
Mark Fuchko
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Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 16:27
My experience was that the case managers were extremely overworked. They had a whole group of cases, and they couldn't really devote any time to one specifically. This is problematic when they're dealing with people with minor injuries all the way to those with severe injuries. Thus, the people at the higher end of the disability spectrum really feel like they get shortchanged in that regard.
For cutting red tape, one of the things I would like to see has to do with the three-quote system, especially for aids to daily living. Something needs to be done about that, because it's really difficult for these services to be delivered in a timely fashion. Again, in the community you live in, you might be unable to acquire this.
The other thing is the veterans independence program. The onus is always on the member to get that service delivered. I could barely walk, yet I was handed a binder with an infinite list of names of people I had to contact to set up the services. Again, that was a long process. It would have been nice if my case manager just could have had a contact number and could have told me that these people were coming on this date to do a consult, and then it could have carried on in that fashion.
Mark Fuchko
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Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 16:28
I really don't think that any of my case managers really cared about my well-being, to tell you the truth. There were numerous opportunities where they could have brought up issues that I was having, and they failed to do so. Luckily, I had a switched-on chain of command and an awesome assisting officer who was able to catch this, because there would be conference calls where I'd be having a whole group of problems and my case manager would fail to bring them up to anybody higher.
The other difficulty, I feel, is that there are probably not enough case managers, as one of the constant issues I kept hearing about was, “I have so many cases, I have so many cases, I have so many cases...”. A lot of it was the lead time to deliver aid, the aids to daily living. It took a long time.
Mark Fuchko
View Mark Fuchko Profile
Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 16:29
Yes. I haven't heard from my Veterans Affairs case manager for a while. Sporadically, I receive letters saying that they have failed to contact me. They have left zero messages. They have not attempted to call me. As well, I cannot physically call my case manager. What happens is that there's a 1-800 number and I leave a message. Maybe it will get to them. Maybe it does not. I really haven't had the need to utilize my Veterans Affairs case manager yet, although that's coming up, and it's of some concern.
View Brad Trost Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I've been listening here and I've been making a few notes. The biggest issues seem to have been bureaucratic management and the particularities of how your case was handled as far as implementing.... If you could sum up one or two key points as far as administration that would change it....
You've mentioned a few things about case managers getting an "F”. What would you recommend so that they could improve their service to you? What would it be? Would it be just simply having more of them or are there very specific ways that you would use to adjust it?
Mark Fuchko
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Mark Fuchko
2014-04-01 16:33
Having more case managers would be ideal in most locations. One of the complaints I heard frequently, especially in Edmonton, was that their caseload was immense. It's difficult for them to track everybody they have to take care of, so more case managers would probably be beneficial. For aid to daily living, if some of the red tape could be cut out of that to streamline that process, because that is a major point of frustration for all injured vets.
Again, the onus is on the case manager and on the member to get that done. It's that three-quote system. If there could be something done about that to streamline the system.... Most members end up going to the director of casualties support management and using the contingency fund to move ahead and get this stuff implemented.
Joseph Burke
View Joseph Burke Profile
Joseph Burke
2014-04-01 17:18
to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, this is the CAV contribution.
On the care and support to seriously injured veterans, veterans report that the earnings loss benefit income replacement program paid during participation in a rehabilitation program or vocational assistance services is inadequate. The problem is that the earnings loss benefit is not a benefit. It represents a 25% loss in net income at a crucial time when the added stress of the loss of income can and does interfere with the transition progress of a person working with injuries and disabilities.
For example, for a military pay of $56,568 military, after-tax net income would be $39,597.60. With an earnings loss benefit of only $42,426, the earnings loss benefit after-tax provides a net income of $29,698.20. Subtracting these figures you can end up with a total loss of $9,899.40 in net income over your military pay.
On the relief sought, we suggest renaming this a “transition allowance” and maintaining the net income at the same level of pay as the previous military net income.
Veterans report that there is no lifetime index disability available under the new Veterans Charter. The new Veterans Charter is intended to aid transition from military service to civilian life. The legislation clearly states two classes of veterans, those with mild injuries, and those with severe, permanent, long-term disabilities. The new Veterans Charter is primarily focused on personnel who are transitioning to civilian life and employment with no or mild injuries. The new Veterans Charter’s rules and regulations are clearly designed to avoid the long-term cost of care for the severely disabled veterans. The new Veterans Charter provides an earnings loss benefit, which is curtailed by age limitation.
On the relief sought, we suggest replacing the earnings loss benefit at the end of the transition and rehabilitation with a viable lifetime indexed veteran’s disability pension. A viable example is a veteran’s disability pension that is based on the average wage of all non-commissioned ranks or ranks below the flag rank in the year the veteran’s disability pension is to commence and then indexed annually thereafter.
Veterans report that a lump sum award for pain and suffering is insufficient compensation, particularly for multiple injuries and the resulting lifetime disabilities. The problem is that awarding a lump sum award for pain and suffering with the aggregate cap is an austere cost control designed solely to save money by setting a limit to the reward available. Those personnel who have suffered multiple wounds and amputations are grievously under-compensated. The lump sum award just for pain and suffering is a deliberate avoidance of full compensation by omitting compensation for the consequences of an injury that will have to be endured by a veteran over a lifetime.
On the relief sought, we suggest the removal of the aggregate cap to provide a lump sum award on the basis of past, present, and future pain, suffering, and the long-term consequences of each injury and each resulting disability.
On support to the family, veterans report that the termination of the earnings loss benefit at age 65 causes veterans and their families stress and fears for the future. On turning age 65 the reality of their fears comes true with the real financial hardships they are facing.
There are a number of problems. Number one, there is currently no spousal allowance, and there is no respite provision for caregivers of the severely disabled. Number two, there are also no provisions for a dependent child allowance. Number three, age 65 is a handy milestone to abbreviate the cost of the severely disabled veterans and their families, accomplished by sidestepping the rule of law and ignoring section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 prohibits certain forms of discrimination: sex, age, or mental and physical disability.
We suggest the following. Number one, the inclusion of a spousal allowance to the amount of not less than $1,600 per month indexed annually. Number two, the inclusion of a dependent child allowance to be based on the province of residence rate of child support, or on an income based on the average wage of all non-commissioned ranks or commissioned ranks below flag rank adjusted annually.For example, with an overall wage of non-commissioned ranks to $65,000, for children who live in the province of Ontario, the Department of Justice child support allowance calculation is the following: for one child $594; two children $966; and three children $1,264. Number three, the removal of all age-related regulations from the new Veterans Charter.
The third question relates to improvements to the way in which the Department of Veterans Affairs delivers services and benefits set out in the charter. Why does it take 16 weeks or longer to get an answer or acknowledgement from Charlottetown? Delays that occur now are based on the Privacy Act and impede the efficient flow of documents that occur at the interface between these two different departments with two different corporate cultures. It's a further source of delays. Veterans often express frustration that the people they are dealing with have only an elementary knowledge of what is involved in military service.
The recommendation is for a total unification and merger of Veterans Affairs Canada with the Department of National Defence, expanding the head offices in Ottawa, as required. The rationale is that the Department of National Defence administers and operates the Canadian Armed Forces, regular and reserve forces, and the cadet organizations administration and training service, which is a subcomponent of the reserve force. All personnel serving in the Canadian Armed Forces will become veterans. The inclusion of Veterans Affairs Canada in the Department of National Defence would be the most efficient and cost-efficient operation of the Canadian military force, and services to its veterans. Personnel documents and records would flow efficiently through the integrated Department of National Defence. Transitioning through the military family from the cadet corps to the regular force, or the reserves, to the veteran force would be seamless and would retain DND corporate knowledge and a cohesive pool of talent.
The CAV believes that an integrated Department of National Defence would allow veterans to go to a Canadian Forces base to have their needs met by people who are familiar with military service. At the military bases, the personnel assigned to help veterans would have an in-depth knowledge of military service and would also provide further help to veterans by being able to coordinate with the Royal Canadian Legion service officers who are on a number of the bases.
Military base locations would also eliminate the cost of leasing space across Canada which is a substantial savings in itself.
View Parm Gill Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I also want to take this opportunity to welcome Sergeant Nielsen, and your daughter Heather, for appearing before the committee to help us in this important study. I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is an honour, obviously, to see you here again.
It was a pleasure to join you at Calabogie, the ski clinic for the soldiers. Minister Fantino has also asked me to pass his greetings along. He was very touched by your presentation at the...students, hosted by Dr. Kavanagh and project veterans on Remembrance Day.
The committee has been asked by Mr. Fantino to conduct a comprehensive review of the new Veterans Charter. We're certainly honoured to have you here today. All of us on the government side have had the opportunity to read about your story and learn about the experience that you had. Since you are an Afghan veteran who has experienced the application of the Veterans Charter first-hand, I believe that your words here today are invaluable to the work of this committee.
As a serving member, can you please elaborate on your experience between the service and support you received from DND, and the service you received from Veterans Affairs Canada?
Bjarne Nielsen
View Bjarne Nielsen Profile
Bjarne Nielsen
2014-03-27 15:56
With regard to service with DND, again it's a case-by-case basis, and you want to help those who are helping you. It doesn't do any good to go in banging your fists or yelling at someone because you're having a bad day, because you can't wear your prosthetic or whatever. You know what? That's secondary. That person who is across from you at that table may not understand what you're going through, but in order to provide them with the right tools, the necessities to be able to help you, you have to consider that.
Within the whole DND spectrum with regard to my recovery, I would say it went fairly well. I always reached out and talked to the people I needed to, because obviously if I wasn't getting a phone call, or if someone wasn't calling me, there was something wrong. So at times yes, I wasn't getting those phone calls, but I followed up, as anyone who is really caring about such matters would.
With regard to Veterans Affairs, I don't have a lot of dealings with them to be honest, not quite yet. Right now the only thing I do have with them is some of my cleaning services that happen at my house, because I have a hard time taking care of daily chores, and stuff like that. But for the most part, I don't have a lot of dealings with Veterans Affairs.
I got my payout, which came in a timely manner, but I do have some worries for after I do release. When I do release from the forces then I'm not in that comfort zone. I don't have all those resources I had as a serving member to be able to employ or to reach out to. I've heard a lot of horror stories just from talking to other peers, of all different rank levels and different generations, and the hardships that they've had.
I think my biggest concern with Veterans Affairs is the empathy. The person who sits across from you at the desk may not understand you or what you're going through per se, but if they lack the empathy then they're not able to make you feel secure in knowing that they are there truly to help you. It's a tough position to fill, because you have all these guys and gals who are coming in with all these different injuries, and wanting this and demanding that, and stuff like that. But at the base level, you have to say, “Hey, this guy or gal is hurting and they've been through a lot.” That I think is the primary thing. A lot of people have had a hard time dealing with people just on a personal level.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
CPC (AB)
—but at some point I may be a customer or a client of VAC.
You've been talking about the Pension Act and so on. You've been around a little while, the same as many of us have. Were there any complaints under the old Pension Act? Were people complaining about things under the old Pension Act?
Sylvain Chartrand
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Sylvain Chartrand
2014-03-27 17:40
As they are complaining now on service and delivery; the service and delivery problem existed before.
Michael Blais
View Michael Blais Profile
Michael Blais
2014-03-27 17:41
I think the largest complaint I've heard has been on the actual level of the disability.
I'm not complaining, but I like to use myself as an example. You had a young man who was in here earlier from my regiment. We were both sergeants. We both wore the red sash. As a matter of fact, the Canadian Veterans Advocacy would not exist were it not for my regimental duty to those to whom I have passed the torch. I'm serious. Before the CVA was conceived, I was at this memorial service for one of the fallen. I was the president of the RCR Association down in Niagara Falls. I was shocked when I was hearing what these young guys were telling me, what they were experiencing, and how they were being treated.
On the old system, I think the two most commons ones are that.... For example, I had to fight for that 30%, by the way. When I got out it was 10%. So I mean, it's a fight. For most of the people I talked to, the major problem on the old system was that the amount of the award did not reflect the sacrifice. Secondly, it was the review, or VRAB.
Sylvain Chartrand
View Sylvain Chartrand Profile
Sylvain Chartrand
2014-03-27 17:44
Yes, there is a Bill 1 which I think is in Alberta. They are introducing legislation that states if you are a police officer, a paramedic, or ambulance worker, if you develop PTSD, let's say, that is automatically deemed service-related. That's it.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
CPC (AB)
This is a question that we couldn't get on the record last time, but do you think we'll ever have a perfect system or will it always be a work in progress? We'd love a perfect system.
Michael Blais
View Michael Blais Profile
Michael Blais
2014-03-27 17:44
With good will, yes, there will be a perfect system, but there has to be good will. There has to be this non-partisan stuff going on. There has to be a willingness for all parties to embrace our veterans and put aside ideology as far as financial or whatever goes. Once the moment that we, as a nation, that you, as a parliament, say it doesn't matter what the cost is, the need justifies the cost, the cost justifies the need.
Laurie Sterritt
View Laurie Sterritt Profile
Laurie Sterritt
2014-03-27 10:32
That is a reality on the ground that our team faces every day because we are delivering services around the province of B.C. There are two issues. One is an administrative issue. For each program, whether it's an ASETS or another SPF or another provincially run program, the way that success is measured is not always complementary.
For instance, if we work with an organization and we each spend $5,000 on a candidate, only one organization can measure the result. If that person gets employed, it might show up only on the other organization's results line, so it looks like we spent $5,000 and it didn't go anywhere. I think that is being addressed on an administrative level in some places.
The other issue is more a human issue, and it is a willingness to be creative and find ways to work together. The way we do that is that in more than 50% of our partnerships around the province, we're successful in working with other ASETS holders or SPF holders. We try to find out what issues individuals are facing and what you can cover and what we can cover and whether we can split the results, if that is an issue.
If we have a cohort training program—say we run an environmental monitoring program and there are 15 students—we each invest in certain aspects of the program. We bring partners in to invest in the program and then we would say seven or eight results would show up on our books and their books when those candidates get employed.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
Could you give me a specific example of a partnership you've had with an ASETA holder, what you've done, and what the other person has done, and then in the minute or two that we will, hopefully, have left, can you talk about your specific recommendations to government regarding how you see that we should move forward to really get the best outcomes for the expenditures that are put in?
Laurie Sterritt
View Laurie Sterritt Profile
Laurie Sterritt
2014-03-27 10:35
The way I have seen this roll out is that a number of silos compete with each other. I would say that if we can—as Jeanette has recommended—work together and find a solution that works in a broader sense rather than on a community-by-community basis, then I think we might take the competition out of it. Frankly, we work with post-secondary educators who are also in competition to fill seats in their environment.
It's not as though it's going to go away, but if we were all able to sit down and plan things out with solely a view to the successful result for the student, I think it would benefit the bigger picture greatly.
I don't know if that answers your question.
Laurie Sterritt
View Laurie Sterritt Profile
Laurie Sterritt
2014-03-27 10:36
In some cases, the ASETS holder might fund the training allowance or the child care, and we would fund the tuition. We would provide the coaching. They might provide the essential skills upgrading. It totally depends on the situation. It totally depends on that other service provider and what they're willing and able to do.
Sometimes we're all multi-funded from provincial sources and federal sources and private sources, so we have to be creative in how we apply those funds. My message is always that we're stronger together and we're better off sharing our resources. If my $10 and your $10 equals $25, we're all going to be a lot better off.
Philip Ralph
View Philip Ralph Profile
Philip Ralph
2014-03-25 15:33
Mr. Chairman, and honourable members of the committee, on behalf of Wounded Warriors Canada, thank you for the invitation to appear before this committee and be part of the very important discussion on the statutory review of the enhanced new Veterans Charter.
By way of introduction, my name is Phil Ralph, and I serve as the national program director of Wounded Warriors Canada.
I am proud to be joined today by retired lieutenant-colonel and Wounded Warriors Canada national ambassador, Chris Linford, a distinguished serviceman who has served on a number of overseas operations, including the Persian Gulf, Rwanda, and Afghanistan.
For those unaware, Wounded Warriors Canada provides a wide range of programs offered nationally where gaps in the system have left our Canadian Armed Forces members wanting, be they regular force, reservists or retired, and most importantly, their families as well.
Over the last 16 months Wounded Warriors Canada has shifted its focus and become a national leader in funding national programs on mental health targeted specifically toward post-traumatic stress disorder. At this committee you've heard from witnesses of at least two groups that we proudly fund: Tim Laidler of the Veterans Transition Network, as well as Barry Yhard of VETS Canada. A little later on you'll be hearing from Alice Aiken about a Ph.D. scholarship program that we sponsor as well.
Through the administration of a diverse slate of programs and services, we have heard the personal stories and struggles of literally thousands of servicemen and women and their families. In 2014 we have committed $1.1 million directly to our programs. As part of this, and through our own personal experiences of both Chris and me in the Canadian Forces, we are here today to provide you with a grassroots feedback on key items and themes identified by this committee as part of this important review.
On August 13 of last year, the Minister of Veterans Affairs publicly stated:
Our Government continues to demonstrate its strong commitment to caring for, supporting and honouring Canada’s Veterans and their families.
Later in that same statement he continued:
Just as importantly, this new spending is built upon the fundamental principles of respect and support for Veterans. That foundation of respect is spelled out in the New Veterans Charter, and the Prime Minister of Canada reinforced it when he announced the New Charter’s implementation as the first step toward according Canadian Veterans the dignity and support they deserve.
We simply ask that the committee and all parliamentarians put legs to the words of the Prime Minister.
If the charter and its subsequent changes are the first step, in the Prime Minister's own words, it is clear from the overwhelming and growing support that Wounded Warriors Canada continues to receive that Canadians care deeply about the welfare and care of our veterans and their families.
Canadians are particularly concerned about those who are most vulnerable, and saddened and galvanized by the recent losses of our veterans from suicide.
We fully understand the range of recommendations and issues raised to date at this committee. In particular, we applaud the fine work of the ombudsman to date on these issues.
As such, it is our intention today to frame the overall discussion for you succinctly around the need for early intervention when it comes to health and financial wellness of our ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members and their families.
On care and support to seriously injured veterans, there is no question that Canadians want the care afforded to Canada's veterans not only to be adequate, but they also want it to be excellent. This has been demonstrated by the ongoing and profound communication that we receive regarding the funding of the programs that Wounded Warriors Canada provides and will continue to provide.
Canadians are particularly concerned that the most vulnerable among our veterans are destined to years of poverty and struggle as the result of the injuries they have received as a direct result of their service to Canada.
Canadians expect better. Without getting into all the nuts and bolts of delivery, etc., we know there are three important areas where action is required: one, commitment to the long-term financial health of our veterans and their families, particularly those most seriously disabled; two, equity in providing benefits based on injury not class of service; and three, streamlined cooperation between the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada in order to provide timely provision of the required services.
On support for the families, we have discovered that the provision of excellent care to the injured veteran is not sufficient.
To truly battle PTSD, a holistic approach must be adopted that includes the veteran's family. He or she will not receive true help if the veteran's most important relationships and their primary support systems are not managed well.
With regard to improvements to the way in which the Department of Veterans Affairs delivers programs, services, and benefits set out in the Veterans Charter, we suggest that ongoing assessments be carried out assessing veterans themselves to gather information that will seek to improve the programs offered, gain understanding of the new programs needed, and streamline the process, thus diminishing the stress that often is induced through the application process.
There clearly needs to be a push system rather than the current pull system, which includes early identification of the needs of particularly those who are heading towards medical release and the issues facing veterans as they transition to life after military service. The oft-worn phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure comes readily to mind.
Announced initiatives such as veterans priority hiring for public service jobs are of little help if the veteran is not equipped with the skills requisite for the position. This is all the more true for those transitioning to the private sector.
In closing, we thank the committee for this invitation. We remain at your disposal should the committee have further questions now or at any time going forward.
Thank you.
Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2014-03-06 15:47
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We only finished it an hour ago, Mr. Kerr. That's why it's not translated.
My roots are Franco-Ontarian, but I live in Nepean now, which is 100% English-speaking. I don't often have the opportunity to speak French. You can ask me your questions in French, but please speak very slowly.
It is a pleasure for the NATO Veterans Organization to be asked back again to address the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
I notice, as you did, Mr. Chairman, no fewer than six other veterans organizations around the room. I have a sign here reading “applause” for some point in my speech.
We urge all members of this committee to continue to work towards seeing improvements to the well-being and welfare of Canada's veterans. NATO veterans have all served this country in times of conflict and in times of peace and have done the nation's bidding. We have all proudly served. We now ask, in return for the sacrifice we made in the name of Canada and all Canadians, that this committee hear our concerns and influence the changes that we must see actually occur.
For far too long there have been significant and embarrassingly long disconnects between the policies emanating from the government and the harsh realities faced by the Canadian Armed Forces and our former service personnel, the veterans. Our veterans represent a legacy of service to Canada. Let us now see a legacy of respect and equality from a grateful nation towards our veterans, one that is moral, legal, social, and—the big one—financial.
Our colleagues of the Royal Canadian Legion have addressed the issues. They are all on our list; we support all of them. NATO vets have been asked by this committee to appear today, and if we wouldn't mind, to mention three items. We have three and a couple of further ones.
Those three items are care and support to the most seriously injured veterans, support for veterans' families, and improvement to the way Veterans Affairs Canada delivers programs under the Veterans Charter concerning services and benefits.
Those are the three areas. If any member would like to discuss these with me or Mr. Percy Price offline, we would be pleased to discuss them. Mr. Price is the NATO Veterans acting director of advocacy. For eight years he was an adjudicator with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and for 23 years was a Royal Canadian Legion veterans counsellor. He still does that work.
NATO Veterans' comments today are directed to the shortcomings of the new Veterans Charter that are known and experienced by our modern-day veterans. We cannot let these issues continue, as the well-being and welfare of our veterans is at risk. Each member of this committee has a responsibility to see that changes are made to the new Veterans Charter, and NATO Veterans of Canada stands ready to assist in providing advice and recommendations to you.
But remember that veterans will also hold the government accountable for inaction and partisan politics. The days are long over, as you've noticed, when veterans will suffer in silence along the lines that a good soldier never complains and just follows orders.
We, of all people, have earned the right to be vocal about the hardships we face at the hand of negligent policies and a lack of leadership in addressing these known shortcomings. As an elected official, I am certain you will all agree it is important to work closely with communities and local interests. These are the people who elected you and whom you represent.
There are 750,000 veterans out there. They all have families, and most of them vote.
I'll now turn it over to Mr. Price who will address the three issues that we were asked to address.
Percy Price
View Percy Price Profile
Percy Price
2014-03-06 15:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, I will deal with the seriously injured veterans. DND and VAC must ensure that all seriously injured veterans make application for pension claims and allowances before being discharged from the service, including the RCMP.
Seriously injured veterans must also include those individuals with PTSD. The severely injured veterans, upon discharge, and during their transition to civilian life, are at a very high risk to further injury and death. We highly recommend that Veterans Affairs Canada monitor their rehabilitation, mental health services, health care, and support for their families.
VAC must maintain regular personal contact with veterans and their dependants. It is recommended that Veterans Affairs Canada have a team of trained personnel to deal with issues for seriously disabled veterans, and PTSD. This team may save the lives of our veterans who are high risk, as witnessed in recent months with numerous recorded suicides. Veterans Affairs must give priority to all seriously injured veterans, including with PTSD, in all pension benefits and allowances.
As for support to veterans' families, Veterans Affairs Canada must keep a high level of communication with veterans and dependants to ensure that the well-being of all is carried out. Often, veterans experience difficulties with drugs, alcohol, psychological problems, and marital difficulties, with no advice. In view of this, it is recommended that Veterans Affairs Canada provide the appropriate counselling and lines of communication, with personal visits, to identify critical problem areas, with referrals to support groups. Veterans Affairs Canada must give priority for veterans to attend community colleges and universities, coupled with priority job placement and educational grants for deserving applicants. VAC often focuses on the actual veterans' issues, and not the extended family, which we think is very important.
Improvements to the way that VAC delivers programs under the Veterans Charter concerning services and benefits.... We at the NATO Veterans feel that it is imperative that VAC provide a higher standard of program and services to every veteran and their dependants. We have deep concerns with the recent VAC closures of district offices across Canada, and with the reduction of staff in the head office and also in the regional and district offices. This will affect the delivery of service, will overload the remaining staff, and will result in reduced productivity.
The Veterans Review and Appeal Board's proposal to conduct hearings by video and teleconference is indeed depriving the veterans of their rights to appear before a personal hearing for assessment and entitlement board hearings. The type of hearing should be at the discretion of the veteran.
In recent years, the veterans have indicated their unhappiness with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, and often do not want to appear at hearings, as they feel that the members of the board are against them. To create a better rapport, we recommend that the chair of the VRAB, or his or her designate, attend the annual second career assistance network program, SCAN, which is conducted across Canada at Canadian Forces bases. This would facilitate a better understanding between the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and our veterans. Of course, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board chairman attends national conventions every two years with the Legion, and they also attend conferences with service officers across the country.
The NATO Veterans Organization of Canada firmly believes that Veterans Affairs Canada has the most outstanding and excellent benefits and services in the world. But what's most important to the veterans and their dependants is how these services and benefits are delivered to them. It is the responsibility and obligation of Veterans Affairs Canada and the government to deliver these benefits in a first-class manner.
They did not fail us; let us not fail them.
Thank you.
View Mark Eyking Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you, Chair.
It's great to be here and to see all the veterans here and to see their representatives here. It's truly an honour.
It was mentioned quite a few times that there are quite a few benefits out there that are available, but it's getting them delivered that's the key. As well, front-line staff were also mentioned.
You people are well aware of the closures, and you've mentioned the closure of these offices. Cape Breton has been closed. In Cape Breton we had 11 staff there and over 4,000 veterans were using that office.
We had two rallies down there and over 5,000 citizens showed up. It was quite emotional. At that rally one of the veterans who was organizing it stated that perhaps it was time for the Legion to stop doing all the services they're doing, which the government should be doing.
With the closures of these offices, what kind of impact is it going to have on your legions that are trying to help the veterans who come into your branches? Also, what is your comment on some of the members of these legions saying that maybe it's time they should stop trying to help these members?
Gordon Moore
View Gordon Moore Profile
Gordon Moore
2014-03-06 16:19
Mr. Chairman, I hope and pray to God that no branch of the Royal Canadian Legion across this country would ever consider that. This organization was built by veterans for veterans. I'm a former serving member myself, but I never left Canada, so I fall under 21(2) of the act.
Having stated that, let me say that we of the Royal Canadian Legion and its 1,460 branches across the country will offer our support to all veterans and their families, whether they are aged 23 years or 105 years. We make sure that our branch service officers, who are volunteers just like me, are well-trained and have the knowledge to help a veteran and the veteran's family through the process of getting to one of our provincial service officers, who are professionals.
They have the capability of going on the CSDN. Because of the act to incorporate the Legion, we have that capability. Of course, our Dominion service officers working out of Ottawa at Legion House have the same capability as well. They're working with our veterans, as I mentioned in my report earlier.
We are urging our branches now through our provincial officers to get the branches well prepared for what is going to be happening. For example, in Sydney in Cape Breton the branch more than likely.... I'm not trying to make an assumption here, but I'm stating that we're going to be asking the branches in those particular areas—Sydney, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon—to have an office there if we know for a fact that Veterans Affairs is going to have a case manager coming out to visit. For example, in Sydney they are already there to look after the case-managed clients whom they already have on board. If there are other veterans within Cape Breton who need to see someone, then we are asking them to please supply a place or an office where we can have a confidential interview and go through the process. That's the process we're going through.
View   Profile
2014-03-06 16:22
Just as an add-on, we've already seen a spike in the number of people who are coming forward looking for services. That's happening now. Our national bureau is well over its head. We have put a service officer into Valcartier from Quebec Command. He's inundated with people to serve.
The services we provide as an organization should be viewed as complementary. They should not be viewed as taking over the responsibility of the government.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
I think the minister has done well in terms of introducing legislation that provides $75,800 for veterans to get a university or college education. I think that was outstanding.
Mr. Price, again, you made a broad statement earlier that you believe there needs to be a higher standard of service delivery. I don't want to talk about the office closures, because we can debate that. You mentioned that in context at the same time.
What I'm looking for is specific recommendations for the criteria you are seeking, because that's a pretty broad statement. To define service standards, you really have to be pretty explicit in terms of exactly what you're looking for with service standards.
I do want to throw in that if you're not prepared to answer that in detail today, that's okay. Perhaps you could put something in writing afterwards that would clearly define what higher standards of service delivery you're actually looking for specifically, because that was a pretty broad statement. But I leave it to you to make a comment.
Percy Price
View Percy Price Profile
Percy Price
2014-03-06 16:43
I hope I can understand what you mean by a “broad statement”, sir, but I think I can.
For an example, last night I received a call from a veteran in Cape Breton. He has PTSD and other pension conditions. He made a submission on November 1 for a reassessment on his attendance allowance. He got a letter yesterday, which is about three or four months later, and he calls to say, “What's the delay?”
“Well, we're overloaded. We're too busy.”
So there's something there. I've gone into the Gatineau office with a veteran and said, “What's going on here? How come he hasn't heard about this?”
“Well, sir, we're down in staff. We're overloaded. It's still in the basket."
It's been there for three months.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As a NATO veteran and a member of Legion 175 Kingsway in Edmonton, I welcome you all. I appreciate the work you have done and the work you are doing and the work I know you will do, and the rest of the veterans here.
In your sort of chapters 1 and 2 here in the Legion submission, I think you made some fair statements. There's a lot of talk about the lump sum versus the new Veterans Charter, and how a fairer evaluation should include all of the benefits that are accessible and should include an overview of additional benefits available under SISIP. Comparisons continue to be made between the disability award lump sum paid out and the monthly disability pension paid out under the Pension Act, and these comparisons do not provide a fair overview of what is provided under the new Veterans Charter. I would agree with that.
There are a host of benefits under the new Veterans Charter. To me the issue has always been access and burden of proof, that we make folks jump through too many hoops to get to it. To me that issue is burden of proof. We set the burden of proof too high. I haven't heard anybody here today say it, but there's an insurance company mentality within VAC that says you'd better prove beyond a show of a doubt that you need the benefit, and I understand why they do that.
The other issue to me has always been transfer of information—call it communication—between DND and Veterans Affairs. Because of the Privacy Act getting in the middle, they can't just transfer information back and forth. If we could lower that burden of proof—and there's no magic number—to something more reasonable and get the Privacy Act out of the way of communicating, how far would that go in a philosophical way to helping the problem? I know you can't give a definitive answer.
Gordon Moore
View Gordon Moore Profile
Gordon Moore
2014-03-06 16:47
When the Canadian Armed Forces knows that an individual is going to be leaving within a period of time, that is when Veterans Affairs should be brought into the picture. From that point on—let's say he has a physical injury and he's also suffering from PTSD—Veterans Affairs should be involved right through to the very end when that individual is healthy and able to contribute again to society. At that time, Veterans Affairs should pull back but also stay in contact with the family for at least the next two to three years to make sure that everything is going “according to Hoyle”.
View   Profile
2014-03-06 16:48
The chair will probably recognize that we've said this before, but the transition process of the individual from being a member of the Canadian Forces to being a client of Veterans Affairs is probably one of the trickiest transition processes of all, particularly if that individual is suffering from a physical or mental disability or injury that they have to deal with. The individual has to be held very closely. The have to be watched closely, and—you're right—they need accessibility to the programs that are there. But there's also the issue of harmonization among programs that the Department of National Defence offers under SISIP and what is being offered by Veterans Affairs under the new Veterans Charter and the Pension Act.
View John Rafferty Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, witnesses, for being here.
Thank you guests and veterans for being here.
I was very pleased with everything you've had to say today and the points you brought forth—in particular, support for families. I do have some questions about that, but I may not get to them.
I also have concerns about communication. We have seen some things change and you say—in particular, Mr. Moore—the government needs to review the accessibility to these programs and ensure front-line staff are available and knowledgeable to assist veterans and their families. This must not be a self-serve system.
I held some town hall meetings. Peter Stoffer was with me a few weeks ago in Thunder Bay, and of course you know an office has closed there. A woman stood up who was from one of the Legion branches in Thunder Bay and said she came because she just received a phone call from Service Canada asking her to give money to a veteran. That's one thing.
Then she went on to say that George, a Second World War veteran—an unrelated case—tried to sort his way through the website, which he couldn't. He eventually called the 800 number and he got through after some waiting. He needed help with some paperwork being filled out. He went to the Service Canada office, as the 800 number person told him to, and he got there and they simply said they don't do that there. They sent him to the Legion.
The woman from the Legion was saying they're volunteers; they do the best they can. Many Legions across the country are struggling and so they can't do it.
I just want to point out that the minister himself is acutely aware of what's happening here. In the report on plans and priorities, 2014-15, the minister says:
The primary risk being mitigated by the Department is that the modernization of VAC's service delivery model will not be achieved as expected, and will not meet the needs of Veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, and their families.
He goes on to say:
...there is a risk that quality service delivery could be affected due to VAC’s increasing reliance on partners and service providers in the federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as private sector.
As I read this, and as I recounted the couple of cases to you, it occurs to me that in the charter it does say that veterans have a right to be treated with respect, dignity, fairness, and courtesy. I wonder if any or either of you would like to make a comment on either what I just said or where you see this heading and how the Veterans Charter is in fact being contravened, in my opinion.
Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2014-03-06 16:54
I think a common theme that we've heard this afternoon is one of communications, the breakdown of communications, and the complexity of the communications. You alluded to that, but there's a third area, and that's the regulations, the forms, the 18-page forms. DND can interpret a regulation differently from Veterans Affairs. The complexity of it, asking an 80-year-old or 90-year-old to get on the web page and find information.... I think the big challenge is how we improve—what you're getting at—communications. It's not just communications with the veteran but the veteran and his family.
Now, I was in a special duty area. I left my wife for a year and when I came back I converted to the public service. During that whole year, there was no communication with my wife whatsoever by the Canadian Forces. When I became a veteran, as Brad mentioned, the transfer over from DND to Veterans Affairs had to be the most complex, convoluted, step-by-step procedure: phone this office, fill out that form. You just wouldn't believe it.
So I guess what you're looking at, and Percy has alluded to it too, is communications with the veteran and the veteran's family. I believe the Veterans Bill of Rights states that the family has to be present anyway, so please, listen to that. Listen about the communications. It is breaking down. It's getting more complex, and when I speak to the ombudsman, he tells me that most of the complaints and most of the demands for services are already covered. Veterans just haven't been able to find them in all the regulations.
Gordon Moore
View Gordon Moore Profile
Gordon Moore
2014-03-06 16:57
Thank you. At some time I'd like to meet the lady you mentioned from Thunder Bay and thank her personally for looking after that veteran.
As I mentioned earlier, because of the office closures, and Thunder Bay was one of those offices, we're reaching out to our branches to ask them now, until such time as the government is able to come through with the staff and the right amount of money—if that will ever happen—to make sure that our veterans' needs are looked after.
This is why, as I said well over an hour ago, the Royal Canadian Legion was formed in 1926 by veterans for veterans. As an organization, as we move into the 21st century, we're getting more vocal in what we do and how we do it. We are making sure that our branches are fully aware of the issues around veterans and why they should be filling out the forms. I believe that if Veterans Affairs can't do their job, we have paid professional service officers across this country. We're going to overwork them, there's no question, and the burnout is going to be high, but we are going to be able to be there for them. But Veterans Affairs has to step to the table at some point in time and make sure that they have enough staff to look after our veterans and their families. The big key here is the families. Make sure that the families are involved in every issue with veterans.
Percy Price
View Percy Price Profile
Percy Price
2014-03-06 16:59
Thank you. At this given time, a veteran receives one letter a year. It's called QOL, quality of life, and it asks questions. Has your disability deteriorated? What's your family doing? How are they doing?
But do you know something? Those veterans never send them back, and I say that if Veterans Affairs do not hear a reply within 60 days, a red light should come on and something should be done.
You asked, sir, what will happen if VAC slackens off with the delivery service and communication with our veterans; it's going to be chaos. It's going to be disastrous, and I'm happy to hear from the Dominion president that the Legion's service officers across the country will step in and take up some of the slack. But he still expects VAC to do what they're responsible for and obligated to do for our veterans.
Thank you.
Medric Cousineau
View Medric Cousineau Profile
Medric Cousineau
2014-03-04 15:33
Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the committee and to address an issue that hopefully you may have no experience with and that I, sadly, have decades of dealing with.
I'm going to discuss a form of trauma that is devastating in its impact on veterans: institutional betrayal and the way the new Veterans Charter and VRAB are leading to a situation in which suicide has a 45% greater prevalence in the veterans community than it has in the general population. That number comes from a document that you have in the Library of Parliament.
I am Captain (Retired) Medric Cousineau, and I wear Canada's second highest award for bravery, the Star of Courage, which is awarded for an act of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril. It is what ended my military career and led me to being here today.
Let me put this into context for you.
I joined the military in 1979 and by 1983 had graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada. I went on to receive my air navigator's wings and joined HS 443 Squadron. In October of 1986, while a member of HMCS Nipigon's HELAIRDET, I was involved in a dramatic air-sea rescue that resulted in my being awarded the Star of Courage.
Sadly, those events changed my life forever. Within weeks the words post-traumatic neurosis and ultimately post-traumatic stress disorder would appear in my medical documents.
What I want to talk about is the institutional betrayal. The single largest wound that I received happened as a result of the actions of a department of the government of a country that I would clearly and demonstrably have died for. Institutional betrayal can be defined as the wrongdoings perpetuated by an institution upon individuals dependent upon that institution, including failure to prevent or to respond supportively to instances such as traumatic exposures committed within the context of the institution. Please keep this in mind as my story unfolds.
In 1991 I left the forces on a voluntary release, struggling with issues and addictions, knowing I had problems but unaware of what they were. In 1996 I found myself in the emergency assessment unit of the Nova Scotia psychiatric hospital. Clearly, you do not wind up there because you're having banner mental health days.
Subsequent to my release, I was taken by an old salt to visit the Department of Veterans Affairs. Subsequently I applied for and received my medical documents. Perhaps the single most devastating day was to read that my diagnosis from the Nova Scotia psychiatric hospital had been in my out-routine medical documents and had never been actioned or disclosed to me. The institutional betrayal shattered me. I would have died for Canada and I had been betrayed. The “we will take care of you” ethos that we in the military believed in was clearly not there.
But I wish it had ended there. Sadly, it gets worse, much worse.
Eventually VAC ruled that I was pensionable at a five-fifths entitlement, since my injuries were clearly connected to my rescue. But the issue of assessment is a whole different story. The VAC doctors assessed me at 70%, and I was awarded 30%. I appealed and went through another entire poke-and-prod process. This process alone is nothing but an exacerbation of the trauma. This set of doctors stated a minimum of 50%, the board noted the 70%, and I was awarded 40%.
How does this happen? The numbers and the facts do not lie. I was nothing more than a file, and every award of less than my entitlement and assessment was just a cost-saving measure.
In 1999 I applied to the military and had my release item reviewed. It was determined that I should have been a 3(b) medical release. When I applied to VAC to have my benefits reinstated to my release date, I was told, basically, “Too bad, so sad, you never contacted us until 1996.” But had my release been handled properly, I would have been treated in 1991 and would have seen VAC. I was damaged by the errors of others.
It was not until 2006, after I had a full psychotic break, that my assessment was finally moved to 70%, after 10 years of fights, denials, appeals, and abuse by a system put in place by a government department of a country I would have died for.
By then, my doctors had pegged me at 90% to 100% disabled and were documenting major depressive disorders. I was done, shattered, ruined, and I no longer trusted anyone or anything. Why would I? I was withdrawn and I lived in isolation from my family, because the anger management problems were so severe that I was afraid I was going to hurt them in a fit of rage. I battled depression, anxiety, panic, suicidal ideation, addiction, and suffered from dissociative episodes, cut off from family, friends, and society.
In 2007, while heavily medicated, I had a visit from somebody from VAC. I don't remember what happened or even who I met with, and it was my last contact with the department until September of 2012. By then a friend had made me aware that there were things called case managers and benefits and programs that I should have been entitled to and involved with. By late October of 2012, I finally had a case manager who, I must state, is the best thing to happen in my recovery as far as my dealings with VAC go.
I went from some time in 2007 until I contacted the department five years later with no follow-up and no help. I was not entered into the rehab program at that time, but it took my case manager very little time to enrol me in the program. It was very clear where I should have been. The five-year hiatus with no contact is documented in my case file and was discussed with me by my case manager.
But even this would not have happened without my service dog, who then helped train me with my PTSD and improve my social functioning. Sadly, my service dog is yet one more example of the institutional betrayal that permeates my case file. If I was blind and Thai was a guide dog, I would receive an allowance for her care and upkeep. Even though she was acquired with resources outside of VAC, she is to assist me in my daily living, and my medical care team is thrilled with the impact she has had on my life. So I applied for that same care and upkeep allowance since she is for my pensioned condition. It was denied with a statement that there was no evidence supporting her efficacy in rehabilitation outcomes. I was going to appeal, so I requested a definition of rehabilitation outcomes. I was subsequently told there is no definition and that rehab program outcomes are handled on a case-by-case basis.
So I was denied a benefit for standards she supposedly cannot meet for something that VAC cannot define for me. I truly think that the department was going to say no just one more time.
I will carry the scars of what happened that night in the middle of the north Atlantic to my grave. There are things you do not unsee, unsmell, unhear, and untaste. There are things that can be so deeply imprinted on your psyche that no amount of treatment will ever completely deal with them. However, I have several specialists who have noted two very important points.
One, my long-term recovery was put in jeopardy by lack of early intervention and adequate treatment. The period of abandonment from 1991 to 1996 is evidence of this.
Two, the injuries that resulted from my institutional betrayal are going to be a huge if not insurmountable obstacle in my long-term recovery. VRAB—political appointees making decisions based on legal, medical, and military service who clearly do not have the adequate qualifications to deal fairly with veterans who appear before them—has ensured that I will never ever trust the government of a country that I would have died for. Look at the woeful record, which the OVO points out, at Federal Court after appeals have been exhausted at VRAB.
My wife is very quick to point out that had I not been pensionable under the Pension Act, my family would have been destroyed. The lump sum award under the new Veterans Charter would have been gone in the war I fought battling addictions as I tried to deal with the much damaged reality that I perceive.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if I were going to change just three things, what would they be?
One, the lump sum award would be abolished and replaced with a lifetime income that the ill and injured could not outlive. Their injuries last their lifetime as a result of their service to their country. So too should the government's obligation to care for them.
Two, VRAB in its current form would be dismantled and would be replaced with a system that is geared to dealing with section 39 of the act, which says that, barring evidence to the contrary, the board is to rule in favour of the veterans. Clearly, given the number of appeals, this is not happening.
Three, in the war on PTSD, suicide and homelessness are two outcomes that, along with destroyed families, impact on society financially, and most importantly, morally. We cannot let this happen. These need to be dealt with immediately.
Given what has happened to me personally, I would say that it's not out of the question to ask for a full ministerial inquiry into my file at VAC. There are so many issues that, sadly, have impacted not just me. My wife and children have borne the brunt of that institutional betrayal. If it is not owed to me, then it certainly is to them, for they never signed up, and they deserve better from this country.
Sadly, I am one of many heroes and veterans who have been institutionally betrayed by the departments of the government for which veterans would have died. These wrongs must be righted. For if they're not, we will not know peace, and if they cannot find peace, many may make terminally irreversible decisions.
The institutional betrayal is a national disgrace.
Thank you.
Medric Cousineau
View Medric Cousineau Profile
Medric Cousineau
2014-03-04 15:51
The enhanced new Veterans Charter, the full suite of benefits, if they were made available in a uniform process such that somebody who was entitled to the earnings loss benefit was to receive it, as well as his lump sum, and for those who are unable to work, the PIA.... There's a huge disconnect.
Where the disconnect happens is, the assessment levels that the military uses to determine you are no longer fit for service should be immediately translated into the benefit level they receive at VAC. For example, if the government says your universality of service is no longer there because of the following points, bing, bang, and boom, then they translate immediately across VAC, and that's the award they receive. That would be, in my mind, fair, but that is not what happens.
When you receive your assessment and your medical employment limitations, and then ultimately your 3(b) medical release, you then have to go before VAC, which will ultimately wind up with your being at VRAB. It's a 100% certainty. You will go through multiple appeals, and those same documents they used to terminate your military career will then be turned against you to minimize the amount of the award you're going to receive while you're at VAC.
So how can you use the same piece of paper, against the same individual, in two different contexts, and say on one hand it's good enough to terminate your military career, and on the other hand it's good enough for us to mitigate the amount of money we're going to pay for you.
I'm sorry. That double standard has to stop.
View Parm Gill Profile
CPC (ON)
The committee has identified and adopted three core themes as we move towards the second half of this current review. They are as follows: care and support of the most seriously injured, support for families, and improving how Veterans Affairs delivers the programs and services of the charter.
We have invited you today to talk about your organization's work and experience as a front-line organization that provides for Canada's veterans, who are often the most seriously injured.
When it comes to operational stress injury, can you share with us some of the key issues you're hearing from your participants regarding the service and support they received from DND or under the Veterans Charter?
Barry Yhard
View Barry Yhard Profile
Barry Yhard
2014-03-04 15:58
Most of our clients, when we find them, as I said, are homeless. The problem with being homeless is normally you can't make it back into the system for a number of reasons, whether it's mental condition, addictions problem, that sort of thing. We bridge the gap between homeless and the system. Normally when we get them back in the system they're looked after.
I guess that's where I'll stop that answer.
Medric Cousineau
View Medric Cousineau Profile
Medric Cousineau
2014-03-04 15:58
Yes. Thank you.
The organization that my wife and I co-founded is a thing called Paws Fur Thought. We raise money and advocate to place service dogs with disabled veterans. By very definition, 100% of the people that we deal with are suffering from OSIs, primarily post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the year that we've been doing this we've either placed, have at the fully certified level, or in training, over 30 dogs. That gives us a cohort of 30 veterans.
One of the common themes, in terms of what you were talking about, is care for our most seriously injured. Many of the people that we deal with are dealing with very complex mental injuries. They're elbows and eyeballs deep in the mental health system, which unfortunately is beyond the scope of this committee. But that poses some serious challenges because oftentimes after you leave the military and you are a veteran, because of our training, because of our operational tempo, because of a variety of different things, we are very misunderstood in the mental health care world. That poses some challenges.
The other part of it is that, in terms of service delivery and support for the families, oftentimes these people that we're dealing with, when they initially come to us, are not capable of dealing with a lot of the complexities, the paperwork, for a variety of things. Probably the My VAC portal frustrates just about everybody. I don't know of anybody who has that thing working right. I know I gave up. I just called my case manager and said, "Send it to my wife. Whatever you want to deal with, send the paper to her because I don't get it."
I reiterate, in full support of what Barry says, that to expect people who are suffering from serious mental health challenges to behave rationally and follow a set of guidelines that would be laid out, you might as well try to push Niagara Falls uphill with a paper clip, that's about how useful it would be. It just isn't going to work. I think there has to be a real understanding that the nature of the..., especially the complex mental health injuries, really have to be looked at in terms of the service delivery model and how we make it more user friendly to people who are struggling within that system.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Okay.
This is a question on your committee's or your organization's relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada. Is it a partnership, is it a relationship that works, or do you have recommendation for how that relationship can be improved?
Barry Yhard
View Barry Yhard Profile
Barry Yhard
2014-03-04 16:13
To understand our relationship with any other government agency or non-government agency, it's best to understand what it is that we do. We integrate all the resources available, whether from VAC, DND, the Legion, or social services. We integrate all of that together to get the person in. We don't have a formal partnership with Veterans Affairs.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Whether or not it's a formal partnership, you obviously have a relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada. Do you have any issues with it? Is the relationship working, or are there recommendations that we as a committee can bring forward to assist you in your relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada?
Barry Yhard
View Barry Yhard Profile
Barry Yhard
2014-03-04 16:14
Our relationship is working. When we approach Veterans Affairs, they bend over backwards to give us the help we need, and we haven't had an occurrence up to now with our clients that I'm aware of in which that relationship was a problem.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Specifically concerning the process you use to identify veterans in need, I'm assuming that you have relationships with other service organizations, municipal services, first responders. We're trying to make improvements here, so can those types of relationships be more fluent? Again, are there recommendations that this committee can make to improve circumstances so that you are able to deliver a more efficient service?
Barry Yhard
View Barry Yhard Profile
Barry Yhard
2014-03-04 16:14
VETS Canada is 100% volunteer-driven. There are no expense accounts, there are no salaries, and we rely solely on the generosity of Canadian citizens for our funding. We can only help those vets that we have the funding for. We are in constant fundraising mode. We are constantly looking for money because the task load that we face is growing exponentially as we move across the country.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Cousineau, you may or may not be aware that this committee did an extensive review of VRAB. We came out with a really good report with a number of very strong recommendations, some of which mirrored yours earlier, quite frankly. So we agree with some of your recommendations.
Have you had an opportunity to review the recommendations that came out from this committee with respect to VRAB?
Medric Cousineau
View Medric Cousineau Profile
Medric Cousineau
2014-03-04 16:16
No, I have not had the recommendations; I would like to have them. If you would like me to review that report and give you my input, I would certainly welcome that particular opportunity.
I need to share with you very quickly. At the Federal Court in the Manuge settlement, there were more than 200 disabled veterans in the room. I can tell you the percentage of those who appeared before VRAB multiple times. It was 100%. Something is wrong with that system.
View Peter Stoffer Profile
NDP (NS)
Yes, sir. I will be very quick.
I certainly don't want to correct my colleague Mr. Hayes, but he said that we as a committee did an extensive report on VRAB, which we did. But let me confirm to the witnesses that there was a dissenting report on the VRAB. Our recommendations for the VRAB were not unanimous. I just wanted to put that on the record.
View Wladyslaw Lizon Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, witnesses, for coming here. I thank you for your service.
I was going to actually ask a different question, but I'll make a short comment.
I understand that there is a problem in how the lump sum payment is viewed by different people. In addition to what you said, Mr. Yhard, I think the reasons people become homeless or run into problems are much more complex. Addiction is a terrible thing that happens, and people who have that problem should be identified and addiction should be dealt with, because you know what, it doesn't really matter whether people get a lump sum or a monthly cheque. I've seen it. People who have addiction problems—their monthly cheque will be spent in two minutes. They will have no money and they will go on and on. Unless the problem is addressed, it will never end. That's my comment.
But the question, Mr. Yhard, I want to ask you is this. From your experience, if you can tell this committee about services provided by Veterans Affairs for their clients, what is the biggest complaint or complaints you hear about delivery of services from people who come to you? What changes should we make to provide better support for those who need it?
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