Interventions in Committee
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Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 11:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Canada Revenue Agency's 2019-20 main estimates to the committee, and to answer any questions you may have on the associated funding.
My understanding is that you have a copy of my full remarks. In the interest of time, I will just hit some of the highlights as I go through.
As you are aware, the CRA is responsible for the administration of federal and certain provincial and territorial programs, as well as the delivery of a number of benefit payment programs. Last year the agency collected approximately $526 billion of tax revenue on behalf of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and distributed over $33 billion of benefit payments to millions of Canadians. The CRA also offers help and information to those who need it, and is working hard to reach Canadians who might not be receiving the tax credits or benefits to which they are entitled.
In order to fulfill its mandate in 2019-20, the CRA is seeking a total of $4.5 billion through these main estimates. Of this amount, $3.5 billion requires approval by Parliament, whereas the remaining $1 billion represents the forecast statutory authorities that are already approved under separate legislation. The statutory items include the children's special allowance payments, employee benefit costs and, pursuant to section 60 of the CRA Act, the spending of revenues received for activities administered on behalf of the provinces and other government departments.
These 2019-20 main estimates represent a net increase of $297.7 million when compared with 2018-19 main estimates. Of this change, $236.8 million is associated with previous funding announcements, with the balance of $60.9 million related to proposed budget 2019 measures. The largest component of this change is an increase of $110 million for measures to crack down and combat tax evasion and tax avoidance, at $61 million; enhance tax collections, at $22 million; and improve client services, at $27 million. This represents the amount of incremental funding received in 2019-20 as a result of measures announced in budgets 2016, 2017 and 2018.
To give you a sense of the kind of programs supported by this funding, allow me to touch on some specific initiatives.
Increased reporting requirements for trusts, which will seek information on beneficial ownership, will help authorities to effectively counter aggressive tax avoidance, tax evasion, money laundering and other criminal activities.
We are addressing commitments to service excellence in three key areas. The first is improving telephone services, including reducing wait times for callers and improving the accuracy of responses provided by call centre agents. The second is enhancing the community volunteer income tax program, where community organizations host tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare, free of charge, income tax and benefit returns for individuals with modest or low income. The third is strengthening digital services by updating and modernizing the agency's information technology infrastructure to deliver a more user-friendly experience, allowing Canadians to easily find the tax and benefit information they need.
Other items contributing to the year-over-year change include adjustments for collective bargaining increases of $64.8 million and the implementation of the federal fuel charge of $56.4 million.
The CRA's 2019-20 main estimates also reflect about $60 million in proposed incremental resources for the announcements made by the Minister of Finance in the March 2019 budget. The largest component, at nearly half, is a proposed increase of $29.3 million to improve general tax compliance. These funds will be used to hire auditors, build technical expertise and improve the agency's compliance IT infrastructure.
A further $9.5 million is proposed to take action to enhance tax compliance specifically in the real estate sector. The proposed funding will be used to create four new dedicated residential and commercial real estate audit teams in high-risk regions, notably in British Columbia and Ontario, to ensure that tax provisions regarding real estate are being followed.
Other examples of items relating to budget 2019 include about $9 million proposed to stabilize Phoenix-related activities by the CRA in our role as administrator of the tax system;
$8.5 million proposed to support the agency's ongoing service improvement efforts;
and $3.5 million proposed to improve access to the Canada workers benefit throughout the year.
In closing, the resources being requested through these estimates will allow the CRA to continue to deliver on its mandate to Canadians by making it easier for the vast majority of taxpayers who want to pay their taxes, and more difficult for the small minority who do not, and by ensuring that Canadians have ready access to the information they need about taxes or benefits.
Mr. Chair, at this time my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have. Thank you.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2016-12-08 16:04
This gets me to third party review. I have a grandmother in Portugal who has been trying to get to Canada for a while. Apparently her application has been stuck at the security level for a year and a half. I've raised this as a red flag so many times.
To what extent is there a third party review? As part of the whole immigration system, we have to use third parties to do certain things. To what extent do we review their service levels and whether they are fulfilling them, and maybe find ways so that if there are actually issues that are brought to your attention, they are addressed with these third parties?
Robert Orr
View Robert Orr Profile
Robert Orr
2016-12-08 16:05
If there are matters of security and those sorts of issues, they will involve dealing with our partner at CBSA. It is a matter of working with them, and generally they certainly respond very well within service standards.
There are certain cases that are outliers, which is certainly unfortunate for those individuals, but overwhelmingly they do meet service standards.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
Obviously, as you mentioned, they're shared responsibilities with CBSA. Could you tell us a little about the communication process that IRCC has put in place in order to functionalize or operationalize the eTA? Have there been any bumps along the way on that?
Robert Orr
View Robert Orr Profile
Robert Orr
2016-12-08 16:12
It's a huge system, so inevitably there are some bumps along the way, but I think we've addressed the vast majority of them and we continue to do so.
Robert Orr
View Robert Orr Profile
Robert Orr
2016-12-08 16:12
It's been working very well. There's a governance level, from the working level to the director general level, to the ADM level, and the deputy ministers hold a meeting biweekly at the moment.
Daniel Dubeau
View Daniel Dubeau Profile
Daniel Dubeau
2016-10-20 15:31
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
First of all, I'd like to thank you all for your ongoing examination of benefits afforded our serving and retired members of the RCMP who have been injured on duty and for your invitation to be here today.
As the chair noted, I'm deputy commissioner Dan Dubeau. I'm here in my role as chief human resources officer. Steve is here in his role as assistant commissioner and assistant CHRO, but also as our national mental health champion, and Mr. Lebrun is here in the role of director general, national compensation services, which takes care of all our compensation benefits administered through VAC.
As Canada's national police force, the RCMP provides front-line policing services at the municipal, provincial, territorial and international levels, working in urban, rural and remote locations.
In many communities the RCMP is the primary and at times the only first responder. RCMP members are called upon to respond to a variety of situations, including criminal incidents, traffic accidents, fires, medical emergencies, and search and rescue efforts. By virtue of their duties, our members are continuously engaged in police operations and are regularly exposed to a multitude of hazards, including physical, chemical, biological, and psychological hazards that put them at risk for various occupational injuries and diseases.
These injuries may manifest themselves in the form of hearing deficiencies, operational stress injuries, and musculoskeletal injuries such as back and knee injuries. These injuries are attributed to, for the most part, hazardous occurrences resulting from assaults and violent acts from members of the public, falls, lifting and exertion, motor vehicle accidents, training-related accidents, and exposure to harmful substances and environments.
In this regard, based on Veterans Affairs Canada statistics for 2014 to 2016, the top four medical disabilities for RCMP clients are hearing loss, tinnitus, PTSD, and lumbar disc disease.
Furthermore, the RCMP has since undertaken an in-depth analysis of incidents causing injuries to its members. One of the tangible actions resulting from this analysis was the implementation of a risk-prevention program.
It is therefore an area of primary concern for the RCMP in our efforts to support the health and well-being of our members and to address this complex issue.
Our work is focused on prevention as well as providing support for members who are injured. In this regard, since the launch of its mental health strategy in 2014, the RCMP has undertaken considerable work to reduce stigma around mental health and to implement concrete strategies to promote wellness within its workplace.
At the core of our efforts, we continue to rely on our mental health champions, identified nationally, Stephen White, and in every division. Since appointed in July 2014, they have become leaders and supporters for rolling out national initiatives, for providing consistency, and for implementing local activities to respond to their distinct needs. Our approach of leading from the top and ensuring commitment and engagement from senior leaders demonstrates to employees that mental health is a key priority for this organization.
The RCMP recognizes that when its members fall ill or are injured, case management activities must take into account the very specific physical and psychological demands of police work as well as the variable nature of the policing environment. RCMP officers must regain a physical and psychological level of function that exceeds what is required for most members of the public. In this regard, under Assistant Commissioner White's leadership, the RCMP is investing in an enhanced disability management program for its members.
The program reflects industry practices in disability management, and in particular, a focus on early intervention activities to support members in their recovery and maintain their connection to the workplace. Once fully implemented in April 2017, this program will be supported by 30 disability management advisers across the force who will work proactively with members, supervisors, and divisional occupational health teams to coordinate support for early intervention and the return-to-work and accommodation planning process.
The RCMP is also in the process of acquiring disability case management and business intelligence software that will support case management activities in accordance with privacy requirements. This software will also provide ongoing program evaluation and trends analysis. This will inform prevention and wellness activities to support members' health.
For serving members and former members with an operational stress injury, Veterans Affairs Canada provides assessment, treatment, and support services through operational stress injury clinics. The RCMP has also entered into a partnership with the Department of National Defence so that the RCMP may access a DND network of clinics called operational trauma and stress support centres.
Former RCMP members who have an operational stress injury, or OSI, can access the network of operational trauma and stress support centres of Veterans Affairs Canada. RCMP members also have access to the assistance services of Veterans Affairs, which provides mental health services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Furthermore, VAC offers a wide variety of programs of choice to former RCMP members, such as aids for daily living, dental services, medical services, medical supplies, occupational therapy, and psychological counselling, just to name a few.
On June 7, 2016, the Veterans Ombudsman released a report entitled “Supporting Ill and Injured RCMP Members and their Families: A Review”. This report contains an extensive list of benefits currently available to our serving members, our veterans, and our RCMP families. In addition to identifying the full spectrum of currently available services, the ombudsman indicated that, according to his projections, over the next five years the number of serving and discharged VAC RCMP clients is expected to increase by 20% and the number of RCMP members' survivors is expected to almost double. We thank the ombudsman for shedding additional light on the evolving needs of our RCMP veteran population.
In addition, the ombudsman stated in a press release, “Working conditions for RCMP members can be extremely challenging, and often dangerous. This can result in physical and psychological injuries, illness or death.”
In other words, our members, contrary to those of other agencies, are continuously deployed throughout their service, and that increases the risk of workplace accidents.
The ombudsman's report allows us to better identify the gaps between the services currently available and the needs of our serving members, our veterans, and their families. We have begun this review and we are working in close collaboration with our colleagues at Veterans Affairs Canada to determine whether changes need to be made to the support and services provided to RCMP members, veterans, and families.
The RCMP has also engaged its veterans' association in assessing the current service offering and to ensure that the needs of RCMP veterans are met. The RCMP has established an advisory committee with our veterans, and they have already begun identifying their priorities. Our veterans are closely examining how the recent mandate letters from our Prime Minister to the ministers of Veterans Affairs, Public Safety and National Defence affect them, and together we are identifying how we can best recognize the sacrifice made by our first responders and our veterans.
In addition, for our serving members, the RCMP's occupational health services offer a broad range of workplace health-related services that contribute to a safe and healthy workplace. These services are delivered by a team of professionals, which includes physicians who are our health services officers, psychologists, and nurses. This multidisciplinary team contributes to health evaluations of our members, participates in disability case management, and supports service delivery of our programs that have a health component. The health services officers and psychologists support the professional services in their respective scope of practice, including the review of medical information and acting as liaison with community providers when external examinations are required or with a member's own caregiver when health information is required in regard to the administration of occupational health programs.
With respect to health evaluations, the periodic health assessment is first conducted at the recruitment stage, and then at specific intervals, ranging from yearly for high-risk positions to every three years. These assessments are conducted to ensure a member is medically and mentally fit to safely perform his or her duty in a capable manner without harm to himself or herself or undue risk to other members and the public. Other health assessments are conducted in relation to specific assignments or as part of the disability case management process. The health services officer provides recommendations with respect to a member's medical fitness for duty and may include limitations and restrictions, in addition to providing return-to-work planning and input into the accommodation process.
While our psychologists actively contribute to the disability management process, they also proceed with follow-up and requests for employer-mandated psychological assessments, and are involved in determining accommodation needs when return to work is planned.
RCMP psychologists provide oversight on all psychological services provided to members by external providers. Finally, they are at the forefront of the post-critical incident debriefings and interventions.
The RCMP is continually trying to improve its programs and activities in order to reduce the incidence of mental illness and injury among its members, and to mitigate the harmful effects on their families and on police operations.
As an employer, the RCMP needs to know how it can mitigate and reduce operational stress injuries. In this regard, the RCMP is proposing a longitudinal research study that will examine the primary mental health diagnoses impacting our members, identify the root causes and competing organizational factors, and evaluate the effectiveness of evidence-based interventions.
This approach will allow the RCMP as an employer to identify areas within its sphere of influence and control, to adopt strategic and targeted interventions with the maximum potential to meaningfully and positively mitigate the contributing factors to PTSD and associated mental health conditions impacting our officers. I dare say when RCMP officers do fall ill or injured, it is critical for their recovery.
That means doing everything reasonable to help the officer recover and remain at work or return to duty as soon as it is safe to do so. This is not an easy task. Case management activities for RCMP members must take into account the very specific physical and psychological demands of our work as well as the variable nature of the complete environment. Police officers must regain a physical and psychological level of functioning that exceeds that required of most members of the public. Strong occupational health and case management activities are therefore required to support their recovery.
To support this goal, we are enhancing our disability case management activities, which are critical to supporting members' recovery and return to work. A primary focus of our efforts will be on early intervention. We want to reach out to our members early on to ensure they are able to access services, that we maintain a member's connection to our workplace, and that we facilitate the appropriate exchange of information required to accommodate a member's ability to remain at or return to work as soon as it is safe to do so.
Finally, we are in the early stages of assessing general duty constable tasks for hazard exposure, with the intent of identifying corrective measures to mitigate and eliminate those hazards, where possible. We have implemented the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace in our health and safety program. This standard includes psychological health and safety hazards in the workplace.
Prevention, support, and care are key to supporting our workforce. While the RCMP is cognizant of the financial cost of absence, our main focus remains on the human cost. As a police service, we need to ensure our members are healthy and fully operational so that we can deliver on our mandate and keep Canadians safe.
Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your discussions today.
We would be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Stephen White
View Stephen White Profile
Stephen White
2016-10-20 15:47
We have quite a regime of available services and support to our members with regard to PTSD or other operational stress injuries. It goes right from the very beginning to where we have now national peer-to-peer programs. There are 20 full-time coordinators and 380 advisers across the country who are very well informed of all the services that are available to assist members with PTSD or mental health, and where those services are.
On top of that, we have our own 11 occupational health and safety offices across the country. Within the RCMP, we have doctors, psychologists, and nurses. After that, we have access to the Government of Canada, Health Canada employee assistance program, which we are using. We are seeing an increase with our membership using that.
We also have access to the VAC operational stress injury clinics, which we are getting very good use out of. We are seeing the numbers increase there. As the deputy said earlier, we also have access to National Defence operational and trauma stress support centres for even more specialized programs and services with regard to PTSD and mental health.
We also have access to the Canadian Forces operational stress injury social support program. This is very much a peer-to-peer program, specifically for individuals with mental health, PTSD-related issues. We're actually running our own pilot program right now within the RCMP to potentially develop our own operational stress injury social support program.
At the end of it, as well, as the deputy already mentioned, we're building a very robust disability management and accommodation program. Even at the early stages of identifying, or when one of our members is being diagnosed with PTSD or an issue related to mental health, operational stress injury specifically, we'll have the resources right across the country with specially trained disability management advisers. They will engage at a very early stage and work with our members right from the early intervention, making sure they are getting access to the resources and support services they need, hopefully, enabling them to stay at work. If they do need to go off work, they will stay engaged with our members while they are off work to ensure that during that period there's ongoing contact with the workforce. They're then positioned for a very smooth transition back into the workplace, if that happens.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
Thank you very much for being here.
I'm going to continue on in the vein of mental health. It sounds like a very impressive program that you've put together, and I want to congratulate you, Officer White, and tell you how important, obviously, that is to the well-being of your members and their families.
Have you met with representatives from Veterans Affairs to discuss the transition in terms of an officer who is dealing with mental health issues being covered by VAC? Is there a co-operatively developed mental health strategy for active members and for the veterans?
Stephen White
View Stephen White Profile
Stephen White
2016-10-20 16:00
Our mental health strategy is for the RCMP. We don't have an integrated one or joint one with Veterans Affairs.
What I can say is that a lot of our members, as I mentioned earlier, who are experiencing either PTSD or other operational stress injuries are going.... We're seeing increasing numbers who are taking advantage of the very good and excellent support from the operational stress injury clinics of Veterans Affairs. That is the gateway transition between the RCMP and Veterans Affairs with regard to operational stress injuries. That is one very big transitional piece.
View Jean Rioux Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Jean Rioux Profile
2016-10-20 16:29
I would like to raise one last point.
From what I have read, you are satisfied with the services provided to you by the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. You quote the ombudsman's report. It seems that you receive a large number of services and that the level of satisfaction is good.
Daniel Dubeau
View Daniel Dubeau Profile
Daniel Dubeau
2016-10-20 16:29
I find that the RCMP maintains a good relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada and with the military. The service is incredible. Those people help us a lot and are ready to listen to us.
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 15:32
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to all.
It's my understanding that this committee has taken great interest in the two recent reports I have released, “Determining Service Attribution for Medically Releasing Members” and “Simplifying the Service Delivery Model for Medically Releasing Members”. Both reports contain recommendations to the Minister of National Defence, and I have been invited here to speak to them today.
Our military personnel from across the country have voiced their concerns over a number of critical issues related to their service from recruitment through to retirement, but none more frequently than those pertaining to the subject of transition between military and civilian life.
Every year, over 50% of the complaints that come to my office have to deal with this very issue. Whether they are releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces for medical reasons or non-medical reasons, what they face is a complex system that I believe needs to be fundamentally changed. Tack on the additional administrative burden of applying for benefits and services at Veterans Affairs Canada, and I think we have reached a tipping point for our members.
From our engagements with the men and women in uniform across the country on issues surrounding medical release from the Armed Forces, my office has produced a number of reports containing evidence-based recommendations aimed at solving these issues. Our reports are a call to action.
I believe that the government has a tremendous opportunity to fix the system that too often allows vulnerable people to slip through the cracks. We have provided plenty of evidence supporting the need for real change in key areas. We do not need to commission more studies. We need decisions.
Some of the decisions that need to be made may not be popular and some may not be as politically palatable as we would like, but they are the right ones for the men and women who serve or have served this country.
I can assure you that many of the tragic circumstances that occur in your constituencies and that often reach national public attention can be avoided.
I'd like to summarize for you today what I have recommended to help protect the members of the Canadian Armed Forces from undue hardship. There is a fundamental disconnect between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada wherein a member must navigate departure from one before entrance into the other. Most of this has to do with the determination of attribution of service and the current service delivery model.
On May 18, I delivered a report to the Minister of National Defence in which I recommended that the Canadian Armed Forces determine whether an illness or injury was caused or aggravated by a military service and that the determination be presumed by Veteran Affairs Canada to be sufficient evidence in support of an application for service or benefits. I made this report public on September 13 and copies have been provided to the committee.
In conducting their adjudications under the new Veterans Charter, Veterans Affairs Canada as the administrator considers mostly documentary evidence generated by the Canadian Armed Forces. The evidence consists largely of the member's medical records and possibly other career-related records. This begs the question of why a protracted bureaucratic process is required for VAC to review records prepared by the Canadian Armed Forces when it is possible for the Canadian Armed Forces to determine whether a medically releasing member's condition is related to or aggravated by military service.
Given that the Canadian Armed Forces has control of the member's career and has responsibility for the member's medical health throughout their career, such a determination can and should be presumed to be evidence in support of a member's application for VAC benefits.
I believe that my recommendation of having the Canadian Armed Forces determine service attribution in conjunction with the change to the service delivery model would reduce wait times by 50% or more on the current 16-week service delivery standard. This standard does not include the time it takes to get medical records from the Canadian Armed Forces or if the member has to submit any other pertinent documents.
You may think that the development of a new service delivery model would require intensive study that would take months or even years to complete. On August 12, I submitted a report to the Minister of National Defence containing a potential new service delivery model. I made the report public last week. Again, copies have been provided for the committee.
My report recommends that the Canadian Armed Forces retain medically releasing members until all benefits and services, including Veteran Affairs, have been finalized and put in place prior to releases; that one point of contact be established—if you will, a concierge service—for all medically releasing members to assist in their transition; and that the Canadian Armed Forces develop a tool that is capable of providing members with information so that they can understand their potential benefit suite prior to release.
These are three strong, evidence-based, member-centric recommendations, ladies and gentlemen, that I believe are game-changers.
My three recommendations do not require new legislation, nor do they require the implementation of my recommendations surrounding attribution of service. I know that they are closely aligned, and anything we will do further would be enhanced by the Canadian Armed Forces' determination of attribution to service.
As we all know from their mandate letters made public, the Prime Minister has asked the ministers of Veterans Affairs and National Defence to reduce complexity, overhaul service delivery, and strengthen the partnership between the two. Both ministers and the chief of the defence staff have publicly acknowledged that the system needs fixing. The time is no longer to study, but to fix.
On Monday, it was reported that Veterans Affairs Canada has a backlog of 11,500 applications for benefits and services. I strongly believe implementing my recommendations to have the Canadian Armed Forces determine attribution of service and to restructure its service delivery model to ensure that no member is released before all benefits from the CAF and VAC are in place would greatly reduce the complexity leading to those delays.
As you may know, I spent nearly four years as deputy veterans ombudsman. I can tell you there has always been a backlog at Veterans Affairs Canada, and the size varies over the year. It still numbers in the thousands. Even when operating cuts were made to the department, the numbers did not change in any significant way.
Ladies and gentlemen, that indicates to me that this is a process issue, not a people issue. I am not recommending patchwork. I am recommending a fundamental shift in the way business is done. The Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs are currently exploring options to close the seam. By having the Canadian Armed Forces implement my recommendations to take care of the members at the front end, Veterans Affairs will have a simplified environment in which to do its important work.
Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe we are at an opportune moment for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans in this country. There is a large contingent of veterans groups in Ottawa this week participating in the Veterans Affairs stakeholder summit, which wrapped up today. I attended as an observer. I had a chance to catch up with many of the leaders in the veteran community, and I can tell you both reports were received very positively. Many of them wished that my recommendations had been implemented when they were releasing, and their hope now is that they will be implemented for those releasing in the future.
The common theme from my engagements with these groups this week has been a need to fundamentally change the current service delivery on both the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs sides, and I couldn't agree more. I believe my recommendations offer the government a path forward. Our people should be our top priority, our true no-fail issue and, as they say, it's go time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I stand ready for questions.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
Thank you.
In lines 132 to 134 of your opening remarks, it says that no member is released before all benefits from the CAF and VAC are in place, so both VAC and CAF would have to agree that “now is the time.”
I'm trying to envision it. Would both sides sign off and say, “Okay, we both agree that everything is in place,” and go forward from there? Is it the Canadian Armed Forces that would decide, “Okay, we're ready”, and pass the member on to VAC, or is there an interaction and an agreement between the two that a soldier is ready to do that transition?
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 15:44
It would have to be an agreement between the two. Veterans Affairs Canada would have to be ready to receive and the Canadian Armed Forces would have to ensure that everything was in place from their perspective to release the member.
Each case is going to be unique. That's why we've recommended a concierge service. For every malady, though it may be similar, the manifestation to the person is completely different. Their needs may be different. We could have a similar malady but our needs may be different. That's why I'm saying the concierge service is a personalized service that takes each one of these medically released members through to the end and not a projected end.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
It's like a morass or a web that's catching people up.
One of the things that has always baffled me is this notion that someone in the Canadian Forces could have medical records and access to a doctor who was very familiar with the situation and could attribute the injuries to service, yet once they're out of the forces and into Veterans Affairs, there has to be this reassessment.
Has VAC ever provided a rationale in regard to why they did this?
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 15:54
I'm sorry I can't answer that. It would maybe be a good question for the veterans ombudsman.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Again, this is encouraging, in that it sounds like something that doesn't involve a lot of energy and resources. They sound like very straightforward recommendations.
One of the things that was talked about earlier was that if someone is being medically released, they should have everything set up before they go. Now, are you receiving any push-back from the Department of National Defence? For those who are advocates of universality of service, if someone is injured and cannot serve in many capacities, has there been any push-back to your plan in saying that these people have to be retired from the service because they're no longer universal for service?
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 15:58
There's been absolutely no push-back.
As I said, I'm extremely optimistic today. With the conversations I've heard from the chief of the defence staff and the chief of military personnel command, I don't think there's any resistance.
I do believe, as I said, that there's a real desire inside the department to get this right. I think the chief of the defence staff is going to go after it.
View Robert Kitchen Profile
That's what I'm trying to lead into, amalgamating your tool with VAC's tool so that it's a smooth transition right there. We've talked about having a number that the soldier gets from the moment they enlist following them right through to the end so they don't end up changing numbers, because that is confusing. Do you see a potential there? Is there a way that it might be something to start, if it hasn't been started?
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 16:15
I do believe that's where we need to end up. I think you've nailed it. I'm not an IT guy. My VCR is still flashing 12:00. I do believe that what technology allows us now is to build a platform that we can use as an education tool and a benefit tool while the member is serving. The connection to My VAC Account, I think, would be the next logical step.
There was talk this morning about a veteran's ID card. One of the questions that came up was what number would be used. Someone suggested that we use the service number the member gets and carry it through.
There are other people thinking along the same lines. I believe that tool that we have would be for the serving member, and then the liaison to VAC or the third parties, I think, would be all in the realm of the possible.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
Okay. Did you ever hear any comments on the VAC and the DND staff? Do they work closely together? How is the relationship? Do you have anything to say about that in the JPSU?
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 16:23
I know there is a VAC presence in the JPSU. I know they engage at various times, depending on the member and the malady. I think it's a good thing to have that type of presentation on the ground to be able to respond to questions.
I think they work extremely well together. They try to find ways to make things move as quickly as possible. I don't believe there's any problem with the working relationship between the two at the JPSU.
Fred Doucette
View Fred Doucette Profile
Fred Doucette
2016-10-04 15:43
Thank you.
It's great to be able to present on behalf of the veterans and soldiers who are still serving about some of their concerns. I spent 32 years as a soldier, and then I was employed by the operational stress injury social support program for 10 years. I've seen service delivery before and after the new Veterans Charter. I can say that it's a bit different.
One of the biggest things I noticed with soldiers who are transitioning out of the military into the civilian world, and who are entitled to veterans services, is the lack of knowledge they have of those services once they are out of there. A lot of the information is passed between veterans, and so on. The transition briefings are not up to speed as to what they should be. A lot of the soldiers who are leaving are either physically or mentally injured, and they're not receptive to the changes they're going to go through. A lot of the information that is passed on to them goes over their heads, especially with those who are going out with a mental health concern. The information or education shouldn't just be done in one shot as they transition out. There should be a managing of the individual for maybe up to a year while that veteran accesses all the services that are provided by Veterans Affairs.
Another thing I noticed from the change recently to having Blue Cross take over the service delivery and a lot of aspects of the veterans benefits is that the veterans I know feel they're just dealing with an insurance company, which they are. Before that, when it was managed by case managers, service officers, and so on, it was a lot easier to get stuff across when they were talking to someone face to face. A lot of the veterans feel they're dealing with an insurance company, as if they worked for GM.
One of the biggest things for the vets is what's available and what they may be entitled to. Most of that is handled between veterans. Tonight I'll be attending a support group for a soldier with operational stress injury, PTSD, and there's on average 10 to 15 soldiers at those meetings. The bulk of the discussion is about how to access certain services, because people are not being kept up to speed on things.
The system, as we feel it is now, is more on a pole between pushing stuff forward and the vets who are pulling stuff out to try to get access to it. The delays, the paperwork, and the timeliness of trying to get things done is frustrating for our veterans, especially for those with mental health concerns. I visited vets when I was a peer support coordinator, and I asked them about what was going on with their claims, and did they get a letter or anything. They would say, yes, and that it was on the fridge. I'd go and look at the fridge and there were maybe 10 envelopes unopened there, and I would open them up. The reality between the corporate end of things and the person on the ground is that there's a big void.
Another thing that's frustrating for the veterans is the second-guessing of what they're entitled to. They'll jump through the hoops, it'll go forward, it'll be adjudicated, and then it will be denied for whatever reason. A prime example is about accessing medication that a soldier was receiving in the service when he got out. The classic answer from Blue Cross is, “We don't fund that drug”. It's an approved medication. Now the vet has to work through that to get access to the drug, and so on. During that phase, who knows what's going on with the lack of the medication the vet needs because DND doesn't give you a bag of meds to give you six months once you're out of the military. You're going out cold turkey.
Over the last several years since the new Veterans Charter came in, two things that have happened are the downsizing and the opening of new offices. To my mind, you need the actual person-to-person interaction to get things done. Dealing with the 1-800 number just doesn't work. In fact, if anything, it's going to get a young soldier flagged for being aggressive by arguing with some lady at a call centre. They don't swallow that very well.
The case managers should be involved with every veteran. As they transition through, the ones who have ongoing concerns and problems should remain attached, because not every veteran heading out the door has a ton of problems. Myself, I transitioned quite easy. I waited for things, they came through, and I moved on. It's the troubled cases. A guy is getting out of the military, and by the way, he's getting divorced because of his PTSD and the problems it caused, and now he's trying to split up a household while trying to access benefits. Some of them end up in hospital, plain and simple.
This is another burning point. We have traditional vets and we have the CF veterans, the new veterans. To me, a veteran is a veteran, and the naming of things is wrong. But the new vets, if you want to call them that, understand the Internet. They know how to access documents, websites, and go searching for things that they feel are lacking, that they feel entitled to, or that they're confused about. When they present this stuff, sometimes they're seen as aggressive by dealing with it themselves. People are afraid of the new vets, I think, especially at some of the VAC offices, just because of that. They come in, they want to see somebody, they want to talk about it, and they get shoved off to the system. They have to climb through it and then access the advice they need.
The service delivery across Canada is not consistent. A lot of the vets know guys out in Vancouver, and they'll be on the phone or the Internet talking about service. The Vancouver guy might say he applied for something and got it, no problem, while a guy in St. John's says he did the same thing and they turned him down.
I know there are probably nuances that make a difference. Overall, though, when I was working for Veterans Affairs and DND with OSISS, I noticed a difference in processing between larger centres, smaller centres, and rural areas. The application of the charter is interpreted by the individual dealing with the case. When you start interpreting things, somebody always interprets something in a different way from somebody else down the hall. That adds frustration to the veteran's day-to-day life.
To finish off, what we need is a proper handover from DND to VAC, which is not happening. It's scandalous. They're not realizing that they're dealing with sick and injured soldiers. It'd be nice if they kept you in the military until you were 100% healthy when you walked out the door, but it doesn't work that way. Some people are just starting in therapy, some people are still waiting for operations. It's not the way to hand over a soldier to Veterans Affairs.
There should be detailed briefings, not just one but several over time, as a soldier transitions out and then after he transitions out, on what he's entitled to, what services are available, and how to access them. There should be more case management, face-to-face. The timeliness of initiating or getting the services out to the individual is important. There are some horrible numbers on how long it takes to get something done, and this just adds to the frustration and the feeling of insecurity as the soldier is transitioning out. He wonders how he's going to survive. He wonders about this, and then about that. That's some of the digs in there.
The next thing to see about is the amount of paperwork involved. If we're supposed to be a paperless society, I think we made a wrong turn. It's amazing the amount of paperwork, including the paperwork a soldier has to get signed off by doctors.
I'll tell you now, doctors don't like filling out forms. They like seeing paying customers, not the $50 or whatever it is they're getting to sign a form. The amount of paperwork is ridiculous within the system.
There are a lot of good people working in the veterans world. They're overworked, and they're making things work. When you hear “making things work”, that's not the way it should be. It should be just out there.
The consistency across the country has to be there. You have to start handing out what soldiers or veterans are entitled to.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you.
You mentioned that when you're in active service, you're under the care of a Department of National Defence physician. Then you're under a different physician under VAC.
When you transition and you are under Veterans Affairs, are you assigned a physician by Veterans Affairs?
Fred Doucette
View Fred Doucette Profile
Fred Doucette
2016-10-04 17:15
No. That's another big problem. When you're released, nobody gets you a doctor. Nobody facilitates that.
A lot of fellows who leave are lining up with the provincial list to try to get a doctor. Other than that, they go to one of the walk-in clinics. The walk-in clinics aren't designed to fill out paperwork and sort out your concerns.
That's something that's missed, a lot.
Luckily, I had a family doctor, so I just slid in under the door, “I'm back in the family now, so help me out.” But in a lot of cases, people have no doctor at all.
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