Mr. Chair, committee members, thank you for inviting me here today and for providing me with the opportunity to share the results of our 2019 Office of the Veterans Ombudsman Report Card.
As mentioned, I'm joined here today by the deputy ombudsman, Sharon Squire.
Excuse me if I go back a bit to first principles, as this is my first time to appear before you. As you're aware, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman has really a two-part mandate, and the first and most important part of that mandate is to respond to individual veteran's complaints, or complaints raised by spouses or survivors. The second part of our mandate is to recognize and identify issues that may be affecting more than one veteran, therefore representing perhaps a systemic issue. Under our mandate, we have the opportunity to investigate those issues and, where appropriate, make recommendations to VAC to improve programs and services. That's really where the report card comes in and that's why we're here today.
This is the third year that our office has released the report card. It was first released in 2017. The report card is a tool for us that allows us to capture, track and report publicly on recommendations that our office has made to Veterans Affairs Canada to improve programs and services.
The report card allows us to do a couple of things as we report publicly. The first is to acknowledge progress that's been made, and in fact to celebrate where changes have been made to programs and services to the benefit of veterans and their families. More importantly, from our office, it allows us an opportunity, on a regular basis, to shine a light on areas that we think still need some attention, and that's what the report card this year does.
I'd just like to share a few highlights with you, if I may.
Three areas where we've seen progress this year, progress that we believe will be well received by veterans, are as follows. The first is that veterans will now be able to retroactively claim reimbursement for treatment costs to the date of application as opposed to the date of decision for disability award and now pain and suffering compensation applications, which we believe is a significant improvement. The second is that, at the age of 65, all veterans who have a diminished earning capability assessment will now receive 70% of their income replacement benefit, which is very important in terms of financial security post-65. The third is that it's good to see movement on issuing of veterans' service cards, which the veterans community has been calling for, for quite some time.
We do like to acknowledge and recognize these improvements that have been made.
As I said, it's also an opportunity for us to shine a light on areas that still need some attention. As of the point of reporting this year, there are still 13 OVO recommendations that have yet to be addressed. The majority of those recommendations relate to the two areas that we hear about most commonly in complaints from veterans. They are in the areas of health care supports and service delivery.
In releasing the report card and sharing it with the minister, I took the opportunity to highlight three of those recommendations that we think would warrant attention as a matter of priority. They are as follows.
The first is expanding access to caregiver benefits, which is something we hear and continue to hear about on a regular basis from veterans groups and veterans advocates.
The second is covering mental health treatment for family members in their own right. Having had the opportunity in my first few months to meet with a number of veterans, and spouses in some cases, and to hear about some of the circumstances and challenges that family members, and in particular children, face when dealing with having a parent who was injured or is severely ill as a result of service, makes me wonder whether or not we're doing all we can do to support children and families. We think that's an important area.
The last is to provide fair and adequate access to long-term care and, to a lesser extent, the veterans independence program.
Those are three areas that we believe are important and I highlighted those to the minister. We will continue to follow government's actions in response to our recommendations and will continue to report publicly to you, the committee, and to Canadians on progress as needed.
As I mentioned earlier, I'd also like to take this opportunity to share my priorities with you, after having spent six months on the ground now and having had the opportunity to speak to a number of veterans, a number of veterans groups and advocates. We've taken some time to identify the priority areas that we think need to be addressed next. Again, these aren't ideas that we came up with sitting and talking amongst ourselves. This is what we hear from veterans who phone our office and from veterans groups and advocates. I'd like to share those priorities with you briefly.
The first priority, from my perspective, goes back to the key component in our mandate, and that's providing direct support to veterans and their families when they believe they've been treated unfairly. We're still a fairly young office, and our front-line staff have done very good work to this point in time. However, based on what we've heard from veterans and what we hear through our client satisfaction surveys, we have some work to do to make sure that we deliver an even better service and that we clarify what our mandate is, what we do and what we don't do, so that veterans who need our help will actually come to us. This is a significant priority for me and our number one priority.
Additional priorities include health care supports. As I mentioned earlier, this is the area that we receive complaints about the most. I'm led to believe that this area has not been looked at in quite some time, so we want to help move things forward in this regard by taking a broad look at VAC health care supports to identify areas we think might need some attention.
Third would be transition. I think we're all well aware of the importance of the transition process and ensuring that veterans and their families are well set up for post-service life. This is an area that continues to, thankfully, gain a lot of attention. We're particularly interested in looking at the area of vocational rehabilitation and the programs and services that help veterans find purpose in post-service life.
As we do this work—and we've also heard this through engagement over the last number of months—there are a few groups that we believe need to be considered a little more closely and a little more deliberately. They include women veterans. I've had the chance to speak to a number of women veterans and women's advocates. It's clear that a number of the programs and services they have access to were not designed specifically with women service members in mind or women veterans in mind. This is an area that we think is going to require significant focus going forward.
Second are veterans of the reserves. We've received a number of complaints, again related to specific programs. In looking into those complaints, it's become clear that, while the program is well intended, well designed and works well for regular force veterans, that's not always the case for reservist veterans. We think there's enough of an issue there to broaden that scope a bit and make sure the programs and services that are being provided adequately take into account the unique nature of reserve component service.
The last priority—and I mentioned this earlier—is families. Just in the brief amount of time I've been here speaking with veterans and families, we believe that this is another area we need to look at a little more closely to make sure we understand what the impacts on families, particularly children, are and that we have programs and services that adequately take this into account.
The last piece I would mention is just a bit of ongoing work that we initiated a number of months ago in terms of conducting a financial analysis of the pension for life. That work is more than just a financial analysis. We're going to monitor the implementation, and we are monitoring the implementation with a view to producing a report sometime late this year or perhaps even early 2020, after we've had time to watch it be implemented and get a sense of what the impact is on the ground.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share an overview of the report card and also speak to some of our priorities going forward.
I'd be happy to take any questions, if there are any.