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Craig L. Dalton
View Craig L. Dalton Profile
Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 15:36
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.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
That makes sense.
Also, in terms of the experiences of reservists and their families, are they different from those of regular CF members, from that personnel?
Nora Spinks
View Nora Spinks Profile
Nora Spinks
2016-09-22 16:07
We've identified a couple of things with the reservists. When we talk about military and veteran families, we include reservists in that umbrella. For us, when we talk to military families, they consider themselves a military family regardless of their status, whether they're released or not—a military family once, a military family always.
The reservists were actually one of the catalysts that got us sparked into working in this area in building community, because reservists are everywhere, and they can come from any town and any village. They're our neighbours. They're everywhere. They're not just near a base, a wing, a military family resource centre, or even a veterans centre. In particular, it's really about the reservists who need, more than any other group, access to community resources. If you're in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, and you're a reservist who's just come back from theatre, you need to access services in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan.
Russ Mann
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Russ Mann
2016-09-22 16:09
If I could just back up to your very first question about reserves and regular forces and whether there are differences, I would like to put one thing out there that is a bit of a challenge for all of us who are trying to reach out, collaborate, and care. That's the fact that a lot of the research we have is helping inform us about the families of regular force members.
There is a research gap. We're trying to work with CIMVHR and with the director general of military personnel research and analysis, and any organization out there that is willing to try to research more on the reserve family experience.
We have a lot of anecdotal evidence. We have some reserve and National Guard experience from the States, and some territorial army evidence from the U.K., but we're lacking a good set of hard evidence on our reserves here at home that would make an apples-to-apples comparison.
George Zimmerman
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George Zimmerman
2016-06-14 17:04
Thank you very much.
My name is Captain RCN (Retired) George Zimmerman. Let me first start by thanking you for the opportunity you've given to me to work with you on an issue that is so important to millions of Canadians, which, of course, is the well-being of our military and naval veterans in a just society.
Second, please accept my gratitude for your service to Canada. I understand very well the very deep sacrifices and the challenges and the long hours that go into public service. I served the navy in the Canadian Armed Forces for 38 years; 10 years as a reservist, and then 30 years as a military chaplain. Despite the significant demands of my military taskmasters over all that time, I'm immensely proud I had such an opportunity to dedicate myself to the two pillars that, of course, hold up a modern civilization, and those are the church and the state. I would, without equivocation, do it again in a heartbeat.
I retired as a senior officer in the office of the chaplain general with the rank of captain navy six years ago. I watched in sadness and somewhat in horror a government policy that on the one hand lauded our military members with the praise that probably had not been seen in generations but on the other hand tightened fiscal policies so much so that they ended up disrespecting the very people who had given so much, including, in many cases, their well-being, if not their lives, to this amazing country.
Political activity is often anathema to retired military people, as we've been so conditioned to defer to authority. But I was motivated, because of the last four or five years, to speak out with truth to power due to the amazing and distressing evidence of injustice that has been perpetuated against veterans and their families.
I'm part of a group called Canadians for Veterans, and our role is to amplify, through social media or any other means, the voices of those who are speaking in favour of well-being for veterans. We pay attention to and we repeat veteran issues as reported in the media. We advertise upcoming and commemorative events involving veterans. We raise awareness of issues raised through government actions or announcements. We laud all veteran support groups, including, for example, Quilts of Valour, which is not a political organization; it just wants to support veterans.
We see you and we see all of these organizations as Canadians for veterans. While we try to avoid being drawn into one political organization or another, we know there are injustices against the veterans. There is unfairness out there, and so with due respect, we are privileged really to speak truth to power, and I thank you for that.
The position of Canadians for Veterans is simply that we don't really care who fixes the issues; we just want to see them fixed. You, of course, as elected officials, are dedicated to the leadership of this paradise of a country. The last bastion of the privileges we all enjoy in this astounding country of ours, this amazing land, versus horrific chaos is really the uniformed men and women of the Canadian Forces. They are the very last bastion between order and chaos.
Of course, they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifices for this cause. They sign an unlimited liability clause, as you know, as volunteer citizens. In our opinion, their sacrifice in a just society as advanced as ours calls for real, substantive, and fair compensation, especially when their lives have been adversely affected by the orders issued by the Government of Canada.
I'm very aware and sensitive that you've probably been fed a firehose of information over the last six or eight months. I do not wish to add to that burden today.
Canadians for Veterans are also aware that there are many complicated issues in the pursuit of fairness for veterans' services and benefits; that is not an easy fix. However, the complexity is no reason not to get it right, not to get it done. We are very well educated, we are a mature nation, and I believe we can do this and we can do it right.
I understand the Prime Minister requires 15 deliverables of the Minister of Veterans Affairs. They were found in the mandate letter issued in November. I know that Rome was not built in a day. It takes time. These issues and the new ones that have emerged since then can't be fixed quickly.
However, our recommendation to you today is to cut through a lot of the noise and focus on three really big issues.
The first item of course, which is on all advocates' lips, is finding a way to deal with the lifelong pension as an option for veterans. We're aware of the Equitas class action lawsuit that is regretfully active again, but we still think that Veterans Affairs can advance this file without compromising the integrity of that legal process.
We think it would show good faith to Canadians if the minister were to give target dates, some milestones, and any other barriers that the department may be facing in completing this deliverable. If that alone were to happen I think the collective sigh of veterans across the nation would be heard in a very significant way.
Canada does not want to read about unfairness and injustices like those experienced by Major Mark Campbell, who had the horrific experience of losing both his legs in his second tour in Afghanistan, which was after the 2006 new Veterans Charter. As a result he missed by a tour the opportunity for a long-term pension.
The second deliverable, which is probably worth looking at as a priority, is that one of the most marginalized groups requiring the deepest study about fairness are those who have served Canada as reservists. It's very difficult to work with reservist veterans because in many cases they are living in areas under-serviced by medical services. I understand that.
Canada is not necessarily militaristic, she is militaristic necessarily.
The reserves of Canada have made possible our international contributions to allow us as a country to punch above our own weight. The dedication of those reserve forces and their families has empowered this nation in ways that need to be recognized. Veterans Affairs is called to deliver practices and policies that implement the principle of one veteran, one standard.
Canada does not want to read ever again about the machinations needed to ensure fairness for the family of the reservist Corporal Nathan Cirillo after his murder while literally standing on guard for Canada. One veteran, one standard had to be created artificially in his case because otherwise his family would have been treated with standards less than a regular force member who is killed in the same manner. Justice dictates that it should be automatic.
As our third priority, we suggest you focus on the completion of those deliverables that support families. Like you, military members want to know that their loved ones will be well treated in the event that they can no longer provide for them as a result of injury or disease or death.
The second-most affected and vulnerable people of the injured or killed military are the families. I would ask that your committee speak loudly and clearly for the children and the spouses.
Unlike you, these wage earners volunteer to be placed in harm's way. An assurance that their families have longer-term security is an essential and necessary condition for good service. Completing the two relevant deliverables of the mandate letter, ending the time limit for surviving spouses to apply for vocational rehabilitation and increasing the surviving spousal pension to 70%, would deliver that condition. Canadians should not be exposed again to stories of family neglect such as we saw in the case of Jenifer Migneault.
Completing these three deliverables for veterans I think would go a long way toward reassuring millions of Canadians that indeed we are living in an advanced and just society that takes seriously the sacrifices of the volunteers to our army, our navy, and our air force.
Thank you for your time.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2016-06-14 17:32
With regard to reservists who have served and become veterans as a result of their service as reservists, they need support. You mentioned one veteran, one standard. Can you give us some examples of how reservists are treated differently now, and what could be done to close the gap in order to achieve one veteran, one standard, in your mind?
George Zimmerman
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George Zimmerman
2016-06-14 17:33
I was thinking about a number of friends of mine who have done their service, they've incurred some type of operational stress injury, have returned to their home units, and the home units have been unable to appreciate the nature of that injury and have taken sometimes disciplinary actions or otherwise marginalized those individuals. Certainly, I am aware of reservists returning to their hometown who have said this is the kind of thing they've experienced, and nobody wants to hear that. So once again they find themselves on the outside looking in.
The experience of trauma in a war zone is horrific, and certainly not something that is repeated in light conversation at a cocktail party, and it's very difficult for these people to express that. Without having support systems in place to be able to help them rationalize and work with their narratives in a positive and constructive way with appropriate medications and so on, they end up in very sad situations.
At one point, I can recall a medical team that went to a basement in Newfoundland because that's where the veteran was living. It was a small town and there was nothing around for that individual. His unit didn't know anything about it. We found out about it through the back door and sent a medical team from the regular forces to take a look and deal with him. That's the kind of thing that tends to happen. It's very difficult to solve that problem, because there are no services in particular parts of the country.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
The other thing—and feel free to share as much as you'd like—is that both of you have served. I'd like to talk about your experience transitioning. Could you share that with us?
We know that some people transition more easily than others. What did that look like for you?
Jerry Kovacs
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Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 18:05
I had no transition experience. I was in the reserves. I went into the commanding officer's office. The paperwork was already prepared. I was told, “Sign here. We don't need to tell you where the door is because you already know.”
I'm going back a few decades now, and a lot has changed since then, thankfully. In my personal case, I just left. I wasn't made aware of any services or benefits that would have been available to me at the time.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
Do you believe there's been some improvement since then?
Jerry Kovacs
View Jerry Kovacs Profile
Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 18:06
There's been considerable improvement since then, for which we are all thankful.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, it's an important issue for what we're discussing here.
The other thing that maybe Mr. Kovacs could comment on is the feeling that their service is not being respected, which often would begin at the point when you're signed off and out the door, as you said. You couldn't have felt very respected that you were a reservist with Canada on your shoulder, even from the general populace, although I think that since the Afghan veterans have returned, there's a heightened awareness of the service of previous veterans. But generally speaking, we're getting some evidence that part of the problem of the veterans seeking service, or being upset at the way the service is being delivered, is that they personally don't feel respected.
Jerry Kovacs
View Jerry Kovacs Profile
Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 18:12
I was fortunate because I was going toward something else. When you're in the reserves, you often already have a full-time job or even a part-time job, or you're a student. Many reservists are students.
In my particular case, I might have stayed a little longer had I known what the options were, but I was going on to something else, so I didn't feel as if there was a huge adjustment that I was leaving, that there was this big schism between one career and the next career, or one career and not knowing where to go.
I'll give you an example. I know someone whose husband joined the air force when he was 17 years old. He's married with two small children. He will retire at the age of 42 after 25 years of service. Imagine that, age 42 and 25 years in the military. I asked her yesterday, “What's your greatest fear?” She said, “Not knowing what he's going to do when he retires.”
I had something to go to, so I was in a secure position. I think you can overcome this perceived lack of respect issue if veterans, during a pre-release orientation period, know what services and benefits are available to them.
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 17:16
Thank you.
I'm going to read a statement I prepared. It may be easier instead of my going off on a long-winded, antagonistic rant.
To members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, thank you for this opportunity to provide a statement regarding service delivery to veterans by Veterans Affairs Canada.
My name is Walter Callaghan, and I served in the Canadian Forces from March 2001 until my medical release in August 2010. I suffer from chronic pain due to a severe back injury and struggle daily with the psychological distress symptomatic of my post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. Currently despite my injury, I am a Ph.D. student in medical anthropology at the University of Toronto, with my research focused on the subject of the experience of PTSD.
Despite being classified as permanently disabled several years ago, I still have to face constant paperwork to obtain approval for treatment of my condition. As an aside, I received a huge bundle of paperwork this morning that I have to fill out once again. It's aggravating.
I was taken off the rehabilitation program in January 2015 because my pension condition was deemed to have “reached the maintenance stage”. In other words, no further improvement was expected. The letter I received notifying me of this also stated, and this is a direct quote from the letter: “As your participation in the rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program is completed, your earnings loss benefit under the financial benefits program is no longer payable”.
In effect, I was told that because my injuries were permanent and that no further improvement was expected, I was no longer eligible for a key benefit. However I was not informed of the extended earnings loss benefit, which I was eligible for, because I was deemed permanently injured. This lack of information caused extreme anxiety, something that I think most of you have heard or can understand, is to be avoided when you have PTSD.
However, I would suggest that even having had access to the rehabilitation program in the first place makes me one of the lucky ones. I say this because I managed to get VAC to approve my claims for benefits, albeit it was a lengthy and arduous fight to obtain those approvals: it took four years for the back condition to be covered, and seven years for the major depression; and they're still not acknowledging the PTSD despite numerous reports and clinical material on it that have been sent to them.
Instead of the benefit of the doubt being applied, many veterans, especially those like me who served in the reserve force, face an adversarial bureaucratic system that amounts to little more than an insurance-minded scheme of denial by design.
A key example of this is that reserve force veterans almost immediately have their claims questioned as to the connection of their injuries to military service on the basis that the medical reports that are submitted with their claims are predominately written by civilian doctors. This being because reservists are largely unable to access doctors within the Canadian Forces, instead being required to use the civilian medical system.
Judgments frequently made by Veterans Affairs Canada in denying these claims is that the very nature of the supporting documents having been completed by civilian doctors indicates that the injuries are due to non-service incidents, because if the incidents were service-related, then a military doctor would have signed off on the documents.
Even when claims are finally approved in favour of the veteran after lengthy appeals and reviews and reapplications, they are generally done so at a lower level on the fifth scale, with the argument being made that the injuries weren't fully due to military service; that there was some factor from our non-military life that played a role in our injury, even when there is nothing to indicate this. This is particularly prevalent in cases of operational stress injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Associated with this and aggravating to veterans with PTSD is the challenge of malingering or non-compliance when the veteran chooses treatment modalities other than pharmacotherapy. The reality is that the side effects of pharmacotherapy are often worse, both subjectively and objectively, than the condition for which they're being prescribed. When the veteran, in consultation with their clinical team, decides to opt for alternatives to being drugged up, this seems to be an immediate red flag for Veterans Affairs Canada, which then challenges the severity and even the reality and authenticity of the veteran's injury.
This argument has also been used to deny initial claims for benefits, asserting that since the veteran is not on medication, then the veteran does not have a claim condition or that a condition is not severe.
Given that many veterans, again especially reservists, are required to pay out of pocket for any medications prescribed until their claims are approved, and with the awareness that the initial diagnosis, if it can even be called that, is done through a very brief assessment, frequently by a non-specialist medical doctor, generally not a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, it should not be at all surprising that many veterans, particularly with an operational stress injury, do not have the extensive records of pharmacotherapy when applying initially to VAC for benefits.
These systematic forms of denial by design impact the physical and psychological health of far too many veterans. In the cases of PTSD or other operational stress injuries, these denials tend to occur at a time of increased vulnerability, when the veteran has finally reached out, likely while in a state of near crisis. To have the authenticity of one's claims questioned at such a time does little more than aggravate the level of psychological distress, potentially increasing the severity of that psychological distress to the point that suicide occurs.
In the end, it doesn't really matter what programs or benefits are available if the veteran cannot access them. It is incredibly problematic that a key barrier to access is this failure by Veterans Affairs Canada to operate under the auspices of benefit of the doubt instead of relying on an insurance-minded bureaucratic culture of denial by design.
Thank you for listening to me.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2016-06-13 17:48
You mentioned something, though, that I just wanted to ask you to clarify. I didn't quite understand it, and I apologize for that.
You talked about doctors in DND and then civilian doctors, and about your lacking access to doctors in DND, which caused you some problems. Can you expand on that? I wasn't sure I caught the point of how that would have helped in the long run?
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 17:48
The way that a service provision is dealt with in National Defence, or at least the way it was done when I was serving.... It may have changed since then. Six years is a long time, and a lot can happen. But while I was serving, if you were a reservist on a class A contract, which is what most of us were, and you were injured, it was not a medical doctor who was your primary care. We were required to use the civilian service.
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 17:48
Yes. Class B and class C get some care through the military medical service, but even that, especially for follow-up, once you're injured your class B, pseudo-fulltime, contract tends to end. The class C guys who went overseas, if they got injured badly enough that they needed a lot of care, were being repatted here. It gets complicated whether or not they will receive continued care through the military service, or have to go to the civilian service.
Even as a class B, when my back injury occurred during a training course at CFB Gagetown, I was stripped from course and shipped back to Toronto three days after the injury occurred. No imaging was done at the base hospital. They never took me into Fredericton to a civilian hospital to do imaging. Instead they just doped me full of morphine, gave me a whole bunch of anti-inflammatories, and eventually shipped me back, and said I should go back to my unit.
There was no provision of military medical care once I was back here. I was immediately shunted out to the civilian service, so there's a very brief record from the medical service indicating that I was attended to at the base hospital, that I had complained of back pain, but that's it. The diagnosis of the back injury came from a doctor up at Sunnybrook, and that is being used by Veterans Affairs, and that's why it took four years of fighting because a civilian doctor said I was injured on this military exercise. What does a civilian doctor have to do with the military? Why are they doing this? A medical doctor out of Gagetown should have written this document.
The way the system worked and the way I was shunted back so quickly created a situation where there was no medical doctor originally signing off on it. On top of that, the medical doctors here in Toronto, whom I was eventually able to access because of the temporary categories that I had to be placed on because of the injury, didn't believe the injury occurred.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
I have a final thing, and then we can move on to other questioners. This is with regard to the notion of the reserves versus the regular service.
We have a large reserve group in our city. As far as I know, the men and women I talk to consider themselves soldiers. We had the terrible incident of Nathan Cirillo being shot and killed at the National War Memorial. I've always wondered and worried about his colleague standing just a few feet away, about how he might have to deal with the post-traumatic stress that would likely come from being in that situation.
So is it the same for reservists?
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 19:01
As in our response to these conditions?
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
No, not the response; I mean in terms of services that he might be able to access.
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 19:01
That's actually a really good question, whether an individual in that situation would be able to get immediate care within the military. He's probably on a class A assignment right now. I don't know what the nature of the memorial guard contract is. I don't know if that's a class B, 180 under, or if it's a class A. If he was a class B, perhaps he should be eligible; even if he was a class A, perhaps he should if he came forward.
I can't speak to whether or not he did come forward, but just hypothesizing, he should have been eligible to receive immediate treatment the moment he came forward while he was still serving.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
Could I ask you, in terms of your own service—and I'm not looking for the particular incidents that would create problems for you—for an overview of the nine years you served?
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
Nine and a half. Where were you, and what sort of things did you do in that time?
Walter Callaghan
View Walter Callaghan Profile
Walter Callaghan
2016-06-13 19:02
Pretty much all of my work was done either in a training capacity, a command capacity, or a logistical capacity here in Canada. I never made it overseas. I never ended up on a deployment.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
The point is that incidents will occur, whether you're deployed in different places, through the training process and so on. It's a rigorous program.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2016-06-07 11:35
Thank you.
With regard to reservists, we know there is a concern that they get treated differently from other veterans. I'm wondering if you can explain to me how they would fit into the model you're talking about and what differences there might be for reservists who are transitioning out.
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-06-07 11:35
I was there when Mr. Parent coined the phrase “a veteran is a veteran”. I think we're at a point in time when we should start to say that a soldier is a soldier, a sailor is a sailor, and an aviator is an aviator. Why do we have classes of soldiers?
In 2006, the Australian government decided to go parity across the board, where all soldiers—they went even so far as to include cadets—are covered. Should they become ill or injured in the service or custody of their country, all those members, both reserve force and others, have full access to benefits and services. I asked the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force for some input on what happened financially, and they said there was basically no change in what they had done, either administratively or program-wise.
I think we're probably finding ourselves getting to that point. Inside the Canadian Armed Forces you have the army, navy, and the air force, and then some special entities. The way in which reserve force soldiers are used, engaged, deployed, and employed is different inside each element. I think we need some continuity across the board. I think we're at a point in time when we need to start removing complexity from the system, because the first thing a reservist has to do.... The question will be, what type of soldier are you: A, B, B-plus, or C? Once that's determined, that opens up certain doors and gates for you. If you're not a B-plus, then certain benefits and services are not available to you.
Why are we still talking about this? I think what we need to do is start saying that a soldier is a soldier. It changes the game. Removing complexities from the system will start to go right to the core of the issues we're talking about—those who slip through transition, those who don't have some support when they get out. I think that would be my point on that question.
Gary Walbourne
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Gary Walbourne
2016-06-07 12:49
I have a few very quick comments.
There are certain things said here today that I think are of key importance. I think the attribution of service piece goes without saying. I really believe we need to have an adult conversation about that.
Secondly, I say a soldier is a soldier. There should be parity for our reservists. The reservists played a big role in Afghanistan, a large role in Afghanistan.
When I talk about attribution of service and having to avoid that adjudication process at Veterans Affairs Canada, please, please do not leave this room with the thought that I'm saying we should remove resources from the environment. Now is our opportunity, with the additional resources coming in and a change to the business model, for us to get this right. I think the case managers we're hiring at Veterans Affairs are required. Will we need them all to be case managers? Maybe not. Maybe some can be life coaches. Let's not take the opportunity today to cut other resources out; instead, change the delivery model and bring the resources to bear.
I'll now do my public service announcement.
Our website, ombuds.ca, has a lot of information on it. We have just started to transfer all our videos and literature into ASL. That's online for our members, so we're doing as much as we can to educate. I suggest to everyone to please drop by. I love the stats.
The last thing I'll say is that the issues we're talking about here today have been talked about for years. I've been to these committees. I love every opportunity I have—I'll get that on the record—but I do need to make sure that it's time for something to happen. I come down and I talk about leadership and desire. If you desire to change something badly enough, and you want to fix it, put the leadership to it and it will happen. I think it's time to stop hiding behind our own silos of authority. Open the doors. It's time for a change.
What I'm hearing from the members, both those serving and released, is that frustration is mounting. It's mounting. People are frustrated. My calls are up almost 30% over last year. I noticed that MGERC, the military grievances external review committee, has released its report. Their grievances are going through the ceiling. Something is happening in the environment, and if we're not cognizant of it and we don't deal with it, I hate to say it, but we'll be back having this conversation again in 10 or 12 months.
Thank you.
Matthew Harris
View Matthew Harris Profile
Matthew Harris
2016-05-12 11:20
Good day, everyone. First, I would like to thank you all for allowing me to attend this. It's very humbling.
As you said, my name is Matt Harris. I'm an administrator for the 31 CBG Veteran Well-Being Network.
I want to be clear on something. Our group receives no money from any government agency or department, nor do we want any. We're all volunteers. It's a social networking group that began by serving soldiers looking for other soldiers who may have fallen through the cracks. We limited ourselves to veterans who were located in the 31 Brigade area, stretching from Sarnia and Windsor through London to Hamilton and the Niagara region in Ontario.
It was a way for us to look after each other. We thought at first it would be 80 people or so. So far, it's expanded to over 1,200. We were the first to try this model using Facebook. Now it has expanded to all the other brigades as well, as we're witnessing.
A colonel and lieutenant colonel, our leaders, essentially started this. Then they added some sergeants, and away it went. I can only guess that they started it because they would ask, “How is so and so doing? He/she just came back from Afghanistan a few months ago”, and the answers were far too often, “I don't know”, “I don't know where they are”, and “We don't know what they're doing.”
With suicides in the news daily, we wanted to look after ourselves, look after our battle buddies, as we felt that no one else was at the time.
I have no doubt that there were people who did care and who wanted to help, but the feeling was there nonetheless.
Our sole goal is to help out veterans, whether to help someone move, comfort them, guide them to services such as the Royal Canadian Legion or health professionals, or set up an account, for instance. We can guide them to all these various places and help them with paperwork for Veterans Affairs.
Many believe that only soldiers can understand other soldiers. Soldiers can't be weak in front of civilians, as we are taught to be strong in front of them, to protect them, and to face their dangers for them.
“Leave no one behind” quickly became our motto.
I'm not here to complain. I'm just here to pass on some concerns and issues that some of our members have had or are currently experiencing. These are issues that we see on our Facebook page or that are being messaged to us privately.
I'm not a super-educated guy. We don't have malice towards any organization that wants to help us. I just want to give you, in layman's terms, some idea of what the real or perceived issues are.
An example I'll share happened only a few months ago, in February. I think we can all agree that a judge is an educated person with quite a bit of life experience. When a judge speaks, people listen. Now, this judge, while sentencing an ex-soldier who had survived an IED explosion in Afghanistan and ended up being dismissed from the military, told him to “suck it up”.
Yes, the soldier had problems and did something stupid, and he is paying for what he did, but the point here is what the judge said. He spoke to him about the Greatest Generation, a term used to describe, in part, those who fought in the Second World War. He went on to say that many of these veterans came home likely suffering from PTSD-like symptoms, but that they sucked it up as they returned to work, got married, had families, and lived productive lives.
Well, let's look at some of these numbers. Out of a population of 11 million Canadians, 1.6 million went on to serve during World War II.
Out of a population of about 36 million people today, only about 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan. Many of those went on multiple tours, unlike in World War II, when they went and stayed until the war was over.
As you can see, the brotherhood was much larger at the time those guys came home. They were able to find a job—there were a lot of jobs out there—support a family, and most importantly, work with fellow vets and help each other out with any issues they had. They understood each other.
When soldiers get out now, they try to get a job in places all over the country run by people they don't understand and who fail to understand them.
The organizations may have a “support the troops” sticker on their windows, but they certainly don't want one moving in next door or representing their organization, because they believe soldiers have problems and issues. Just ask that judge.
We believe that all soldiers have sucked it up in some very intense situations, situations I'm sure that judge has never encountered. Maybe it's time for others to suck it up and help these veterans.
The government, via VAC, has said that they want to set the standard and hire veterans. I haven't seen any numbers regarding this. Is it successful? Is it working? Are veterans actually being hired throughout the federal public service? From what I've been seeing, the answer is, unfortunately, no.
Some soldiers want to continue to serve, both with the Primary Reserve as well as through a federal government job, believing they can do both. There is a military paid leave in the system, so they can still go and train and not lose a lot of money, but that is not always the case. Even our own government departments that support the troops are refusing to provide military leave with pay. Once again, this shows the soldier that his support is now dwindling. Soldiers are feeling pushed aside, and they believe they must suck it up. Sucking it up means to shut up and bury your emotions deep inside, and that in turn appears as an explosion of uncontrolled vented emotion, because they get a little frustrated.
For veterans who have released from the military, as well as those with a medical release, who would like to go into the federal public service, we are seeing their pensions stopped because they are in the federal public service. It seems that their pensions stop because they go into the federal public service. I'm not sure if that's accurate, and I'm not sure how it all works, but it's something that we're coming across quite often. It doesn't seem fair.
Also, there is a strong need to speak to other vets and not get some impersonal letter from VAC denying their claim, as they feel that someone is calling them a liar and that their honour is being questioned by a civilian, or so it seems to them. Reality doesn't matter if perception is so strong that it becomes your reality.
This all comes together for the service delivery. A decision needs to come quickly with regard to benefits, without a doubt, but it needs to be more personal, with a phone call at the very least. Speaking with other veterans and having a good transition with the help of other veterans will help keep the issues smaller so they don't turn into an explosion of vented emotion. They deal with every issue, navigating the paperwork and helping at every stage, as it is the duty of the soldiers to help other soldiers and to leave no one behind. That's the service. I think a lot more veterans could get good jobs at VAC.
Something else that comes up is the perceived difference with regard to reservists getting help. I have class A reservists. They're part time, and as for the support and transition they require, I'm not aware of any class A reservists in a JPSU. Essentially, when the time comes, they're gone. If they were class B or class C, they get pushed to class A, and then there's no support for them. It should be one standard and one veteran, but they are quickly put on category and then released.
My last point is one that came up just recently. It's that the children of soldiers who were KIA in Afghanistan apparently don't get free post-secondary education. This has come as a surprise to many who believe that if a soldier is killed, his or her kids are provided with an education and taken care of.
We have one right now, a kid whose father, my friend, died in Afghanistan. He's struggling financially through university and is being told that he's not covered at all. As a matter of fact, the claim this university had was that they supported veterans' kids through some kind of donations. I think it was called “Project Hero”. They reneged on that.
Veterans Affairs Canada did give him some money, through quite a lot of jumping through some hoops—or, rather, it paid for his education; they didn't give him a cheque. It wasn't enough, but even that money is causing issues now. He got a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency saying that it was income and he has to pay back $1,400. There's something wrong here. He did call the Canada Revenue Agency and they told him to call back. He's a 19-year-old kid. He's the oldest of his two brothers. His brother is going to go through this very soon.
His mother can't talk for him anymore because he's an adult, and he's obviously frustrated with paying back over a thousand dollars to the CRA when he was told by VAC at the time of his father's death that his schooling would be taken care. He does not have a case manager. He should. He doesn't understand the system. To top it off, he has joined the military. He's a class A reservist like his father. He's a smart and kind young man who now finds himself unable to pay for university. His brother and stepsister will undoubtably go through this mess as well.
Adding to this disappointment, he and his brothers don't have any medical coverage. I don't know why that is.
I certainly hope that this statement is surprising to you. Was it because his father was a reservist, or class C? Was it because paperwork was missing? Was it because a mistake was made by VAC? I hope so.
Their father was killed by an IED. Their father was brave, dedicated, and honourable. He was my friend.
I know that like myself, he would be shocked to find out what is happening to his kids. If it is true that kids don’t get medical and dental coverage if we are killed overseas, then we need to know that before we go over so that we can properly plan for things like that. I certainly hope that this is not the case and that this will be fixed. If there is one thing that I would like to see change immediately, it is for the kids of the fallen to be looked after.
To the Canadian people, he was a hero. To most, he is a picture, a name on the wall. He was more than that to his kids. He was a hero to them since they were born. He was their father, who loved them very much, and now he is gone forever.
In conclusion, I will say this.
Soldiers have the ability to step off on that patrol or go on that mission knowing the dangers that lie ahead. They do it knowing—or rather, believing—that if anything happens to them, they and their families will be taken care of. If that belief isn’t there, then soldiers may be more reluctant to go, not because they are afraid—they are afraid regardless—but because they need to protect their families.
VAC is supposed to be the saviour of soldiers, not an endless quagmire of paperwork and seemingly impersonal personnel, which is likely due to being overworked. It is like the other members here.... Everybody we have talked to has been nice, but this is just difficult. When soldiers and ex-soldiers need help, like all humans, they need other like-minded humans to talk to; another soldier would be great.
That is all I have.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. I am very grateful.
I know every time the fact that you have to repeat your story is extremely difficult, and we're fully aware of that.
As usual, I have dozens of questions. I had to choose the most important, or I think they are, and it's a brainstorm.
First, for Mr. Harris, this may be more a technical question. You say in your text that you want to save those who have fallen through the cracks. Could you share with us, if you know it, what the common issues or scenarios are of the members who you consider have fallen through the cracks? Is there a common theme?
Matthew Harris
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Matthew Harris
2016-05-12 12:29
Yes, actually, there is.
Guys come back from Afghanistan and want to get out of the military for whatever reason. They want to move on with their lives or they want to do whatever. It's not necessarily because they're frustrated with any particular thing, but they get out. They come home from Afghanistan, and they might have been in the army for a total of five years as a reservist, so there's no JPSU thing and there's no transition. It's just “I hand in my stuff and I'm done.” It's over. Then they go off and they try to become a firefighter somewhere else in another town.
Inevitably, a lot of them start to miss it, right, or we miss them. We don't know where they went. One day he's my corporal in my section; then two weeks go by, and the next thing I know, he's out. He's gone. I know that he was in Afghanistan the year before, and I don't know where he went. I'm getting asked by my chain of command where so-and-so is, and I don't know. I don't know where he went. This is how we.... The crack is that that if this guy goes out and does something or hurts himself or needs help, maybe he feels like he can't ask, because he has no idea of where to go.
We try to touch base with him and with others. Every once in a while, I'll ask how he's doing, where's he going, and if he needs help with anything. Sure enough, a lot of times, after a year goes by, they have some mental health issues that they thought they were handling, but it's becoming frustrating. They don't know who to talk to, so we inevitably bring them back into our fold, into our little group here, and then we guide them through VAC or through any organization, the Legion or whatever. We try to help them out wherever they are. That's our biggest one.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Harris, you seem to be saying that's for the reservists. What about the cracks for the regulars?
Matthew Harris
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Matthew Harris
2016-05-12 12:31
I don't know. I'm not a regular force member—never have been.
Matthew Harris
View Matthew Harris Profile
Matthew Harris
2016-05-12 12:31
I don't want to speak for them.
Matthew Harris
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Matthew Harris
2016-05-12 12:32
Wait, you know what? I'm sorry. I shouldn't say that. We have some members of the regular force that retire to our area. Maybe they were in Petawawa or Shilo. They retire to our area, and inevitably we find them, and they're having issues that they didn't want to speak about while they were in, or now they're they're helping us because they have other ideas. Not everybody needs help. Some people just want to help. I think that's fantastic.
Sylvain Chartrand
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Sylvain Chartrand
2016-05-12 12:36
For me personally, yes. The problem when you transition is that it depends on if your unit will send you to the JPSU or keep you. That's one issue. If you're under JPSU.... If you're a reservist like me, now you have to do a hunger strike while you're serving to get help, which I did in 2009.
I didn't go through SISIP. I went through the workers' board for compensation, because a reservist is a public servant, even if he's in the military, so I went through the Government Employees Compensation Act, or workers' board compensation, which not many are aware of. For me, the transition with VAC went pretty smoothly then, because I know the process. I know how to get information. I know how to navigate the system. Not many know, and that's a big issue.
Cody Kuluski
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Cody Kuluski
2016-05-03 12:13
Same with.... In Thunder Bay, there is a major reserve unit, and a lot of the reserves are not entitled to the same services as the regular force. That doesn't make any sense at all. They did the exact same things, and they are not getting the same benefits as the regular force. That's hard to believe.
I have a lot of friends in the reserves, and they are getting treated far differently than we are.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
I'm sure we could probably have another whole day on that, too.
Thank you for that.
Jesse Veltri
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Jesse Veltri
2016-05-03 12:13
It should be a whole other day. They were combat soldiers—
Raymond McInnis
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Raymond McInnis
2016-04-21 11:13
While the Legion continues to deliver many programs to veterans and their families to ensure quality of life after release and ease the transition from service, more research is required to determine the effects of service unique to the Canadian military demographic and unique to Canadian operations.
The Legion is currently engaged with, and very supportive of, the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research to ensure this capability is implemented. We provide annual financial support to the CIMVHR Forum, and through CIMVHR we offer a $30,000 RCL master's scholarship to a master's student who meets the necessary academic criteria and is continuing to study in the area of military and veteran health research.
Last year we donated $1 million to the Royal Ottawa Hospital for mental health research. This gift will specifically be used to support the creation of a brain imaging centre at the Royal featuring a state-of-the-art PET-MRI machine. I am pleased to inform you that the machine will soon be operational and will allow the experts at the Royal to conduct research, including clinical trials that will advance knowledge of brain circuitries and create new practices that will help to improve treatment for anyone suffering from mental illness.
The 2017 Invictus Games will be a historic opportunity for Canada and its citizens to pay tribute to and support our ill and injured soldiers along with their families. The Royal Canadian Legion supports the Invictus Games wholeheartedly, and on behalf of our president, Tom Eagles, we are very proud to announce that the Legion will become a signature sponsor for the 2017 Invictus Games.
These games will not only benefit those who are competing but will also send a powerful message to those across the country who are struggling with severe physical challenges and mental health issues because of their military service that they can overcome whatever obstacles are before them.
Families are the strength behind the uniform and must be engaged in the transition process from the very start, especially when it is not a physical injury. Families can request assistance from military family resource centres. There is a family liaison officer, who is a social worker, located in all the integrated personnel support centres across the country who can provide assistance to the family.
The first step in helping members leave the military is the very important transition interview. All releasing Canadian Forces members in the regular and reserve force are entitled to a transition interview.
For ill and injured members, we very strongly recommend that it be mandatory for family members to be in attendance. We recommend that transition interviews be conducted early in the release process to help members and their families identify any needs they may have ahead of time.
Our benevolent assistance program provides financial grants to meet the essential needs of veterans and their families who have limited financial means. The program is available at every level of the Legion and is accessible to veterans, including still-serving members, and their families.
In 2014 alone, we provided $17 million in benevolent assistance grants to veterans and their families. We also assist allied veterans living in North America with obtaining benevolent assistance from a variety of resources. Our network of service officers at all levels of the Legion from coast to coast coordinates grants with other agencies, including the Canadian Forces Support Our Troops fund, to ensure that veterans' needs are met.
The Legion continues to be concerned with the lack of a formal capability or program that proactively reaches out to reserve units and their members to ensure that these veterans are being looked after regarding access to disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada. Most reservists don't believe that they are veterans. With this in mind, the Legion sent a letter to every reserve unit in Canada offering a briefing on our service bureau network and the assistance available from the Royal Canadian Legion. To date we have briefed over 500 reservists on our services, but more importantly, these reserve units have been informed of our service.
The Legion also maintains an extensive outreach program to inform all veterans and their families about health promotion, independent living, community resources, and healthy lifestyles. We present at Second Career Assistance Network seminars on all bases and wings to inform members of our services.
The Legion has a presence at most of the Canadian Forces integrated personnel support centres on each base to assist veterans and their families as part of the transition process.
The Legion has been engaged in assisting homeless veterans for many years through our national Leave the Streets Behind program. Through poppy funds, we can provide emergency assistance, housing, food, clothing, bus tickets, etc. Just in Ontario, over 560 homeless veterans have been helped by Ontario Command alone, and across Canada, Legion provincial commands are working closely with Veterans Affairs, shelters, and community organizations to get veterans off the street and into transition programs.
Jim Scott
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Jim Scott
2016-04-21 12:33
I would add one thing here too, please. We have to talk about the reservists, the young men and women who were in university who signed up to go as volunteers over to Afghanistan and were injured. They may not have injuries that would relieve them of their ability to go to the reserve unit and parade once a week, but they do have injuries that will prevent them from going forward in the private sector and they really have no benefits.
Around the pool table at our house, there were a number of young men. The ones who were not injured are off into the RCMP. The ones who are injured are just hanging around. They are still parading at the reserve unit, but they really haven't found anybody who wants to take them on, and their compensation can be anywhere between 5% to 20%. They aren't in a program and they're not eligible for training because they haven't been released from the reserves, but their ability to earn an income in the private sector has been diminished.
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