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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)
Okay. I understand what you're saying, and thank you.
Mr. Mac Culloch, you talked about long-term care. This is an issue that is very important to me. I have a veterans hospital in my riding, and they provide exemplary care. They have understood the culture of the veteran, and they meet the needs of veterans.
Now what I'm hearing, and it bothers me very much, is that there's going to be a review next spring. We're always fighting against the closure of beds, because once they're closed, they're gone and they're not coming back. The reality is that because they're not allowing the modern-day vets, the peacekeepers, in to use these beds, they're empty. In this review, there is the fear that beds will be permanently lost, that we're going to lose an important service. Are you hearing anything of it?
Wayne Mac Culloch
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Wayne Mac Culloch
2016-10-18 16:36
Unfortunately, the issue is a bit more complex than that.
There are two kinds of beds: one is community, and the other is a contract bed. The traditional ones of which you speak are termed “contract beds”, which are, in essence, a stock of beds that are available to veterans if they meet certain conditions. Unfortunately, most modern veterans do not meet those conditions, and even if that were to be removed, there has also been a bit of a shift in the culture in that most veterans these days who require long-term care would prefer not to have to move to a large centre where these contract beds are located. They would prefer to remain closer to their home communities, which is where the community beds are.
I know Veterans Affairs is actively engaging the provinces in trying to get a priority allocation basis for veterans to be able to access community beds. They've had more success in some places than in others, but it's worrisome to the veteran community that regardless of the type of bed, it needs to be available locally, and when the veteran needs it, he or she needs to be able to get into it with some speed.
Jerry Kovacs
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Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 17:16
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the veterans affairs committee.
My name is Jerry Kovacs. I have been engaged in veterans advocacy work for the past five years. Although I have a relatively short military career compared to some, such as Reverend Zimmerman, as an infantry officer, many of the things I learned and saw remain with me decades later.
My civilian career as a lawyer and educator has taken me to Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Palestine. I spent four years in the former Yugoslavia, two of them in Kosovo. My work often involved collaboration with other civilians, police officers from Canada, and individuals involved in helping people in post-war countries under reconstruction.
During the past five years, I have heard numerous times the comments and complaints that you are hearing now for the first time. As the military ombudsman said in Ottawa on June 7, there have been many studies and reports, many proposals, and many recommendations. It's time for decisions.
It is commendable that this committee is travelling to hear from individual veterans who live outside Ottawa or veterans who are not members of any veterans organization. There are approximately 800,000 veterans in Canada. Of that number, only 100,000, or 12.5%, are members of any veterans organization. It's important to hear the views and concerns of the other 700,000 veterans, or 82.5%, who are not members of any veterans organization. They too are defined as stakeholders by the department. Perhaps now, or in the future, they may receive benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Twenty years ago, from 1995 to 1997, the veterans subcommittee of the national defence committee undertook an extensive two-year examination of issues related to the quality of life of veterans. The agenda was open. There were no time limits on speaking. Members of Parliament actually visited veterans in their own homes. The final report was issued in 1997. In addition, the MacLellan report, the Stow report, and Joe Sharpe's Croatia Board of Inquiry had wide mandates to examine how military members and veterans were being treated.
Neither Veterans Affairs Canada nor the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, formed since then, have ever had full public hearings into the services and benefits and policies and programs offered to veterans.
On March 8, the veterans ombudsman talked about the importance of outcomes before this committee. Outcomes, in Professor Barber's view, relate to his “deliverology” theory. Are services and benefits being delivered to clients effectively? Are the value and benefits of existing services and resources being fully utilized by veterans, the RCMP, and their families?
Services and benefits must be delivered in a timely, effective, and efficient manner. Veterans Affairs employees should continually ask veterans, through customer satisfaction surveys, whether they are satisfied with the manner in which they are being treated. A comprehensive survey is also warranted. To save taxpayers money, it could be done through SurveyMonkey.
In improving services and benefits to veterans and the RCMP and their families, this committee should divide them into three categories: one, things the Minister of Veterans Affairs can do immediately without parliamentary approval; two, things the departments of Veterans Affairs and National Defence can do immediately without parliamentary approval; and three, things that require parliamentary approval where Treasury Board approval is required, such as the federal budget.
The process for the transition from military to civilian life needs to be simplified. It needs to be made clear well in advance of the release date. Mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that on the release date, the veteran and the veteran's family have everything needed for a smooth move, or a seamless transition, from a career that ended voluntarily by retirement or involuntarily as the result of a medical release.
Too often in the past I have heard veterans say, at this veterans affairs committee, that they were not fully aware or informed of the services and benefits available to them. The department must take primary responsibility to ensure that veterans and their families know what services are available to them.
Medical and personnel records should be easily and quickly transferred, whether by paper or electronically. A copy should be in the possession of the veteran on release day.
Identification cards are long overdue, and the veterans' names should be in a database, cross-referenced with the service number so that their location is known.
Provincial health cards could identify an individual as a veteran. If the word “veteran” can be printed on a provincial licence plate, it can be printed on a driver's licence or health card so that health care professionals would be aware of any military conditions that a veteran in their care may have.
There should be a comprehensive application form for services and benefits. Eligibility for services and benefits should not require proving multiple times that an injury has been sustained. If a veteran is missing one, two, or more limbs today, chances are the same veteran will not have those limbs two years from now.
On service excellence, training in customer service should be delivered to Veterans Affairs staff on a continuous basis. Feedback on service delivery from the veteran and service agents or case managers is essential.
The committee should also provide a timeline for when things are accomplished. Being in the military involves timings. Veterans who are used to timings—what will be done, what day it will be done, what time it will be done—will want to know, as veterans, when services and benefits will be made available to them. Veterans want to know when the mission will be accomplished.
In closing, I wish to comment on a few items.
The first is the new Veterans Charter versus the Pension Act. During the 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party promised to return to the Pension Act. It has yet to occur. This is viewed by many veterans as a crucial benefit and an election promise made but not yet delivered.
Second, the Equitas Society lawsuit should not be viewed as an obstacle to making needed changes regarding services and benefits for veterans. If the changes are made, the reason for the existence of this lawsuit disappears entirely when the plaintiffs' demands are satisfied. The abeyance agreement ended on May 15. A new one could have been written. The existing one could have been extended. At any time, the parties can continue settlement negotiations via a settlement conference pursuant to rule 9-2 of the British Columbia rules of civil procedure. The parties should continue settlement negotiations. The Equitas lawsuit should not be used as an excuse for anyone to hide behind the words “No comment. It is before the courts.”
The work of this committee, Parliament, the department, and the minister can continue to improve the services and benefits for veterans, as Reverend Zimmerman said, while this lawsuit is ongoing.
Third, the expression “sacred obligation” has been publicly used, misused, and thrown about indiscriminately. I suggest “sacred” be replaced by the word “unconditional”. The duty, commitment, or responsibility to our veterans is an obligation based on their unlimited liability to Canada. An unlimited liability from them should be an unconditional obligation to them in return.
In Anne Cole v. Attorney General of Canada, a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal dated February 25, 2015, Mr. Justice Ryer, speaking on behalf of the court, said:
Parliament has mandated that a liberal interpretation of the Pension Act must be given with a view to ensuring that our country’s obligation to members of the armed forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service may be fulfilled.
The Federal Court did not feel the need to use a religious adjective to define the word “obligation”. It exists. In plain language, an obligation is an obligation.
This was confirmed in a Federal Court decision on May 31, 2016, two weeks ago, in Ouellette v.Canada (Attorney General), where the Federal Court extended the whole analysis to physical conditions. These two court decisions, last year and two weeks ago, are consistent with section 2 of the Canadian Forces' Members and Veterans Re-establishment Act, also known as the new Veterans Charter, which talks about, “recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada.”
In addition, section 3 of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act states:
The provisions of this Act and of any other Act of Parliament...conferring or imposing jurisdiction, powers, duties or functions...shall be liberally construed and interpreted to the end that the recognized obligation of the people and Government of Canada to those who have served their country so well and to their dependants may be fulfilled.
Fourth, the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to always recognize this obligation has resulted in a growing cottage industry during the past few years. This cottage industry consists of individuals and organizations that are generating money from private donations and public funds. They are not all volunteers. Some of them are profiting from helping veterans. The abrogation by, or absence of, the government in meeting its obligation has created the vacuum for this to occur.
Fifth, this committee will perform a great service to veterans, the minister, and his department if it can identify barriers that prevent existing benefits from being improved and effectively delivered, and new ones from being implemented.
The words “one veteran, one standard”, “care”, “compassion”, and “respect” have been repeated all too often. Let's ask Petter Blindheim, a 94-year-old veteran living in Halifax about these words and what they mean to him and his family. He is a veteran; he is a Canadian. Veterans Affairs recently denied him a bed at Camp Hill Veterans' Memorial hospital in Halifax, where there are 13 beds vacant, because he does not need specialized care. I challenge you to name a 94-year-old veteran who does not need some sort of specialized care either today or in the future.
The sections of the statute that I just enumerated plus the two recent court decisions show that there is an obligation, an unlimited obligation, to deliver services and benefits to veterans and not to deny them. Care, compassion, and respect are needed in the decision-making process when granting the services and benefits earned by veterans.
There are three kinds of people in the world: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who don't know what's happening. It's time for Canadians to make things happen for veterans.
Thank you.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
That leads into my next question. This is something that I've been very concerned about for a number of years, and it is access to long-term care. Post-Korean vets do not have the same access as World War II and Korean vets. In my own riding I've seen issues where someone served during the Cold War, acquired injuries through that service, but because he was post-Korea didn't quality and had nowhere to go. He had nowhere to go, and was told quite point blank, sorry, you have to leave now. Your surgery is over. Go away. It took a great fight in order to finally get him a bed in a long-term care facility, but he didn't have the same support as other vets.
I just wanted your thoughts in regard to the policy that excludes our modern-day veterans, because they are going to need a great deal of care. We've already seen that in these first few years after Afghanistan and the peacekeeping efforts in places like Kosovo and Cyprus.
George Zimmerman
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George Zimmerman
2016-06-14 17:52
I would agree and you're right. As this population ages, there's going to be a point where the pressure that they're going to put on public health services will be significant.
I'm not convinced and haven't seen strong evidence that the public service medical care really comprehends—especially if you're dealing with trauma, long-term trauma, psychological as well as physiological issues—how to deal with these people, so they end up falling through the cracks. Many of these patients can be difficult patients.
One of the things we observed with PTSD that occurred through military action was a significant distrust of authority figures. You don't see that in motor vehicle accidents, having PTSD. They still trust the police and they still trust the system, but for some reason our military PTSD patients had a real suspicion of authority. As that population ages, how are they going to deal with a civilian organization that just doesn't understand that kind of dynamic?
I would absolutely agree with you that those veterans...Why would we not as a country want to care for them with the same degree of care, sensitivity, and funding as we did for our Korean veterans?
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
I quite agree. I have a long-term care facility, a veterans hospital in my riding. The expertise and knowledge that staff have in terms of dealing with veterans, and not just their special needs physically but emotionally with the culture that a veteran is part of, is extraordinary. My fear is that it will be lost. When those Korean vets are gone, those beds will close and we will have lost something very valuable.
My last question for the moment has to do with homeless vets. Canadians discovered that we have homeless vets and seem to be astounded by that fact. The reality is we are not sure even now how many there are. Groups are scrambling. Jerry talked about the growing cottage industry and one of those groups is trying to make up for that loss of housing policy, the loss that happened back in 1994.
Should there be a national housing policy for everyone and something specialized with regard to homeless vets, so that they can get that home and begin that road to recovery?
George Zimmerman
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George Zimmerman
2016-06-14 17:56
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to defer that question to Jerry because Jerry was working on Saturday looking for homeless veterans in Ottawa, so he's further ahead on that issue than I am.
Before I do that, one of the things we discovered when we were trying to set up the occupational stress injury clinics across Canada within the military was that—just to underscore your concern about the lost expertise, should we close those beds and lose that staff—when we were looking for suitable civilian facilities to treat our veterans or to treat military members with post-traumatic stress disorder and other occupational stress injuries, it was very difficult.
It was in the early days when PTSD was not that well understood. We were getting all kinds of pseudo-science or non-science, sometimes just sheer profit-seeking people who had the panacea, who had the answer, and we would have to field all of that, and it came out of the civilian world out of a necessary need.
When we started to reach out to different organizations that treated mental health issues including PTSD in the civilian world, their level of expertise was not that great at that time. Things have changed somewhat but not a lot. The PTSD veteran would be activated and would become sicker as a result of not being treated with the sensitivity and expertise of a military person dealing with a military mental health issue.
I'll leave it at that.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
I have one last question to whoever would like to jump in.
Today we were at Parkwood hospital, and I'm so very fortunate that facility is in my riding. I see on a daily basis the really wonderful work they do, the expertise that has accumulated in terms of their staff, and how they are able to do remarkable things with veterans.
The problem is that post-Korean War vets have no access to long-term care. You will not have access to long-term care as those older vets have. It's something that I think we have to change in terms of the regulations, the relationship between the federal government and provincial caregivers.
Do you have any thoughts, any sense of how important long-term care is for post-Korean War vets?
Reginald Argue
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Reginald Argue
2016-06-13 19:54
I live over in the Legion apartments here in Toronto. A service officer who lives there is trying to do a campaign to write members of Parliament and bring the issue about Sunnybrook to their attention. Korean War veterans and World War II veterans are not entitled to Sunnybrook. She's trying change the mindset. Once those veterans are dead, what's going to happen is that Sunnybrook is going to revert to the province. We need to stop that. If it happens, veterans my age, veterans Walter's age, and even upcoming veterans are not going to have any long-term programs. I'd like to know what's going to happen to us then.
Gordon Jenkins
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Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:17
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and MPs sitting around the table, for taking the time to be on this committee. You are very important to us veterans as a conduit to the next step, shall we call it. It's very important that we get across to you, and there are so many points. I will try today to stick to three, believe it or not. I've got my clock, and I'll try to keep it to four minutes. There's more documentation, because I have a bench strength of analysts that you wouldn't believe: an ex-CDS, an ex-VCDS, who have done the homework for me. This is a Reader's Digest summary. That's not an ad for them.
Did you know there are at least two categories of veterans in Canada? The World War II and Korean War veterans—war veterans they're called, even by some people who should know better—versus the post-Korean, current-day veterans like me. I did three tours in three lovely places. The servicemen and RCMP who participated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and 35 peacekeeping countries, like Haiti, Bosnia, etc.... They're awful places. The stories I could tell you of that would just.... Anyway.
These veterans groups—war veterans and the active part of Korea—have different legislation from the other groups. They're treated differently for benefits. We just had an ex-CDS refused admittance to a veterans hospital. He had served in Korea but in the peacekeeping time. These groups are—and I hate to use the word—segregated. Segregation should have passed, and has passed in most places, long ago. There are no longer federal hospitals for veterans. There are no longer hospitals for war veterans; there's even a waiting list.
All the hospitals—and I think I can say all, albeit I'm not sure about Camp Hill and Montreal—are all now provincial hospitals, which means that each province and territory has different rules and regulations for veterans getting in. I won't get into the different types of beds that Veterans Affairs has categorized. But as a veteran, once I can no longer stay in my home, I join the lineup with everybody.
The modern-day veteran, when he joined, accepted the unlimited liability clause. Do you all know what the unlimited liability clause is? There are some ex-veterans here whom I don't have to.... I'm sure you all know. In other words, it was....
Yes, ma'am.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
As such, technically, you aren't entitled to long-term care at a veterans' facility.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
This, of course, is something that has concerned me very much.
You talked about the fact that every province has a different protocol for these beds. One of the things that I have been fighting for is the availability of federal beds for every veteran, no matter what arena of service.
Is that something you think would help? Would you support that?
Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:55
What was it exactly? You would support federal....
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Long-term care for a veteran no matter what arena that veteran served in; so whether it's World War II or a modern-day vet they'd have access to that bed.
Gordon Jenkins
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Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:55
You would go down as a heroine of seven or nine different veterans' organizations. This is my sixth year, my last presentation, I'm now retiring, and this has been number one, just what you described. If that happened, I could retire quite happily, so yes.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
You said there was a Korean vet who was refused access. Could you explain that, because that's not supposed to happen?
Gordon Jenkins
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Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:55
It was in the paper. I'm sorry, that's not a shot. It was in the media, shall we say. Nobody reads the paper now.
It was Lieutenant-General Belzile. He was the Chief of the Defence Staff. He applied because he had some medical difficulties where he could no longer stay in the home.
It was not the Korean War. It was called the Korean Conflict. It was never technically a war. The hard part was where we had 178 killed, probably the same as in Afghanistan, and then there was the peacekeeping part. He was there in the peacekeeping part. Therefore, since he was a peacekeeper, no, he was denied access to Perley Rideau, where I used to go to visit my Admiral Hennessy.
By the way, I was Admiral Hennessy's aide. When he died two days later, there was somebody, who happened to be a carpenter, put in the same room.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
With regard to General Belzile, I seems that there was hairsplitting going on in the definition.
Richard Blackwolf
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Richard Blackwolf
2016-06-02 11:58
It was after the armistice, madam; any service after the armistice, when the war ended, and the shooting ended—
Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:58
He became the same as me, a peacekeeper, and I'm entitled to nothing. What we're pushing for is for a VIP in the home right up until the last moment, right. That's how we can only get around it, because Veterans Affairs controls VIP. Long-term care, they gave to the provinces. It's gone.
Gordon Jenkins
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Gordon Jenkins
2016-06-02 11:58
Correct, and thank you. You've really hit the nail on the head. I am now your fan.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:14
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, good morning.
I wish to acknowledge that we meet today on Algonquin territory, land that has never been ceded or surrendered. I think the Algonquin nation for the privilege to meet here to speak to all of our warrior veterans, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. I wish to also acknowledge a personal friend and comrade, Mr. Bill Black, a Korean veteran well respected in the veterans community.
As president of the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones, I once again appear here to represent the aboriginal veterans from my organization as well as veterans from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I take my responsibility very seriously and thank the committee members for allowing me once again to speak on veterans' issues.
I'm here to discuss the delivery of services for veterans. I will speak only on matters that I feel need to be addressed, only on issues that need to be mentioned on behalf of aboriginal veterans from coast to coast to coast. We do not wish to be classed only as veterans. Rather, we take pride in our service to Canada and our service with all Canadian veterans. With them we stand united.
A decade ago, Veterans Affairs introduced the veterans transition action plan, which was designed to assist veterans leaving the Canadian Armed Forces and moving into civilian life. This plan has certainly had its challenges, but for the most part it has provided the help veterans needed to transition out of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Many veterans moved smoothly through the programs and received the entitlements and benefits. There were some, though, who faced obstacles. The delay of services or benefits may well have been concentrated in the transfer of medical documents between the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. I am not aware if this problem has been rectified, but I know that coordination and effective communication between release sections and Veterans Affairs caseworkers will certainly help to alleviate any problems.
Veterans Affairs announced recently that it will be hiring enough new caseworkers to reduce the caseworker-to-client ratio to 25:1. This could be a positive factor in improving wait times and document transfers.
The closing of offices by the previous government had an adverse effect on some of our aboriginal veterans, notably those in the Saskatoon area. This was the only office that was reasonably close to our first nations or to rural communities where Métis lived as well, although in some cases the drive to get to that location was four hours. When the office closed, veterans were forced to deal with Veterans Affairs online—if they had that capability—or by phone. With the reopening of this office, we hope that caseworkers will also be required to visit face to face for consultations.
I would add that the vast majority of veterans in Canada did not support the move to Service Canada for veterans' services. The main reason was that the person on the phone was not conversant with our policies and procedures, nor did they understand the scope of any of the veterans' issues.
On the issue of reaching out to less populated areas—our remote first nations, rural communities, and communities in the north—in the four years I've been involved with this committee, I haven't seen much movement on the key issues put forward by my organization, by the Legion, or by other veterans' groups.
For example, I advocated for veterans in our rural and isolated communities, communicating with them on benefits and entitlements. I explained that the technology enjoyed by mainstream Canadians is not necessarily the norm in remote communities and that we needed to develop a better plan to deal with the issues. I was happy to hear last week at the minister's summit that there is apparently a plan to answer the communication problems in the north. Although we did not hear specifics, it would appear that somebody has put it on the table, and my hope is that there will be no delays in the implementation of this plan, which has to include face-to-face consultation.
When we speak of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health in general, I believe that OSISS offices across the country are in most cases meeting the needs of those veterans who have sought help. I can only hope more injured service personnel take advantage of these offices.
Families of veterans who are suffering must be included in the treatment of the veteran, because they are the ones closest to the veteran and are also affected by that injury. Our aboriginal communities see post-traumatic stress disorder, and those affected by it, as being disconnected from mother earth. The warrior needs to be reconnected, and our ceremonies such as sweat lodges help our wounded warriors to cope and to and move on down the path of healing to deal with those demons and eventually reconnect with mother earth, their families, their friends, and all relations.
The vocational rehabilitation program appears to have a great deal of positive components to assist not only the veteran but also the families of veterans, depending on the degree of injury. It is not reasonable to have a policy that must be activated after release within two years of that release date. Veterans need to be healed before they can do any type of vocational rehab, or any type of program, or even apply for it. You must take into account that with some of the more severe cases, be they physical or mental injuries or a combination of the two, it may be wise to consider interaction with caseworkers, health care professionals, and others involved directly with the veteran and the veteran's family to decide if and when rehabilitation is practical. It may very well be longer than the current two-year policy.
Veterans within my organization living in Quebec, as well as other veterans' groups, were disappointed to see that the Ste. Anne's Hospital was transferred to provincial control. The so-called traditional veterans are few in number, and the government feels it's time to change the way it deals with veterans seeking long-term care. There will be no veteran-specific floors in the provinces, and the fear is that obtaining space in the provincial system will be slow at best and that veterans will be treated like other people seeking the same type of care.
The department must remember that we still have veterans and that facilities for long-term care should be available for veterans, at least as a first option. It may be felt that at this time the need may not be critical, but the future will see veterans counting on these facilities to be there when they feel the need. There may very well be a tidal wave of veterans coming near the time they will require long-term care facilities. How will the government cope with this reality when that time comes?
Effective communication is the cornerstone to ensure success. If you can communicate your message to everyone, and it is understood, then you have achieved the first and most important step in providing care to veterans.
I recently sat with two retired chief warrant officers, with a combined service of approximately 65 years of regular force service. Their response to communicating with service personnel was to go through the leadership that is already there in the Canadian Armed Forces.
One of their suggestions was—of course, being chief warrant officers they would use this one—that if Veterans Affairs Canada wants to ensure information regarding benefits and programs are available, chair a base chief warrant officers' conference once a year for three to five days and give them the information on all of the programs and benefits and entitlements that Canadian Armed Forces members may be entitled to once they move from the military. Then have those chief warrant officers, when they go back to those bases, deliver or disseminate the information to the units within their base structure.
I am quite sure there are other ways to do this, but as a soldier and as a leader of soldiers, I was responsible for the welfare for those under my command. Leaders will always look after their soldiers, and that includes communication.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, and fellow veterans, thank you. Meegwetch, marsi, merci, qujannamiik, all my relations.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Oh, dear. Well, perhaps I will re-ask this question, but I'll give you some time to think about it.
You talked about Ste. Anne's and long-term care there, and Mr. Black, you talked about the Perley. One thing that bothers me very much concerns the hospital I have in London, Ontario. Parkwood is an excellent hospital, but they're closing the beds because they're only for World War II and Korean veterans.
I'm very worried about long-term care for modern-day veterans and the men and women coming back from Afghanistan. I will ask you about long-term care when I get another opportunity.
Thank you.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you. I have a lot I would like to ask, but I'll give you an opportunity to comment on the long-term care piece, because the loss of beds is of profound concern to me.
Mr. Thibeau.
Robert Thibeau
View Robert Thibeau Profile
Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:19
I've listened to Mr. Black. When I joined the army, the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary was alive and well and full of veterans. Of course, that's gone by the wayside now. You brought up a good point when you said you are concerned about today's veterans—the modern-day veterans, if you will. There may not be the requirement today for those beds, but there certainly will be a requirement. That's something that I think Veterans Affairs and the federal government have to keep in the back of their mind.
Although the closures are certainly saving a lot of money, I'm not sure that's the right approach. I think there's going to be an influx or at some point in time there's going to be a surprise, and veterans will be looking for that support.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
It's very specialized care and it has to do with the camaraderie and the understanding of experience. I think you're absolutely right, and I worry very much about that future.
Mr. Leonardo, you talked about the treatment authorization centres and the problems that you had just yesterday with regard to needing medication. Earlier you referenced the Bureau of Pensions Advocates. I wonder if you could expand on that.
Donald Leonardo
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Donald Leonardo
2016-05-19 12:20
Prior to 1996, veterans could go to the Bureau of Pensions Advocates to make an initial claim, and employees there would help them fill out their applications and send their applications in. After 1996, that stopped. The Bureau of Pensions Advocates was not a separate arm. It became part of Veteran Affairs Canada itself. I think it should be able to assist those who need help with their initial claims as well as in appealing their claims.
I'd like to also make a point on your last questions having to do with long-term care. The Colonel Belcher in Calgary is still going strong, even though the numbers are growing. There's a brand new Colonel Belcher as of 10 years ago, built by the Alberta government and run by Carewest, but I'd like to remind everybody that modern veterans are not entitled to go to those facilities. The responsibility has been downloaded onto each province. They will probably pay the costs for some modern veterans to go to a long-term facility, but only for those who are designated SDA and designated severely TPI, totally and permanently incapacitated.
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:07
Thank you. There's a distinct difference in how an injured citizen and a veteran are supported. The citizen may apply to workers' compensation facilities, and assistance in various forms is provided. The veteran cannot apply to this entity for assistance. VAC is the workers' compensation system for veterans. The veteran should at least receive equal treatment and compensation for injury as that given to civilian workers.
Within VAC, there's been real progress since the deputy minister has brought his leadership to the department, and there's clear evidence that change is occurring. The major factor in the delay of VAC delivery of service is the lack of documentation about injuries in veterans' records and files. Some delays occur at the VAC scanning centre in Matane, Quebec.
Archives Canada has reported that Canadian Forces members' records of service, including medical and personnel documentation, are not being archived in a timely fashion. They advise that DND has embarked on a new method of digitizing and preserving records, and delays of several months are being encountered when these records are requested. We're aware that the personnel resources of the department are being adjusted to repair personnel reductions and that a reallocation of resources to case management is occurring. Case managers are the front line of Veterans Affairs Canada's service delivery. These changes are most welcome.
Desired outcomes, not just treatments and compensation, were the goal of the new Veterans Charter when it was introduced. Unfortunately, what we experience today is a continuance of layering of regulations and policies that make it difficult for veterans and even VAC staff to come up with an appropriate action. There doesn't seem to be a focus on outcomes, but rather a development of a quick prescription to solve problems. The department needs to focus on outcomes, not repairing and adjusting the labyrinth of programs and regulations.
In some NATO nations, there is a focus on the release process, so much so that the releasing veteran is examined holistically by empowered medical staff to document the medical condition of the veteran. In so doing, the lengthy and very frustrating process in post-release applications for disability awards is diminished or avoided.
I'll use some acronyms, so I'll introduce them. SISIP is Service Income Security Insurance Plan, and LTD is long-term disability. On complexity, not including mental health, disability applications, and the issues related to long-term care disability provisions, there are signs that some processes of VAC are being streamlined. SISIP is a CF-wide compulsory insurance policy. This warrants further examination by your committee so that the impacts of long-term disability by SISIP on VAC services are clearly understood.
A veteran applying for a disability award will be processed using the date of initial application as a reference point. If the application was made before March 2006, the Pension Act is used as the adjudication for an award. For applications after March 2006, the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Regulations Act, referred to as the new Veterans Charter, is used. If there's a negative decision under the Pension Act, the member can request any number of departmental level reviews and/or appeals to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, with set limitations. Under the new Veterans Charter, only one application per departmental review is authorized, and the option thereafter is to go to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Why is there a difference?
The existing VAC service standards for departmental level reviews and for the Veterans Review and Appeal Board appeals are not promulgated. We have been advised by the Bureau of Pension Advocates that there is a backlog of cases and that they have personnel shortages.
In regard to wait times, because of the lack of documentation, internal and external to the department, delays in decisions occur. In client satisfaction data, we can find no reference to the achievement of the service standard of 16 weeks in rendering a decision on disability awards. The reasons for the timeline are not provided. Perhaps the reasons are document retrieval and a shortage of adjudication personnel. This should be examined further.
Decision times to allocate personal care have improved, but further improvements can be realized.
There is a lengthy process to obtain aids for living such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, hearing aids, lift chairs, and the like. The present system is not timely and is rather cumbersome. The VAC service standard is three weeks, but delays can and do occur when financial approval of the needed service is delayed for months as the veteran's entitlement to service is studied.
As for complexity, the more complex the case, the longer the adjudication takes. Factors such as privacy concerns, gaining the testimony of physicians and medical specialists, the effectiveness of the case managers and service officers, and internal processes are all linked to delays.
We realize that service personnel generally do not apply immediately for a disability award for injury while serving. The “suck it up, boys” attitude still prevails in the military and some stigma is attached to reporting and recording an injury while in the service.
Another issue is the VAC claimed benefit of the doubt. It's our experience that without a Canadian Forces 98 report on injury, or without the testimony of a witness, veterans' claims are not ruled upon favourably.
The number of trained case managers has increased and this will surely benefit veterans over time. The training and placements of these managers is redressing a long-standing need. The days of the walk-in trade are past and most applicants now apply for assistance from VAC by telephone or by the Internet. Some veterans still need active case management, and they require visits by the case manager to their homes.
Regarding partnerships with National Defence, since the promulgation of the Neary report that led to the creation of the veterans charter, there remains a quest to have a stronger relationship between VAC and DND. The initial aims were to have VAC hire more ex-military personnel and to provide timely counselling to releasing Canadian Forces members. Much progress has been achieved. The creation and joint staffing of the joint personnel support units are achieving superb results, and we note that further initiatives in this partnership are being trialled and examined.
At the federal and provincial levels, some good regulations and policies are in place for hiring veterans, both able and disabled. However, despite what is written as policy, the public service unions seem steadfastly against any priority hiring or employment being given to veterans. Policies have been announced, but more needs to be done. Ministers, VAC, and DND could lead and set an example and set realistic goals and demand adherence. For instance, setting a goal of hiring one veteran per ministry per month would send a powerful message to all the other ministries. Another suggestion would be to do what the U.K. government does, in stating that Her Majesty’s government will not do business with any firm that fails to have an active veterans hiring practice in place.
As for regional offices, modern clients communicate with VAC through the Internet and telephone. However, since several veterans rely on the office people to assist them, we support having VAC offices across Canada. The matter of providing VAC services to rural areas is easily solved using the advertisement and arrival methodology previously practised.
The initiative wherein Service Canada personnel are to provide assistance and services to VAC will benefit veterans across Canada. However, the complexity and the construct and linkages of the VAC programs are such that present Service Canada personnel are not capable of rendering a one-stop shopping solution for today's vets.
There are differences in the quality of medical care across Canada and in rural and urban centres. The quality of care that a veteran receives depends on the circumstances of the health care process where he lives. Special needs people residing in rural areas need more help.
Dedicated VAC counsellors greatly assist veterans in addressing their needs. Most VAC offices are staffed with nurses and occupational therapists who can refer the veteran to the appropriate medical system. Once a referral is made and costs are involved, it's our experience that with the exception of prescribed medical aids, claims are repaid in a timely manner.
In the case of mental injuries, once treatment is prescribed by a specialist, including group therapy sessions, the veteran is compensated in a timely manner. We note that RCMP veterans diagnosed with PTSD may receive treatment by specialists, and compensation is provided by VAC. This service should also be provided to veterans and their families.
As for mental health services, Canada has a shortage of mental health specialists, and DND and VAC are taking actions to try to resolve this. Operational stress clinics go a long way towards solving and addressing these issues.
With respect to rehabilitation, VAC has disbanded the program evaluation directorate, under which VAC would remain unaware of program satisfaction trends without conducting a client satisfaction survey, and there they would only get partial answers. VAC has a lot of data available, but staff to analyze the data are not present. We consider that the criteria for access to rehab programs should be re-examined. The SISIP, in which long-term disability recipients receive little or no VAC support until the two-year assessment period for a long-term disability is completed, needs to change. Once the long-term disability period has expired, veterans and releasing military personnel have appropriate access to rehab services.
As for long-term care, we're aware of the plans concerning St. Anne's in Quebec, but access to long-term care facilities for veterans across Canada has been and will be necessary for a long time. The present construct does not facilitate the co-location of the veteran and the spouse in a VAC-funded facility. In addition, depending on the province of residence, there is no guarantee that the veteran will be located in a facility close to his family. This situation is a matter of availability of beds, and VAC could provide enticement to the provinces to realize this simple need.
The veterans independence program is an excellent program. We consider it a model for the treatment of aged, stay-at-home persons for the consideration of provincial jurisdictions. VAC uses a telephonic tool to determine the amount of VIP assistance that the veteran may be entitled to. For some veterans this tool would be of benefit to VAC and to the veteran. We have complained to VAC that this tool is not useful for some veterans who have hearing disabilities or for those who are frail. We recommended that this tool not be used in assessing the needs of these veterans. Unfortunately, our criticisms were not heeded. We can attest to a number of cases where a veteran has been granted two hours per week of housekeeping. I could go on to explain that, but I won't. It's our considered opinion that the minimum should be three hours per week. Another matter is that, while VIP services are extended to the spouse at the time of death, the percentage of the deceased veteran’s spouse disability benefit is diminished.
I've already spoken about the handling of claims, and I said that most of them are done in a timely fashion.
At the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, there are staffing issues and delays. The service standard for the delivery of VRAB services should be reviewed. Some cases take a long time to resolve. During this time, veterans are denied benefits and they become frustrated. We're aware of the past transgressions by VRAB in law and practice, and the quest for change is noted. The practice of appointing members through political patronage, as well as the embarrassment of failing to heed directions of the Federal Court of Canada, has angered veterans to the point that many have lost confidence in this appeal process. Nonetheless, veterans must have an appeal process.
We're most grateful for the opportunity to provide this testimony. We realized that you were well into the information-gathering phase and that you'd soon be doing investigation and analysis before rendering your report. The CPVA stands ready to assist you and respond to your requests as needed.
Thank you very much.
Deanna Fimrite
View Deanna Fimrite Profile
Deanna Fimrite
2016-05-05 11:21
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am Deanna Fimrite, the dominion secretary-treasurer of The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, or ANAVETS for short. It's a great honour to represent dominion president Brian Phoenix, our executive, and the approximately 15,000 members in 65 units from coast to coast of Canada’s most senior veterans organization.
Our association traces its history back to 1840 when a charter was granted by Queen Victoria to create a unit in Montreal, and we were formally incorporated under a special act of Parliament in September 1917. We therefore have a long history of contributing to the consultation process with governments of the day in relation to services and benefits affecting the well-being of veterans, current serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, former members of the RCMP, and their families.
When the men and women of this country decide to proudly don the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they have committed to a calling that may require the supreme sacrifice. With such a noble commitment comes an obligation from the people and Government of Canada to honour that commitment, that in such service, if they become ill, injured, or make the ultimate sacrifice, we will ensure that they and their families are cared for. It is the mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada to provide such service and care for those veterans, their families and survivors, on behalf of a grateful nation.
Today we are here to discuss the way that care is delivered and the opportunities that we have to make the process less complex and cumbersome for veterans and their families. We must bear in mind that the men and women leaving or being forced to leave the service often do so with physical, psychological, or a combination of injuries which can be exacerbated by trying to navigate themselves through a complicated system of benefits and eligibility requirements.
There have been a number of changes that Veterans Affairs has made to reduce the complexity of their application process and to improve service delivery. Some forms have been reduced in size, and there is ongoing work being done to make them more user-friendly. There have been efforts made to connect with members in the pre-release stage earlier than they previously had been.
The use of telehealth services has been employed for veterans in isolated or rural communities. The introduction of operations codes to connect service relationship to musculoskeletal injuries of the neck, back, hips, knees, and hearing loss for those military occupations that often see such injuries is a step in the right direction. The cultural change in the department demonstrating the new philosophy of care, compassion, and respect is slowly starting to take hold and brings with it the prospects of a comprehensive change in the way we service veterans and their families.
To facilitate the best possible transition from military to civilian life, we would like to see a better integration of the programs and services offered by the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. Certainly one of the first barriers faced by transitioning members is the overlapping programs offered by DND’s SISIP long-term disability program and the VAC rehabilitation program. For medically releasing members, SISIP is the first provider of services. Additionally, veterans must apply within 120 days of release to access the VAC rehabilitation program.
With past and proposed improvements to the income replacement and educational allowances on the Veterans Affairs side, we foresee increased problems and confusion in keeping both these programs separately. We would like to see the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada work together to eliminate redundancy and better streamline the transition process.
We believe that a more proactive and early engagement from Veterans Affairs in the release process would close some gaps in transition. As soon as the decision to release has been made, a VAC veteran service agent or case manager should meet with the veteran and his or her family to discuss their unique situation and needs.
As there is a minimum of six months between that decision being made and the release date, this would give Veterans Affairs' front-line staff the time they need to receive and review the service file, proactively communicate with the veteran and his or her family all the programs and benefits that they are entitled to, and to start the application process for those veterans. An early involvement of front-line staff will hopefully allow for benefit decisions to be made and program and treatment plans to be in place as soon as the release from the forces occurs.
This is a fundamental shift in focus, from having the onus being placed on the veteran to navigate the system to making Veterans Affairs responsible to clearly communicate the benefits and services to which he or she may be entitled. Moreover, assistance in applying for these benefits is certainly a more veteran-centric approach and corresponds with the ethos of care, compassion, and respect.
With the department hiring more front-line staff, and the government’s mandate to reduce the case worker ratio to 25 to 1, we believe that this vital transformation is achievable, but we are not there yet. Additional training and understanding of the programs and benefits, and the interrelationships between these benefits, by front-line staff is required to ensure that they can properly explain the services. I believe that the department is already taking this into consideration when training its new hires.
We also have to remember that operational stress injuries often take months or years to come to the surface—or indeed for the veteran to accept that they require help. We need to be ready to assist those veterans whenever they are ready to come forward.
We applaud the government’s decision to reopen Veterans Affairs offices where the need dictates. Certainly, the feedback in regards to Service Canada locations was not positive. Many veterans were frustrated when the Service Canada agents failed to provide knowledgeable feedback to their questions. From the responses we have received, Service Canada serves as no more than a post office for veterans applications.
In today’s computer age, with so many people looking for information and access online, the department has some work to do on the technology side of things. The My VAC Account requires a redesign, the website could use improvements in providing ease of access to clear information on programs and benefits, and the IT department should be constantly monitoring for any technical errors in its delivery of information.
Currently there are still delays in disability adjudication, which should be improved. Processes must be simplified, and communication with the veteran as to what is required must be enhanced. There is certainly a disconnection between the length of time the process takes from the veteran's perspective versus that of Veterans Affairs. The current 16-week timeline, which starts only after the determination of a complete application being received, is unwarranted. When coupled with wait times to see specialists, or to be assessed at an OSI clinic, the overall process will well exceed the current four-month commitment.
We encourage veterans to seek help with their applications, and we instruct our service officers to connect them with the Royal Canadian Legion service officers who have professional training and client service delivery network access. They can help to ensure that the application goes forward in a complete fashion the first time around.
The department has also hired more adjudicators to work through the backlog of cases and to improve services delivery times. I hope we start to see some more evidence of improvements in that area.
Recently we had a veteran whom the department asked to pay back thousands of dollars relating to an overpayment. We requested a departmental review, provided additional information, and received a positive decision back within six to seven weeks of the request. That was certainly an encouraging outcome.
With regards to health care and the VIP program, we have received some reports of difficulties garnering approvals for health care for consequential health issues related to the pensioned conditions. This causes frustrations for the veteran and often out-of-pocket expenses. We would like to see more partnerships with provincial health care systems in regard to assisting veterans and their families, and to finding family doctors and other health care providers.
We are encouraged by the department’s use of telehealth opportunities for those living in rural areas, and would like to see this explored further. Long-term care for veterans in their communities, or close to family, should be further explored with provincial authorities. We would like to see veterans retain priority access, with Veterans Affairs providing the funding similar to what they provide currently for veterans of World War II and Korea.
The VIP program is well received by most veterans, who would like to stay in their homes for as long as possible. We have encountered some delays in approvals for necessary home adaptions to make the lives of our veterans safer and easier. For the elderly World War II veteran, who needs a walk-in bathtub with a seat, months of waiting for approval and financing for the renovation is clearly not acceptable. The response needs faster consideration and action.
We all know that families play an integral part of service to country. When there are severe illnesses and injuries, it is not only the veteran but the entire family that is overcome with the stresses of adjusting. We would like to see family members have access to related treatment in their own right and increased training to understand how to best care for their loved ones and themselves.
In this regard, Veterans Affairs and DND have partnered with The Royal Ottawa to create a new online OSI resource for caregivers, as well as the veteran family program pilot project in conjunction with seven of the military family resource centres across the country. We look forward to hearing back on whether these programs are helping families transition.
Mr. Chair, on behalf of President Phoenix and all of our members, I appreciate the dedication and effort of this committee to ensure that we give our veterans and their families the best possible service and care, which they so justly deserve.
Thank you.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thanks to all of you for being here today and sharing with us the information you have. As we've said, it's very useful for us as we try to get a grasp on how we can positively impact Veterans Affairs.
I have some questions for you, Mr. Cuppens. I'm pleased to see you here today. We met last fall back in New Brunswick when we were planting tulips to commemorate the liberation of Holland. I appreciate your being here today.
I'm going to ask you some questions about the services that we have in New Brunswick and how they're delivered, partly because I'm biased in representing Fundy Royal, but also because I think it does represent a scenario where we have some urban and rural services.
Could you tell us a little about what service delivery looks like for veterans in the Saint John area and the rural areas surrounding it?
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:49
As I mentioned in our testimony, veterans can access Veterans Affairs services either on the Internet or by telephone, or by going into a Veterans Affairs district or area office. Those are not extant in all communities.
You mentioned Saint John. There is the area office in Saint John that has quite a staff. Also, they're next door to the largest army base in Canada, Base Gagetown, where they have a Veterans Affairs group of people embedded in the joint personnel support unit. Serving veterans and even veterans who live in the nearby communities can go there for assistance.
If you reside in other rural areas in New Brunswick—in Sussex, in Moncton, or out in the countryside—and need special assistance, you would have to commute to those facilities and meet with a counsellor or a case manager. You can contact the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, the Legion, or ANAVETS, and also the many reach-out organizations, including the Red Cross and the medical society. All these folks know how to find resources to help veterans, and if they don't know, Veterans Affairs hasn't been doing their job to communicate.
You were asking about veterans facilities. It's very much the same in many places in Canada. New Brunswick has four large wings for veterans. One is located in Saint John and is called Ridgewood, and we have one in Moncton, one in Fredericton, and one in Edmundston. These are located near the big centres and affiliated with the local hospitals there. Veterans have access to these facilities, but only World War II and Korean veterans may go there. Spouses cannot be collocated with the veteran when admitted there.
As the client base from World War II diminishes to zero, which according to demographic predictions will happen within 5 years, then you're into the Korean veterans, and the demographic prediction for them is the same only 11 or 12 years away, so these facilities will have no veterans in them. The whole methodology then would be to transfer them, since we haven't changed the eligibility criteria, to provincial health authorities for full-time use.
Modern-day veterans—and I'm talking about those who have served since Korea—can access the facility if their disability is related to a service condition and they're being treated for something they've already been given a disability award for by Veterans Affairs. They can go there, but again, spouses may not.
I hope I've answered your question, Alaina.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
Yes, thank you.
As we see this change in demographics, which is going to happen, are those facilities...? I understand that they're managed by the province, correct?
A voice: Yes.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
What condition are they in? If we were able to move forward, do we have the infrastructure to say that we could extend services?
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:52
Most of these facilities opened within the last 15 years. They're very modern, state of the art, and well staffed. They don't have palliative care facilities. They just have a ward, a two-room facility, for people who are dying.
They are state of the art, though, and they're supported strongly by the regional hospitals in their area. There are people there from veterans support entities. Many volunteers go there to help transport them, to play music for them, or to do anything they can to make their lives better. The facilities are quite new.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
As we move forward and talk about how we provide veteran services to new veterans, too, are there any other things that we should be doing—and this could be for you or any other witness—and be focused on to kind of start to build that bridge?
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:53
I'd jump a little bit bigger and talk about what I mentioned in our written testimony to your panel. We mentioned things like the larger facilities, Ottawa, the Perley and Rideau, Toronto, and the Deer Lodge Centre in Winnipeg. All these old facilities that Veterans Affairs Canada initially funded are still working, and veterans are going there, and volunteers are going there to help the veterans. These facilities are diminishing in population, and perhaps Veterans Affairs Canada might want to look at placing veterans with other veterans.
I'll give you the example of the Colonel Belcher centre in Calgary. When I was on the advisory council, we went to visit that. We were shown a very modern new hospital that was opened up. We went into one area, which was a veterans wing, mostly populated by World War II and Korea veterans, and then we went to see the state-of-the-art systems that they had in place to help aged people.
Then we came across another area where there were long-term care people, and we encountered four modern-day veterans there, two of them were amputees from Afghanistan, and we asked, “How come they are not with the veterans in the veterans wing? It's simple, because they have an affinity to one another. We're a family, we're a brotherhood”. They said that they were not eligible. That's an area I think we should pay some attention to.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you to this extraordinarily talented panel for all of this information.
I wanted to take up where my colleague left off in terms of long-term care. In London, Ontario, we have the state-of-the-art Parkwood hospital, and they are closing the beds. They're closing the veterans beds, and we need them. We need them for modern day vets, and it's as simple as that.
Mr. Cuppens, you touched on the fact that spouses are separated, and I want to tell you about Victor Rose, who was 97 years old. He passed away last November. Victor was separated from his wife of 70 years for 10 of those years, and it was the most cruel thing I think I've ever seen. If you were to suggest that veterans and spouses be allowed to have long-term care in the same facility, I would support that very, very much, because, ultimately, it's about families and how we support those families.
I have a number of questions. Do you support the principle of one veteran, one standard, that veterans should be treated equally no matter what?
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:56
I sure do. You've heard from the Veterans Ombudsman, even from the deputy minister of VAC, the Legion, and others that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran. They are all people who have committed themselves under the unlimited liability to serve and so they should all be treated equally.
Is there a difference between a veteran who went overseas to England in 1939 and remained in England until they went to the continent in 1944 and the veteran who went to Afghanistan or the veteran who went into the invasion of Cyprus? There's none. They all went into harm's way because the people of Canada asked them to, so one standard of delivery should be extant for them all.
Your opening remark, though, deserves some comment. These facilities that we talked about, with the exception of Ste. Anne's, do not belong to Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs provides funding for them, but the health care that's rendered to people across Canada is the responsibility of Health Canada and the provincial governments. The veterans facilities that we talked about are co-funded by Veterans Affairs Canada and the provinces, but the provinces have the ultimate responsibility for delivering health care in Canada since Veterans Affairs is no longer in that business.
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NDP (ON)
No, but I think the point is that the funding is only limited in terms of veterans, and a lot of modern day veterans cannot access those facilities. They're closing down beds in very, very good places and denying people the supports they need. You alluded to that comradeship, that need to be with people who understand the situation that you have lived, and the support that comes from that.
Louis Cuppens
View Louis Cuppens Profile
LGen Louis Cuppens
2016-05-05 11:58
Your question and your observation are most valid, and they should be included in your long-term report.
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