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View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Am I involved in the unanimous consent?
A voice: It was updated.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
I am here for an hour.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon.
Members of the committee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for the first time. I certainly appreciate the great work the members have done on behalf of Canada's veterans and their families. I especially want to acknowledge the important work undertaken by the committee recently on issues such as indigenous veterans, ending veterans' homelessness and medical cannabis.
Mr. Chair, I also want to thank you for your motion on ending veterans' homelessness. All of us agree that having one homeless veteran is one too many, and it's important to shine a light on that issue. That's exactly what you have done, and I look forward to working with everybody on the committee to make sure that we can reduce homelessness.
I want to say that I was previously, 25 years ago, the secretary of state for Veterans Affairs, and it's certainly an honour and a privilege to be back here at this committee. I consider it an honour to have the position that I do and to have the privilege of representing the people who have done so much for our country.
Last week, I had the tremendous honour of accompanying the delegation of veterans to the shores of Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. I was accompanied by a number of members, and I think everybody involved would be nothing but proud of the ceremonies and our country.
D-Day was of enormous importance for our country and for the world, and also a day of tremendous loss. Three hundred and fifty-nine Canadian soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day and more than 700 were wounded. To walk these beaches with the people who fought there 75 years ago and who saw their friends fall there, to visit the memorials and the final resting place of thousands of comrades—there are really no words to describe it. Together, we laid wreaths, we saw old battlefields and we paid tribute to those who made the sacrifice. Quite simply, it was one of the greatest honours I've had in my life.
Also, with many young Canadians as well, the best way to learn about our history is to ensure it lives on and to hear it from the veterans themselves. It is so important. We all gained a deeper understanding of what our troops went through 75 years ago.
I think it's fair to say that we went through some understanding, but it's pretty near impossible to realize what it would be like at Juno Beach. My colleagues here were there too, and just to look at coming up that beach...can you imagine it 75 years ago with the Nazis shooting down at them? It was just something else. Because of what they did, that's why we're at this table: for them, for their families and for all the people who followed in their footsteps, from the hills of Korea to the mountains of Afghanistan, and now in Iraq and Mali and beyond.
Canadians are forever in debt to those who step forward in the service and defence of this country and in support of our friends and allies around the world. It is our job to remember them and to take care of them when they return.
Before I speak to the changes compared to last year's estimates, I'd like to take a step back.
As you know, Veterans Affairs is a different department than it was four years ago. It's driven by vision and with a clear focus on the overall well-being of our Canadian Armed Forces members, our veterans and their families. It's because of that vision that we have invested over $10 billion in new dollars since 2015. It is a vision that saw our government immediately reopen nine Veterans Affairs offices. In fact, we opened an extra one, giving veterans better access to the information and programs and the services that they've earned.
In budget 2016, we increased the maximum value of the disability award for Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans with service-related illnesses and injuries to $360,000, putting more money directly into the pockets of veterans. We also increased the earnings loss benefit, raising it to 90% of an injured Canadian Armed Forces member's military salary at the time of their release from the forces.
We reversed a decade of cuts in service, hiring 700 more staff to deliver services and benefits, answer questions and help veterans through the transition process. We need people at Veterans Affairs to deal with veterans when they come in. We have increased outreach in every part of the country, including a strong effort to reach our veterans in the Canadian north.
Budgets 2017 and 2018 introduced eight new and enhanced programs, including a new veterans education and training benefit, providing veterans with up to $82,000; the caregiver recognition benefit; a veterans and families well-being fund; and a new veterans emergency fund, which is a fund that's so important. It's $4 million—$1 million a year—and last year we had to add $300,000 to that. It's something that's used. Last is expanded access to military family resource centres and a centre of excellence on post-traumatic stress disorder.
More recently, through budget 2019, we continued to build on these important initiatives with investments of $41 million to improve the transition process to civilian life; $20 million for a centre of excellence on chronic pain research; $30 million to recognize the contribution of Métis veterans to this country in Second World War efforts and to commemorate the sacrifice and achievements of all Métis veterans; and $25 million to improve how we care for members of the military, veterans and their families.
There's one underlying purpose for all of these changes and in fact for everything that our government has done over the last four years. It's not just the well-being of veterans but that of their families, because a veteran cannot do well if his or her family does not do well. This is why we are committed to ensuring our veterans and their families are better informed, better served and better supported.
I am pleased to report that this approach is working and, in fact, that applications are on the rise. In fact, with the renewed trust in the department since 2015, we have seen an increase of 60% in disability benefit applications since we formed government. This is a good thing. It means that veterans are coming forward and getting the help they need.
Of course, this kind of increase demands a response, so we're taking concrete steps to improve our service. Our government is providing $42.8 million over two years, which started in 2018-19, to increase service delivery capacity and keep up with the rise in demand. We also refocused our efforts, and service delivery is now centred on the individual veteran: their circumstances, their needs and strengths and those of the family.
To help address these needs, we have hired hundreds of new caseworker managers, who work directly with veterans. We have hired more than 450 new case managers, up from a low of 194. This is a significant improvement from where we were four years ago, and we will continue to recruit to meet the demands of the veterans community, because we know there's always more work to do for veterans.
Of course, the recent implementation of the pension for life was critical and delivered on our promise to bring back a monthly pension. The pension for life combined what veterans and stakeholders asked for with the most up-to-date research and understanding of veterans' well-being, which brings us back to why we're here today.
If we look at the main estimates and the numbers themselves, the net increase of $25.4 million that Veterans Affairs Canada will receive compared to the 2018-19 estimates will directly benefit veterans and their families.
The increase in funding as a result of the pension for life includes $685 million for pain and suffering compensation, $628 million for the income replacement benefit and $102 million for the additional pain and suffering compensation. All of these changes are significant fundamental improvements to the many services, supports and benefit programs required by veterans and their families to make a successful transition from military life.
I want to remind the committee that over 90% of our budget represents payments to veterans and their families, because they are the single guiding focus for everything that we do.
It's our job to help them transition smoothly to life after service and to commemorate and recognize their sacrifice. We have come a long way since 2015—from improving benefits and services to restoring trust with the veteran community and shifting the focus of government from being one of cost savings to one of support for veterans and their families.
In the months that follow, we will continue the important work that veterans have asked us to do, because that is what they deserve and that's exactly what Canadians expect from their government.
Again, I want to say it's an honour to be here, and I again want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of this committee and my deputy minister, Mr. Natynczyk, whom I neglected to introduce, but most people know him.
Thank you very much. These are my remarks and I'm open to questions.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you very much.
Certainly I know you're very passionate and concerned about the issue. I was, of course, in the House when this was an issue in the House. I understand. I certainly want to pass my condolences on to the family. I think you're fully aware that the veteran's family is also qualified to receive benefits. It creates a difficult situation if you take it away from all the veterans' families. That is what the problem is.
I will let my deputy explain as to what—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
—the facts are on it, but the thing is that, when you make a change on one issue, it can affect all veterans.
Just give me a minute. I would like to answer the question that you put forward.
I would not agree to make a change that would hurt veterans' families—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
—but I certainly couldn't be more sorry and more sympathetic to Catherine Campbell's family, and you know that I would be.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
But I think it's fair, being that you asked the question—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you very much.
Yes, we have started the process and it will continue. The deputy might add to it, but it's something that we want to do.
The cards and recognizing veterans are something I want to look at down the road, too. There are many things that can be done in that area.
I'll let the deputy respond.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Yes, $150 million has been dedicated over five years. Basically what we're trying to do is to work with the veterans organizations to put a formula together that will work to make sure that the distribution of funds is done in a proper manner. We want to make sure this is done in a proper way. In fact, we're into that process at the moment to make sure that we're able to deal with this issue.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
I'm an associate minister of National Defence, and that's to try to have the transition a little smoother—to make it smooth, in fact. The card itself—I don't have an answer today—in other countries, helps in many ways.
When military people retire.... Let's say you go into the military after high school. You're there for 25 or 30 years and you come out. Number one, where do you find a doctor? There are so many things that have to be looked at in order to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible.
Also, that's where the education fund comes in, the $82 million. It's a very valuable workforce. They had a hiring session in Halifax and there were a lot of major companies there. We have so many people coming out of the military who are trained, but they could use this money in order to be valuable to the private sector. That's why this $82 million in the training program is so vitally important.
As you know, right across the country, we need workers. These people want to work, and this helps provide the qualifications that are needed for them to be able to work. When somebody leaves the military, they want to work—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
—so we're making it a bit easier.
There are other problems too, but those are just a couple of issues that I'm trying to deal with at the moment. There are many others. We are trying to make the transition seamless.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Of course, the $10 billion is ongoing, but on the pension for life—I don't have the exact figure—all of this costs so much money. The education fund is so important, the top-up of wages.
Walter, I'll let you answer that.
These programs are so vitally important and these are new ventures that are taking place from Veterans Affairs so that the veteran, when he leaves active service—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
On the actual dollars....
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
There are more dollars being spent now than there were last year.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
It's an ongoing issue.
Will the $10 billion be spent this year? No. Down the road, the money will be spent improving.... We have wait times that are more than we should have. We're working hard to digitize the department to make sure that you can push a button and get the information from the doctor when a veteran applies for.... This is the kind of thing that costs money.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Yes, it is important.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Number one, the wait time is not over a year. There are likely people applying today. There is a number there, without a question—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
I agree with you. The wait times are something that we definitely have to deal with, but you also understand that we have an over 60% increase in applications. The point is that in Veterans Affairs you can never be sure. You don't know exactly how many veterans are going to come to the door, but the doors are all open. That's why we opened the centres right across the country.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
There is certainly going to be no decrease when we're behind the eight ball, but I'll let my—
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
I feel that we're basically obliged to supply the service for veterans. The fact is that we started with under 100 caseworkers and now we have nearly 500, I believe. That's number one.
We've hired over 700 people of the 1,000 who were let go by the previous government, all of which created quite a problem. Is it all solved? No, but we have done an awful lot to get it in line. In fact, what we have done has increased the inflow of applications.
Go ahead, Walter.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
First of all, having the 10 offices open across the country provides information for veterans right across the country, but in fact what it has done is that it has spurred the application process, because the fact is that—and the department is saying yes more often now, too—it has increased by over 60% the number of people who are applying for benefits. That's a good thing, because that's what we're supposed to do: provide benefits for the veterans. That's what we're here for. Over some 90% of what is spent at Veterans Affairs is spent on services to veterans.
Also, on the allocation of funds, if Veterans Affairs in the allocation of funds is short of funds, the government is obliged to supply the funding. There's always a question of estimation on how much will be needed, but I think there was a lapse last year.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
It was $300 million, and of course it came. Sometimes there is some left over. Now because of the vote in the House, it's been reverted back to be used by Veterans Affairs, all of which is helpful.
Do we have all the problems solved? No, we haven't. Do we have a wait-list of more than we should have? Yes, we do. Are we continuing to work on it? Yes, we are. We want to digitize the process. We want to make it faster. That's what we're attempting to do. We are hiring more staff, all of which makes it better for veterans. That's what we're trying to do.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Quite honestly, you never repay somebody who is in that situation, but what Veterans Affairs has done, what the government has done has made it better. It was increased from 75% to 90% just to put more money in the pockets of veterans. That is why that was done.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
There are many other programs that they can apply to.
Walt, do you want to add to that?
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
I can tell you that we're working full time in order to get to that ratio. You understand the situation that we inherited. We had less than 200. We now have just under 500, between 450 and 500. That's so vitally important. We're working hard to make sure that we get the ratio to 25:1, but to tell you exactly the date we get there—no. We're working continually.
Perhaps Walt can give an estimation. It's hard to give an estimation when you're not sure just what you're going to face, but we're working very hard to do that.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Of course, training is vitally important. I think that would be the deputy's line, but we're going to make sure that we have people well trained.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
About three or four weeks ago, we had a women veterans conference in the department in Charlottetown. We had women veterans from right across the country attend that conference. It was very successful. It spreads the word right across the country so that they're fully aware of what's open to women veterans. We are encouraging them all the time to become involved.
We also indicated quite clearly that this conference will continue so that women veterans feel comfortable and are fully aware that they played a major role. It's important that they're treated exactly the same, and that's what we want to do. Was there a problem? Yes, there was. We're trying to deal with it.
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
Are you talking about the centre of excellence?
View Lawrence MacAulay Profile
Lib. (PE)
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