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Richard Blackwolf
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Richard Blackwolf
2015-05-27 18:43
Good evening. I'm Richard Blackwolf, the national president of Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association. I'm honoured to have with me tonight, Mr. Joseph Burke, the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans national representative from Ottawa, who has an extensive medical background from his service in the military.
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee and give you our thoughts and opinions on the clauses contained in division 17, part 3 of Bill C-59.
It is our understanding that Canada is one of the countries that do not maintain a large standing armed forces. The often quoted prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, in his speech to the Canadian corps on the eve of the attack on Vimy Ridge is a reflection of the covenant between the Government of Canada and the citizen volunteers of Canada who go to fight in Europe.
The new Veterans Charter is a covenant between the people of Canada and the Government of Canada to the current volunteers serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and to future citizens answering a call to arms when the country needs to fight aggression. Therefore, it is all of our duties to make the best possible charter for the care of our veterans.
Our submission today is the result of a clause-by-clause analysis of division 17, part 3 of Bill C-59, with reference to the committee's previous three questions posed last year in May.
The purpose of the act is centred on the obligation to provide services, assistance, and compensation to Canadian Forces serving members and veterans, who have been injured or die for their service and have benefits extended to their spouse, common-law spouse, children, and orphans.
Mr. Burke will address the other portion of our presentation at this time.
Bradley K. White
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Bradley K. White
2015-05-26 18:32
Honourable Chair and members of the committee, good evening, and thank you.
I do agree with you, Chair, that 632 is the friendliest branch in all of Ottawa.
It's a great pleasure to appear once again in front of the committee. I'm pleased to speak on behalf of our Dominion president, Mr. Tom Eagles, and our 300,000 members and their families.
This evening, we will do our presentation in English. However, we have provided a copy of our brief in both official languages.
The legion has been asked to discuss specifically division 17 of part 3, which amends the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act to add a purpose statement to the act; improve the transition process of Canadian Forces members and veterans to civilian life; establish a retirement income security benefit to provide eligible veterans and their survivors with a continued financial benefit after the age of 65 years; establish the critical injury benefit to provide eligible Canadian Forces members and veterans with lump-sum compensation for severe, sudden, and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in permanent disability; and finally, to establish the family caregiver relief benefit to provide eligible veterans who require a high level of ongoing care from an informal caregiver with an annual grant to recognize that caregiver's support.
The division also amends portions of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act as a consequence of the establishment of the critical injury benefit.
Please note that our comments are directed specifically to this section of Bill C-59 and not to the entire omnibus bill.
The Royal Canadian Legion is the only veteran service organization that assists veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
The legion's advocacy program is core to our mission, and we have been assisting veterans since 1926 through our legislated mandate in both the Pension Act and the new Veterans Charter. Please note that veterans do not have to be legion members to receive our assistance; we provide it free of charge.
Our national service bureau network provides representation, starting with their first applications to Veterans Affairs Canada and through all three levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Through the legislation, the legion has access to service health records and departmental files to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost.
Last year our service officers prepared and represented disability claims on behalf of over 3,000 veterans to VAC and the VRAB. There is no other veterans group with this kind of direct contact and interaction with, provision of support to, and feedback from veterans, their families and, of course, the caregivers.
When it comes to serving veterans and their families, the legion continues to be the only veterans organization in Canada advocating for and providing assistance to all veterans.
The legion recognizes that progress is being made for veterans and their families in this budget and recommends that the NCVA provisions of Bill C-59 be passed as soon as possible. Is it everything we have been advocating for? Does it answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations? No, it does not, but it is a very positive step forward.
This bill lays out important enhancements that will improve the care and benefits provided to veterans and their families, especially for our veterans who have turned or will be turning 65 in the very near future. We need to ensure that they have financial benefits beyond age 65 for life, including that provision for their survivors as well.
However, we do have many questions on how the retirement income security benefit, the RISB, is calculated, and until we receive and review the complete policies on the RISB, the critical injury benefit, and the family caregiver relief benefit, we will not see how adequate these benefits will be to our veterans and their families.
Our principal concerns remain that the maximum disability award must be increased to be consistent with what is provided to injured civilian workers who receive general damages in law courts. As well, our concern with the family caregiver relief benefit is that it does not adequately compensate a spouse who has to give up a full-time job to become a caregiver. What is proposed is a respite benefit. Most families today are dual-income families and sometimes that service member works two jobs to support the family, so in essence when he gets injured three full-time wages are lost. We would prefer to see something akin to the Pension Act's attendance allowance reinstated.
As I previously stated, Bill C-59, in division 17 of part 3, does not answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations. The Royal Canadian Legion will not rest until all these recommendations have been addressed and adopted, and we will not cease in our efforts to push the government to honour its obligations.
We have not shied away from making our stance on these issues known. We have shared our position paper, “Veterans Matter”, with all Canadians to encourage an informed debate on veterans' issues in the future.
I want to address the issues of communications and accessibility.
The new Veterans Charter was developed to meet the needs of modern veterans. It is based on modern disability management principles. It focuses on rehabilitation and successful transition.
It must be stated that the legion, while endorsing the new Veterans Charter as it was adopted in 2006, has also been steadfast in our advocacy for its change to better meet the lifelong needs of our veterans and their families. We all have an obligation to understand the complexities and interrelationships, and to inform about and explain the new Veterans Charter for the people who it concerns. Our veterans and their families deserve absolutely nothing less.
The new Veterans Charter and the enhanced new Veterans Charter Act are comprehensive and very complex. Our veterans and their families need to know what programs are available to assist them and how to access them, whether they are financial, rehabilitation, health services, and/or family care programs. The government needs to ensure that resources and programs are in place to meet their needs and to review the accessibility to these programs, while ensuring that front-line staff are available—and knowledgeable—to assist veterans and their families. This can never become a self-serve system.
Most veterans and their families do not have a good understanding of the new Veterans Charter. I would suggest that this highlights the ineffectiveness of the government's communication of the programs and services available under the new Veterans Charter for our injured veterans and their families. What is required is proactive communication to all veterans across this country to ensure that they are aware of the financial compensation, rehabilitation programs, health care services, and the family care programs that are available and of how to access them.
Lastly, it is also time for all of us to understand the new Veterans Charter and the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act. This should be a priority. Our veterans need to know not only the weaknesses of the programs but the strengths behind the legislation: the programs, the services, and the benefits. We, too, can help our veterans and their families.
Since commencing our advocacy in 1926, the legion's advocacy and programming efforts continue to evolve to meet the changing demographics while supporting our traditional veteran community. However, notwithstanding the capacity of the legion, we certainly believe that the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada have a responsibility to ensure that policies, practices, and programs supported through a sustainable research program are accessible and meet the unique needs of all veterans, with a goal of enabling the healthy transition of all our veterans and their families through this very challenging, changing, and sometimes difficult life course.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention our World War II veterans and post-World War II veterans who are now seeking assistance through the legion for access to the veterans independence program. These veterans are often frail, and they are approaching the end of their life. They are a very proud group of people who have never applied to the government for any type of disability benefit assistance, and now, because they want to remain independent in their own homes rather than going into a long-term care facility, they cannot access the VIP and benefits for frailty because they do not have an established eligibility for a disability or a lower income.
Last October, we sent a high-priority list of resolutions to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, including a resolution that all veterans be deemed eligible for VIP benefits based on need, irrespective of their having established disability entitlement or low-income status. We urge the government to action this resolution without delay. We understand that the response to these resolutions will be forthcoming from the department very soon.
We agree that the passage of Bill C-59, and particularly those provisions that affect the new Veterans Charter, is a step in the right direction. Let me thank the committee for the work it does on behalf of our veterans. The legion appreciates the opportunity to come before the committee to brief you on our perspective on issues of concern to Canada's veterans.
I would also at this time like to extend to the committee the opportunity to visit our national headquarters, which we call Legion House. It would be opportunity for us to provide you with a full brief on how the legion is one of Canada's great institutions, and how we support Canadians, our veterans, and our communities.
Once again, thank you. Merci.
Sean Bruyea
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Sean Bruyea
2015-05-26 20:02
Okay. Super, Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, for the invitation. We have much to do so I will skip further formalities.
The proposed programs that bring us here today have been accompanied by an inundation of feel-good political announcements. Does the hype match reality? More importantly, do the programs fulfill identified gaps and address the evidence-based recommendations?
The retirement income security benefit claims it will top up to 70% of what the veteran received from government prior to age 65. However, this is based upon the veteran's earnings loss benefit, as already pointed out, which pays 75% of release salary, inadequately adjusted for inflation. The retirement benefit equates to the veteran effectively receiving 52.5% of their military salary, once again inadequately adjusted for inflation.
It is interesting to note that the ombudsman, Guy Parent, was quick to endorse this program during a partisan political announcement, yet Mr. Parent's office clearly recommended a retirement benefit matching 70% of a fully indexed release salary.
The department has been less than forthcoming as to what will be deducted from this income, but we are safe to assume that CPP, OAS, and the CF retirement pension will be deducted. We must know that OAS, a program for all Canadians, is transparent in its legislation as to how OAS is calculated. Do veterans not deserve the same sort of transparency for their benefits?
What we do know is that the calculation for the veteran retirement benefit does not include these other incomes in calculating the 70% benefit, but then will likely deduct these programs at 100%. This hardly meets the smell test, let alone the fact it fails to provide the veteran with even 70% of what he or she received in Government of Canada benefits prior to age 65.
We also must emphatically remember that the majority of veterans groups that are active in advocacy, the ombudsman, VAC's own advisory group, and this committee in 2010 have all repeatedly recommended that the 75% earnings loss benefit be substantively increased to anywhere from 90% to 100% of release salary, matching typical career progression and promotions.
Implementing this universally supported recommendation would result in a dignified income loss program, which would in turn provide a dignified retirement benefit for our most injured veterans. Today we are witnesses to the consequence of government's repeated dismissal of this evidence-based research and recommendation in this paltry payout from this proposed retirement benefit.
The family caregiver benefit is another puzzling creation. No veteran group, parliamentary committee, ombudsman, or advisory group asked for this benefit in this form. What others have asked for is everything from matching the DND caregiver benefit, which pays up to $36,500 in any 365 cumulative days, to providing spouses of TPI veterans with their own earnings loss benefit to compensate for their lost income while they're caring for their disabled veteran spouses.
One of the easiest solutions would be merely to open up attendance allowance to new Veterans Charter recipients. However, the proposed family caregiver benefit pays $7,238 per year, equivalent to the lowest levels of attendance allowance, which pays up to $21,151.44 annually.
New Veterans Charter clients are prevented, under this legislation, from accessing the attendance allowance. Attendance allowance recipients are prevented from accessing the new family caregiver benefit, yet the criteria for each are different. If new Veterans Charter programs are so good, why is this one closed to Pension Act clients? If the Pension Act so inadequate, why are NVC clients prevented from accessing attendance allowance?
The critical injury benefit will provide a one-time payment of $70,000 to eligible Canadian Forces members and veterans “for severe, sudden and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in permanent disability”. Countless veterans have come forward, telling us that disabling PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and loss of organ function are being low-balled below the approximately $40,000 average disability award payment.
How can government justify to a veteran suffering a lifelong disability that their disabling pain and suffering merits far lower a payment than a veteran who temporarily suffered an injury?
This leads to the obvious question on many Canadians' mind: from what bureaucratic orifice did this benefit originate? Absolutely no one in the veterans community, the ombudsman's office, the committee, or advisory group asked for this benefit. We know little of the criteria, but we can guess.
The criteria will be so stringently defined as to restrict the benefits to only two or three individuals per year out of a totally disabled and permanently incapacitated veteran population of 4,000 veterans, and a CF serving and veteran population of 700,000 individuals.
How is this in any manner fulfilling Canada's obligation to all of our veterans and their families? It is not. Why did government not do what we've all been asking and increase the amount of the lump-sum benefit to at least match court awards for pain and suffering? We are inundated by slick PR campaigns and political photo shoots on the importance of military service and of being a veteran, but when it comes to addressing shortcomings for those most in need, government delays deflect, and unfortunately have been lightly dancing on the suffering of our veterans and their families.
Bill C-59 proposes wording regarding an obligation to our serving members, our veterans, and their families, to provide services, assistance, and compensation. It is more encompassing than the construction clause of the Pension Act. However, both offer little substance and are essentially meaningless.
To what end is the obligation? Is it to rehabilitate, to re-establish or offer opportunity, well-being, employment, quality of life or education, or perhaps provide a clear service standard? An obligation without a goal is meaningless. Why does this obligation recognize assistance to only injured members, veterans, and their families? Is Canada not responsible for all veterans? The duty of the minister under the Department of Veterans Affairs Act is for “the care, treatment or re-establishment in civil life of any person who served in the Canadian Forces”, and “The care of the dependants or survivors”. Is this not what the NVC promised but has so far failed to deliver?
I'm consistently honoured to appear before committee and to have my comments placed on the record. In the past, I have provided over 100 recommendations in original reports with often unprecedented observations, likely more than any other individual or organization. In my last submission, I provided 30 easy and doable recommendations, which would have minimal expenditure and—
Michel Doiron
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Michel Doiron
2015-05-26 8:48
Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Chair, members, mesdames et messieurs.
As the chair said, my name is Michel Doiron and I am the assistant deputy minister for service delivery at Veterans Affairs. With me today is my colleague Bernard Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of policy, communications, and commemoration.
I wish to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on an issue of importance and great interest to veterans and their families, and that is those elements of the government's response to your committee's report of June 2014, titled “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, that are contained in economic action plan 2015, or Bill C-59. The legislation, if passed, will amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly known as the new Veterans Charter, to address a number of the concerns and gaps that have been identified.
There are essentially five legislative amendments/provisions contained within the bill.
The first provision introduces a purpose clause “to 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” and further provides that the “Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled”.
The second significant provision enhances Veterans Affairs Canada's ability to support transition to civilian life. It authorizes Veterans Affairs Canada to provide information and guidance to Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans on the benefits and services that may be available to them in order to help them transition and to make decisions on applications for benefits and services prior to release.
There are three additional amendments that effectively create new benefits for veterans. These new benefits will strengthen the government's support provided to seriously disabled veterans and their families through the new Veterans Charter.
The first benefit, known as the retirement income security benefit, RISB, would provide moderately to severely disabled veterans—those who need it most—with continued assistance in the form of a monthly income support payment beginning at the age of 65.
The second benefit, the family caregiver relief benefit, would provide eligible veterans with a tax-free annual grant of $7,238 so that their informal caregivers, often their spouses or other devoted family members, will have flexibility or relief when they need it while also ensuring that veterans' care needs are met.
The third benefit, the critical injury benefit, or CIB, would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
These new benefits will complement the existing suite of services and benefits available through the new Veterans Charter and add depth to the supports available both to those injured in service to their country and to their families from the Government of Canada.
As announced in the budget, additional staff will also address delays in service delivery, especially for the most seriously disabled and their families. We will hire more than 100 permanent case managers for improved one-on-one services. More than 100 new disability adjudication staff, temporary and permanent, will improve the processing time for veterans who submit an application for a disability benefit application. This is part of the department's commitment to service excellence.
Thank you for listening.
I will now open the floor, Mr. Chair, to any questions the committee may have for Bernard or for me.
View Pierre Lemieux Profile
Thank you to our guests for being here to talk about this important legislation. I'm very happy it's included in the budget implementation act. I'm glad we have it here in front of the committee so that we're able to discuss the different aspects of it.
The first question I'd like to ask has to do with the purpose clause. You mentioned it in your opening remarks. I think it would be of interest to all members. I think the terminology that's been used in the purpose clause is terminology that all MPs have been seeking. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that a bit.
Bernard Butler
View Bernard Butler Profile
Bernard Butler
2015-05-26 8:58
Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, the purpose clause reflects the objective of ensuring, as per the direction of this committee in its report going back to June 2014, that there be some formal statement of recognition of the obligation of the government and the people of Canada to Canada's veterans and their families. Interestingly enough, historically there was a very similar clause contained in the pension legislation, as an example, but when the new Veterans Charter was introduced in 2006, it was omitted. The committee had pointed out that this was a gap, that there was no formal statement in the new Veterans Charter to reflect that obligation.
The purpose clause has two elements. One is to state that there is a recognized obligation to support veterans and their families. The second element is quite important, to the extent that it says that the act shall be liberally construed so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled. That's a very clear direction to both government administrators and presumably the courts, that if they are faced with interpreting any aspects of the legislation, they should ensure that a very liberal interpretation is applied in order to fulfill the obligation reflected in the statute.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
I want to talk about the purpose clause for a bit. That's been a sticking point, because it was, as you said, omitted for whatever reason when the legislation came into effect in 2006. But in de facto terms, has not every government of every stripe since 1917 tried to live up to that clause, whether written or not? In my view, every government—Liberal, Conservative, it doesn't matter—has tried to do the best they can.
I mean, the clause is nice. If it gives people comfort, that's great; it makes it more clear, more specific. But de facto, have governments not been trying to live up to that forever, basically?
Bernard Butler
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Bernard Butler
2015-05-26 9:15
I think that's a rather broad question to ask of a witness from Veterans Affairs. I would certainly say, in terms of how the Department of Veterans Affairs endeavours to apply the legislation, that we certainly endeavour to do that really all the time in adjudication of benefits and eligibility for services and so on.
I think you're right to that extent: this has always been the approach of Veterans Affairs. This simply very clearly codifies what that responsibility is.
View Peter Stoffer Profile
Yes, sir.
I have a couple of things for you, sir.
Mr. Jenkins mentioned the number of recommendations that your organization and a number of others made with the Gerontological Advisory Council a few years back. He noted the number of recommendations that have been put forward and how very few of them have actually been accepted. I'd just like your view, the Royal Canadian Legion's view, about why there has been a reluctance to accept some of these recommendations...the other ones that have been there. Also, I have another question and it's for both of you. I'll ask the Legion first and then, Mr. Jenkins, you can answer second.
In the Equitas lawsuit, the crown attorneys who were representing the Crown—and I'm paraphrasing them—stated under oath that there was no moral obligation for the crown to care for veterans. I'm paraphrasing more or less what they said. Basically that moral obligation applies only to the aboriginal community.
Obviously many veterans organizations across the country were quite concerned when they heard this. The judge hearing the case indicated that there was an obligation to care for those veterans in that regard. My question, which I've been asking quite repeatedly, is this. Does the government have a moral, legal, social, and financial responsibility to care for those they asked to put themselves in harm's way? I haven't gotten an answer on that question even though this is now the eighth time I've asked it. I'm wondering what the Royal Canadian Legion's view would be on that as well.
I thank you again, you and all the other veterans groups, and especially Mr. Richard Blackwolf, an aboriginal veteran who is here today, for being with all of us. I thank you.
Gordon Moore
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Gordon Moore
2014-03-06 16:07
Mr. Stoffer, the Royal Canadian Legion's view on the moral obligation is that the government has a moral obligation to look after our veterans and their families, right to their last moments.
The government of the day has put them into harm's way, whether it happened 20 years ago or whether it just happened recently with them being in Afghanistan. The government has to understand that you're the one who asked them to sign the dotted line; you're the one who paid to have them trained; you're the one who paid to send them overseas; and you're the one who said, yes, you're going to go and fight for democracy, in Afghanistan, or wherever they had to go. Yes, the government has that moral obligation and they will.
As I stated in my report, there are three acts that state that the government has the moral obligation. When the new Veterans Charter was written, the moral obligation was kept out. That's the only place. No one at the time caught that. That's very unfortunate because it was something that came across that it had to be put into place because we had men and women serving in Afghanistan, we had to make sure that we were prepared back here, and this is how they sold the bill. We had to be prepared back here when our soldiers returned. But we had to be ready in how we're going to look after them, on the short term and also in the long term.
Mr. Stoffer, they've been looking after them in the short term, but they haven't been doing a good job on the long term. The moral obligation has to be there all the way through.
View   Profile
2014-03-06 16:09
A good example of moral obligation is the United Kingdom government signed, about two years ago, their social covenant with their military on how it was going to respond to their needs once they had been deployed and moved out and possibly injured and returned home. Perhaps what the Canadian government needs to do is to also have a social covenant with those who serve its country.
Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2014-03-06 16:10
I'll be very brief. I couldn't put it any better than these two gentlemen to my right. I would like my response to be exactly the same as Gord's and Brad's.
Percy Price
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Percy Price
2014-03-06 16:10
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm sure you're well aware of the fact that those veterans who served in Canada only, they're under section 21(2) of the Pension Act. In the act under section 21(1), where there's a special duty area, Afghanistan, there shall be no deduction in injuries or whatever. If it occurs in a special duty area or in the theatre of war, the government is solely responsible and obligated to provide pension for that veteran.
However, under the other section, in Canada—not those war time or special duty areas—that would be a different issue. Certainly in war time or special duty areas, the government is solely responsible.
Thank you.
Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2012-10-29 15:30
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I will first introduce the people who are with me today: Gary Walbourne, director general of operations, as well as deputy ombudsman in my absence; and Diane Guilmet-Harris, our legal counsel at the office.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to share my thoughts on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
Your review is very important given the critical role that the board plays in ensuring that veterans and other clients of Veterans Affairs Canada receive the benefits and services to which they are entitled.
In any given year Veterans Affairs Canada makes close to 40,000 decisions with appeal rights to the board. Given the number of decisions, and despite efforts to the contrary, errors can be made. Therefore, it's important to have an independent, specialized body that veterans and other clients of Veterans Affairs Canada can turn to when they are dissatisfied with the department's decisions. An efficient redress process is key to accessibility.
Parliament was of that view as well when it created the board in 1995, entrusting it with the power to change or overturn decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada if it finds that the laws governing disability pensions and awards were not properly applied.
To fulfill, and I quote, “the recognized obligation of the people and Government of Canada to those who have served their country so well and to their dependants”, Parliament asked the board to adopt a liberal and generous interpretative approach when making decisions, and specifically directed the board to section 39 of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act to draw every reasonable inference in favour of applicants, to give them the benefit of the doubt when weighing the evidence, and to accept any credible, uncontradicted evidence.
More than 20,000 veterans and other applicants are better off as a result of decisions made by the board since its creation.
Yet, as impressive as the statistic is, there is mistrust of the board within the veterans' community and much concern as to whether or not the board is making decisions in compliance with its enabling legislation. I wanted to know if those concerns were founded, and that is why we carried out the analysis of Federal Court judgments pertaining to the board.
As you know, 140 board decisions were challenged in the Federal Court and 11 of those were appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal. In those cases the courts had to determine if the board made its decision in compliance with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act and in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness. Since the Federal Court provides an independent judicial assessment on the matter in which questions of law, fact and procedural fairness are handled in cases before them, it made sense to me to take a look at the court's judgment pertaining to the board.
Before I address the findings and recommendations of my report, let me take a moment to discuss the issue of statistics.
Since its creation in 1995, the board has made more than 119,000 decisions, of which 34,000 could have been subject to judicial review. To suggest that there is nothing to worry about because only 140 of those decisions have been challenged in the federal courts does a great disservice to veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.
There are many reasons that ill or injured veterans and serving members do not take their cases to the Federal Court including “appeal fatigue” and above all legal costs, which can vary from $15,000 to $50,000. So contrasting the number of Federal Court challenges with the overall number of decisions made by the board over the years is meaningless and misleading. What's important is what the Federal Court says about the cases it reviews.
In fact, I would argue that it is the misguided opinion that it is "only 140 decisions" and that "all else is fine" that explains why board decisions have been returned by the Federal Court for the same reasons over a long period of time. This means to me that neither the board nor the department takes the Federal Court judgments seriously enough.
Up until 2009-2010, the board used a percentage of Federal Court judgments that uphold VRAB decisions as a performance indicator of fairness in the redress process for disability benefits and was satisfied that fairness was assured if the court upheld 50% of its decisions. That is not acceptable. Furthermore, in its 2010-11 performance report, the board did not report against this indicator at all. Instead, it reported on how fast decisions were made.
I'm sure that you have heard the old adage that what gets measured, gets managed. While I encourage both the department and the board to find quicker ways to address the needs of ill and injured veterans and serving members, it should not be done to the detriment of the quality of decisions made.
To get back to my report findings and recommendations, the independent analysis performed by the law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais found that in 60% of the 140 board decisions reviewed by the Federal Court, the court ruled that the board erred in law or fact, or failed to observe principles of procedural fairness.
The five most common errors for which the Federal Court returned decisions to the board for review were: the failure to liberally construe the provisions of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act and the Pension Act; the failure to accept the credible uncontradicted evidence; the failure to accept credible new evidence; the failure to give the benefit of the doubt; and the failure to ensure procedural fairness by not providing sufficient reasons for decisions or not disclosing medical evidence considered by the board.
Based on those findings, I concluded that veterans' concerns are founded and that the status quo is not acceptable. Changes are needed. As you know, I made seven recommendations.
Three recommendations address the need for greater transparency and accountability, namely, improved reporting to Parliament, posting all Federal Court decisions on the board's website, and the provision of reasons for decisions that clearly demonstrate the board has met its obligations under its enabling legislation.
Two recommendations called for the establishment of a formal process to review each Federal Court judgment rendered in favour of the applicant for the purpose of remedial action to the way decisions are made, and for the priority treatment of cases sent back to the board for rehearing.
The last two recommendations call for the Bureau of Pensions Advocates to represent veterans before the Federal Court and for legislative changes to allow for benefit retroactivity to the date of initial application in cases where the board makes a favourable decision as the result of a successful challenge in the Federal Court.
The Veterans Review and Appeal Board has put in place a plan to address the first five recommendations, and thank Mr. Larlee for acting as quickly as he has. You may be interested to know that my office has just started a follow-up review to determine if the changes made by the board fully address the shortcomings that we have identified. The report will be released in the next year.
As for the last two recommendations, I am engaged with the minister. He has recently outlined his action plan to further reduce red tape, increase efficiency and provide clarity around decisions. If properly implemented, these actions could reduce timelines in process and reduce the need for veterans to seek relief in the Federal Court. A plan is only that until it is put into action, and I will be monitoring the situation to ensure that the actions taken are indeed addressing the intent of the recommendations.
For me, the matter is quite simple. As long as the Federal Court continues to return a majority of board decisions for errors of fact, law, or procedural fairness issues, I will continue to say that fairness in the redress process is not assured. My report looked at the end result: the board's decisions themselves. Your review of the board's processes and activities is timely and it should address the why questions. Why is the process not functioning as it was meant to? How should the board and the overall VRAB-VAC process be improved going forward?
I humbly suggest to you that there are six key areas that should be looked into: the board's structure; the selection process of board members; workload issues; process by which the board's and the department's decisions are made in accordance with Federal Court judgments on a go-forward basis; quality assurance and efficiency versus effectiveness equation; and very important, the board's operating culture.
In the end, however, it all comes down to culture, and I would like to explain why.
In 1967 the Committee to Survey the Organization and Work of the Canadian Pension Commission, better known as the Woods committee, in addition to providing recommendations for reform, documented the evolution of the administration of veterans' benefits. It showed that from the enactment of the Pension Act in 1919, the intention had always been to have some form of an appeal body for veterans.
Despite major reforms through the years, that goal had not been achieved. Despite that, in 1967, the Woods committee was still adamant that an independent appellate body was essential for maintaining the integrity of the disability process and ensuring that veterans have trust in the system.
The Woods committee went into much detail examining a number of issues that were major concerns not only for veterans, but also for the government. Concerns included staffing levels, the low percentage of appeals granted in favour of the applicant, the need for reasoned decisions, the unfair practice of not disclosing information to the applicant, and the failure of adjudicators to liberally construe the legislation in favour of the veteran.
In 1995 the Woods committee goal of an independent appellate body was finally achieved.
Here we are in 2012 once again discussing the effectiveness of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board in relation to the same issues of processing times, board composition, reasons for decisions, disclosure of information, and liberally construing legislation that has been debated since 1919.
History has shown that although structural change can alter the process to create efficiencies and increase effectiveness, cultural change is what is needed if we want to address the why questions and eliminate the root causes of many of our veterans' concerns.
The first step to cultural change is transparency. On the one hand, veterans need to have full disclosure of information that decision-makers are using to make their decisions, and they need clearly reasoned decisions that are understandable and make sense to them. On the other hand, decision-makers need to have all the information necessary to make decisions at the earliest point in the process.
The second step is quality control of the adjudication process. Measures need to be put in place so that the board and the department work together to improve the quality of the overall process rather than, as is too often the case now, having the effects of expedited processing at the beginning of the application process leading to an increase in the board's workload at the end of the process.
Yes, it's important to move things quickly, but it is much more important to get things right from the beginning. This goes to the issue of why so many decisions are varied at the department's review level and at the board's level. That's the question the department asked McInnes Cooper to address in 2007.
In reviewing the adjudication process, McInnes Cooper found that decisions were varied at the department's review level on the basis of additional evidence that was often in existence at the time of initial application, but was not included with the application. In the view of McInnes Cooper, “The adequacy of claims preparation at the initial application and first-level decision stage is driven by the fact that, whether by accident or design, there is greater focus on turnaround times and/or productivity.”
As for the variance of departmental decisions at the board level, McInnes Cooper identified three contributing factors: personal testimony, spirited advocacy by a pension advocate, and new evidence.
The fact that decisions are varied in favour of applicants at each redress level is often given as evidence that the system is working, but it can also be a sign that there is a problem at the beginning of the process. I am convinced that if more time and assistance were provided to applicants to ensure that all needed information was available before moving forward to adjudication, the board's workload would be greatly reduced and it would be able to concentrate on complex cases.
Moving on to the third step, I would submit that future discussions on matters pertaining to the disability benefits process should look at the entire process, encompassing processes of both the department and the board.
With respect to the fourth step, the effect of not liberally construing the legislation is affecting not only the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire system, but it is adversely affecting the lives of too many of our veterans and their families.
If legislation pertaining to veterans was liberally construed at the front end of the decision-making process, as was the initial intent of legislators such as you, I believe we would not be seeing the problems that we see today at the back end of the process. Educating departmental adjudicators and board members on the meaning and application of the phrase “liberally construing” is critical, even more so given that military service and the documentation of such service often creates difficulties.
In the end, we should be aiming for a more streamlined and effective system that will meet the needs of ill and injured veterans and serving members.
As I stated earlier in my remarks, I firmly believe that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has a critical role to play. Closing the board would do a great disservice to veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, but changes to the board are needed to restore the trust in the organization and ensure fairness in the redress process.
View Bryan Hayes Profile
View Bryan Hayes Profile
2012-10-29 16:11
Mr. Parent, it's really nice to be in your company. You had a distinguished military career. I see you are a retired chief warrant officer. That's nice. My father is also a retired chief warrant officer, so I know we're well represented up there.
This is a really well-done report. The recommendations are extremely comprehensive. I'm a new member to the committee so I'm learning a lot. I've taken the opportunity to go through this report. I'm also pleased that the law firm Borden Ladner was involved. I had some experience with them in my time as a municipal councillor. They're a highly reputable law firm, so I expect they did very, very good work to assist you.
We heard from one witness who suggested that if VRAB decisions were tracked so that the public could see how board members were ruling, this would increase the favourability rate.
Would you agree with that?
Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2012-10-29 16:12
It's a good question. Again, I think what's important here is transparency. It's not about increasing favourability but about informing the board, other members, of previous decisions and how they were arrived at. Everything goes hand in hand. If we made recommendations as to how decisions should be published and how the evidence is used to arrive at a certain decision, this becomes a really important tool for everybody who is involved in the adjudication process, whether it's the applicant, the adjudicator, or members of the board. I don't know that it would increase the favourability rates, but it certainly would put people in a position to make better informed decisions.
John D. Larlee
View John D. Larlee Profile
John D. Larlee
2012-10-29 16:38
Yes, I have some opening comments.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
Accompanying me today are members of the senior management team. Karen Rowell is the director of Corporate Operations, and Kathleen Vent is the acting director of Legal Services.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to return before the committee to address the comments and concerns expressed by committee members and by witnesses over the past few weeks.
I think you will find that we are all working towards the same objectives. The board is honoured to serve a constituency of people who are unique and impressive in their selfless service to Canada. These veterans, members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP, and their families, deserve to be, and must always be, treated with dignity and respect when they come to the board. They have the right to fairness in the appeal process, to openness in decision-making, and to be heard by qualified and impartial adjudicators.
We all agree that our veterans' appeals must be considered with the compassion expressed in the board's legislation. I'm referring, notably, to sections 3 and 39.
Since our last appearance, you have heard from advocates and other interested parties. I followed the testimony and heard inaccuracies presented to this committee. I would like to correct the record by giving you additional context and clarification on the board's commitments to veterans.
My remarks will deal with three important topics: number one, procedural fairness; number two, transparency and impartiality; and, number three, the culture at the board.
Let me start with procedural fairness.
The board's process exists to ensure fairness in the disability benefits system for our veterans, members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP, and their families. Our objective is to give applicants who are dissatisfied with their departmental decisions further opportunities for new and increased benefits for service-related injuries.
Our adjudicators are independent. They look at veterans' applications with fresh eyes and listen to their stories at non-adversarial hearings.
Our members usually ask questions at hearings to make sure they fully understand the veteran's circumstances. They consider, but are not bound by, the department's policies, and make decisions based on the evidence brought forward by the veteran. As our success rates clearly indicate, the board does change decisions to benefit veterans.
Fairness is our mission and we strive for it in everything we do.
Some serious questions have been raised at this committee about how we do our work, in particular with respect to the role of board staff, and the information used by members in decision-making. Let me put these to rest.
Board management and staff respect the independence of members as decision-makers. Their role is to support members in making clear and well-reasoned decisions for veterans. They do this by giving advice to members on the clarity and completeness of reasons and on issues of consistency in the interpretation of the legislation. It is nothing more than feedback intended to improve the quality of the decisions going to veterans.
I know you will agree that veterans deserve decisions that present information logically and accurately, that address evidence and arguments, and that express the reasons for the conclusion clearly and plainly.
Many of our members are lay people with different backgrounds who are based in locations across Canada. They deal with a high volume of cases involving complex matters. For these reasons, they welcome support from experienced staff in our legal and quality assurance roles. Members are free to consider their feedback and accept it, or not. In administrative law, it is quite simple: he or she who hears must decide.
Questions have also been raised about the role of favourability rates at the board. These are not individual rates, as board decisions are made by panels of two or three members. Rather, they are decision outcomes associated with panel members that were provided at the member's request. They are not used for performance feedback. They have never been used to influence board members to be more favourable or less favourable. They were used only as a tool to initiate a conversation about consistency in decision-making.
I hope you will agree that veterans deserve predictability in our decision-making, that similar cases should have similar outcomes. The board has established ongoing training and support structures, adjudicative guidelines, a professional code of conduct, and performance standards, all to fulfill our veterans' expectations that they will be treated fairly and respectfully throughout the appeal process. Together, these tools cultivate consistency while respecting the independence of decision-makers. This philosophy is helping us to attract new members with military, policing, and medical backgrounds, who want to serve veterans by contributing their expertise.
Transparency is the second area that I would like to touch on. You heard from Mr. James Ogilvy of the Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals that transparency is ensured by a variety of things, including the publication of the results of all hearings. We agree.
It would cost approximately $3.5 million for the board to translate and de-personalize upwards of 5,000 decisions each year for web posting in a timely fashion. This represents one-third of our budget, the bulk of which is spent on conducting hearings and issuing decisions for veterans and other applicants in locations across the country. The reality is that the board would not absorb this cost without compromising service to veterans.
While a third party like CanLII would publish our decisions for free, the obligation to comply with the Official Languages Act and the cost of translation would remain ours.
As you know, we now publish our noteworthy decisions on our website in an effort to enhance transparency. These decisions are informative in that they demonstrate how the board applies the act in individual cases. The full text of the board decision is posted, with certain pieces of personal information removed in order to respect the applicant's privacy. The decision is not otherwise altered or monitored, as has been implied during the committee's study.
I encourage you to visit our website and read some of these decisions. You will also find medical and legal resources used by members, which are posted in the interest of transparency.
We will continue to add information and look for more opportunities to talk about the appeal process with our stakeholders. Another way for tribunals to be open and transparent is to hold hearings in public. The board's hearings are public and we are happy to accommodate observers. We ask interested parties to contact us in advance, out of respect for veterans and the personal matters being discussed, as well as to make the logistical arrangements.
Once again, I would extend an invitation to committee members to observe a hearing. As you heard from Mr. Cal Small from the RCMP Veterans' Association, it would give you an appreciation of the informality of the process, the efforts of board members to understand the veterans' circumstances, and the complexities of the cases that come before us.
The third and final topic I'd like to address is the culture at the board. We are here to serve veterans, members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP, and their families. As in the past, board members are looking for the evidence that will allow them to award new or increased benefits for disabilities related to service. Our evidence requirements have not changed, but the nature of our cases certainly has.
As you heard from the Bureau of Pensions Advocates, applicants are counselled to request an internal or departmental review if they have relevant new evidence after receiving a first decision from the department. The success rates for first applications and departmental reviews are higher now than in the past. This means that veterans are getting good outcomes earlier in the process. As a result, fewer cases are coming to the board, and those that do are less straightforward and more complex than in the past.
Veterans in Canada have access to many levels of redress for their disability benefits decisions. Some see it as a struggle, but many others welcome these opportunities to bring forward new information at any time, and they benefit from these opportunities. Our decision outcomes reflect this, with favourable rulings for veterans in half of review decisions and a further one-third of appeal decisions.
While we understand the perception that the burden of proof is too high, the legislation requires veterans to establish a link between their disability and service. Ultimately, some applicants are unable to make this link. We've heard the message loud and clear that veterans want to know they are getting the benefit of the doubt as required by the board's legislation. We have an initiative under way to train members to more clearly explain how they have applied the benefit of the doubt in every case. As chairman, I will continue to emphasize to members and staff that they must always bear in mind the debt owed to veterans who have served our country so well.
In closing, I would like to recognize the work the Veterans Ombudsman is doing to help us achieve our goal of better serving veterans, members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP, and their families. The board embraced Mr. Parent's recent recommendations and will continue to make improvements to maintain trust and confidence in the appeal process.
I hope that your questions today will give us an opportunity to further clarify our commitment and the nature of the work we do at the board to serve veterans and their families.
View Ben Lobb Profile
View Ben Lobb Profile
2012-10-29 17:22
There were others too, Chair.
Thanks for coming back. My first question is for Mr. Larlee.
Transparency is something you've talked about at length. With respect to the quote of $3.5 million that you have been given to make sure the results are published on the web and fully translated, does your group participate in pre-budget submissions? Is this something you would submit to either the Minister of Finance or to Minister Blaney? Is it something that you would put forward?
John D. Larlee
View John D. Larlee Profile
John D. Larlee
2012-10-29 17:22
Most definitely, if it came to that, that is the process we'd use, would it not be, Mrs. Rowell?
Karen Rowell
View Karen Rowell Profile
Karen Rowell
2012-10-29 17:23
I'm not overly familiar with the process, but normally to obtain additional funding we'd have to do some sort of Treasury Board submission and get it supported up through the line.
Jerry Kovacs
View Jerry Kovacs Profile
Jerry Kovacs
2012-10-15 16:51
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, veterans, good afternoon. My name is Jerry Kovacs.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you for inviting the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans association to this meeting this afternoon to discuss the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Our position, shared by others, is that systemic and decision-making problems at this administrative tribunal are having negative emotional, physical, and financial impacts on veterans and their families.
I represent Mr. George Beaulieu, our president, and I speak on behalf of the executive and members of ANAVETS. I am substituting for Mr. Lorne McCartney, our Dominion Command secretary-treasurer.
ANAVETS was formed in 1840, 172 years ago. Our organization is older than Canada. A royal proclamation signed by Queen Victoria created our first unit in Montreal. The original members of ANAVETS served in the War of 1812, in Wellington’s army, and in the royal navy of the Napoleonic Wars. ANAVETS was incorporated by a special act of Parliament in 1917.
Our 20th century members served in South Africa, World Wars I and II, Korea, and in NATO campaigns, such as that in the former Yugoslavia. In the 21st century, our members have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and peacekeeping missions worldwide.
Presently, although we're smaller than the Royal Canadian Legion, at 15,000 members we are located across the country in seven provinces under seven commands in 68 units.
ANAVETS is a non-partisan organization. Our motto is “Shoulder to Shoulder”. Our members stand shoulder to shoulder in serving their communities, promoting camaraderie, and advancing advocacy issues on behalf of veterans across Canada. Safeguarding and promoting the rights and benefits that veterans have earned and deserve working for Canadians at home and overseas is an important part of our job.
That’s the big picture.
Now permit me to address today’s subject. Why are we here? Our focus today is on the role, responsibilities, and performance of VRAB with respect to serving veterans.
One of our major concerns is the treatment of military personnel who, while on duty, have suffered physical, psychological, and emotional injuries. We believe that the Canadian government has a duty and an obligation to provide the best possible care and support for those injured in the line of duty. VRAB plays an important role in ensuring that injured veterans are treated fairly with regard to their appeals for benefits that have been reduced or denied by Veterans Affairs Canada.
What are the issues? They are numerous.
One is the performance of VRAB. Another concerns appeals of VRAB decisions where not enough information is provided to appellants, where appellants need to know but do not know why their applications have failed, and where appellants should know where adjudicators erred in decision-making.
Third is a review of Federal Court decisions.
Number four is the length and cost of the process to veterans. Anybody who appeals a decision in court has to go through a lengthy process that costs them money and that is sometimes very emotional. It takes up to a year for VRAB decisions and up to three years for appeals to the Federal Court. Veterans can pay as much as $40,000 out of their pocket to appeal their case, because they have to hire a lawyer.
Number five deals with the reasons for the process. Adjudicators should adhere to the legislation, as has already been mentioned by our comrades from the Royal Canadian Legion here. The process should involve a liberal interpretation of the legislation that favours veterans and ensures that the benefit of the doubt is always in favour of veterans.
Number six is the publication of VRAB decisions, which encourages transparency.
Number seven is a review of processes and service standards. That has been discussed.
Number eight involves retroactively compensating veterans at the end of a lengthy appeal process.
Number nine has already been mentioned: veterans representation on VRAB.
Where have these issues been discussed? It is right here, in the Veterans Ombudsman's report dated March 2012: “Veterans' Right to Fair Adjudication”. The work has been done for you, ladies and gentlemen.
What are the recommendations? Quite simply, they're found on page 20. There are seven of them. I'm sure that our good friend Mr. Guy Parent has sent your offices a copy of them. It's a comprehensive report. He even hired lawyers from Ottawa to conduct an objective review of VRAB decisions that have been appealed to the Federal Court.
I'm going to take 10 minutes to say something very simple here. I feel embarrassed.
ANAVETS agrees entirely with these recommendations, which you undoubtedly have had a chance to read during the past six months. We wish to make a number of additional recommendations that reiterate and support those contained in the Veterans Ombudsman's report.
With all due respect to our colleague Mr. Stoffer, we do not believe that VRAB should be abolished. It is a higher quasi-judicial authority that, if it functions properly and effectively, ensures that veterans receive a fair shake.
The same as in the courts, the same as in a civil or criminal court, when judges make good decisions at the lower level, there is less chance of an appeal to a higher level. The same thing applies at the departmental level: good decisions in the Department of Veterans Affairs should result in fewer appeals to VRAB.
VRAB must focus on its purpose and objectives and adhere to its legislative mandate. You've heard numerous references made to the sections of the act that apply; VRAB needs to meet its mandate and meet the same legal requirements as other quasi-judicial administrative tribunals that serve Canadians.
We also believe that a veteran should be on every VRAB panel. I conducted my assessment from the VRAB website, and I looked at the 24 members. Oh, my gosh, what a surprise; quelle surprise. There are seven lawyers, two nurses, two teachers, and no psychologists or psychiatrists, no social workers, no court case workers, no paralegals, no law professors, and no families of veterans. There are lawyers, civil servants, former Conservative politicians, tribunal members, a couple of teachers, and some political advisers and assistants, although it doesn't say for whom they were advisers.
VRAB decisions should be available online to the general public for increased transparency. We do this in our court system. Anybody can walk into a courtroom on Elgin Street or into the Supreme Court of Canada or the Federal Court and observe. Increasing transparency and accessibility should result in better decisions, as was already mentioned.
Appellants must know the reasons for the decisions. They must know how to prepare their cases, what documents are required, and how others are treated in similar situations.
We've heard a little bit about this next point already. We've been pushing VRAB to publish its decisions on its website, and there are some very good reasons that it doesn't want to. VRAB has published 19 decisions on its website this year, because they say that the cost of publishing decisions would be $2 million to $3 million.
Okay. There is an alternative called the Canadian Legal Information Institute, which is funded by the law societies across Canada. They publish legal decisions on their website for free, or my favourite word en français, gratuit. To date, CanLII, for free, has published 189 VRAB decisions on their website.
Therefore any concerns that VRAB has about the cost of publishing decisions are mitigated by the fact that there are some law societies across Canada, CanLII, who are willing to publish all of them—all of them—for free. What a sweet deal. For any of you who are in business, if somebody came to you and offered to do something for you for free to enhance the nature or quality of your business, would you say no?
Our opinion is this: your job is very easy here. Monsieur Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, has done the work. He's made seven recommendations and conducted an in-depth study of appeals to the Federal Court. All you have to do is say, “Monsieur Parent, thank you very much for all the work you've done on behalf of veterans” and accept his recommendations.
In closing, I'd like to ask a few rhetorical questions.
In 1998, almost 15 years ago, the Auditor General of Canada brought to the attention of the Government of Canada systemic problems at Veterans Affairs. Since then there have been ombudsmans' reports, stakeholder meetings, Veterans Affairs committee meetings, a veterans bill of rights, a new Veterans Charter, and numerous lawsuits, and appeals started by veterans who were denied rights and benefits entitled to them by law.
Why do you need to invite representatives from veterans organizations to your committee meetings to tell you what you already know? Why do you need to invite bureaucrats from the department to fly here from Charlottetown, at taxpayers' expense, to tell you there are problems that you already know about? Why do you need to invite VRAB management to come to Ottawa, when they know what needs to be done but cannot provide you with the information or statistics to prove they are solving problems when you asked them two weeks ago today? Why do individuals such as the Veterans Ombudsman and veterans groups such as ours, who are continually sending email messages and letters and making phone calls to VRAB, need to bring to their attention, and now to yours, systemic problems that everyone is aware of? Why do veterans need to engage in long—years' long—expensive, protracted lawsuits against the Government of Canada to obtain financial awards and benefits to which they are entitled by law? Why, why, why do we need to push and pressure civil servants, who are supposedly working for Canadians and who know their job descriptions and what is going on in their department or tribunal, who are paid to do the right thing—why do we need to tell them? Why is it so hard to do the right thing for veterans and their families?
We are all here, I hope, to serve the best interests of veterans, people who have made significant contributions to Canada and Canadians. Our response should not be to engage in administrative appeals and litigation that involves winning or losing. This is not about winning or losing. Our response should be supporting veterans—all of them, all of the time.
Sometimes I tell people that for many veterans the real war starts when they return to Canada and have to fight their government for disability benefits they are legally entitled to receive. Serving Canada by fighting enemy forces and insurgents overseas in the defence of the freedoms and values we cherish is honourable; coming home and being forced by your government to fight Canadian government lawyers is disgraceful.
In conclusion, we want to know why. You should be asking the same questions: Why has VRAB not been implementing all of the Veterans Ombudsman's recommendations? What does it take for Canadians working at Veterans Affairs Canada and VRAB to get things done and do things for veterans every day?
During an era of federal budget cuts that negatively affect veterans, why is it necessary to force veterans into a position in which they must hire expensive lawyers at the appellate level to fight their government for services and benefits that they are legally entitled to receive?
We are all sitting here around this table, shoulder to shoulder, as Canadians who care about our country and about how veterans are treated. Let’s all work together to ensure that the legal obligations to deliver services and benefits to veterans become a reality.
Thank you.
Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2012-03-08 17:00
That's a good question, Mr. Chair.
On that particular issue, in every meeting with the minister it's certainly a subject that we talk about. We have been told they were working on it. Again, this is easily understandable, at this point in time, for the financial aspect of this program.
However, as I said before, some recommendations of the report have nothing to do with finance. They have to do with the administration of the benefit. For instance, people have to go to a coupon-cutting exercise. There are only so many dollars for flowers, so many dollars for caskets, so many dollars for the minister or the priest. People who are mourning at that point in time shouldn't be subjected to that aspect of it.
The approach from DND is that all of that is submitted as one, and then they pay for a certain amount and that's it. That was one of the things.
One of the recommendations had to do with recognizing the impact of cumulative or numerous injuries on the body over a period of 40 to 50 years. It would be certainly fair to recognize that as the cause of death, rather than to be specific on what actual injury caused death.
We're more disappointed with the inaction on those recommendations than the ones that have to do with the financial aspect. But we'll keep working with the minister to try to get some movement on that, and hopefully this committee will as well.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here.
Madam Tining, it's a pleasure to see you.
I have a number of questions.
I want to begin with your statement, Minister, that we have many modern-day vets. Indeed, I see them all the time, the former peacekeepers, in my riding. I have one who is a Bosnia vet. His job was to go in and open the mass graves. Needless to say, emotionally and physically he is not well. I'm very concerned about these people.
I have a veterans hospital in my riding: Parkwood Hospital. You say that the closing of the beds at places such as Ste. Anne's or at Parkwood will not be problematic, because these vets will get provincial care.
It would seem to me that the federal government is responsible. We sent these young men and women to war. We sent them on peacekeeping missions. Is it not the responsibility of the federal government, not the provincial government, to make sure of their care?
I have this terrible feeling that the federal government is, quite literally, washing its hands of its responsibility to the men and women who put their lives on the line and for whom life is not pleasant, happy, or productive right now because of their service.
View Steven Blaney Profile
Well, thank you. I would say I fully agree with you that we have full responsibility to take care of those veterans returning from mission and their families. That's why we are working in conjunction with the provinces. That's why, as I indicated earlier, we are not only providing the health services provided via by the provinces but are also going, I would say, the extra mile to face the particular needs of our veterans.
In your example, you raised the issue of not only physical health but also mental health. This is an issue this country is taking very seriously. Actually, I consider Canada to be providing leadership in terms of the mental health services provided to our veterans. In recent years, we have doubled the number of operational stress injury clinics that provide services to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. As of today, more than 14,300 veterans with mental health conditions and their families are provided with services.
I would just add one thing. Ste. Anne's Hospital has a national operational stress injury centre for treatment there. These services will be maintained and evaluated, and if more are needed we'll see how it unfolds. But I just want to reassure you this morning that will we not only maintain the service to traditional veterans in that facility but also keep components to address the needs of modern-day veterans.
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