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Bradley K. White
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Bradley K. White
2015-05-26 18:32
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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.
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Sean Bruyea
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Sean Bruyea
2015-05-26 20:02
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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—
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Michel Doiron
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Michel Doiron
2015-05-26 8:48
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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.
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Brian Forbes
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Brian Forbes
2015-05-26 9:56
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
NCVA welcomes this opportunity to speak to this committee this morning on Bill C-59, with particular reference to that portion of the legislation dealing with the new Veterans Charter reform.
I first wish to state that it has become readily apparent over recent months that there have been a number of significant developments positively impacting on the operation of Veterans Affairs Canada and the department's relationship with the veterans community. We would be remiss if we did not commend the minister, Erin O'Toole, and the deputy, Walt Natynczyk, on their proactive engagement in the overall reform of the charter and the enhancement of the administrative culture within VAC.
With specific reference to charter reform, it is fair to say that significant momentum and substantial traction have been developed through the various recommendations brought down by the minister, culminating in the establishment of the current statutory amendments before Parliament, which clearly are the government's attempt to respond to their proposals made by this standing committee, the Veterans Ombudsman, the Veterans Consultation Group, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, and our NCVA organizations.
Unfortunately, many of the minister's announcements and proposed legislative amendments reflect, in our judgment, half measures and are clearly not fully responsive to the comprehensive recommendations made by this committee and the aforementioned multiple advisory groups. After years, however, of what I have described as unacceptable inertia within VAC, there are indeed solid indications that the first phase of positive, incremental change is taking place. It remains our mandate, and I might respectfully suggest the responsibility of this committee and veteran stakeholders, to maintain pressure on the government to complete this vital initiative in addressing the outstanding inequities which still remain in the charter.
Mr. Chair, I would now like to make a number of general comments on the bill and the impact it will have on the new Veterans Charter.
First, the clear focus on seriously disabled veterans is commendable as it has consistently been the position of NCVA that the highest priority of the veterans community and the government must be seriously injured veterans.
Second, it is self-evident upon a review of the substantive provisions of the statutory amendments that the devil will be in the details as there are a number of references in the legislation to regulations and policy guidelines that have yet to be formulated to support the general provisions of the act. It is my opinion that until these regulations are finalized, it will not be possible to evaluate the precise eligibility criteria for the newly proposed major benefits and the “factors to be considered”, which are often mentioned in the bill, in the administration of the new law. It will be incumbent on veteran stakeholders and indeed this standing committee to monitor closely the draft regulations and policy guidelines to ensure that the substantive provisions of the act are not diluted or unduly restricted.
Third, it is also readily apparent that budgetary constraints still exist. It is our opinion, upon a review of the minister's announcements and the statutory amendments, that the proposals have been structured to fit into the budgetary envelope, resulting in proposed benefits that are targeted to specific cohort veterans rather than the veteran population at large. Unfortunately, in our view, the government fixation with balancing the budget in this election year remains a restraint on the complete new Veterans Charter reform at this time.
Fourth, as I stated to the minister through recent correspondence and through my presentation to the veterans summit, much more needs to be done to rectify the voids that have been readily identified in the charter. The present state of development cannot be considered a total fait accompli, but merely a significant first stage of remedial legislation.
Mr. Chair, I know we're under certain time constraints and my brief is fairly lengthy. I've made it available to members of the committee, but I'd like to highlight some of my concerns with regard to the bill and those areas where there are still gaps and inequities in the charter which have yet to be addressed in this legislation.
First, the earnings loss benefit must be elevated from 75% of former military income to 100% in accordance with the long-standing and consistent recommendations of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, the Veterans Consultation Group, and NCVA—or at least to 90%, as proposed by my friend, the Veterans Ombudsman. The current reduction of 25% in income is unacceptable, particularly given that this loss of essential revenue is imposed when veterans and their families face a period of rehabilitation as they attempt to re-establish themselves in Canadian society.
This is particularly material to those who are permanently incapacitated. In this regard, the career probable-earnings approach identified by this committee should be implemented to ensure the true impact of the projected career income loss is recognized. This proposal can be implemented by further reform of the PIA or the PIAS, or alternatively by a separate evaluation based on the mechanisms used by the Canadian civil courts to ascertain future loss of income for severely injured plaintiffs
Second, the SISIP long-term disability policy needs to be eliminated from veterans legislation and be applied only to non-service related disability.
Beyond the unnecessary duplication of the programs—SISIP and ELB—the compensation of veterans and their dependants should not be a function of the insurance industry, whose mandate in many situations is to minimize exposure of insurers' policies when applied to injured or disabled individuals. I speak more of that in the paper, and I'll leave that to your reading at a separate time.
Third, disability awards commensurate with civil court general damages should be facilitated by VAC.
It is to be noted that in lieu of implementing this long-standing recommendation, the minister has opted to propose a new critical injury benefit in the amount of $70,000. This CIB is limited to the specific circumstances of a transitionally incapacitated veteran and to high-end disability award recipients. It is noteworthy in this regard that the CIB is fraught with definitional issues as to who is eligible for this benefit and what factors are to be considered by adjudicators in determining the scope and extent of this new provision. Although we support the establishment of the innovative CIB in recognition of the plight that seriously disabled veterans confront, the choice of VAC to compensate only this particular class of veterans, as opposed to incrementally increasing all pensions in the disability award system, is of concern. I might add that this recommendation has been consistently brought forward over the last six or seven years not only by this committee, but by all of the other advisory groups that have looked at the charter.
Fourth, improved access to permanent impairment allowance and entitlement to higher-grade levels of the allowance needs further evaluation. It will be recalled that the Veterans Ombudsman, Mr. Parent, in his empirical study of the charter identified that 50% of seriously disabled veterans were not receiving the PIA, and consequently the PIAS, and that 90% of these veterans receiving the award were only obtaining grade three, the lowest grade. The minister's proposal to widen the regulatory definition of PIA eligibility is commendable, but once again does not fully satisfy all aspects of the reform of this important allowance. This is particularly so for those seriously disabled veterans who fail to satisfy the criteria for PIA, but it is also of great significance when one considers that the amount of the PIA is a major element of the new retirement income security benefit, as was pointed out by Mr. Butler this morning.
We continue to strongly feel that our proposal to the standing committee in this regard is the best approach to improving this access to PIA. That is, once a veteran is deemed to be permanently incapacitated, the disability award received by such a veteran should be the major determinant in assessing his or her grade level of PIA. If you're over 78% disability award, you should be entitled to a grade one PIA. Between 48% and 78%, you should be at grade two. It's simple, straightforward, and triggered by the disability award.
Fifth, the family caregiver relief benefit requires further re-evaluation as it fails to comprehensively provide adequate financial support for the families of seriously disabled veterans where significant needs of attendants must be provided by a caregiver. This benefit, as brought forward by the minister, is commendable insofar as it goes, as a targeted support to allow caregivers appropriate respite or relief, but in my judgment, it represents only one element of the overall concerns confronting the caregivers of seriously disabled veterans in need of attendants. Such families are also facing, in many cases, a significant diminishment in income due to the fact that the caregiver spouse has been forced to give up his or her employment, and when coupled with the veteran's 25% loss of income, through SISIP or ELB, it often results in a financial crisis in the overall family budget.
I'll just be a couple of minutes, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
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