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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.
Brian Forbes
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Brian Forbes
2015-05-26 9:56
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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