Bill C-55 (Historical)
Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
March 5th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
Deputy Minister, Department of Veterans Affairs
October 3rd, 2012 / 5 p.m.
Dominion Secretary, Dominion Command, Royal Canadian Legion
I can't get away with not saying something on this one.
We're taking an institution that hasn't moved its doors in a lot of years. We're taking an institution in a bureaucracy that's been sitting there, very comfortable in doing its business the way it has been doing it, until all of a sudden we had 158 casualties, serious deaths, in Afghanistan and people coming back and saying “We need a new way to do business”.
The Legion fully supports the aims of the New Veterans Charter to make a person well and get them on their feet again, instead of simply continuing to support an injury. But if we hadn't made our noise and hadn't made our moves, we would never have had Bill C-55 come forward to make some of those changes, to move the New Veterans Charter out of its concrete. It's supposed to be a living document.
Processing and reassessing how business is done at VAC should be a normal institutional everyday way of life. It hasn't been. So when we say that the changes are coming and they're institutional, they need to come. It's about time.
Doing business better with the modern technology, it's a wonderful thing. Yes, we can do business better. But as I've said before, it's not a cookie-cutter situation. We're dealing with a very diverse group of people and we have to remember that. We can't paint everybody with the same brush. It's a very diverse, wide group of people.
October 3rd, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
Gordon Moore Dominion President, Royal Canadian Legion
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon. It's a great pleasure to appear in front of your committee. As the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, I am pleased to be able to speak to you this afternoon on behalf of our 330,000 members and their families.
The Royal Canadian Legion is well situated to provide advice on Veterans Affairs Canada, cutting red tape, or the transformation agenda. As the only national veterans service organization, the Royal Canadian Legion has delivered programs to all veterans and their families since 1926. The Legion is an iconic cornerstone of Canadian communities and at the forefront of support for military and RCMP members and their families.
Today a new generation of veterans is coming home, and veterans and their families will continue to turn to the Legion for support and affordable housing, representation, benevolent assistance, career transition, counselling, trauma relief, and recognition. The Legion provides representation to assist veterans and their families with obtaining their disability benefits from VAC. The Legion's service bureau network, with over 1,500 branch service officers and 25 command service officers, provides representation from the first application to VAC through to the appeal and reconsideration of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Through legislation, the Legion has access to service health records and departmental files to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost, irrespective of Legion membership. Therefore, we are an active participant in the VAC transformation agenda.
VAC has embarked on a five-year transformation agenda to cut red tape and approve services to the almost one million veteran community. This is a diverse community: age, RCMP, wartime, regular force, reserve forces, families, male, female, and all with diverse needs. The complexity of this community cannot be overstated. This is no simple task.
The vision for the VAC transformation agenda is to be
...responsive to the diverse and changing needs of veterans and their families by ensuring relevant programs and policies, fast and easy access to benefits and services, professional service by employees who understand the military experience, and seamless transition from military to civilian life.
The Legion is watching closely the implementation of the transformation agenda and the impact it will have on the veteran community. Is the transformation agenda meeting its vision?
While the demographic of the veteran population is changing, there remain approximately 118,000 war service veterans; however, only half of these are clients of VAC. They are the most vulnerable of our veteran community due to their age and increasing needs. Every day these veterans and their spouses continue to come forward needing immediate assistance. We are concerned with some of the specific red tape initiatives that will directly impact this group.
With regard to the veterans independence program, in April of this year the government announced that for housekeeping and grounds-keeping services, veterans will receive an up-front grant for this service with the responsibility to disburse and coordinate with the service provider. For some veterans, this is probably doable; however, there are a number of veterans where the service provider bills VAC directly. For this group, they do not engage or contract with the service provider. Now the onus and burden is being placed on the veteran. There should be a choice.
Additionally, some of our lower-income or fixed-income veterans will be given a seemingly large sum of money and are expected to put it in the bank and disburse it on a biweekly basis. However, should an emergency situation arise, they'll be faced with the decision to use this money or not. This is an unnecessary burden placed on a fragile group.
The purpose of the veterans independence program is to keep the veterans in their homes and independent. Will this goal be met? Is this transformational or is this about deficit reduction?
With regard to district office closures, the closing of district offices to respond to the changing demographic is of concern. The Legion has been told that eight district offices will close in 2014, all at the same time. This will be offset by an increase of staff at the integrated personnel support centres and a consolidation of VAC resources in major centres.
The Legion fully supports the increase in case managers at the integrated personnel support centres to ensure a seamless transition from military to civilian life, especially for complex cases; however, there still needs to be sufficient resources to meet the needs of our wartime and aging veteran population, whose needs can very quickly go from independent to complex with a simple fall or infection. This remains a large group of approximately 118,000 veterans.
How will this impact the RCMP located in small communities across the country? Are there two standards of service—Canadian Forces and RCMP?
On the Service Canada initiative, the government announced in July that services will be available through Service Canada outlets, enabling veterans to drop in, obtain information, and get assistance with applications from many of the 600 outlets across the country.
We are carefully monitoring the implementation of this new service. Have the staff been provided with sufficient training to advise on disability benefits and services available to veterans?
We know that only half of the approximately 118,000 wartime veterans are in receipt of benefits from VAC. Our service officers across the country report that wartime veterans who were previously not in receipt of VAC assistance are coming forward every day in need of VAC services.
The process is complex, and time is critical. If turned away, will they get the help they deserve? Is this transformational?
With respect to the business process, since VAC embarked on the transformation agenda, the time to process a disability application has significantly improved. This has been the result of a significant change to online forms, the introduction of electronic insurance and health records, and simplifying the application process for service officers and VAC disability benefit officers. Once the application is submitted, the turnaround time, especially for aging veterans, has been counted as just a few weeks.
We've also seen adjudicators follow up with service officers to ensure the decision can be made quickly. This is a tremendous change, and it took place over a short period of time.
VA staff, at all levels, should be commended for their effort and commitment to reducing the application processing time. This is transformational.
With respect to reducing complexity, this is a key theme of the transformation agenda and cutting the red tape. The Legion continues to advocate on behalf of wartime veterans and their spouses, including wartime allied veterans, to simplify eligibility for the veterans independence program. This was first raised by the Gerontological Advisory Council report, “Keeping the Promise”, in 2006.
Please remove the artificial barriers and complexity to ensure our wartime veterans and their spouses have access to the veterans independence program. The program is essential to keeping our veterans safe and independent in their homes. This would be transformational.
On eligibility for services and benefits, attached as an annex to the VAC eligibility grid you will note there are 18 categories of eligibility for services and benefits. How will a Service Canada employee interpret this table? Will a veteran or a family member searching online be able to determine if mom or dad has eligibility? Simplifying accessibility and eligibility to VAC health benefits and services would be transformational.
With regard to strengthening partnerships, the Legion, through its legislative mandate, works side by side with VAC. While this relationship has been going on for over 86 years, there's room for improvement and strengthening.
The long-term care surveyor program, in which the Legion provides trained surveyors to visit veterans in long-term facilities across the country to administer a client satisfaction survey on quality assurance at the request of VAC, has been in place since 2003. It is an example of our partnership and outreach capability.
There are approximately 154 active surveyors. These are trained and security-cleared volunteers. In 2010, the surveyors visited 4,230 veterans in 868 facilities, and VAC paid approximately $180,000 for mileage, reports, and training for the same period.
The value of the program to meet with a veteran and his or her family in a facility cannot be understated. The volunteer has visibility in the facility and can hear, see, and smell the environment. They are the boots on the ground. The capability of this program ensures that no matter where a veteran resides, a visit will be conducted at very low cost.
As district offices are downsizing and realigning, the continuance of this program will ensure that veterans in long-term care facilities are not forgotten. The Legion is well positioned as a national entity to continue this valuable program with reliable and trained personnel. We are concerned that transformational priorities will eliminate this program.
In June of this year, at our 2012 convention, the Legion approved $1 million in new start-up funding to ensure the rollout of the national homeless veterans program. This program will be developed from the ground up and will reflect the unique needs of each community. It will build on partnerships with VAC, social service agencies, first responders, and other organizations.
VAC needs to have the resources and staff to partner at the local level in communities across the country. How will closing district offices impact local initiatives and the ability to provide timely response to these veterans clearly in crisis?
This year the Legion will commit almost $1 million to the veteran transition network, an operational stress injury treatment program that grew out of the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine. This is truly a success story. Our new funding will assure that this new network has the capacity to establish a national not-for-profit treatment program and will deliver much-needed programs across the country.
I must emphasize our concern that VAC has not recognized this program as a treatment option for our veterans, despite its more than ten-year history. This is an opportunity to partner and ensure that proven treatment options are available for our veterans. This is transformational.
Next, with regard to sustaining the new Veterans Charter, the new Veterans Charter has evolved since its introduction in 2006. Bill C-55, implemented in October of 2011, introduced improved financial enhancements, especially for seriously ill and injured veterans. Proactive consultation with veterans groups will be important to evaluate the impact of these changes and the gaps and priorities for future change. This is a dynamic piece of legislation, and there's no mechanism in place for veterans groups to address performance measurement and change management in a transparent and holistic approach.
In terms of outreach, over the last two years VAC's outreach has focused for the most part on delivering briefings to the Canadian Forces on bases and units. The outreach to the RCMP has been even less. We know that in recent deployments, 25% of those deployed were reservists. How are they being connected with services that they may require?
The Legion has an extensive outreach program to inform veterans and their families on health promotion, independent living, community resources, and healthy lifestyles. We offer information on our programs, representation, and financial assistance, as well as other government programs and initiatives. Strengthening our partnership with both DND and VAC, and exporting our capacity to communities across the country, would move the yardsticks, fill this gap, and perhaps lessen the impact of district office closures. This is transformational.
A national veteran's identification card would not only provide the recognition of veterans but also a national veterans database. We're surprised that between DND and VAC there's not a single or complete veterans database registry to reach out to the community. This would facilitate communications and benefits and services for both DND and VAC. A veteran's identification card would be transformational.
The Royal Canadian Legion is committed to the transformation process. However, the cutting red tape agenda needs to be monitored. It should not be about budget reduction.
The vision for the VAC transformation agenda is to be
...responsive to the diverse and changing needs of veterans and their families by ensuring relevant programs and policies, fast and easy access to benefits and services, professional service by employees who understand the military experience, and seamless transition from military to civilian life.
This vision should not be forgotten. Each initiative should be evaluated to ensure it achieves the vision. This is significant and complex.
I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to address the members.
March 8th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs
I don't have the numbers off the top of my head. They were tabled on Tuesday afternoon. But it's been many millions of dollars, particularly with regard to Bill C-55, which came into effect last fall, and in fact increased the amounts of money for those most injured. So there have been significant amounts. I don't want to quote an amount, but I know that the budget of the department is over $3.6 billion, approaching $3.7 billion. So there has been a constant increase.
If you look at the budget figures, you will see the amounts are significant, in that, sadly, with the passing of many Second World War veterans, those budgetary expenditures are going down, but with regard to the modern-day veterans, and we have about 72,000 right now, those budget expenditures have been increasing in areas such as disability amounts and in the earnings loss program, for those who are on the rehabilitation program.
Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Speaker, it is always a great honour for me to rise in this House of Commons to speak and an even greater honour when it comes to speaking about our veterans. To begin, I want to say to our veterans who are watching us and to their families that all hon. members, regardless of their political differences—there are always differences—want to salute them and thank them for everything they do for our country, what they have done and what they continue to do. Veterans are at the heart of our society and our democracy. All parliamentarians can say thank you to our veterans and their families for what they have done and what they continue to do for us.
It is an honour for me to speak as a member of a government that, for six years, has been putting its heart and soul into improving the quality of life of our veterans.
I want to commend the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore on his motion. I know that he works hard for veterans. He is an honourable colleague for whom I have a great deal of respect. However, I must point out that when it comes time to stand up in the House for veterans—and not just talk about them—by voting funding for them, with the exception of Bill C-55, the opposition members fail us, unfortunately. They are not there when we need them in the House to implement budget initiatives to improve the quality of life of our veterans.
As I just said, I certainly acknowledge the work of this member and the opposition regarding our veterans, as well as their great speeches today in support of our veterans. However, there have been times when I think those members had wished they had stood with our government and supported our new investment in veterans and their families.
Unfortunately, time and time again, the New Democrats and the Liberals have voted against the veterans and against our budget initiatives. For that reason, I find it rich that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore would bring forward a motion questioning our government's support and commitment to our veterans and their families, which is rock solid.
We have a motion in front of this House that deals with providing programs and services to all military and RCMP veterans. We are also serving RCMP veterans. I want to salute them today, including for their valour.
Our Conservative government has a record of investing in our veterans and their families. Let us be clear, as I have said over and over in and outside this House: we will maintain benefits to veterans, because we believe in our veterans. However, and let me be crystal clear, this will not prevent us from cutting red tape for our veterans.
Our veterans deserve a streamlining of the processes. Our government will keep on improving our processes and making this the hassle-free service they deserve. For this, I seek the support of the opposition. Are they willing to maintain the cumbersome red tape facing veterans?
I think we have an opportunity today to say clearly that we will maintain veterans' benefits but also make sure that we are making life easier for them when they deal with the government and Veterans Affairs. That is why in this form, the motion is not helping veterans. Our country must be there for veterans when they need us, and in clear and plain language. Of course, our government is committed to providing these men and women with the benefits and services they need and deserve.
I am very proud to hold the portfolio of veterans affairs minister within this Conservative government. My predecessors have gone to great lengths to improve the lives not only of our traditional veterans but also of our modern veterans, and their families as well. That is what this government is committed to, and why this government's record over the last six years is unprecedented.
Canadians have not seen such a commitment to our veterans since the end of the World War II. That is a fact. That is the truth. The numbers tell the same story, whatever the opposition might try to say.
First and foremost, we have been making significant investments in the programs, benefits and services that our veterans, our Canadian Forces members and their families depend on. Everything we do is a reflection of our commitment to supporting our veterans with the care they need, when and where they need it, and for as long as they need it. In the last six years, our government has consistently increased its budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the care and support we provide to our veterans and their families. We have increased the budget for the last six years.
Where were the opposition? They were opposing our budget initiatives. They were voting against our budgets. Which members supported our veterans, steadily and readily, in this House for the last six years? They can be found here around me, the Conservative members of this government. I want to thank every single member who has supported our veterans' initiatives.
Just last week, we demonstrated our commitment once again when we tabled the 2012-13 main estimates. These estimates provide Veterans Affairs Canada with nearly $3.6 billion, an increase of $44.8 million, or 1.3% of it overall annual budget shown in the main estimates.
Last week, we went back to ask for additional funds to ensure that our veterans have access to the programs and services to which they are entitled and which they deserve. Tomorrow, I will be appearing before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and I hope to have the support of opposition members to approve not only the supplementary estimates (C) required to close out the current fiscal year, but also the budget for next year.
Once again, as in the past six years, we are increasing our investment. Why? For a very simple reason: we are creating programs for our new generation of veterans.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Winnipeg announcing the cutting red tape for veterans initiative. This plan will reduce cumbersome red tape and provide our veterans with the hassle-free service they deserve. That is why we need the support of the House to make sure that we are cutting red tape. That is why we need to change the motion to make the lives of our veterans better when dealing with our department.
As I said during the announcement, much of what is needed to make these improvements simply involves returning to the basics and overhauling how the department works. With that in mind, we are putting in place updated and more efficient technology to significantly reduce bureaucratic delays. We are modernizing the tools that our officials use when they are serving our veterans.
I want to raise the high profile of our officials working in the department. They are dedicating their hearts and souls to making the life of our veterans better. It is not always easy and not always perfect, but they are doing their best to make sure that the veterans get the best service they deserve in a timely manner and that they, of course, respect the rules to which they are entitled and under which they have to apply.
Therefore, we are providing our officials with a new tool called the benefit browser. This tool is aimed at helping our employees make sure they get information on all the services our veterans can receive.
I announced our red tape reduction initiative two weeks ago in Winnipeg. This will ensure that our veterans have access to the services to which they are entitled in a more timely manner and with less red tape. I am very proud of this initiative.
We listened to veterans and the veterans ombudsman. They asked us to cut red tape and to communicate with them in clear and plain language. The work began a few years ago. The ombudsman has acknowledged that there has been some improvement and that our correspondence contains the elements for communicating with our veterans. Almost 41,000 letters a year are sent to veterans. However, there is a problem: the letters are often three pages long and can be difficult to understand because of the rather bureaucratic language.
We are therefore changing the way we communicate. We are improving it by providing reasons for the decisions rendered. That means that every letter sent to a veteran is divided into sections so that the veteran can understand the logical progression of the letter. What was the veteran's request? What is the decision? What is the evidence to support that decision? What factors, references, codes, regulations and tools allowed us come to that decision? How can veterans obtain more information or, if applicable, how can they request a review of the decision, sometimes with new information?
This is at the heart of the red tape reduction initiative. By communicating clearly and effectively with veterans, we will avoid many annoyances. Nothing is more insulting to a veteran, or to anyone for that matter, than to be sent a decision that he or she does not understand. That is why, as of two weeks ago, our department is communicating with our veterans in clear and concise language. I must say that we have already had very positive feedback from veterans. We are following up with them and we are receiving very constructive comments. Above all, this process is helping our veterans to better understand the decisions and avoid a certain amount of frustration.
Veterans are seeing a difference already with the consistent measures we are putting in place to make the lives of our veterans better. We have improved the response times at our national call centre and we are reducing the amount of paperwork veterans have to complete for many of the health benefits provided by the department. As well, with direct deposit now available for a number of benefits, veterans and their dependants are receiving their money faster and easier. That is why I invite the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to support the amendment we will be putting forward because we want to make the lives of our veterans easier.
More than 41,000 disability benefit applications from veterans are presented each year and now we are responding in clear and plain language with the reasons for the decisions. We are moving forward and going ahead. We are cutting red tape, and this is only the beginning, because there are a lot of internal efficiencies we can make and many ways in which we can improve the way the government and the department are dealing with veterans. Are we getting support from the opposition to move forward and make the lives of our veterans easier? That is what I hope because this is where we want to go.
Our government will never be satisfied with the status quo. We will not do things just because they have always been done that way. We are looking at ways we can improve. It is most interesting that those improvements are coming from the veterans and from our officials who know how we can make things better.
That is why in January our right hon. Prime Minister announced funding for another great initiative that, unfortunately, the opposition decided not to support. However, the opposition was alone because we got support from the unions, provincial governments, workers and veterans because this program is called “helmets to hardhats”. The program is aimed at ensuring that military personnel who are leaving the forces can transition in a seamless manner into civilian life. This is a huge success. Everyday I receive calls from entrepreneurs who want to hire veterans. I hear from many groups that are willing to join in the helmets to hardhats initiative. We are ensuring that our veterans go into high paying jobs in the construction industry. Do members know who the winners are? Our country, our veterans and our economy are the winners.
We want to be on top of the wave when it comes to health, research and all aspects regarding our veterans' physical and mental health. Last December, I established the new scientific advisory committee on veterans' health. All veterans who want to get in touch with the committee can send an email to email@example.com and they will be able to submit their information to the committee, which is working on health issues, the first one being depleted uranium. We are hearing the veterans, working with them and we are delivering.
That is not the only thing. Last fall, thanks to the leadership of this government, we announced significant enhancements to the new veterans charter which is at the core of our new program to meet the needs of modern veterans. Once again, we listened and took action with the committees, the Royal Canadian Legion and all the great stakeholders of this country. They told us that the charter that was initiated awhile ago did not go far enough. They said that it needed to be adjusted to keep pace with the care and support they required. It is a living document and these enhancements are doing just that.
Within the next five years, there will be an additional investment of $189 million. I will be going to committee tomorrow to ask for additional funding because there is a strong uptake by our modern veterans into our new programs. We expect that more than 5,000 veterans will benefit from these programs. The accrued costs are $2 billion.
Our government is investing in veterans. We are moving forward.
I spoke briefly about the improvements to the new veterans charter. Obviously, we have achieved many things over the past six years, whether it be the creation of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, the creation of the veterans charter or the broadening of the scope of many programs, including the veterans independence program. We are moving forward.
However, I had a bit of a problem with one thing that the hon. member said earlier in his speech, and that is when he said that he wanted to help me. And so, I actually found a way for the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to help me.
If the member wants to help our veterans, he should support them, support our government, support our budget and support the amendment I am willing to bring forward.
February 14th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
Stéphane Lemieux Team Manager, Client Services, Department of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Chair and committee members, I am a client services team manager. I am from the Quebec district office, and I'm deployed to the Valcartier Garrison. I'm fairly new to Veterans Affairs Canada. I joined up on September 21, 2010, but before that I had the pleasure and the honour to command troops for about 23 years with the Royal 22nd Regiment.
One of the first things that struck me when I came into my new responsibilities was the amount of information I should have known. I should have known that information from VAC because I was commanding troops and I would have been in a better position to advise my soldiers. I also should have known that information when I was told that my career was going to be over, because I would have been in a better position to understand the programs and the benefits that were lying in front of me to help me make an efficient transition between military life and civilian life.
This is the scope of my presentation: I'm going to talk about why things changed in 2006. I will go through the programs that are available and the changes that have been made, mainly last fall, to illustrate how these things work. I will go through two case scenarios that will show you how the tools work to help our veterans make the transition between military and civilian life. Then, at the end, we will obviously take questions.
When I meet former colleagues, I'm often asked why we replaced a system that seemed to work well with the new charter. The reality and our perception of it are often very different.
A number of studies in the early 2000s showed that injured military members had significant difficulty reintegrating effectively into civilian life. The inability to have their knowledge and skills recognized on the labour market was often a problem for these military members when they had to start a second career as civilians. A failure often led to problems with depression, poverty and problems within the family, such as crises within the family unit. Disability pensions were often insufficient to enable veterans to continue to support their family.
Experts contend that starting a new career, occupying a new job, which carries with it a number of challenges, is key to an effective transition to civilian life. The only gateway to Veterans Affairs programs was eligibility for a disability pension. To gain access to more services, members had to show that they were much more ill.
If we look at the services that were available before 2006, first, we had the disability pension. The amount was based on the percentage of how much the illness or disease related to the service had an impact on your life. The monthly amount was tax-free and could be paid throughout your life.
Second, we had health care, which was broken down into three main categories. First was the veterans independence program, the VIP. It helped our veterans stay the longest time possible in their houses with dignity. Then you had long-term care for problems related to a service disability, plus the treatments--benefits for any health issues that were recognized as being related to the service. If you hurt your knee, it was recognized. And when you got out of the military anything that needed to be done to your knee was covered by Veterans Affairs Canada.
Finally, we had case management.
In order to better serve our military people leaving the forces to make the transition into the civilian world, the new charter came out in 2006. Let's look at the programs there.
We have the career transition service. Regardless of the reasons for the release, the soldier has access to transition services within two years of release. The program helps military members reorganize and find a job. The program provides workshops on how to write a résumé, on interview techniques and on searching for a job effectively. For soldiers who are released and who are leaving the Canadian Forces, one of the biggest challenges is finding a new job and, particularly, new interests. In fact, throughout their time serving in the Canadian Forces, they didn't need to ask themselves those kinds of questions.
Then, there's the rehabilitation program, which is without a shadow of a doubt the spearhead of the new charter. The rehabilitation program has three pillars: a medical component that touches on physical and psychological aspects; a psychosocial component to help military personnel find ways to interact in their environment; and a career transition component aimed at helping military personnel find a job that is suited to their physical or mental limitations. The objective of the last component is to enable military personnel to find gainful employment with new challenges, enabling them to become productive Canadian citizens.
Military personnel released for medical reasons are automatically eligible for the rehabilitation program within 120 days of their release. This is also the case for personnel who, regardless of the reason for release from the Canadian Forces, have physical problems or are having difficulty reintegrating into civilian life for reasons related to their military service. We will look at some examples to illustrate this at the end of the presentation.
We also have the disability award, which works in the same way as the disability pension I spoke about earlier. But it's a lump sum given in one payment.
In addition, the new charter provides access to the public service health care plan. Previously, military personnel who had less then 10 years of service did not have access to this plan. Now, a member eligible for the rehabilitation program can have access to the public service health care plan. This is a substantial benefit, especially for members who have a family and children.
The new charter also allows for a vast number of financial benefits.
First, there is the earnings loss benefit, which consists of payment of 75% of the military member's pay upon release for members eligible for the rehabilitation program. For military personnel unable to return to work, this benefit would continue to be paid until age 65.
Second, to compensate for the drop in a member's level of employability due to service-related injuries, a member could be eligible for the permanent impairment allowance, which is a monthly taxable benefit, that operates at three levels and may vary between $500 and $1,600.
Third, when the earnings loss benefit ends, meaning, once the individual has completed the rehabilitation program, the Canadian Forces income support benefit takes over. It helps the member financially until he or she can find a job and enter the job market.
Lastly, there's the supplementary retirement benefit, which is designed to compensate for the lower pension contributions made because the individual was unable to work. The earnings loss benefit, which ends at age 65, is replaced by the supplementary retirement benefit which, with the other plans that provide benefits at age 65, acts as financial leverage.
In addition, the new charter provides services to families. The Department of National Defence recognizes the importance of the families that support our military personnel. The Department of Veterans Affairs feels the same way. The career transition component of the rehabilitation program can be used by the spouse if our client is unable to begin a career transition. Also, our case managers can provide services to families to help children and spouses cope better with the new reality of the released military member.
Lastly, we've maintained case management services, the death benefit, which is a disability award, and, obviously, all the health care that was available under the former system before the new charter came into force.
Five years ago, when the new charter came out, it was well understood that along the line we probably had to go back to the books and review some of the programs to make sure we would better serve our veterans. Bill C-55 was approved and some major changes to some of the programs came into effect last fall in order to have the charter better serve our veterans.
First of all, we discovered that payment of a lump sum of the disability award in one cheque was not appropriate to everybody. So now veterans can elect to have payment of their disability award broken down into different payments. We also discovered that the earning loss benefit of 75% was not suitable for everybody. Let's take an example of a young soldier being injured in Afghanistan. When we took 75% of his salary, it was too low. So we came up with a $40,000 a year minimum earning loss benefit for some people with the lower rank. For somebody who had been released in the 1990s, the salaries were a lot different from what they are now.
We also improved access to the permanent impaired allowance to make sure more veterans would be eligible for this program. For somebody who gets to the higher level—the $1,600 a month, as I said earlier—there's a $1,000 a month increase on top of the last level of the permanent impaired allowance to make sure the veterans can properly look after their families.
Also not related to Bill C-55, there were a lot of changes in the service delivery to improve, to be streamlined, to be faster, to be quicker, and to be closer to the clientele. The delegation authority has been lowered to district office to make sure people who look after the veterans have the authority to put services in place. We lowered down the time for a disability award from 24 weeks to 16 weeks. New personnel came on to places where they were needed. So we're looking at other initiatives to better serve our clientele.
Now, let's take a look at how the new charter works as compared with the old one.
The case scenario you have there is that of a married corporal who has been released for medical reasons after four years of service. So he is not entitled to a Canadian Forces pension. The corporal in this scenario has a disability assessment of 80%. He was receiving a monthly salary of $4,410, which comes to $3,300 after taxes.
Under the old system, prior to 2006, the member would receive a pension of about $2,400 a month, tax-free for life. His SISIP benefit corresponds to 75% of his salary, but it would be significantly reduced because he collects a pension. Therefore, he would receive an additional $910 per month. In total, this injured member with a medical release would receive $3,300 per month, after taxes, until the age of 65.
Now, let's look at how the new charter helps injured veterans. I will cover the biggest differences. Using the same scenario and the same figures, we will see how the services available under the new charter are there to help our corporal.
First off, even though he had not completed 10 years of service, he would be eligible for the Public Service Health Care Plan if he accessed the rehabilitation program, which, in all probability, he would.
The disability award would be a lump sum of $220,000. For our purposes, his permanent impairment allowance was assessed at the second level, giving him $1,070 per month before taxes. The fact that he receives a disability award has no bearing on his permanent impairment allowance—which is equivalent to 75% of his salary and would be about $3,300 before taxes.
If we add up all the amounts that our corporal receives, we are talking $3,600 per month, after taxes, in addition to a lump sum of $220,000, as well as rehabilitation and family support services.
If we look at the second example, it's probably where you see a bigger difference in how the new charter is helping our veterans. We're looking at a corporal who left the forces voluntarily in 2008, after eight years of service. He was not entitled to any pension because he didn't complete his ten years of service, plus he's looking for a voluntary release. However, during his service he was injured in an automobile accident and it was service-related. Now he works as an electrician, after getting out of the forces, and he has a salary of close to $4,600 a month, which is $3,600 clear after taxes.
In the old system, if we assessed his disability at 20% he would receive close to $700 a month clear of taxes for the rest of his life. That would be it for services under VAC.
If we take the same example and look at how the new charter is helping our veterans, we'll see how the tools work. It's the same planning figures. However, his 20% disability brings him a $52,000 disability award, clear of income taxes.
He enrolled because he has a disability that is service-related. Even though he had a voluntary release from the forces, because of his injuries he has a problem transitioning to civilian life and keeping his employment. If he enrolls in the rehabilitation program, he would receive 75% of the salary he was receiving when he left the forces.
On top of this, he will be able to go through vocational rehabilitation to make sure he finds new employment that respects his physical limitation. At the end of his training he can go back to a good job, earning a good salary, and having new challenges.
That concludes the presentation showing how the changes to the new Veterans Charter are helping our veterans every day.
Thank you very much.
November 29th, 2011 / 9:15 a.m.
Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs
Thank you for the question, Mr. Storseth.
I think a good example of that would be Bill C-55. When the new Veterans Charter was implemented, it had cross-government, all-party support, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the Government of Canada that there was a compelling and pressing need for transitional support for the modern veterans who were releasing from the military. There was a need for promotion of wellness amongst that group, and there was a need to support their re-establishment into civilian life.
So the charter was adopted, and it was acknowledged at the time that it would require adjustment. There were some studies conducted, and this committee itself has looked at it. The recent enhancements, through Bill C-55, represent significant improvements to the charter, which are clearly indicative of the fact that there is a process to identify gaps and a process to adapt.
Bill C-55 and the enhancements we spoke of a short while ago, in our view, are certainly good examples of how it is adjusting to meet the evolving needs and gaps as they are identified.
November 29th, 2011 / 9:05 a.m.
Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs
Thanks very much for that query.
Perhaps it might be appropriate for us to look at the components of the $58,000 reference point I made mention of.
With the recent enhancements to the new Veterans Charter, the first component of consequence is a minimum pre-tax income of $40,000. It is for those whom we're releasing at low ranks. With respect to those who may have been out of the military for a period of years, what we realized through various consultations was that the earnings loss benefit was not meeting their basic needs. With the enhancements to the new Veterans Charter, they will receive a minimum $40,000 through the earnings loss benefit program when they're in rehabilitation.
In addition to that, the most seriously impaired qualify for the highest grade of the permanent impairment allowance, which is currently roughly $1,632 a month. Those who are receiving a permanent impairment allowance who are unable to be substantially and gainfully employed are the most seriously disabled veterans we have. They would then qualify for the additional $1,000 per month supplement, which was introduced and implemented with the new Veterans Charter enhancements in Bill C-55. When you add those components together, those individuals in that category would, in fact, be eligible to receive $58,000 in pre-tax income.
October 25th, 2011 / 9:05 a.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
The reason I bring that up, Mr. Chairman, is that right now, as you know, in order to be eligible for that bed you have to be a World War II or overseas Korean War veteran with a disability. When the last Korean veteran dies, the question is what happens to all those contract beds in the country? For all those veterans who are now in their 60s or 70s, they're not eligible for these beds. Obviously, if he can't answer this question, that's fine, but my thought process on this, for the record, is that those beds will revert back to the provinces. Thus, the members of the armed forces of today will fall under the provincial system if they are to get long-term care, similar to what our World War II guys get.
Sir, you have indicated that Bill C-55 was a positive change to the Veterans Charter, and I agree with you. One of the problems, of course, is that many of those benefits are now taxable. First, I'd like to know why some of those benefits were taxable? Second, you've indicated once again that those benefits are planned until the veterans are 65 years old. What happens to the veteran after the age of 65? In many cases, if I'm not mistaken, they'll be losing money. Do you think that policy is fair to those who live past 65?
Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
October 7th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, this is a smoke and mirrors game. The government gives and then takes away. An example would be Bill C-55. The government moved ahead on the veterans charter and rightfully so. That was a good thing. We asked for a much bigger door, but what it did was make the benefit taxable. It calls the NDP the tax and spend party. The Conservative Party is the give and tax party.