Evidence of meeting #15 for Veterans Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was veterans.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Brad White  Dominion Secretary, Dominion Command, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Andrea Siew  Director, Service Bureau, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Tim Laidler  Operations Coordinator, Veterans Transition Program, University of British Columbia
  • Maureen Sinnott  Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Janice Burke  Director, Mental Health, Department of Veterans Affairs

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

My specific question is on funding. How much has Veterans Affairs and/or the Government of Canada contributed to the establishment of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research? Do you know that as we sit here?

9:40 a.m.

Director, Mental Health, Department of Veterans Affairs

Janice Burke

No. I don't have that information, but I would be pleased to obtain that for you.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Ms. Burke. We're over time.

Now we'll go to Mr. Dykstra, for five minutes.

December 1st, 2011 / 9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the group for being here, and in particular Tim. I really appreciated your presentation here this morning.

There was a time in this country when all the work our military was doing was hidden and pushed aside. I think in the same way you talked about your personal experience, we as a country are growing in a much different way. We are appreciating that the work you do on our behalf around the world is critically important for us to talk about as Canadians so that everyone knows and appreciates it.

I sat on the finance committee from 2006 to 2008. One of the things we accomplished that I was very proud of was when the Kirby and Keon report on mental health was drafted and completed. There were a number of recommendations upon which, in 2007, we decided, and made huge leaps, to invest literally hundreds of millions of dollars to implement a strategy across the country. It subsequently led to millions more dollars being allocated to eight centres of excellence across the country with respect to mental health.

We can all sit here as politicians and ask if you need money, because that's going to solve the problem. The other thing I have learned about being in government and being in business is that it isn't always about more money. Sometimes it's about the fact that a lot of money has been put into the system, and perhaps we need to do some reallocation.

I wonder, Janice, based on what I've just said, if there isn't that opportunity to sit with those in the mental health industry and those funded both provincially and federally, whether it be the Legion or any of the facilities across this country. There is a lot of money in the system right now with respect to mental health, and there's been an aggressive approach to dealing with this issue and making it part of a national strategy. Is there some leadership that can pull this together to allocate those funds properly?

9:45 a.m.

Director, Mental Health, Department of Veterans Affairs

Janice Burke

Thank you.

You mentioned the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Veterans Affairs has been working closely with the commission, particularly on the pilot projects they have across the country for homeless veterans, on doing more research on what needs to be done in that area, and on peer support. There are a number of initiatives we're working on to ensure that the needs of veterans are being met through the development of their mental health strategy and through the various initiatives they have under way.

Beyond that, in terms of where the Government of Canada places priorities in the allocation of funding, that's really a question for cabinet and for Parliament.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

I suppose you're right in the sense of how much money is going to get allocated to mental health in a particular year, but when it comes to the actual operations part, that isn't part of Parliament or cabinet—it's part of the professionals involved in the work they do.

I find it fascinating that your team is sitting at one end of the table and you're sitting at the other end. He's talking about implementation and you're talking about research. Perhaps Brad and Andrea get to sit in the middle because they have feet in both paths, which sometimes is bad if it's on the back of a pickup truck. But I think that the funds are there.

One of the great things about these types of discussions is that as we gather information and learn from what you've presented this morning you can see that we have a program that's working and needs some help. It isn't about research anymore—this is about direct implementation. This is one of the great things about being able to talk about this kind of stuff together.

Is there that kind of opportunity? Is there a way to make sure, whether it's Veterans Affairs or the Mental Health Commission, that the programs veterans need, especially our young veterans, are there for them when they need it?

9:45 a.m.

Director, Mental Health, Department of Veterans Affairs

Janice Burke

I can't speak for the Mental Health Commission, but from a Veterans Affairs perspective, at the local level with district offices and our OSISS program, we are working closely with various community organizations to coordinate services for our veterans, in particular with the new Veterans Charter. It is a living charter, and we look at the programs to determine where the gaps are and where we need to improve. That will continue through the NVC improvement measures.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you, Ms. Burke.

Ms. Mathyssen.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to you all for being here.

I have a lot of questions, and I hope that if we can't through all of them you'll respond in writing.

First of all, Tim, I was impressed with the kind of work you were describing. It seems to me that it's important for those new veterans coming out. My concern is for those veterans that came out 15 or 20 years ago. There seems to be a huge hole in regard to the supports for them.

First of all, Brad, is the Legion working with ANAVETS, UN peacekeeping vets, or NATO vets? I know there are lots of vets who don't belong to the Legion, and I wonder if you're able to coordinate and support veterans with services by combining with those other three.

Second, what transition services are available for RCMP officers?

Third, in your brief, I noticed that you said twice that the Legion, DND, RCMP, and VAC have an obligation to ensure that there are policies and practices in place to meet the needs of veterans without a myriad of eligibility hoops. I wondered about those hoops.

Finally, women have unique issues as a result of their experiences, and I wondered if you could describe or explain those unique experiences.

I know that's a lot.

9:50 a.m.

Dominion Secretary, Dominion Command, Royal Canadian Legion

Brad White

I will keep it short, but it won't be yes or no.

We do a lot of coordination with all the veterans groups. Actually, every October we host a consultation meeting with all of the groups present around the table. We've brought that meeting together so we can talk together about what are the issues and how we want to move the issues forward. So yes, our services are available to all of those groups, all of the members of those groups. As Andrea has pointed out when she was mentioning it, you don't have to be a member of the Royal Canadian Legion to get the services that we have through our service bureau. It's free to any person who served, whether that be military, reserve, regular, or RCMP.

RCMP service is available. We have expanded our service bureau network so it does include RCMP officers, reaching out to those people as well. As you know, the RCMP come under a different pension system, the Public Service Superannuation Act, which is a little bit different from the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. The RCMP vets are not under the new Veterans Charter, and they have their own superannuation act, but we assist them through the counselling and the application processes, as they move forward through the processes of gaining benefits through their pension act and through Veterans Affairs as well.

Regarding eligibility hoops, as Janice has said, if you're eligible there are certain services that are available to you. You have to meet those eligibility hoops. There's a bit of a difference between meeting eligibility hoops that are in VAC or meeting eligibility hoops with DND. DND talked about the legacy of care program. The minister announced the legacy of care program a long time ago. It was last fall that they announced it. This spring the matter of the program came up and the Minister of National Defence stood up and said it's only for Afghan vets.

There's an issue there. You have a program in which you've now created a separate class of veterans, so that's a different set of eligibilities. When you're trying to manage eligibilities of individuals going into the system it becomes difficult, because there are different programs available for different places of service. That shouldn't be. One service, one commitment--programs should be available.

If an individual dies while on duty in Canada, why should that family not be eligible for the services that are now only afforded to people who served in Afghanistan? That's a good question.

Women's issues....

9:50 a.m.

Director, Service Bureau, Royal Canadian Legion

Andrea Siew

Thank you.

There needs to be more work done to stress the work and life balance issues that women face, particularly from the operational taskings and the competition with the support for their own families. In 1983, when I joined the Canadian Forces, there were 10% women in the Canadian Forces. In 2011, it's probably 13%. The difference between 1983 and today is that every occupation is now open to women, except for Roman Catholic chaplain. So you have to ask the question: why is there such little change, from 10% to 13%?

It's a male-dominated institution. It's a very operational environment. Women still have to make the choice between a successful career and a family. What is the impact of the stress of the operational environment over the long term on women? That research has not been done. The other issue is the physical demands on women for a 20-year or 35-year career in the army, in the navy, in the air force. The research has not been done to see if there is a difference on the physical demands for women as there are for men.

I think those are the two key areas.

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Now to Mr. Lobb, for five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

While I was listening to Mr. Laidler, I was thinking that the VAC budget is over $3 billion, and what would half of 1% do as seed money to help you roll out your program? It's kind of amazing what $10 million or $15 million would do over a few years to get things going. It's really a rounding error at the department. I guess it's food for thought.

My first question is for Ms. Sinnott. On page 2 of your presentation it says “...DND to support a seamless transition”. Hypothetically, if a reservist, for example, were to experience hearing damage while serving in Afghanistan and when he came back home wanted to have his hearing impairment diagnosed, analysed, and then receive hearing aids so he could apply to be a police officer, for example, approximately how long would it take to have that done?

9:55 a.m.

Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Maureen Sinnott

If an individual has come back and has made an application to the department for a disability to be assessed, right now we've moved our turnaround time, I guess you would say, from a longer period of time. We've moved down to 16 weeks and we're aiming to get to about 12 weeks for people to have their assessments--

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

You said 16 weeks, so we're talking about four to six months, likely. Now, when I think of seamless, sometimes I think of a week or two weeks. I know that's too early, but I think to myself, here's a young man or woman in their early twenties looking to really make something happen, and they have something as simple as needing hearing aids, maybe, but they have to wait four to six months to get that done before they can even apply to be tested to get into the OPP, let's say, or the metro police.

Is 12 weeks reasonable? Or, for something as simple as hearing, should it be four weeks or eight weeks? Because that would play on my mind if I were younger. I guess I'm still fairly young, but if I were looking to get at it, to have to wait four months.... It seems like that could start having an impact on my mental state.