Evidence of meeting #21 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 released.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Alice Aiken  Director, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research
  • David Pedlar  Director, Policy and Research, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Charlotte Bastien  Regional Director General, Quebec Region, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Stéphane Lemieux  Team Manager, Client Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

4:25 p.m.

Director, Policy and Research, Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. David Pedlar

No, I haven't been informed directly, and I don't know what implications there would be, if any.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Our last questioner will be Mr. Harris from the Conservatives.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentleman, thank you for your presentation.

I wanted to touch on one part of transition from military to civilian life, and that is how it affects family relationships. There are different levels. If someone has been off on duty for a long time and is then coming back, they have to get the family together. But I see in the deck we have that there are some particular difficulties when someone transitioning back into civilian life has a serious disability.

Are there any overall findings about the challenges of getting back into the civilian family way of life after being in the military for a length of time? Has anyone done any study on this?

4:25 p.m.

Director, Policy and Research, Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. David Pedlar

It doesn't speak directly to the transition experience, but in 2008 a research team at the University of Alberta did a study on the challenges facing families of high-pension disability recipients. They found a number of challenges around the care-giving experience and around the emotional experience as well of providing care for somebody over a long period of time.

So that study was conducted. It doesn't speak to transition as well, but I imagine that transition might even add to those burdens.

4:25 p.m.

Director, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research

Dr. Alice Aiken

I'll speak from a personal perspective.

There are groups that are starting to research this and its impact on families. It's really just come to the forefront of thought for researchers as we bring the issues forward.

For my transition out of the military, I wasn't medically released. I am in one of the risk groups, according to Dr. Pedlar's study, because I served between 10 years and 19 years, and I'm female. But I obviously had a very good job to go to when I got out.

My biggest challenge was in the transition to provincial health care, where I got the same treatment as a prisoner, and I was informed of that. When my husband transitioned out later, he was medically released and had served in both Bosnia and Afghanistan. The impact on our family was mitigated by the fact that we had both been military and knew what to do.

But I think his biggest struggle was in transitioning to a civilian health care system that didn't understand his needs. Part of the reason our institute exists is to help mitigate that. Also his front-line service provided by Veterans Affairs--and not the great work that Dr. Pedlar and his team do--is sometimes a very difficult bureaucracy for the veteran to deal with.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you very much.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Does anyone on the other side want to take that? No. Okay.

Then I want to thank you very much. It was shortened a little bit, as I said, because we had that intervention, but we very much appreciate that. I hope that if the committee comes up with written questions, perhaps you won't mind responding if something further comes out of the meeting.

We'll suspend for a few minutes while we say goodbye to our witnesses and set up the next presentation.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

The meeting will reconvene.

You may notice some who are familiar at the table. Ms. Bastien is still here with us.

We have Stéphane Lemieux, who will make a presentation. Welcome to you, as well.

We're going to have a presentation of about half an hour from Mr. Lemieux. Then once that's over we'll go to our round of questions, which will be shortened a bit because of the time parameters.

I will turn it over to you folks.

Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Regional Director General, Quebec Region, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Bastien

Mr. Chair, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity today to be a part of the panel discussion on veterans' transition and rehabilitation services.

With the introduction of the New Veterans Charter in 2006, Veterans Affairs Canada has enhanced our support to Canadian Forces members, veterans and their families and continues to work closely with our colleagues at the Department of National Defence to provide an integrated approach to transition.

VAC's presence in the 24 integrated personnel support centres across Canada provides opportunities for early intervention, thereby strengthening the care and support to ill and injured military personnel and their families.

VAC is currently participating with DND in site visits and reviews of the IPSCs. Action steps are being developed to support recommendations resulting from these visits.

VAC services at each IPSC focus on recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration, including transition interviews and case management; information about and assistance with applying for benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada; and coordination of services and benefits from Veterans Affairs and others available within the community.

Transition interviews are available to every releasing Canadian Forces member and their family. Last year alone, more than 3,700 releasing members participated in a transition interview. This interview is an essential starting point, as the transition needs of the entire family are discussed and information is provided on the programs and services available to meet these needs.

As the committee heard from Right Management last Thursday, VAC offers career transition services to eligible members that release without a disability which will help them find suitable civilian employment.

Similarly, CanVet described the vocational services and assistance they provide under VAC's rehabilitation program which assists CF veterans and their families to successfully transition to civilian life through comprehensive services that restore ability to function at home, in the community and at work. It offers medical, psychosocial and vocational services for veterans with a career-ending illness or injury or health problem that resulted primarily from service.

Participants who completed the rehabilitation program and responded to our re-establishment survey have a better mental and physical health status and are less at risk for depression; have a stronger sense of belonging to their local community; are more involved in the day-to-day activities of their families; are more likely to feel recognized for their military service; feel better prepared to find and keep civilian employment; are more knowledgeable about job finding activities; and were successful in securing employment—79% are employed within the civilian workforce.

As Dr. Pedlar noted earlier, income is an important, if not the most important determinant of health. The positive employment indicators noted above support this key determinant of health.

While these results are positive, VAC continues to work closely with DND and their other partners to improve our services and support to CF members, veterans and their families.

Stéphane, who is the client services team manager at the integrated personnel support centre at Valcartier, will explain the services and benefits that we provide.

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.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Lemieux. You were faster than I thought you were going to be. It gives us a little more time for questions.

I'd still like to go to four-minute questions.

Mr. Stoffer, if you have people who didn't ask a question before and you want to get them in....

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

I have just a quick statement, Mr. Chair.

Sir, could you flip back to the previous slide? This is the problem that a lot of the veterans are facing now.

That $668 a month, tax-free for life, is indexed to the rate of inflation. So if you're 30 years old, you would get that every month for the rest of your life. That's not a bad deal.

If you switch to the next page, that $52,000 is tax-free. That's the problem the guys are having: you get $700 a month for the rest of your natural life indexed to the rate of inflation, or you get this. You do the math over 40 years, and the previous disability system was a lot more generous in that regard. That's one of the problems the boys are talking about.

I want to leave that as a comment and then turn it over to my friend Annick.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Ms. Papillon.

February 14th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

I want to begin by thanking Mr. Lemieux for being with us today.

Are you familiar with the study conducted by Dr. Aiken of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research? Her study compared the financial benefits offered under the Pension Act with those available under the new charter. Are you familiar with the study?