Evidence of meeting #23 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

  • Guy Parent  Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
  • Keith Hillier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Gary Walbourne  Director General, Operations, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
  • Raymond Lalonde  Director, National Centre for Operational Stress Injuries, Ste. Anne's Hospital, Department of Veterans Affairs

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

When you say that they “have access to”, is that mandatory?

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I would leave that question to the Canadian Forces.

Essentially, the theoretical answer is yes. Sometimes people don't always show up. The participation rate is well over 80%, so a lot of people actually go to the interview, particularly those who are being medically released, who may see an immediate need for assistance from Veterans Affairs Canada, as opposed to somebody who maybe is just winding down their military career, is in good health, and may not have the same interest in our services and benefits.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Ms. Adams. The time does go quickly.

Mr. Casey for five, please.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

My first question is for Mr. Hillier.

You've had a chance to see the commemoration study that was done by this committee.

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I'm aware of it peripherally. I'm not responsible for the commemoration program.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Okay, thank you. I won't be unfair and ask you about it then.

Mr. Parent, welcome. It's nice to have you here. Is your office adequately funded?

3:55 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

I'll leave that question to my director general of operations. He handles the funding, so I'm sure he can answer that.

March 8th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Gary Walbourne Director General, Operations, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Thank you for the question.

For our current operational size and our mandate, and what we've chosen as our budget plan and business plan for the forward year, we are adequately funded, as it is right now. Our operating budget is about $4.1 million.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

Mr. Parent, I'm going to ask you for some advice, and I think part of the answer is toward the end of your remarks.

What should this committee be doing? Right now we're engaged in this study on health and well-being. Once this study is wrapped up, what should the priorities be of this committee?

I know in your second last paragraph you have some comments there. Quite frankly, for me, they appear to be a bit general. If you were to say to us, here's what your priorities should be, what would they be?

3:55 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

It's a good question.

My first one would be the complexity of programs, to work with the department to try to simplify that as much as we can, and I think the “one veteran” concept would eliminate the majority of the complexity. There will always be some. Obviously, when you're administering benefits related to heath care, there will always be some complicated mechanisms and procedures, but all of these themes of the one veteran are certainly fundamental as a way to go for the future. If you minimize the category, you minimize the complexity, and the communications are easier because it's all focused on one type of veteran. I think that would be one of the things.

I didn't say this in my remarks, but I would also suggest that the harmonizing of programs between National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada is probably a very important area. If you ask anybody that is either just releasing from the forces or just released from the forces, the transition is very important. We have programs now that exist on both sides, on the Veterans Affairs Canada side as well as DND/CF, and they're not harmonized. The accessibility criteria are different, for instance, for vocational rehabilitation. The ceiling for those programs is different as well. It leads to a lot of confusion and that sort of thing.

I would say transition, complexity, and the one veteran are things that would be worth doing some work on.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

In your remarks, you also urged upon us to follow the example in other countries with respect to exempting the Department of Veterans Affairs from the cuts, and you'd be well aware of what happened in the House this week. It's too bad we didn't have you here sooner. Maybe you might have been able to change some minds.

If you follow the debate in the House, one of the things that we repeatedly heard from the minister was that if this motion passes, it's a vote in favour of red tape and bureaucracy, almost seeming to imply that it would be impossible to reduce red tape and reduce bureaucracy if Veterans Affairs Canada had their budget maintained.

Could I get your perspective on that?

4 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

I can't really speak for the minister, but I made a statement publicly a few months back expressing my concern that Canada didn't look at their veteran population the same as other countries do. We are an evidence-based organization, so what impact the budget is going to have on veterans programs and benefits we won't know until things are in place and the budget is announced. In fairness to my organization and my team, we can't comment on that particular aspect.

As to red tape and bureaucracy, there's some work to be done. I think any economies that might be realized through this channel should be redirected to programs such as funeral and burial expenses. This is really unfair: people fought for a burying standard and we don't even bury them to that standard.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you, Mr. Parent and Mr. Casey.

Mr. Storseth.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in.

Mr. Parent, thank you for your continued service to our country and to our veterans. It's very important.

I am sometimes a little uneasy when I hear some of the comments made by the opposition. Let's talk about my veterans in Cold Lake who have been getting benefits. Do you have any indication that they're going to have a reduction in benefits because of the upcoming budget?

4 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

We have assurances from the minister that the benefits will not be affected. However, as an evidence-based organization, we have to wait. We have mechanisms in place to gauge whether there will be an impact on veterans and their benefits. I go back to our pillars of fairness. Efficiency is an important aspect of fairness. It would be a concern to have programs that, because of a lack of personnel, were not well-funded or well-administered .