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

5:10 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Certainly we could, depending on the situation or the case; we are there for all veterans.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

The situation is that his medical and psychiatric information was released through the department, in his opinion to denigrate him. So if he came to you with that type of information, you would be able to assist him, would you?

5:10 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

In fact, this is another good question, Mr. Chair. Because it has to do with access to privacy, it's out of our jurisdiction, so we would not be able to assist him.

We are concerned with the access to privacy of any veteran. We certainly have put measures in place in our own organization to make sure this doesn't happen. We have restricted access to our tracking system; only the people who work on cases have access. We have some concerns, but if it has to do with access to privacy, we don't have jurisdiction.

But we would point people in the right direction. We answer all calls at our office, and if people are uncertain where to go and what to do, they can call our front line in Charlottetown, and we'll be able to assist them concerning where to go.

March 8th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Hillier, you indicated that Canada is one of the few jurisdictions that gives a client a lawyer if they need legal assistance in order to adjudicate their case before the board.

I find that quite sad, to be honest with you. One, it's expensive; two, it's time-consuming; and three, in most cases people just give up after the first or the second denial. It's rather challenging, when someone has to wait almost two years or sometimes three years, get a lawyer, and go through VRAB to get a hearing aid or a stairlift for their home, or VIP services.

This is the type of frustration that I express on behalf of those individuals. If the benefit of the doubt were applied from the very beginning....

For example, Marshall Demetrician of Edmonton has a psychiatrist's report from an individual who studied psychiatry for many years indicating that there is a high probability, in the doctor's opinion, that his concerns have been affected through military service. VRAB denied him.

I know you can't answer that, but that's the type of frustration people have: they go to the doctor, they spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to get a report—which is not reimbursed, by the way—only to be denied, in many cases by people who have never worn the uniform.

That, sir, is the frustration. And those very good people you talked about, those wonderful front-line employees, should have the authority, with peer-reviewed medical evidence, to make the decision, based on the medical evidence and the benefit of the doubt, to immediately grant access to the benefit and services they require.

I believe, sir, that if we worked in that way, not only would you be able to achieve what you really wish to do—and I know you attempt to do it all the time—which is to provide speedier or faster resolution to the services, but many more veterans wouldn't need a veterans ombudsman. When you think about it, when you have an ombudsman, you have a problem. Isn't that right?

I say that just by way of advice and regard. I want to thank you again for your tremendous service over the years, because I know, sir, that on a personal level you do a very good job. You obviously have to abide by the legislation and the regulations that you work under.

But in my personal view, working on this file for over 14 and a half years, there are many ways in which we can streamline the process to make it much faster, give the true benefit of the doubt off the bat, and not let veterans and RCMP members feel that they need to have a lawyer or feel that they're actually begging for something, because in many cases this is what we hear from them. When a veteran gets a benefit right away, they're ecstatic. They love you; they think it's great.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Mr. Stoffer, we're quite a bit over. I was enjoying every—

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

That's all I wanted to say.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

I'd like to say I haven't heard it before, but you're fairly consistent.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

I have no questions.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Okay. Thank you.

Would you like to respond?

5:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chair, I would like to respond, because I think there are some clarifications that are really important here for the benefit of all members.

First of all with regard to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, they do not hear any appeals for health: issues of health services, treatment, and benefits are not in the purview of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. I want to very clear: there are levels of appeal, but they are not with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

With regard to the issue of adjudication, again I want to point out that 73% of the incoming applications for a disability award or disability payment actually get a yes the first time. There's a team of adjudicators, approximately 60 people, who are extremely well trained, and they are supported by a team of eight medical specialists. The law requires them to give the benefit of the doubt to the veteran; there is no question about that.

In some cases, unfortunately, there is no benefit of the doubt to be given. If the information is missing, or if in fact.... In the system that we have, we are never going to be at 100%, because there will be some claims that won't be valid. That's the reality of a claims system. I think we need to work to make sure that the veterans get every benefit and every service they are entitled to.

With regard to the lawyer, 73% get through, and actually with the help of a lawyer. The fact that the Government of Canada pays for a lawyer to make sure to go that extra mile, to make sure the veteran gets everything they can.... I think we as Canadians should be very proud of the fact that we are going to do that for our veterans.

Just as an indulgence, Chair, if I may, since we talked about.... I thank you very much for your comments about me. I missed the estimates meeting on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I had a medical situation. It was the first time in 14 years that I haven't been here for the estimates.

I may be dating myself.

I would just like to put things in perspective a little bit. My colleague mentioned that he gets a lot of his business from health claims. Last year we processed 13.5 million health claims through the system. As part of that, last year we filled 5,386,000 prescriptions. We processed 174,126 dental claims. I give you these figures to provide a sense of the volume.

The ombudsman fulfils a very important function, because sometimes things go the wrong way, one might say, but I wanted to give you a sense that we're in the business of hundreds of thousands and millions of transactions. I'd like to think that every one is done perfectly, but we don't live in that world, and we have an ombudsman who can come forward and say that somebody didn't get the benefit or service in the manner we might expect.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Hillier. That was time well spent.

We now have Mr. Strahl for four minutes.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I will give my time to Mr. Lizon. I'm generous today.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Parent, I would like you to comment on transitional services. You made a statement that the people moving to civilian life need services to get used to a new environment.

What do you exactly mean? This would suggest that they live in some kind of isolation. That's not the case. Many people who are serving whom I know socialize and are part of the community. Professionally, I would understand if it's a relatively closed circle; they go by different rules from those followed by people in civilian environments. But they are not necessarily taken out of normal day-to-day life. What, therefore, do you mean in saying that they have to be completely “reintegrated”, not integrated?

5:15 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

That's a very good question, Mr. Chair.

We used to say in the military that the military is not a career, it's a way of life. You're surrounded by a culture of interdependency in the forces. A lot of things are provided for you, without you having to queue in line or anything like that. The best example of that is a doctor for the individual. A doctor is provided by the service on a day-to-day basis. If you don't feel well, you go to the infirmary, and you're looked after by a doctor right there and then. For the annual medical it's the same thing.

Well, the individual who now transitions into the civilian community now has to get used to all that. Where do you go for a doctor? What's a walk-in clinic? All of these things are unknown to the military person, because these things have always been looked after for him.

Another example would be salary negotiations, unions—all of these things. They're non-existent for the individual.

So you go from a world of interdependence to one of complete independence. Somebody has to explain to you how it works, and there's a stigma attached to it when you're not.... Of course, some people do very well if they have the ability to do things for themselves, but a lot of people in the forces are really living the culture. They feel that all of a sudden they've been abandoned by the system.

I think it's necessary to have somebody in the joint personnel support unit say to the healthy veteran, “Okay, now you'll be going into civilian society. Is there anything you're concerned about? Is there anything we can do to help you out?”

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

I don't know whether you have the number, but what would be the percentage of people leaving the military who need or require those services?