Evidence of meeting #26 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 employment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Cheryl Flohr  Acting Deputy Director, Pre-Discharge and Retired Pay Programs, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Margarita Cocker  Deputy Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Michael Fisher  Program Analyst, Readjustment Counseling Service, Vet Center, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Joel Scholten  Associate Chief of Staff, Rehabilitation Services, Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Susan McCrea  Executive Assistant, Intergovernmental Affairs, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

The members of the official opposition are still involved in a ceremony for the outgoing acting leader of the NDP and they'll be here at some point shortly.

Given that we have four witnesses to hear from....

Oh, here they come. That's good.

I was just trying to stall here while you guys were coming.

We're ready to go.

I'd like to also point out that next Tuesday, after the RCMP do their presentation and we have the questions, we're going to take some time in the day to deal with some committee business. Please make note of that. It will come out in the notice as well.

There will be no meeting on the 5th because Thursday becomes Friday and there's no committee time available on Thursday. Those are in the House orders.

I'm delighted to continue with our study on the front-line health and well-being services for Canadian veterans.

I'm very pleased to have witnesses with us all the way from Washington.

You don't look that far away, folks. It's good to see you. Thank you very much for joining us from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

If you don't mind, I'm just going to read the names and titles.

First I have Margarita Cocker, deputy director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration.

We have Michael Fisher, program analyst, Readjustment Counseling Service, at the Vet Center.

We have Cheryl Flohr, acting deputy director, pre-discharge and retired pay programs, Veterans Benefits Administration.

And we have Joel Scholten, associate chief of staff, rehabilitation services, Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Thank you all for joining us. I know it took a little time to get it hooked up here, but we appreciate you taking the time today.

I understand that each of you has a separate presentation.

I know you've been talking to our clerk, who had indicated to you that we like to keep that within the 10-minute parameter if we can, and then we go to committee members for questions.

Since we're starting just a few minutes late, we're going to move right into that.

Whichever one of you wants to go first can, or did you have another sense of order?

3:35 p.m.

Cheryl Flohr Acting Deputy Director, Pre-Discharge and Retired Pay Programs, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

I think I'll go first, if that's all right.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

It's your choice.

3:35 p.m.

Acting Deputy Director, Pre-Discharge and Retired Pay Programs, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Cheryl Flohr

Mine kind of leads into the next one.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Okay.

Cheryl Flohr, acting deputy director, thank you for being here. Please commence.

3:35 p.m.

Acting Deputy Director, Pre-Discharge and Retired Pay Programs, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Cheryl Flohr

It's my pleasure.

Good afternoon. I'm going to talk about our integrated disability evaluation system and give you a bit of an overview.

Prior to 2007, if a service member became wounded, ill, or injured during the course of active duty, the United States military would perform its own disability evaluation prior to the service member's separation from service. Subsequent to discharge from active duty, VA would accept the claim from the now veteran and basically re-adjudicate the disability. The veteran would have to undergo a new set of medical evaluations and a new disability rating by VA. It was a sequential process.

In 2007 we partnered with the defence department to integrate those two disability evaluation processes. It was a pilot in 2007, with three medical treatment facilities in the Washington, D.C., region. Based on the results of the pilot, we began expansion to all military treatment facilities during the course of 2011. As of the end of last fiscal year, September 2011, we have expanded this integrated disability evaluation system to 139 treatment facilities worldwide, and that covers 100% of the wounded, ill, and injured service member population. We anticipate an annual caseload of approximately 27,000 service members a year.

On the benefits of the combined or integrated program, as I mentioned, we combine a single disability examination process that is used by both the Department of Defence and VA. It's used by the Department of Defence to determine the service member's fitness for continued active duty, and it's used by VA to assign a disability rating percentage for all disabilities determined to be related to active military service.

The legacy sequential processes on average took about 540 days to complete. Our goal under the integrated process is to complete the process within 295 days. We are currently averaging 396 days on the integrated process.

In addition to combining the two disability evaluation processes, we offer other non-medical support to the wounded, ill, and injured service members. VA has military service coordinators assigned to the service members to help them with their transition from military to civilian life. We have vocational rehabilitation unemployment counsellors, which Margarita will discuss in more detail. We have Vet Center readjustment counsellors, which will also be discussed shortly.

We also have OIF/OEF case managers, who put injured service members and veterans in touch with other community resources; they research and provide access to other federal, local, and state programs that are available. These VA personnel work in coordination with other case managers assigned by the Department of Defense. VA also has a federal recovery care coordination program, and that assigns specialists to the most severely injured, wounded, and ill to provide one-on-one support to the service members and their families during transition, and after transition from military to civilian life.

Another benefit of the integrated process is that it introduces the active duty service member to the health care services available by VA prior to them actually becoming a veteran. They can establish primary care and register to be enrolled in the VA health care system while on active duty.

Finally, we have a transition assistance program that is available to every service member who is transitioning from military to civilian status. Transition assistance program, or TAP, is a partnership between the Departments of Defense, Labor, Homeland Security, and VA. Through TAP, we provide pre-separation counselling, VA benefits briefings, employment workshops, and medical support for those with disabilities.

For those service members with disabilities, we also have a disabled transition assistance program, or D-TAP, which is more focused on the vocational rehabilitation and employment services.

Pending your questions, that is all I have prepared in advance.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Ms. Flohr.

We're going to hear from all four of you, and then we're going to go to the questions.

Would I be guessing right, if we're going in order, that Ms. Cocker would be next?

March 27th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

Margarita Cocker Deputy Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Yes, I am. Thank you.

Good afternoon. I'll be talking to you more about the vocational rehabilitation and employment program. The mission of our program is to provide the services needed to help service members and veterans with service-connected disabilities return to the workforce, or, if unable to return to the workforce, to help them become as independent as possible in their daily activities.

We provide this service through masters-level rehabilitation counsellors and employment coordinators who work in our field offices.

We have 57 regional offices and over 100 outbased offices, so that we have professional counsellors and employment coordinators in the communities where the veterans live.

I would like to go over four programs of services that our program administers, and then I'll go into more detail on one of them. The first of the four programs we administer is the chapter 31 program, which is vocational rehabilitation for individuals with service-connected disabilities. We also have a chapter 35 program, which is educational counselling for children and widows or spouses of veterans who have a permanent and total service-connected disability. We also have a chapter 36 program that we administer, which is educational and vocational counselling services for service members who are transitioning out of the military and for veterans who are eligible for an educational program. Then there is a chapter 18 program, which is vocational training and rehabilitation for children with spina bifida born to certain veterans who served in Vietnam or Korea.

I'm going to focus on what we call the chapter 31 program, which is the vocational rehabilitation employment program for veterans with disabilities and service members with disabilities.

First I'd like to talk about our coming home support program, which is our outreach program. There are multiple ways in which we perform outreach to ensure that our service members and veterans are aware of our program. We have a presence at medical hold facilities.

We are, as Ms. Flohr informed you earlier, going to be at the IDES locations, so we can be performing evaluations for group rehabilitation at the same time that the service members are going through their medical evaluation.

We also have OEF/OIF coordinators, who expedite services for the service members who are severely injured and exiting out of the military.

We also have a VetSuccess on campus program, which helps us talk about...[Technical difficulty—Editor]...positions of rehab counsellor at currently eight universities and colleges. They provide support to all veteran students who happen to be at those colleges, regardless of their eligibility for any VA benefits.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Excuse me for a second.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Chair, I don't know if it's just me experiencing it, but it's quite distorted. I changed my earpiece. I don't know if this is only me or if other committee members are finding—

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Is anybody else having trouble hearing?

No? Do you want to try a different—

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

I actually did. I'll maybe switch this again. Okay.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Are we okay to proceed, then?

Sorry about that. I think we're having trouble with a couple of the earpieces here. Please, continue.

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Margarita Cocker

Another way in which we perform outreach occurs when veterans are notified they have been awarded a service-connected disability rating by the VA. That notification is accompanied by an application for a vocational rehabilitation program, so veterans are immediately made aware of their eligibility for the program.

To be eligible for the program, active duty service members are expected to have a disability rated at 20% or higher and veterans are to have a disability already rated at 10% or higher. The entitlement for services extends up to 48 months and must be used within 12 years of the date of eligibility, but both of those can be extended and waived if the veteran or service member has a serious employment handicap or significant barriers to employment that must be overcome.

The process of benefits delivery includes the veteran or service member submitting an application, eligibility is determined, and then the veteran meets with a vocational rehabilitation counsellor to assess his or her vocational needs. That assessment includes testing of their interests, aptitudes, and abilities, and then looking at their vocational and educational history and determining their disability-related needs. Veterans who are not entitled to the program are referred to other community resources, such as state vocational rehabilitation organizations or Department of Labor programs.

We have five tracks to employment that can be provided and services within each track, depending on the veteran's unique needs.

The re-employment track is designed to help veterans who return from guard and reserves and are unable to return to their former employment. We help them to regain that previous employment, either with the same employer or with an alternate employer, and help to provide accommodation if they have disabilities.

The rapid access to employment track is for veterans who have the training and skills they need for employment but need help in bridging the gap from becoming a veteran to becoming an employed civilian. That includes assistance with developing a good resumé, transferring their military skills to civilian skills, learning interviewing skills, and helping to connect the veterans with employment opportunities.

The self-employment track is for individual veterans for whom self-employment is the most appropriate option, based on their disabilities, or who wish to pursue self-employment after completing a program of training with vocational rehabilitation employment.

The employment through the long-term services track, which is the most frequently used track, is for veterans with disabilities who can no longer perform the duties of occupations they used to be able to perform, so they need retraining in a new occupational category or a new skill to compete for employment that would be consistent with their disabilities, their interests, and their aptitudes. Through the long-term services track, we provide retraining at colleges, universities, on-the-job training locations, apprenticeship programs, and other such programs to enable the veteran to compete for employment.

The independent living program is for those veterans whose disabilities are so severe that they are unable to return to work at this time but need assistance to become more independent in their daily activities. We provide services to help them access the community, have complete access to their home, and have access to recreational activities or other daily living activities that they cannot access or cannot conduct because of the limitations of their disability; this prevents them from having to depend on others, such as family members, to conduct those daily living activities.

At the end of the program, when the veteran becomes employed in a suitable occupation, meaning that it's consistent with their interests, aptitudes, and abilities, the voc-rehab counsellor and employment coordinator ensure the stability of that employment for at least 60 days, but up to 18 months if necessary, to ensure they no longer need our services to continue that stable employment.

I will add some information about the types of results that our program produces. Most of the occupations that veterans are rehabilitated in are in the professional, technical, and managerial occupations, which speaks to the fact that they come to us a lot with managerial and leadership skills from their military occupations. We also have a smaller percentage that are in clerical services, machine trades, and structural trades.

Primarily, though, because our program is a career-focused program and not just about entry-level employment, most of the occupations are in the professional, managerial, or technical trades.

We rehabilitate approximately 10,000 veterans per year. At any given time, we have over 100,000 veterans who are at any stage in the process, including those who are in the applicant phase awaiting an eligibility determination.

That concludes my prepared statement. I'll take any questions.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Ms. Cocker. We appreciate that.

Moving along, I assume you'll be next, Mr. Fisher.