Evidence of meeting #34 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 affairs.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Maureen Sinnott  Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Raymond Lalonde  Director General, Operational Stress Injuries National Network, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Derek Sullivan  Director General, Canada Remembers Division, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Gord Jenkins  President, NATO Veterans Organization of Canada
  • Robert O'Brien  Chairman, Board of Directors, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping
  • Jarrott Holtzhauer  Vice-President, Plans and Policy, NATO Veterans Organization of Canada
  • Thurston Kaulbach  Vice-President, Advocacy, NATO Veterans Organization of Canada

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Folks, I want to say thank you and remind everyone that we are studying the transformation initiatives at Veterans Affairs Canada.

I certainly want to welcome our three witnesses, who I'm sure aren't total strangers to this process. It's good to see some of you again. I understand you're going to share your time speaking, because we are, as you know, a little compacted today.

We have Maureen Sinnott, director of strategic and enabling initiatives; Raymond Lalonde, director general, operational stress injuries national network, who seems to show up everywhere I go; and of course, Derek Sullivan, director general, Canada Remembers division.

Folks, we're going to start with you. I don't know the order.

I guess they appointed you, Maureen. Please go ahead for 10 minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Maureen Sinnott Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon. My name is Maureen Sinnott. I am the director of strategic and enabling initiatives in the service delivery and program management division. I'm here today with Raymond Lalonde, director of the operational stress injuries national network, and Derek Sullivan, director general of Canada Remembers.

We're here to share with you how partnerships are integral to improving our service delivery to veterans. They allow us to extend our reach, leverage expertise, focus on our mandate, and build upon best practices of other organizations.

A recent and significant example of partnerships is VAC's leveraging of other government departments' success with the business process redesign. A business process redesign is an organized approach to updating operational processes. It can make a process more efficient, effective, and timely, which in turn improves service delivery and helps meet client expectations.

Other government departments have had great success using this approach. For example, the old social insurance number application process has been greatly simplified. The wait time to obtain a SIN went from about three to four weeks to less than one hour.

Over the past two years, our department has engaged in a knowledge transfer with other government departments to build our own centre of expertise within the department and to apply the methodology to VAC programs. The department has applied the methodology to the Disability First application process. It is currently piloting a redesigned, streamlined process for hearing loss claims.

We continue to explore ways to reduce our turnaround times for decisions, to streamline our processes, and to cut more red tape.

As you heard in David Robinson's opening remarks on the transformation agenda, we're also overhauling our service delivery by moving from paper-based to electronic processes wherever possible. We are optimizing our use of technology to reduce manual processes and the paper burden, and to improve accessibility, while protecting privacy.

We have a partnership with the Department of National Defence that allows VAC access to paper-based service health records on Canadian Forces bases. We're moving toward scanning and electronically transferring service health records from CF bases to VAC offices, in a secure environment.

We have a long-standing partnership with Library and Archives Canada that allows us access to archived service and health records. To enable the conversion of Library and Archives Canada's paper-based records to electronic records on VAC's systems, we partnered with Public Works and Government Services Canada to scan service and health records into electronic, searchable format. Over two million pages were scanned and digitized within the first year.

We're working with PWGSC to scan and digitize all incoming VAC mail and to electronically transmit the mail to VAC.

These few examples demonstrate how VAC is working with its partners in the public service to improve the use of technology and to make information available electronically. This will result in faster turnaround times for decisions.

Partnerships at the local level help us reach veterans in their communities. For example, VAC has established three homeless veterans initiatives in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. These are dependant upon partnerships with community organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, Wounded Warriors, the Veterans Memorial Manor, and the Good Shepherd Ministries. The partnership between VAC and the Department of National Defence for the operational stress injury social support network is also key in many communities.

VAC's front-line staff must be knowledgeable about the local and provincial services available to support veterans and meet their needs. Coordination at all levels promotes a shared philosophy for care and improved outcomes for veterans and their families.

VAC is also using partnerships to ensure continuous improvement and the ongoing development of best practices in case management. VAC has well-established partnerships with McMaster University, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the National Case Management Network. We share best practices through research, knowledge exchange, and joint learning.

This year, the Helmets to Hardhats partnership will become operational. The partnership has been operating effectively in the United States, and the Government of Canada is supporting a Canadian program. The objective of the program is to provide releasing CF members with opportunities for jobs and apprenticeships in the construction industry using a web-based job-matching service. This is an opportunity for veterans to apply skills they developed in the Canadian Forces to employment opportunities outside the forces.

Before I close, I'd like to note that to meet its goal of ensuring the seamless transition from military to civilian life, the department relies on its long-standing and evolving partnership with DND. The partnership is guided by a VAC/DND steering committee that identifies and manages joint priorities of both departments.

One of the best examples of our working partnership with DND is the 24 integrated personnel support centres across the country. These centres promote early intervention and engagement by VAC's case managers, and they work to ensure a seamless transition for CF members as they release from the military. As Charlotte Stewart previously mentioned, these centres are located near DND bases, with approximately 100 VAC staff co-located with DND staff.

I'll now turn to Raymond Lalonde to introduce the national operational stress injury clinic network.

3:45 p.m.

Raymond Lalonde Director General, Operational Stress Injuries National Network, Department of Veterans Affairs

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to appear.

Another area where the department has established partnerships to meet the needs of clients with operational stress injuries concerns the network of specialized clinics it has developed. The OSI clinic network is composed of eight clinics that specialize in the treatment of operational stress injuries. Those clinics were funded by Veterans Affairs Canada through agreements with provincial institutions all across the country. We also have two clinics operating at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital, which is currently the subject of negotiations aimed at transferring it to the province of Quebec.

The branch I am in charge of is responsible for managing memoranda of understanding and funding for OSI clinics. We support and guide the development, delivery and coordination of all services provided all across the country.

VAC's OSI clinic network is part of a larger network referred to as the joint network of clinics, which includes the seven operational trauma and stress support centres. These centres are operated by the Department of National Defence and offer similar specialized services as the OSI clinics.

In partnership, VAC and DND provide access to 17 facilities across the country with interdisciplinary mental health services for members of the Canadian Forces, veterans, and their families. This service delivery partnership also extends to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police members and retired personnel who are suffering from an OSI.

As the department is taking steps to better understand the military culture and experience, the OSI peer support partnership with DND, for which I'm also responsible in VAC, is key in improving our ability to reach those in need. Having a peer support service, in collaboration with OSI clinics, provides a comfortable setting for veterans and their families as they seek or undergo treatment. This gives them an opportunity to speak with someone who understands their issues. This is invaluable and shows how VAC is becoming more and more sensitive to their unique situation.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share how VAC is improving its service delivery through partnerships, and I now invite Derek Sullivan to speak about how partnerships play an important part in the department's commemoration efforts.

3:50 p.m.

Derek Sullivan Director General, Canada Remembers Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Thank you.

While clearly the Government of Canada has a leadership role to play in remembrance, remembrance is not just about ceremonies or events that are organized by the federal government. It is actually about Canadians themselves paying tribute to those who have served Canada and those who continue to serve Canada. Therefore, our focus in Veterans Affairs is on how we can engage and encourage Canadians to honour those who have served.

What we want to do is bring remembrance to Canadians rather than try to drag Canadians to remembrance. What we want to do is take it to where Canadians live, where they work, where they play, and make it a part of their everyday lives—not something you do just on November 11, or on June 6, or on April 9, but something you do every day.

As a result, we partner with a lot of organizations and other levels of government both in Canada and internationally, but particularly with community groups across the country so that remembrance is happening at the community level across Canada.

One example of how we do this is through our partnerships with sports organizations, both professional sports and also amateur sports across the country.

One of our partnerships, quite a natural one, is with the Canadian Football League. We have been working with them since 2007 to have pre-game veteran tributes at playoff games in eastern and western Canada. As well, with them, a couple of years ago we created a new individual player award in the CFL, an award given to a Canadian player who best exemplifies the attributes of a veteran: perseverance, courage, strength, comradeship, and contribution to community. This is an increasingly prized individual award among CFL players.

We also have partnerships with the National Hockey League and the junior hockey leagues right across Canada, as well as with midget AAA, and more recently with the Canadian Interuniversity Sport organization. Again, they hold in various ways tributes to veterans associated with the games that are played across the country. In this way, we are able to reach with remembrance a much broader range of Canadians than you might traditionally see at a remembrance ceremony.

As well, we've had a partnership for quite a number of years with the Royal Canadian Legion track and field championships. About 80% of the national team in track and field that goes to the Olympics has gone through this Royal Canadian Legion program.

In Veterans Affairs we have three programs where we can provide, in addition to the advice and collaboration with communities, funding to some remembrance activities at the community level in particular. We have two programs that support the restoration, in one case, and the construction of cenotaphs and monuments at the community level.

The third one is the community engagement partnership fund, where we're able to provide community groups, not-for-profit groups, with funding to undertake remembrance activities, whether they be ceremonies or learning events for youth across the country in a wide variety of remembrance activities. They're at the national level as well, where we fund, for example, the Historica-Dominion Institute memory project, where they have a speakers bureau with over 2,000 veterans who are available to go into schools across the country and talk to Canadian students about their experiences and why remembrance is important to them.

We also support the Juno Beach Centre in France, which is really Canada's face of remembrance of the Second World War in Europe.

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

You people did very well. You crammed a lot of information in there.

We'll now go to Mr. Stoffer for five minutes, please.

May 15th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks, all three of you, for coming today.

Mr. Sullivan, my colleague Irene Mathyssen recently travelled with the delegation to Vimy. She was very impressed by the staff and, most importantly, by all the citizens and students who went. According to her, it was a remarkable opportunity, and on her behalf, I thank you and everyone who participated.

I also want to mention, sir, that I must say I am very pleased with the government's efforts on the Bomber Command commemorations in London. As well, the 110th anniversary of the end of the Boer War South African conflict is coming up very soon. I'm glad to see that this committee was able to make a recommendation, and we're looking forward to that commemoration. DVA has said that it would be significant, so thank you very much for doing that.

Madam Sinnott, I say this with great respect. In your brief you note, “For example, VAC has established three homeless veterans initiatives in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto.” I put to you that it wasn't VAC that started that; it was the volunteer groups, people finding homeless veterans: the Good Hope Ministries; the Royal Canadian Legion, as you know; and Cockrill House. As you know, DVA puts no money in Cockrill House. These organizations started it, and then VAC came in as a partner—I won't say much later, but they were definitely not the initiators. In my view, they supported those initiatives.

I have two questions for you, and I'll play the devil's advocate when I say this. In your partnership you mention the Royal Canadian Legion and the Wounded Warriors, etc. Is it not fair to say, since some veterans groups are saying this, that DVA is starting to rely too heavily on the veterans organizations, the charitable groups, and others out there for assistance in this regard when they believe that DVA should be taking the initiative?

An example is the V.E.T.S organization in Halifax. These are veterans looking for homeless veterans. Although Mr. Hillier was great to go with them one time, it was the veterans themselves who started it, and not DVA. Is it not fair to say that possibly DVA or the government is relying on these other organizations too much, where DVA should be the initiator?

I thank you for coming.

3:55 p.m.

Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Maureen Sinnott

Thank you for your question.

It could be fair to say that the other organizations are certainly out in front of Veterans Affairs. But it would also be true to say that some of these other organizations have more knowledge and have their feet on the ground in these circumstances and are able to have a relationship with the individuals and get things up and going. Veterans Affairs is certainly quite happy to partner with these organizations.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Also, you said there are homeless shelters in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Are there any initiatives on the east coast, for example, in Halifax?

3:55 p.m.

Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Maureen Sinnott

I believe you had Krista Locke here last week, who was speaking about some activities in the Atlantic region. I can make sure and come back to you on that.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you very much.

I also want to say, sir, on the OSI clinics, there is an article in today's Quorum written by Eric Rebiere, an RCMP officer, who said his life was saved by the OSI clinics. So they are very helpful, and I thank you for doing that, although we could possibly use more resources in that regard. He is asking RCMP members to become more active in the OSI clinics. I leave that as a comment.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

That's it? Thank you very much.

Take note of that rare compliment that came from Mr. Stoffer. It comes from the heart, I know.

We now go to Mr. Chisu for five minutes.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for coming to our committee as witnesses.

I will continue with the issue Mr. Stoffer raised, the homelessness issue.

I listened with great interest to your presentation. Do you or Veterans Affairs have any contact with any initiative at the municipal or provincial level regarding homelessness? I know for sure that in the city of Toronto an entire division exists called Streets to Homes. Have you ever contacted or established a relationship with them? I know they were also caring for some of the veterans.

Can you elaborate on that? Have you established relationships with other levels of government that have similar programs?

4 p.m.

Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Maureen Sinnott

I can't speak to the exact organization you mentioned, but in all of our district and regional offices across the country we have case managers who are actively working toward trying to develop relationships, so we're aware of homeless veterans. Our services and benefits are available to every individual, whether they're homeless or not. They're still eligible for programs. We keep in contact with other authorities to ensure we can deliver benefits as well as possible. There is always more for us to do.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I'm telling you this because in the city of Toronto, Streets to Homes is especially for homeless people in Toronto. There are several veterans there.

My daughter works there. She raised the issue and said, “Daddy I met some veterans there. They don't have any contact with Veterans Affairs.”

4 p.m.

Director, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, Department of Veterans Affairs

Maureen Sinnott

We can take that back and ensure that we follow up.