Evidence of meeting #35 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 process.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Heather Parry  Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Charlotte Stewart  Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Bernard Butler  Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Folks, we're going to get started here today. Thank you for coming.

I would like to start by saying that Mr. Stoffer contacted us and that in deference to him we're putting the business section off to the end, because there's a motion that he wants to deal with. So we'll deal with that at the end of the meeting, particularly as our witnesses have arrived.

As everybody knows, we're continuing with our study on Veterans Affairs' transformation priorities. Today we have with us from the department, Charlotte Stewart. Again, it's nice to see you. We also have Heather Parry and Bernard Butler, who are no strangers to the process. You know the routine. There's 10 minutes for opening statements, however you arrange that. Then we go to questions from the committee, starting with the NDP.

Thank you for coming. If you're ready to go, we'll listen to your presentations.

I should point out that there is no written paper today; this is all verbal today. I suggest to the committee members that you take notes, because there is no reference paper today.

3:30 p.m.

Heather Parry Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Good afternoon, and thank you.

My name is Heather Parry, and I'm the assistant deputy minister of human resources and corporate services at Veterans Affairs Canada. I'm here with my colleague Charlotte Stewart, the director general of the Service Delivery Branch, and Bernard Butler, a director general in the Policy, Communications and Commemoration Branch. We're pleased to be here today to talk about the department's most recent report on plans and priorities.

Veterans Affairs has a long history and commitment to providing quality care and support to Canada's veterans. As you heard from many other of my colleagues from VAC, in order to fulfill this commitment the department must change as the needs of Canada's veterans and their families change. That's our focus: improving service to Canada's veterans and their families. These are the key themes you'll find in our report on plans and priorities as we prepare for the future.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Excuse me but you are a bit too fast for the interpreters. Could you slow down a bit, please?

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Did you get that? If you wouldn't mind, just slow down a tad.

3:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

I'm sorry.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

That's all right. We'll allow you an extra minute or two in your presentation.

Carry on.

3:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

I would like to walk you through some of the key aspects of our 2012-13 report on plans and priorities and provide context for the report.

Is it all right now?

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Yes.

3:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

The report on plans and priorities is our opportunity to report to you as parliamentarians. This forward-looking document outlines organizational priorities, plans, and expected results for the current fiscal year and the two following years.

This report is a planning document. As you know, for budgeting purposes the main estimates document is the report for appropriation.

The Report on Plans and Priorities provides an account of the department's planned and expected results, and how public resources will be used.

The resources that figure in this document are those that have been approved by Parliament in the main estimates process, which may be adjusted throughout the fiscal year through the supplementary estimates process.

These results will be monitored and reported on to ensure that veterans have access to the programs that are tailored to their needs, which will be available through multiple channels; and that employees will have the tools they need to better serve veterans.

In addition, the five broad themes of the transformation agenda will be cornerstones of our long-term planning and reporting as they relate specifically to reducing complexity, overhauling service delivery, partnerships, sustaining the new Veterans Charter, and adapting to changing demographics by reorganizing the department.

We can already see progress on many of these fronts.

For example, veterans who are case-managed will be receiving services from case managers who have smaller caseloads. There will be fewer than 40 case-managed veterans for each case manager.

Veterans who are applying for a disability benefit will see the application turnaround time reduced by one-third.

Veterans will also see turnaround times for decisions for the rehabilitation program cut in half, from four weeks to two weeks.

Veterans and their family members calling the VAC 1-800 number will have their calls answered in less than two minutes 80% of the time.

Veterans will have the option to receive their reimbursements for the veterans independence program and their treatment benefits via direct deposit.

The progress of all departmental initiatives will be reported on in the departmental performance report. In other words, the report on plans and priorities outlines what we're going to do over the next three years and how we're going to do it. A year later, the departmental performance report will indicate how we've performed against what we said we would do.

In our actual report on plans and priorities, we outline on page 5 our program activity architecture. The program activity architecture is basically an inventory of our key programs and activities. It groups together related programs and activities. It is really the foundation on which we build the report on plans and priorities and the departmental performance report.

As you see from the program activity architecture, we're working to achieve three strategic outcomes. First is the financial, physical, and mental well-being of eligible veterans. Second is that Canadians remember and demonstrate their recognition of all who have served in Canada's efforts during war, military conflict, and peace. Third is that veterans' rights to the services and benefits that address their needs are considered in an independent and impartial way.

Underneath these strategic outcomes you'll see the various program activities that contribute to our pursuit of these outcomes.

Following the program activity architecture, you'll see our various organizational priorities. This is really the heart of our report on plans and priorities. Our main focus over the next few years will be four priorities.

First is modernizing the department. This priority is really about transformation. As our colleague, David Robinson, the director general of transformation, outlined recently for you, the needs of veterans are changing. This priority is about how we will fundamentally transform to meet these changing needs.

Second is improving service delivery. This is also largely linked to transformation. We are taking advantage of technology and strategic partnerships to provide veterans and their families with faster and easier access to benefits and services.

Third is the transfer of Ste. Anne's Hospital. This priority is another reflection of the changing demographics and needs of Canada's veterans. We are continuing negotiations with the Province of Quebec to ensure a successful transfer for all involved, especially veterans.

Fourth is workplace renewal. Given the preceding priorities, workplace renewal will be critical. We're working to support our employees with the tools, skills, and training required to improve services and meet the changing needs of our veterans. This priority is also about increasing our knowledge of the Canadian Forces and the military experience.

Of course, our second mandate, to commemorate the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women in our military, also remains an ongoing priority.

You have heard, as part of your ongoing study on transformation, that as the traditional veteran population decreases, the number of Canadian Forces veterans who receive benefits and services from VAC is increasing. We know, too, that the future veteran population served by Veterans Affairs Canada will be much more diverse and represent several generations.

This year's report on plans and priorities shows fluctuation in planned spending in outer years. I want to emphasize that this is not due to any planned reduction in veterans programs or benefits. Services and benefits to veterans are being maintained. Funding levels are set one year at a time. The outer years are just projections, and will be refined in-year. To give perspective, VAC's planned spending for 2012-13 in this year's report on plans and priorities is actually $268 million more than was projected in last year's report.

The department is prepared to meet the needs of veterans returning from Afghanistan. In fact, our total authorities over the past five years have been increasing. For example, in our most recent main estimates for 2012-13, our planned spending increased by $44.8 million, or 1.3%, over the previous year's main estimates in 2011-12.

The key changes driving this net increase included an increase of $118.5 million related to modern-day veterans accessing new Veterans Charter programs. A decrease of $73.7 million related, in part, to the decrease in demand for traditional veteran programs.

Veterans benefits are paid in accordance with acts, and payments stem from legislation regulation. These benefits are anticipated and demand-driven; depend on variables, such as the actual number of veterans who need our help; and are non-discretionary, meaning if the veteran is eligible, he or she receives the benefit.

All this being said, I want to assure you that the government's budget process, including in-year opportunities for supplementary estimates, is designed to ensure that any veteran who is entitled to a benefit is paid that benefit. Whether ten veterans come forward or 10,000, the flexibility is there to meet the needs.

I'm sure you'll have questions on the plans and priorities outlined in the report. My colleagues and I would be pleased to field any specific questions you may have.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Ms. Parry.

I do want to advise Mr. Andrews—it's nice to have him back—that he'll be the second questioner. So you may want to prepare yourself, Mr. Andrews.

We now turn to Ms. Mathyssen for five minutes.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for returning to answer our questions.

On Tuesday of this week, we heard from NATO veterans, and their concern relates to the discussion around the transfer of Ste. Anne's Hospital. They were very clear that they felt they were not a priority with the government, that somehow they were second-class in terms of the fact that they weren't veterans of World War II or Korea. They were very concerned that being pushed onto the province, made the responsibility of the province, would neither provide them with the uniform kind of care they expect nor acknowledge the federal government's responsibility for their care.

I'm wondering if, in terms of the report on plans and priorities, at any time you consulted with veterans in regard to these feelings of being disposed of, being discarded.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

There has been regular consultation with veterans organizations and other stakeholders.

I'd just like to bring a little bit of history to this. In the early 1960s, Veterans Affairs Canada actually had 18 facilities that provided facility-based care and long-term care services to veterans. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the delivery of health care became a provincial responsibility and universal hospital insurance was introduced, the Glassco commission was set up. In 1963, as one of its recommendations, it recommended that hospitals be moved to provinces, so actually Ste. Anne's Hospital is the last of 18 hospitals to be moved to the provinces.

In terms of the ongoing negotiations, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec have signed an agreement in principle for the transfer of the hospital to the Government of Quebec. The agreement in principle is the first official commitment between both governments to move forward on the transfer. It identifies the key elements that both parties must agree to before concluding negotiations.

The government has indicated that it will ensure that veterans continue to have priority access to Ste. Anne's Hospital and to care and services in both official languages, and will also ensure that the interests of hospital employees are protected.

Charlotte may want to speak a little bit about the more general issue around the long-term care piece.

May 17th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

Charlotte Stewart Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Yes, thank you.

I just wanted to add to Heather's comments that the Government of Canada and VAC remain committed to providing long-term care, and with respect to veterans who need long-term care as a result of a service-related disability, the department will continue to provide that care, regardless of when or where the veterans served. So Canadian Forces members who need long-term care as a result of a service-related disability will be provided with care. That is going to be in community facilities, and that is where our knowledge of veterans' preferences shows they would like to be. Those facilities are close to their homes, most often, and the majority of veterans are choosing that option.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you. The report on plans and priorities 2012-2013 estimates that there will be about 10,000 Veterans Affairs Canada clients with complex needs that require case manager support. You estimate a ratio of about one case manager per forty clients.

Of the 550 position reductions in the transformation plan and the 250 additional position reductions in the 2012-2013 budget, how many of those are case manager positions?

3:45 p.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

I'll answer that. Thank you very much for that question.

Of those reductions, none are case managers. We remain very committed to this core ability of the department. We have a very highly specialized cadre of case managers. We have just under 250 located across the country. In fact, we've added to that complement in recent years to support Canadian Forces members who are returning from Afghanistan, for example. So we've invested in case managers. We've added them to the busiest bases, those being Halifax, Valcartier, Petawawa, Edmonton, as examples.

So we remain highly committed to case managers. We have also taken steps, as you've noted, to reduce their case load, and 40 cases per case manager is very much within industry norms, but I'm pleased to say that currently our ratio is even lower than that. So VAC case managers have just over 30 cases right now. That affords them the time to give due consideration and care to all those in need.