Evidence of meeting #37 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

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Hillier, I was wondering if you can tell me this. On the phone calls that are going on where somebody calls a 1-866 number and you can get back or you can get Service Canada, can you explain how Quantum, the private company, fits into this?

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Because I'm rather puzzled as to why Quantum would answer the phone and say they are the Department of Veterans Affairs when they answer the phone. How does that actually work?

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Well, I think I need to first explain to you why we're doing it.

First of all, what we want to do is for very routine questions—people who may want an information kit or a brochure or something—we don't want to use the valuable time of our skilled and trained employees to handle those routine questions. So when a veteran calls the number, they basically have an option that says, “If you're a client of Veterans Affairs Canada, if you're a veteran, or if you are a family member, push one, and if you're looking for general information around veterans' issues, push two”. That goes to Service Canada.

We have a contract with Service Canada to handle those calls. We have been working with Service Canada for many years. When we've had various issues with new programs or what have you, and also to allow for surge capacity to be able to handle our calls, we've often used Service Canada in the past. So this is not new.

Service Canada has a number of government employees and a number of contract employees. I believe it was in the year 2008 that Service Canada entered into this contract with the company you refer to. These employees are trained to the standards that we set. We've actually had our managers over in the centre, making sure that the veterans are getting the service they need.

Quite simply, what we want to do is that we want to leave our staff, who are well trained in veterans issues, to handle the approximately 800,000 phone calls we receive in a year, and in so doing, have some of the more general non-client-related.... For example, Service Canada does not access the private information of a veteran. They do not have access to the database.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Ms. Adams, for five minutes.

May 31st, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Thank you very much for appearing here before us again, Monsieur Parent, Mr. Hillier, and Mr. Walbourne. My first question is for Monsieur Parent.

In your December 2011 report, you recommended to the minister more plain language and more clearly identifiable information in the disability benefit assessment letters. In fact, that recommendation was welcomed by the minister, and significant changes have been undertaken. We refer to this as the plain language initiative, where a document that is sent out to the veteran clearly, in plain language, communicates exactly how a decision has been derived, what information was relied upon, and how someone might go about appealing that decision.

Could you provide me with some feedback, please, on your assessment of these new initiatives?

3:55 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Yes, we were instrumental in moving the department to simplify its correspondence. Even recently, in the report that we released, “Reasons for Decisions”, we indicated that it's not only the language but also the content that's important. I'm glad to report that there is some improvement in the process, but we are still looking at what will be the overall effect.

What's important to realize here is not only the simplicity, that people understand, but also that the principles of natural justice are respected. That's our concern, as well. The report contained a reflection of what information should be contained in the letter, and what is necessary for people to carry on with the process or to simply stop where they are.

Yes, there's a definite improvement. We're happy with the efforts that are being made in the decision letters now. There is a move forward in that, and we're happy with it.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Thank you very much, Monsieur Parent.

Mr. Hillier, in terms of red tape reduction at the ministry and the type of red tape our veterans are facing, could you provide us with some information about what the ministry is doing to reduce the red tape that our veterans face, in particular with the VIP, the veterans independence program?

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

The VIP is certainly one of the largest efforts. Through this initiative we will eliminate 2.5 million transactions annually. That's 2.5 million instances where veterans were submitting receipts to be authorized for payment. It will make life much simpler for the veterans. As the minister announced in the spring, we are working to start in the fall to phase this in for Canada's veterans.

Certainly, from visiting with some veterans and talking with some veterans organizations, the general consensus is that this is a good thing. It's not the only thing; there are other items we're working on that I'm sure, in due course, the minister will be announcing.

As my colleague Mr. Parent, has noted, it's about continuous improvement. It's not about doing something and saying that we're there.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

We can't rest on our laurels, but my goodness, 2.5 million instances where veterans no longer need to take the time—to waste time, really—filling out cumbersome paperwork, which then expends valuable taxpayer-funded resources in the government to review and audit it. It's completely pointless and needless.

We certainly don't believe that veterans need to suffer under some sort of nanny state. We believe veterans can be trusted to spend their money wisely, that they're entitled to the money under the program, and that it simply can be provided to them.

Are there other red tape initiatives that you're looking at currently?

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Yes, we are looking at a number of things. I won't go any further this afternoon. I'm sure that once we finalize things, the minister will announce in due course further streamlining and further red tape initiatives, which staff are working on as we speak.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Perhaps, under the transformation initiatives, you could identify some of the wait-time reductions that have been achieved.

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Well, with the wait-time reductions—and I'll tell you a little bit of a story of when I visited bases, and when I visit bases now, the changing—if it doesn't make a difference to the veteran, it's really not important.

On disability awards and disability pensions, a couple of years ago I would have come here and said “Gee, we're trying to hit 24 weeks, and we have a bit of a backlog”. Our service standard is 16 weeks. As of March 31 this year, we were hitting 40 weeks 80% of the time and 12 weeks 70.5% of the time. We were fast moving towards having cut the wait time in half. Approval for entry into a rehab program has been cut from four weeks to two weeks.

The one thing I would really highlight—I noted in my speech—is that fact of not having to get re-authorizations. It's not about how long you have to wait anymore; it's about the fact that you don't have to do it anymore. That makes things very....

How do I know it's working? When I visited Canadian Forces bases and wings, I would often get complaints that it takes forever to get a decision on a disability award. Now some people are coming up to me saying, “Hey, this is great. It took me only so long to get my decision.” That, to me, is the real test.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

And, our veterans are saved the indignity of having to apply for it over and over again. Once they're approved, they're approved.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Okay, your time is up.

We'll move on, please.

Mr. Casey, you have five minutes.