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 transformation.

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

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much, Mr. Parent, Mr. Hillier, and Mr. Walbourne for appearing in front of the committee.

I have questions for you, Mr. Parent and Mr. Hillier. I will be very brief and quick.

What is the trend in your case services, Mr. Parent? How much information do you get from veterans, from members, or from the forces? What has the trend been in the last five years? I am a veteran, so I simply set the stage. I retired in 2009, and I've never heard about your service.

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Thank you for the question.

What's important to realize is that we do keep track of all the complaints we receive, and this provides the basis for systemic issue review. In general, we get about 9,000 calls or contacts a year. We categorize them. At this point in time, most of the ones that we get are related to health care—health care provision, health care travel, that sort of thing.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Are these increasing or decreasing? What is the trend?

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

The categories haven't changed at all. Health care remains the top one. The application for benefits remains the second, and the third one is other jurisdictions. That remains pretty well constant.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Do you receive these from the regular force, or do you have—

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

From both serving and veterans, and people who are retired from the forces and the RCMP, yes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

How do you promote? How do you go out to the units to tell them what you're doing and what your role is?

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

We have an outreach campaign. In fact, this year saw me starting in Quebec City, to the Maritimes, Northern Ontario, out in B.C., and then to Saskatchewan, where I met also with the RCMP units out there. Our outreach campaign includes having some town hall meetings with veterans and their families, and meeting with local organizations of veterans, elected officials like mayors and ministers of the province, if that's possible, to promote the healthy veterans. It's a program that we pursue every year from here on in. The theme is different. The one for the current year is to educate them on my role and to educate them on what our team can do for them.

I also think it's important to realize that when an organization does outreach, it's a dialogue. It's a feedback process. We also track what the concerns are. We bring them back, and then we inform Veterans Affairs Canada. We also make a point of visiting their office, and whenever the session is over, we report to them what it is that we found.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Hillier, how many cases do you have yearly? You mentioned there is a downward trend in veterans issues. Can you explain to me how many cases you have yearly, or what the trend of the cases is?

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chair, generally we are seeing a downward trend because of the mortality of war-era veterans. We are seeing modern-day veterans coming in. We are seeing that the rate of mortality of war-era veterans is exceeding the rate of intake of modern-day veterans at this time. I just want to note—and I know Mr. Parent noted this—that we actually look at these things quarterly. We do have projections for numbers of years, but every quarter, we actually look at where we are and where we're going.

I think what's important, Mr. Chair, is that we have in excess of 200,000 people today who have received or are in receipt of a benefit or a service from Veterans Affairs. I think one of the key indicators we look at is those whose cases are being managed. These are people with serious injuries that may require rehabilitation that is both social and vocational. These are people who may have a multiplicity of physical and mental injuries. Our general caseload is around 7,000.

So when you start off with 200,000 in the system, and you take out caregivers and so on, so that you are looking at the ones whose cases are actively being managed, it ranges between 7,000 or 7,100. It fluctuates because there are people who come into the program, and happily, there are people who leave the program. They are rehabilitated. They're reintegrated back into society. We're seeing the number at around 7,000. I might add that the number of 7,000 includes both post-Korea veterans and war-era veterans.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I have another question if I might. I'll be very brief. You were mentioning the public service, and you mentioned hiring in the public service. There was a trend at DND and Veterans Affairs to hire retired members of the CF. But there is now no age limit on how long you can serve in the public service. However, in the army at 60, on your birthday, you are out.

So what kind of measures can be taken so these qualified veterans can apply for the internally advertised public service positions, such as those at Foreign Affairs or CIDA, if you are going into a war area when you have the qualifications?

I just want to mention to you very briefly that Helmets to Hardhats is a program. But many of our retired Canadian Forces people are working in the Bruce Nuclear and Pickering Nuclear plants, and that is also a public service.

Could you please answer? Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I can just make a comment with regard, Mr. Chair, to the issue of people in the Canadian Forces being able to apply for jobs in government. I can tell you that at Veterans Affairs, all of our competitions are open to members of the Canadian Forces. In personnel or human resources speak, it's also an asset qualification that we use, and certainly we would encourage more departments of government to ensure that their competitions are open.

I guess finally you make a good point. Members of the Canadian Forces generally are extremely well trained in whatever their profession may be in the Canadian Forces, and many of the people leaving Canadian Forces do not need our transition services. As a matter of fact, many already have jobs in the private sector or in other sectors of government or in commissions or agencies because their skills are well recognized in Canadian society. Many people take off the uniform on a Friday and go to work on a Monday.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Hillier.

Now it's Ms. Mathyssen for five minutes.

May 31st, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here. It's always a pleasure to see all of you, and we welcome the input from the veterans ombudsman. It's very helpful in terms of what we're doing.

Mr. Parent, you have said in your brief, and I'm just going to quickly quote from it, that as of 1998 to 2007, 54% of released personnel reported physical health conditions, 13% mental health conditions, and many have chronic health conditions, and yet these individuals are not necessarily being looked after by VAC. You also said that the reality is that current needs are unmet, and you expressed concern about the department's ability to meet not just current needs but the future needs, given the fact that there are so many service personnel out there who have retired or who haven't been released, and they're not accessing the system yet.

I wonder, are you concerned about the loss of personnel in Veterans Affairs? Very clearly, we don't know, as you said, what the impact of budget reduction and staff reduction is going to be.

Secondly, do you think perhaps that veterans' homelessness, the kind of homelessness we're seeing in so many other communities, is a symptom of that unreported or unconnected group of retired or released personnel?

Finally, how does VAC get out in front of this? Clearly you've raised a red flag here. What does VAC need to do to get out in front of what seems to be a considerable and quite frightening problem that our country and our veterans are going to face?

4:15 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Thank you.

That's a very good question. I'm going to try to hit all the answers, but certainly I think I'll start off with saying that our concern—I've expressed this, I believe, to the committee before—is with the fact that a lot of people are suffering in silence. Some of them do this because they're proud. Some of them because they don't know what's available for them. Basically, I think that point in my address speaks to that. There are a lot of people out there, and the statistics come from the study that was actually done by Veterans Affairs Canada and DND, in a life after service study.

Basically, I think that's what the important thing is.

In the past, people had to self identify, and there was no advertising done about VAC programs, so people suffered in silence, not knowing that something's happening to them. Also, as I mentioned before in front of this committee, we have people now who are serving in uniform both in the CF and the RCMP who are suffering in silence because they don't want to lose their careers. There will be unmet needs there as well that will flow over to Veterans Affairs Canada when they fully retire.

Also, in regard to your question related to homelessness, homelessness, of course, is only a factor. There are other things associated with it, like dependencies and those sorts of things. The thing is that what's important there are again the communications and the strategy at Veterans Affairs Canada. We have been pushing for a national strategy on homelessness, and I think it's an important thing to do, and we're certainly pushing Veterans Affairs Canada to come up with that.

Basically, I think that covers pretty well the aspects that you've asked about. Again, I think communication is by far one of the key elements in all of this. Veterans have to come forward and communicate with the department, but the department also has to be straightforward with the veteran community and advertise what it is that's available for them.