Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Please let me start by offering my appreciation for the opportunity today to offer a few thoughts on the employment potential that the federal civil service presents for veterans. In this context, I would like to focus especially on veterans who have acquired a mental or physical health impairment, either on or off the job, during their employment with the Canadian Armed Forces.
As a brief personal introduction, I'm privileged to wear two employment hats at the moment, one being president of the Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences, Canada's only statutory university ever created by private legislation and unanimous support of all members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and dedicated to education and research on all aspects of the workplace health cycle. We currently offer academic and continuing education programs in return to work and disability management.
My second role is as executive director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research, established some 25 years ago by a significant group of employers, unions and government representatives with a mandate to drive innovation, thought leadership and best practice economic and social outcomes following onset of a mental or physical health impairment, creating win-win situations for disabled individuals, employers and society.
In this context, and to achieve these results consistently, we developed professional and program standards in return to work and disability management, created an ISO-style organization, the International Disability Management Standards Council, and today, the professional disability management competency standards are formally licensed in 64 countries around the world.
To bring the tremendous opportunity that continued employment within the federal civil service represents for disabled veterans, I draw on my own experience from many years ago working for MacMillan Bloedel, then Canada's largest forest products company, when, on my fifth day on the job, a 50-foot alder tree barber-chaired, came down on me and broke my back. The support of both the company and the union, now the United Steelworkers, and the B.C. workers' compensation board allowed me to continue working for the organization, first in forestry administration, a field I initially graduated from, and then, after retraining, as an accountant.
This was after my successful return to work, which also entailed developing physical accessibility to the administrative building of a completely inaccessible logging camp of almost 500 workers on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Much like a diverse corporation such as MacMillan Bloedel, then with over 20,000 and operating across a broad spectrum of businesses requiring both blue- and white-collar employees, there is absolutely no reason why the federal civil service, with about 260,000 employees across Canada, could not accommodate most disabled veterans for continuing employment.
Successful job retention with the pre-disability employer, in this case the Government of Canada, following the onset of a mental or physical health impairment requires three components that are a basis for any return to work effort anywhere in the world. These are creativity, because no two disability situations are alike and can vary based on a number of circumstances; collaboration between various stakeholders; and open and transparent communication.
At this point in time, assuming that Bill C-81, Canada's national accessibility legislation, is proclaimed, its requirement to hire 5,000 individuals with disabilities over the next few years creates a unique employment opportunity for disabled veterans. It does, however, require flexibility and creativity on the part of the Public Service Commission, thinking outside the box to review and remove, if necessary, bureaucratic impediments that take any number of forms from unnecessary educational requirements to more flexibility in delivering additional training.
There are a couple of suggested concrete steps. Effective job retention with the pre-disability employer requires early intervention, an absolutely necessary first step to ensure that psychosocial compounding of, let's say, a physical impairment does not render the individual ultimately unemployable.
Individuals who acquire a mental or physical health impairment, regardless of causation, need to be triaged successfully at the earliest possible time. This simply means determining the likelihood of continued employment with the old job, or if a change will be necessary, which could mean retraining or redeployment to another position either within DND or the broader federal civil service.
The current interface between DND and Veterans Affairs is often detrimental to the continuing employment prospects of disabled veterans, and could be dramatically improved. This is not to say that landing a job within the federal civil service is the final piece in the puzzle. When 70% of disabled individuals currently hired into the federal civil service don't make it through their probationary period, systemic issues well beyond this conversation need to be addressed.
Based on experience in many other jurisdictions, we are certainly most willing to provide a number of additional concrete steps that could contribute towards achieving much improved socio-economic outcomes for disabled veterans.
Thank you very much.