Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, it is a privilege to address this committee today.
If there is one thing all Canadians can agree on, it's our debt of gratitude towards our veterans for their service. To put on the uniform of one's country, is to make an extraordinary commitment: to put oneself at risk in the interests of the nation.
It is this commitment that explains and justifies benefits, services, and programs offered to veterans, supports that are enshrined in legislation and administered through Veterans Affairs Canada.
In this regard, it is a pleasure to provide this committee with an overview of two key programs offered by Veterans Affairs Canada to assist seniors. First I will explain how we support aging veterans in nursing homes and other residential care facilities through the long-term care program. Second, I will outline the home care supports and health services funded through our veterans independence program.
To situate these programs within the broader context, the following is a snapshot of who we serve. As of March 2016, the total estimated Canadian veteran population was just over 670,000 consisting of approximately 600,000 Canadian Armed Forces veterans and 70,000 veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
Our clients, however, comprise roughly 18% of the total veteran population. Today our department serves approximately 92,000 Canadian Armed Forces veterans with an average age of 60 years. We also support over 26,000 traditional war veterans, a predominantly male population with an average age of 92 years, as well as their survivors, primarily women, who are slightly younger, averaging 87 years of age.
I will now turn my attention to long-term care and the home care supports available to promote the health, well-being, and quality of life for this population of elderly veterans and their survivors. Access to health care and related benefits is authorized under—and eligibility criteria are set out in—the veterans health care regulations. It is through provincial or local health authorities that assessments are done to determine whether a veteran needs long-term care or could stay in their home with appropriate home care supplies and supports.
Placement criteria and admission processes are also largely controlled by provincial agencies. As you may be aware, the cost of long-term care varies significantly across Canada as resident fees and co-payments amounts are set by provincial authorities. Provincial rates currently range from a low of approximately $1,000 per month in British Columbia to in excess of $3,000 per month in New Brunswick.
The department supports veterans by contributing funding to offset these costs. We ensure that regardless of where a veteran is cared for, the maximum amount they must pay towards their accommodation and meals is currently $999 per month, and that is for 2017.
As of December 2016, the department was financially supporting just over 6,000 veterans in 1,400 nursing homes and similar facilities that provide nursing and personal care on a 24-hour basis. Just under two-thirds of the 6,000 veterans who are financially supported by Veterans Affairs are living in facilities that are open to all provincial residents.
For the most part, veterans prefer to be in these facilities located in their home communities, close to family and friends, and where they may be co-located with their spouses. In these facilities, veterans have access to the same services and supports as other provincial residents.
The remaining veterans are supported in former veterans hospitals in units where the department has contractual agreements that allow war veterans to have priority access to a set number of beds. In these facilities, we contribute funding to support extra services or an enhanced level of programming for our veterans, for example, more hours of health services such as physiotherapy or occupational therapy, higher staffing ratios of professionals, special on-site recreation programs, or subsidized transportation for off-site activities.
Since June 2016, new partnership arrangements have been negotiated and announced with various provincial health authorities and facilities that were former veterans hospitals. These new arrangements expand access and provide preferred admission to these facilities to a broader group of veterans.
I will now speak about the home care and support services offered to veterans. Introduced in 1981, the veterans independence program, often referred to as VIP, is Canada’s largest and longest running national community-based home and community care program. VIP was designed as an alternative to facility-based care to promote independence and aging at home for the rapidly growing population of elderly veterans. The early intervention and support provided through the program provide the benefits of improved long-term health and socio-economic conditions, increased independence and self-sufficiency through delayed or avoided institutionalization, and improved quality of life for both the veteran and their families.
Funding is provided to allow veterans to purchase home care and support services to meet their physical, mental, and social needs and support aging in place, a concept that was and continues to be very attractive to older veterans and Canadians alike. A comprehensive continuum of services is available under VIP including housekeeping, grounds maintenance, assistance with personal care, services provided by a nurse or other health professional, and access to nutrition through the delivery of nutritious food. Funding also allows for home adaptations that facilitate self-sufficiency with activities of daily living, for example grab bars or widening of doors. VIP services can also be approved to support palliative and end-of-life care.
Coverage for VIP services is approved based on assessed need, and to the extent that they are not provided by a provincial health care system. Veterans Affairs Canada case managers and veteran service agents have authority to recommend and approve most resources including up to $10,720 per year that can be spent on home care services.
In practice, the average amount spent is much lower, averaging just over $3,600 per client. VIP home support services, especially housekeeping and grounds maintenance, are the most utilized of our VIP services. To help reduce stress on our aging veterans, funding for the two most popular benefits, housekeeping and grounds maintenance, is paid as an upfront annual grant, thereby eliminating the need for veterans to submit claims to be reimbursed and be out-of-pocket for expenses. The grant is calculated based on the individual's assessed level of need and the rates for services in their area.
The grant provides veterans with discretion to choose the provider of their choice for these services. All other approved VIP services are funded by reimbursement. Either the veteran or the service provider must submit a claim, once the service is provided, to receive funding to cover the cost. This program has a proven track record of providing cost-effective care. Currently, over 91,000 individuals are benefiting from VIP services, including eligible veterans, their survivors, and primary caregivers.
In conclusion, I would simply like to highlight a couple of points.
The department remains steadfast in its commitment to ensure appropriate care is available to our aging veterans through a continuum of care. This includes financial assistance to support independence and “aging in place” at home. Funding is also provided when moving to a long-term care facility is the best option for ensuring a veteran's health and well-being.
This brings me to the end of my presentation and I would like to thank you for your attention.