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Evidence of meeting #23 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 programs.

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
Gary Walbourne  Director General, Operations, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
Raymond Lalonde  Director, National Centre for Operational Stress Injuries, Ste. Anne's Hospital, Department of Veterans Affairs

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

That ends round one. We're going to go to round two, which is a four-minute round. I think the committee has agreed to go into a first round again, for a shorter question period at that time. Is that correct? I know there has been some discussion and consensus.

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

It's just lovely. I just feel wonderful about this.

So we'll go to the second round with four-minute rounds.

I believe we start with Ms. Papillon.

March 8th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Parent, thank you for coming to testify. We are really quite blessed to have you here.

I read the report you submitted. Please excuse me if I don't have enough time to ask all the questions I would like to about this.

I know you received a large number of complaints in 2010-2011 about disability awards. Have you seen a decrease in the number of those complaints since Veterans Affairs Canada is allowing the payment in annual instalments, rather than in lump sums?

4:25 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

That's a very good question, Mr. Chair.

The new Veterans Charter, which includes the lump sum, got a lot of reactions from the veterans community in general. What is very important to understand is that the programs in the new charter are not yet very well known. The lump sum is seen as if it was the only program that people will have access to, based on the programs in the new charter, but that's not necessarily the case because it may be combined with other programs.

The changes made to the charter have shown that there could be some flexibility in how people can access the lump sum. This is certainly an improvement. Now that we have the flexibility, we need to continue working with the department's representatives to be even more flexible in order to respond to the needs of the individual. If the new charter is based on the needs of the individual, we should therefore adapt access to benefits based on the needs.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

At your office's request, you did a study on the new charter. You determined that it, compared with the Pension Act, was not advantageous financially for veterans with disabilities and their families.

Could you give us a little more detail about the outcome of the study?

4:25 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

The study was based strictly on the lump sum, which we are comparing with the monthly pension in the former program. It doesn't take into consideration the other programs. It isn't necessarily a true representation of the programs, given that it addresses only one part of the programs provided under the new charter. The study doesn't take into account the financial benefits of the rehabilitation program…

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Are you not seeing that there are now too few people to receive the permanent impairment allowance, for example?

4:25 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

We don't have the exact numbers here, but I think the department's statistics should be available.

Since there will be a review of the improvements made to the charter in a few months, we are getting ready. The government mandated that exercise following changes made to the act. A special team was designated specifically to analyze the improvements and the impact on the veterans, as well as to establish a comparison with the old system. We want to submit a basic document we can use to discuss improvements or the review of the charter when the time comes. We intend to consult representative groups of veterans and to present the committee with an in-depth study of the new charter.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much. Four minutes goes quickly. I know Mr. Stoffer will allow you some time in the last round. I just have that feeling.

We now go to Mr. Lizon for four minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for coming here today.

The first question I would like to ask, Mr. Parent, is on these identity cards that Madam Adams asked you about. Where are you at the present time? Have you planned on...? It's a very interesting idea. We did hear from veterans, even on the recent trip to the east coast, that at some point in their life, if they are not careful enough and have all the documentation in their hands, it's hard for them to get the service records or medical records. Where is your planning, and what would you need to finalize the project?

4:30 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

That's a good question, Mr. Chair.

As this point in time, we have a contract out for an organization to look at what is within the realm of the possible, what types of cards exist, what the cost is, and how we could integrate that type of mechanism. Obviously, this is one of those projects that would probably involve a joint effort between me and the national defence ombudsman, because it touches both sides of the equation.

At this point in time, we have been promoting it. We have promoted it in our annual report. Whenever I speak in my outreach and whenever I speak to the department, I always talk about the issue, but we haven't done anything at this point in time to actually introduce it. That's why I'm asking for the support of the committee in actually trying to make it happen. In fact, it's more than just a transition. It's also the tracking aspect that is very important.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

My second question is regarding equality. Maybe you could clarify. You were talking about equality, and then you defined it. My question is whether veterans themselves would agree with your definition. I will tell you why. I know quite a few traditional veterans. Some of them—the ones who were in the front lines—consider they have done more than people in the back, people in some of the delivery services or support services. Some of them may get offended that they would be treated exactly like the other ones. What is their view?

4:30 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

In the context of fairness and equality, we see a change in the veterans community in considering themselves as one veteran. I think Afghanistan has helped a lot because it's a more equal service than the Second World War or the Korean conflict. Recently in an outreach visit we had one young CF veteran just back from Afghanistan who opened up about the way he felt, the way he was treated. All of the veterans who were there, including people from World War II, came on board and everybody supported one another. In other outreach visits, people have stood up and said they really like this idea of “one veteran”. So the community of veterans is happy with that.

There will always be a difference between the people who are in a dependency system like our war veterans and the ones who are under the new Veterans Charter, but we need to reconcile that and focus on looking after their injuries and their impact on their families, rather than where they came from before.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

On the burial services, you mentioned that a fair amount would be between $8,000 and $10,000. What do you think the eligibility criteria should be?

4:30 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

One of the recommendations we made in the report has to do with access to those burial services and the benefit program for CF veterans. Right now there are strict eligibility criteria. You're eligible by right if you're a World War II or Korea veteran pensioned for injuries related to service. When it comes to a CF veteran, the actual cause of death has to be the injury that they are being pensioned for, and there's also an income testing involved. So it's complicated. We think it could be eased off. Our recommendations address that aspect of it.

I can give you an example. Years ago, Ken Barwise out on the west coast, a double amputee with eight other shrapnel wounds, died on the operating table. Because his heart stopped on the operating table, his death was not deemed to be related to his service. So the burial was paid for by charitable donations.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you.

Now we go to Ms. Mathyssen.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

I want to thank all of you for being here, and for all the service you provide to veterans. It's so important to us. On our trip to Halifax, we had a chance to speak with an almost retired RCMP officer. On behalf of RCMP veterans, he said they felt very left out and overlooked by Veterans Affairs Canada. I'm wondering what recommendations you might be able to make to Veterans Affairs to give consideration to the needs of those RCMP veterans.

4:35 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

I am very concerned about the way the RCMP veteran is treated. If you think complexity is a problem for the CF veteran, the RCMP is even worse because they have to deal with two departments. There is no advocacy group for the veterans of the RCMP. There's an association, but they don't play much of a role in working to implement programs and benefits. Veterans Affairs Canada administers benefits on behalf of the RCMP. It's very complicated. On the CF side, you have the universality of service, which actually allows people to get out. On the RCMP side, you have the duty to accommodate, which actually keeps people in. If you're going to keep people in, you're going to be looking after them with health care programs and that sort of thing. So there's a dual role there that the RCMP plays. Veterans Affairs administers the benefits, yet the adjudication for benefits is also being done by Veterans Affairs. So it's very complex.

My intention is to meet with the new commissioner shortly and to start afresh. I'm a simple search-and-rescue technician from the air force, but I can't see why the Government of Canada would give money to the RCMP so that they can give the money to Veterans Affairs Canada so that they can administer benefits. Why don't they give the money directly to Veterans Affairs Canada to look after all veterans. It goes back to my theme of “one veteran”, which is less complex. It's the way to go.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Hillier, you said that if a veteran goes before the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and needs representation, there is a lawyer. That seems rather adversarial. If the whole point is to make sure that veteran is taken care of appropriately, why a lawyer? Why have that sense of it being adversarial?

4:35 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chair, I would suggest that it's not adversarial. I think it's important to note that while a lawyer is provided to the veteran, the lawyer and the veteran would appear before the appeal board, but the department does not put up a defence. It is not adversarial, the way you would think in a normal court setting when there's side A and side B. There is no position put forward by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Okay.

Monsieur Parent, as I said, we were in Halifax and we had the privilege of meeting Dr. Heather MacKinnon. She provides support. She's a former medical officer who served in the regular and reserve forces.

Among her many concerns was the concern that modern-day veterans are not receiving the same level of care as their predecessors did, because those modern-day veterans have to navigate through the public health care system that is provincially provided. In fact, when those modern-day veterans need long-term care, it's denied in terms of veterans hospitals. They have to go to the public sector, which is very often inappropriate. There doesn't seem to be any really positive transitional services, according to Dr. MacKinnon.

Should there be medical transitional services set up across the country so that both regular and reserve forces can make a better transition? Should modern-day vets have access to veterans hospitals?

4:40 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Those are good questions. Thank you very much.

Certainly, that's the way to go. The difficulty, the concern right now, is that the spectrum of care within the Canadian Forces and the spectrum of care provided by the provinces and Veterans Affairs Canada are completely different. So is the compendium of medications. You can take somebody who is suffering from PTSD, is under a certain medication in the Canadian Forces, but that medication is not available to the province or Veterans Affairs Canada because it's not on the list. Of course, anybody who is suffering from this type of injury normally undergoes a crisis period if they change medication.

So there are all of these things, and that's why I go back to say that the transition is an important one. And it's not just leaving; it's what you're going to be facing as well on the other side. The more we can do to welcome people into the health care community, the better off the veterans and their families are going to be.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

That's very precise for a simple air technician. I thought it was very good.

We're now down to—and I'm very pleased to have him back visiting us at the committee—Mr. McColeman, for four minutes, please.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you, Chair, for welcoming me, and I'll extend my appreciation for you being here as well.

In the last Parliament, I served on this committee and we went through the new Veterans Charter. My question to Mr. Hillier is this. I suppose maybe over the last five years and such there have been changes to the new Veterans Charter and enhancements made. On a budgetary level, what have you seen in terms of dollars to Veterans Affairs from the government?