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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

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

If this had an effect on the accessibility, the length of time it takes to get benefits, or the amount of time it takes to get somebody at the call centres, it would be something we'd be worried about.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Reimbursements are often brought up with me because my guys have to travel a significant distance. The improved technology makes for better service to our veterans. That's a positive thing. Right?

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

It's positive.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

When you advocate to maintain budgets, you're not advocating that we have to maintain every staff member in their previous job. It doesn't mean that they can't be reassessed and put into different jobs. I don't suppose that's what you're advocating for. I imagine you're advocating to ensure that veterans' benefits and this tool that you talk about are maintained and in fact enhanced.

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Yes. I'm advocating for fairness for veterans and their families, and always for more fairness, easier access, and easier services and benefits.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

And absolutely we can't tie the department's hand behind its back to go in that direction. We need to make sure it is as efficient as possible.

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

But my office is there, Mr. Chair, to be vigilant and to look at the impact of these changes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Be really quick, please, Mr. Storseth.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

I agree with you one hundred per cent when you talk about the complexity of programs. My guys often call all the red a “maze”. So I want to thank your office for helping with that.

I'd like you to talk briefly about something you discussed, which I call “silos”. There is the silo of the Department of National Defence and the silo of Veterans Affairs, and there's a little bit of crossover between them. I'd like your input on how you perceive these silos—whether they're a positive or a negative—and what you'd like to see happen with them.

4:05 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

That's a good question.

Mr. Chair, what we're looking at here is the fact that, like many other departments.... I worked at DND for many years. There were these types of layers or silos. It doesn't matter what you call them. That structure affects the capacity of the personnel within those silos to know what's going on throughout the department holistically. It actually forces people to work out of baskets.

But not all veterans should be treated out of one basket. They might need a little bit here or a little bit there. Hopefully, the transformation is going to take us there. That's what we'll be looking for—whether veterans are getting access to benefits they rightly deserve.

And is it complicated...? We find, for instance, that in communications within the department, people are very knowledgeable about their own programs, the ones they administer. But when it comes to something different, there's really little knowledge there. So I think people need to be educated and need to be knowledgeable about the whole program, not just about what's in their silos.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you very much.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Parent.

Now we'll go to Mr. Stoffer for five minutes.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Gentlemen, all of you, thank you very much for coming.

Mr. Parent, I want to thank you. It is rather sad that in 2012 you have to read

that...services provided will be based on the type of service rendered is an injustice of the first order.

That's pretty strong language. I'm sure when you wrote that you had to really think about it. I just wanted to say how sad it is we are still talking in those types of terms. But I do thank you very much for your presentation.

My only question for you is, what kind of work and liaison do you do with the DND ombudsman, in terms of the transitional services for DND and over to DVA? That's a question you can answer later.

I have one I'd like to ask Mr. Hillier.

Mr. Hillier, the recent survey that came up showed an 80% approval rate of the services. I was wondering, sir, if you could provide for the committee—not now, but at a later time—information on how the survey was conducted and how many people participated in the survey. Did the people who do not receive benefits participate in the service, or was it just the people in receipt of benefits who participated in the service? And how many of those did? If that could be provided to us—at a later time, if possible—that would be great.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I'd be happy to provide that, Mr. Chair.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you, sir.

Sir, your paragraph says “As a Department, we are on very solid footing....” It goes on a bit more. And then it says, “Our responses and actions are well thought out and appropriate.”

I just want to give you four examples. Then you tell me, if you can, if they're appropriate.

Ninety-seven-year-old Louis Dionne of North Vancouver is in a hospital getting a pacemaker. His wife is 89. He was told by DVA that they would have an answer for VIP service, if they get it, within 16 weeks. That's number one.

Number two, 87-year-old David Kurts in two years was denied four different times for various benefits. He's a World War II and Korean War veteran.

Ninety-year-old Sarah Atwood served in World War II but not overseas. She didn't dip her toe in the Atlantic. She was denied a bed at Camp Hill Hospital even though she's in the final stages and about to cross the bar, and even though beds are available at Camp Hill.

Ninety-year-old Ted Shiner was denied VIP service and efforts for his footwork. He is 90 years old.

Do you think, sir, that is an appropriate and well-thought-out position, when services for these elderly World War II and/or Korean War veterans are either denied or delayed? Wouldn't their age alone tell the local staff in those offices that they should be able to go in there and help them immediately with their concerns?

I just ask you that question.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I guess my first response is that obviously, due to privacy concerns, I cannot make any comment on any of the individual cases you mentioned.

I can say on a much more general basis that the employees of Veterans Affairs Canada care about the veterans and their families. I've been around government for a long time. I've worked in numerous departments. I've worked outside of Ottawa. I've worked all over this country, and I've never seen employees as dedicated as Veterans Affairs employees.

I can assure you that if there is any way to ensure that a veteran gets what he or she needs, the front-line employees of Veterans Affairs will go that extra mile to make sure it happens.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Hillier, I thank you for that. There isn't one person on this committee, at least as long as I have been on this committee, who would disagree with the sentiment that for VAC employees, when they wake up every day and go to bed, their number one thought is how they can help those veterans and their families and improve their lives. That is absolutely true.

I just gave you four cases, among hundreds, if not thousands, of cases I've worked on since I became a member of Parliament, in which this has been all too common. Art Humphreys, 87 years old, was denied a lift into his basement. He was told that he no longer needed to go there. This is a typical example, and it goes on and on. To say that your actions are well thought out and appropriate.... In some cases, yes, they are, but in many cases, they're not.

I say that with great respect. We need to do better in ensuring that a 97-year-old doesn't wait 16 weeks to get an answer. You'd think it would be a no-brainer to get in there and help the person and fill out the paperwork later. As a good friend of mine, and a member of this committee, said, why don't we just give everyone their benefit and then chase the other 2% or 3% after that.

Mr. Parent, I was wondering if you can answer the question regarding your work with the DND ombudsman and the kind of liaison you have.

I thank you, Mr. Hillier, for your time.

4:10 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Thank you. That's a good question, Mr. Chair.

There is often confusion about the difference between the DND ombudsman and the veterans ombudsman. We have a role to play, both sides, in fact. The DND ombudsman has jurisdiction on the veterans side as well. Any veteran that requires proof of service or has complaints about superannuation or a pension and so on would go to the DND ombudsman.

On the reverse side, as the veterans ombudsman, I would look after the people who are wearing uniforms now—serving members—if their complaints are about benefits they are receiving from Veterans Affairs Canada.

On the transition aspect, because we're both involved, because of the roles I've just mentioned, I think what's important is the fact that we facilitate the transfer of files between one office and another. It's more so when people are suffering from PTSD, when repeating the story can be a trigger for another crisis.

We have the possibility of doing hot transfers of files so that we can take the file and brief the DND ombudsman on certain aspects of the case and that sort of thing. My intentions, within the next year or so, are to see if we can do some joint work with the DND ombudsman to look at aspects of transition from both ends of the transition spectrum: coming out and going into civilian life.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

That would be very good.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Parent.

We now go to Mr. Lobb for five minutes.

March 8th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

The first question is for Mr. Hillier.

How many first-time applicants would you receive at Veterans Affairs every year?

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

It's generally in excess of 20,000.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Okay. Of those 20,000, how many would be accepted?

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

It is in the range, normally, of 73% to 74%.