Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Colleen Soltermann. I'm the director of outreach, consultation, and engagement at Veterans Affairs Canada. Here with me today, as the chair indicated, is my colleague Krista Locke, who is the regional director general of the Atlantic region. We welcome this opportunity to be with you today.
We are here today to discuss VAC's commitment to enhance outreach, consultation and engagement with veterans' organizations and other stakeholders in keeping with the department's transformation commitments.
Strengthening outreach and consultation is an integral part of our ability to meet the evolving needs and expectations of veterans and their families, and that is what we are doing. As part of this commitment, we have created a dedicated team that has a mandate to strengthen and coordinate our departmental approach to outreach and consultation.
We are working directly with our colleagues in the field, such as Krista Locke, to identify best practices so that we implement an effective and consistent approach across the country. At the same time, we are building stronger relationships and are broadening our reach with external partners.
Today I'm going to speak to you about how we are supporting VAC's transformation initiatives through consultation with veterans organizations; increased outreach to Canadian Forces members and modern-day veterans and their families; leveraging of new technology, including social media; and public opinion research and analysis. Finally, Krista will speak to you about the outreach and consultation our department does at the local level.
At the national level, the department is engaging national veterans organizations, including traditional and emerging organizations, as well as the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces.
We communicate regularly as part of an ongoing dialogue with representatives of individual veterans organizations and other stakeholders to keep them up to date on VAC initiatives, events, and announcements. This communication includes a combination of bilateral and multilateral meetings, emails, and teleconferences.
We know that t is important to also engage veterans and their families on matters that are important to them, from a local perspective, in the communities where they live. We accomplish this through various activities in the field, including consultation with local committees.
My colleague, Ms. Locke, will speak to you about the outreach and consultation that our department is doing at the local level.
As VAC changes to meet the evolving needs of our veterans and their families, we are also expanding our outreach efforts. Working in close collaboration with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, VAC is continuing to deliver information on programs and services directly to serving members, veterans, and their families.
Over the last year, with the support of the chief, military personnel, VAC held 26 information briefings at 20 different Canadian Forces locations. We directly reached more than 6,000 CF members, veterans, and their families in regard to the benefits and services available to them.
These briefings were a key component of our joint outreach initiatives with DND, and we continue to work together to identify shared priorities and joint outreach opportunities, as part of the second phase of this targeted outreach to the military.
Ongoing participation at CF professional development days, CF SCAN seminars—second career assistance network seminars—unit briefings, and a VAC presence at many family days, to name a few, will continue. And we'll be enhancing them.
With this approach, we hope to improve awareness of the services and benefits available and to ensure that they are well understood by Canadian Forces members, veterans, and their families. We want them to know what they are entitled to from VAC and that we are cutting red tape to make it easier for them to access our benefits and services.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this point I've given you a broad overview of how we are consulting with veterans organizations across the country. I've also talked about our increased outreach to CF members and modern-day veterans.
We're also making great strides in our outreach to veterans through new technology, which I'd like to discuss with you now.
VAC continues to be very successful in using social media tools to engage and communicate with Canadians. A strong presence has been established on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. These tools have primarily focused on remembrance. However, to better promote VAC services and benefits, a Twitter account was introduced. We issue daily tweets on updates and news concerning the department, and we have attracted 1,800 followers so far.
We've also launched a departmental mobile application that features information on services, benefits, and remembrance. And our website, veterans.gc.ca, is now more mobile-friendly, as more and more people use smart phones.
We expanded our traditional use of television advertising by adding an online advertising component during Veterans' Week, and target print advertisements where appropriate. For example, we had advertisements running in regional newspapers around Canadian Forces bases across the country between November 2011 and January 2012. The ads targeted serving Canadian Forces members and their families, as well as veterans who are living on or close to a Canadian Forces base.
These new tools and activities provide VAC with additional ways to target, reach, engage, and build a relationship with veterans, their families, other stakeholders, and Canadians.
We are always looking for ways to improve our approach to outreach, consultation, and engagement. To do this, we need to analyze what we are doing now, what is effective, and what needs to be enhanced.
As part of our department's transformation, public opinion research is being conducted to measure the level of understanding and awareness of VAC's programs and services. It will take place over the next three years and include Canadians and targeted groups.
We will use a combination of focus group testing, custom surveying, and targeted surveys with stakeholders, including modern-day veterans. The information obtained will allow VAC to determine the impact and effectiveness of its current outreach and communications, provide direction to areas that require attention, and adapt activities to ensure that Canadians and stakeholders are well informed about VAC's mandate and services.
Feedback from these activities will be useful in guiding the department in its future planning and programming. As well, information will be used to determine if Veterans Affairs Canada's engagement and outreach objectives are being met.
With that, Mr. Chair, I want to thank you and your committee for our time here today. I hope I've provided you with an overview of our outreach, consultation, and engagement in support of transformation.
I would now like to invite my colleague, Krista Locke, to give you her local perspective, after which, we are happy to respond to your questions.