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Evidence of meeting #33 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 outreach.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Colleen Soltermann  Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs
Krista Locke  Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Okay, folks, we're back in session. The first hour being public, we're continuing our study of transformation initiatives at Veterans Affairs Canada.

We're very pleased to have two representatives. I think one, at least, has been through the mill and this process before.

I'd like to welcome Krista Locke, regional director, and Colleen Soltermann, director of outreach, consultation, and engagement. I was going to ask about the engagement part, but I'll leave that to you folks to explain.

You understand the process. You've been through it. We look forward to your opening comments for about ten minutes. I understand that you're going to split your time. Then we go into the question period. We have an hour today for this, so we'll try to keep it on track.

Welcome. It's good to have you here. Please proceed.

3:30 p.m.

Colleen Soltermann Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon.

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.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mrs. Locke, please.

3:40 p.m.

Krista Locke Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Merci.

Thank you, Colleen.

Good afternoon. My name is Krista Locke, and I am the director general for the Atlantic region as well as the national contact centres network and treatment authorization centres. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk about outreach in the field.

From an Atlantic region point of view, we are very active when it comes to outreach, consultation, and engagement with our various stakeholders. Over the past couple of years we have participated in several on-base information sessions promoting our programs and services. In cooperation with the chief of military personnel, we were able to reach out to hundreds of Canadian Forces personnel at CFB Gagetown, CFB Halifax, and Canadian Forces Station in St. John's, Newfoundland. But it didn't stop there. We also visited personnel at Greenwood and at Shearwater earlier this year for similar sessions.

I would also like to point out that these outreach sessions that were part of our CMP's tour were beyond the ongoing outreach and information sessions that take place regularly throughout the year at these bases, as well as other sites, on a number of topics relevant to serving members.

We also reach out to reservists to provide an overview of our services and benefits at presentations to reservist units across the region. Like our colleagues at a national level, we also have active client advisory committees in the Atlantic region at the local level with representation from various veterans organizations and groups.

Our committees are very active and engaged in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and work is currently under way to revive and rebuild the stakeholder committees in other areas to ensure we have full coverage throughout the region and that we have a consistent approach across the board. We realize the tremendous potential of these committees and the role they play in fostering relationships with our stakeholders and sustaining a two-way dialogue on issues pertaining to our veteran population.

We also support many community groups interested in grassroots initiatives in support of veterans. As many of you may have learned during your cross-country tour earlier this year, the town of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland and Labrador launched a community covenant late last year, a formal commitment by the town and its residents to support local veterans.

Departmental staff in the Atlantic region, in collaboration with a number of other federal and provincial government partners and community groups in Newfoundland and Labrador, were actively involved in the successful implementation of this unique community-driven project.

Through our community engagement partnership, our community war memorial program, and our cenotaph and monument restoration program, we continue to reach out to collaborate with community groups on remembrance-related activities and initiatives at a grassroots level.

In closing, we know that continuing to build stronger relationships and broadening our reach with external partners will not only help in our planning and programming for the future, but it will also help us learn better, faster, and more efficient ways to do so.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you both very much.

We'll go right to committee questions. We'll start with Mr. Stoffer for five minutes.

May 10th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you all very much for coming today.

My first question for you, Colleen, is on page 2 of your document.

Krista, this goes to you as well.

You talk about the outreach you're doing with various veterans organizations like DND, the RCMP, etc. You mention reservists, but many reservists are not attached to bases; they're more in the private sector. They could be in college or university.

Has consideration been given to doing this outreach with universities, colleges, chambers of commerce, municipal and provincial representatives or their governments, aboriginal communities, or the CFIB, to let the corporate and business sectors, the academic sector, provincial and municipal sectors, and first nations sectors understand that this outreach is ongoing? Have you expanded it or considered expanding it to all those other organizations to get the message out to those military personnel who may not be attached to military bases?

3:40 p.m.

Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs

Colleen Soltermann

We've been focusing in the last year on working with our Canadian Forces bases and reaching those members who are serving, as well as veterans in the community. We understand that in many cases CF veterans tend to locate near the bases in which they serve, so we focused on that. Some of our print advertising in the last number of months also focused on those areas.

As to broadening beyond that, we haven't looked specifically at those areas, but we are looking at where we want to reach out in the future. We realize there are some target populations that we aren't necessarily reaching with the approach we've taken. In the future we will likely be looking to expand, and some of the areas you've identified are certainly opportunities for us.

3:45 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

In the Atlantic region, although we don't have outreach activities that specifically target reservists or CF members on the benefits and services we provide to them, we are visible at teachers conferences and in universities when they have student forums. We provide information on the department, the kind of work we do, and the benefits and services we provide to veterans in Canada.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Krista, this is a question that's closer to home for you.

As you know, Jim and Debbie Lowther and the VETS organization in Halifax are doing a tremendous job on their own dime and time looking after, finding, and searching for homeless veterans. We know that Keith Hillier did a walkabout with them one day and was quite fascinated by their work. Can you tell us what the local or regional Department of Veterans Affairs is doing to help that organization assist homeless veterans?

3:45 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

We've worked very closely with Jim Lowther and the VETS organization. We meet with them on a regular basis. I know that in the Halifax district office a homeless committee was established well over a year ago to address this issue. They work with community organizations, along with the VETS organization. They visit shelters and other organizations on a regular basis to ensure that the information is out there for those providers as well as for any veterans out there who visit any of those organizations.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

One of the unfortunate things is to see this fine organization with a jar asking for donations to help their organization.

Do you have any authorization to allow any financial support to this organization in Halifax?

3:45 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

I can't speak to that at this point. I will certainly look into that.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

You have 50 seconds left to get a question in quickly.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

In connection with that, I wonder if there have been any discussions around doing outreach beyond the organizations to find homeless veterans. I know in my community we didn't know about it, and then someone did some research. It was astounding and staggering how many homeless veterans there were right in London, Ontario. It worries me that there are certainly others elsewhere.

3:45 p.m.

Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs

Colleen Soltermann

I can help answer that question. I'll start off by saying that the department is currently developing a comprehensive strategy for homeless veterans. We're focusing on key areas that are within VAC authorities at the present time. These include prevention, outreach, strategic partnerships, education, and awareness. We want to maximize the services and benefits we have available already and extend those to homeless veterans to provide them support.

We've also established three initiatives for homeless veterans across the country: one in Montreal, one in Toronto, and one in Vancouver. These have been developed through partnerships with community organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, Wounded Warriors, the Veterans Memorial Manor, and the Good Shepherd Ministries, as well as Veterans Affairs Canada, the Department of National Defence, and our OSISS network for operational stress injury social support. So we do have initiatives through which we, along with community organizations, continue to reach out to help find homeless veterans.

We also have veterans organizations that help us as well, and we really value the support they provide us. There are some like the VETS in Halifax. They advise us when they encounter someone who needs help.

Krista can speak a little more about that as well.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

It would have to be fairly quickly. We're quite a bit over time on that question.

3:50 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

I would just add that when the VETS organization or any other organization identifies a veteran who is homeless or near homeless, we're contacted immediately, and we have case managers who respond very quickly.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Mr. Lobb, go ahead for five minutes, please.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

My first question is for Ms. Soltermann.

Obviously, with transformation that would mean there were some areas for improvement within the department, and it's probably fair to say within each area of the department. What would you say were the top two or three areas that were in need of improvement, from your perspective?

3:50 p.m.

Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs

Colleen Soltermann

My area—the outreach, consultation, and engagement directorate—was established just a bit more than a year ago. My main mandate is to ensure that we have an integrated, coordinated approach to consultation, engagement, and outreach.

Veterans Affairs Canada, through various individuals and our offices at the local, regional, and national levels, have been carrying out outreach. We've been consulting, and we've been engaging veterans organizations for a long time. We felt that there was a key need to ensure that we were coordinated and integrated. There are a lot of good initiatives and activities that are happening across the country, and we want to benefit from those good success stories. I think two key things would be to make sure that we have a strategic, integrated, and coordinated approach and that we share best practices across the country so that we can all benefit from them.

One of the ones I would share is the community covenant in Conception Bay, which Krista spoke about. That's very successful at helping veterans integrate, and that's a good practice that can be shared and benefited from.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

So if you take that particular best practice, how does that get disseminated from coast to coast? How long does it take to be identified as a best practice, and how long does it take in practice to actually get it implemented?

3:50 p.m.

Director, Outreach, Consultation and Engagement, Department of Veterans Affairs

Colleen Soltermann

I'll let Krista speak a little more about how the community covenant unfolded in Newfoundland.

3:50 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

The community covenant in Newfoundland was actually a community-driven project by Conception Bay South. There was a partnership in place at the time to build capacity in mental health. I can speak to that later if necessary, but as a result, the community was aware of the work that was done in partnerships. They approached us and said they would really like to do something for their returning veterans and to develop a covenant. It was community-driven and very unique, and we provided support to help, as did the other partners as part of the committee. It is indeed a best practice.

Another was with the group when we met with the mayors, and it's often at that level of discussion with mayors—across Newfoundland at least—

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Okay, so if you're going to take that best practice to northeastern Alberta, say, how long do you think it would actually take to do that? Because what you're trying to do with your best practices is to have others mimic them coast to coast.