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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

3:50 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

We're trying to share them.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

We're just trying to get our heads wrapped around how long it actually takes to do that.

3:50 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

We are currently working on the final results of that particular capacity project, including the covenant, and we are in discussions about the next steps as far as sharing those best practices to see how it can be done in other communities and other provinces that are interested.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

One other thing—sorry, the time is getting short here—is that obviously your outreach objectives are in the tens of thousands of people. That's what I'm assuming your target is. From what I read in the material, you're reaching them in probably the hundreds—lumps of hundreds, right?

I noticed in the material that there are 1,800 Twitter followers. That's a good number, but it wouldn't really meet the need for what you're trying to do.

With the modern veterans, who are in the tens of thousands, I'm going to generalize and say you're getting them by hundreds at a time. How do you get them by thousands at a time? What does it take?

I'll give you an example. In one of my communities the firemen went around to see how many homes actually had fire detectors. You would think that most people would have a working fire detector in their house. After they went through the community they found it was less than 5%, but they had to go door-to-door to do that.

I'm just asking how you plan to reach the thousands.

3:55 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

We've had great success with our social media tools, our Canada Remembers or remembrance programming. I think now we have over half a million followers on our Facebook page. We've been able to reach many, many individuals through Internet-based tools. We're learning from what we've been successful at doing with our remembrance programming and incorporating some of those successful approaches.

There are other initiatives. We were talking about what we were successful in doing with our major initiative to visit the bases across the country in the last year and a half or so, and we also have people on the ground. We have people who work in our district offices, in the integrated personnel support centres, which are a VAC-DND collaboration. They're in 24 locations across the country.

There are opportunities there. People can walk in. They do outreach in their own communities from those areas.

We have partners, such as our veterans organizations, the Royal Canadian Legion. The Canadian Veterans Advocacy is another one that has a significant presence. We work with our partners as well, to ensure we can multiply our information to the community on the benefits and services we have.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Now I'll go to Mr. Casey, for five minutes.

May 10th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ms. Soltermann, I'll start with you. I asked this question on Tuesday to Charlotte Stewart and Mr. Butler.

I'm aware that you have meetings with veterans advocacy stakeholder groups. In fact we've got a couple of representatives in the room here, Mike Blais and Sylvain Chartrand, who may look familiar to you.

We've heard evidence before this committee in the past that over the course of several months and years this stakeholders group has met at a high level within Veterans Affairs, right to the minister and the deputy. They have come up with...the number that I recall from the testimony was 500 recommendations, three of which have been implemented.

Before you answer, when Mr. Butler answered this question on Tuesday, in fairness to him he said they do all these other consultations and these are all very helpful. I expect if you have talking points, that's where they're supposed to take you.

I want you to focus in on the stakeholder group I'm talking about. There are these umpteen recommendations that haven't been met. Could you tell me what you know about that and whether that is in the process of being disbanded?

3:55 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

I'll tell you a little bit about the structures we used to have in place.

We did, in the past, have advisory committees, or “groups” as we called them, that existed until about a couple of years ago. They issued, in fact, a number of reports making recommendations.

In the most recent past, we've looked at how we can renew our approach to engaging at the national level. We wanted to make sure we brought to the table some new organizations that we hadn't really engaged in the past. As you mentioned, one of our organizations we have been engaging with is in the room today. They're relatively new to us in the last year or so, I would say, and they certainly have been an important contributor to the work VAC is doing, helping us understand the needs and services.

We did have, from those previous committees, a number of recommendations, and if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Butler indicated that there were about 250 recommendations from those previous structures. Of those, about 160—a good percentage of them, therefore—were either fully or partially implemented. Those recommendations, I would say, live on. That may not necessarily be the correct term, but they still remain relevant in the work VAC does as it looks forward to how it's going to continue to enhance the programs and services that are offered, and they continue to guide the department.

The new stakeholder committee that was established met three times: June last year, last October, and last February. We continue to work with those veterans organizations on an ongoing basis, whether it's everyday discussions—I have calls every day with some of those organizations and their representatives—or whether it's having teleconferences or meetings on a bilateral basis. We'll continue to do that. We'll continue to engage with them.

We're looking at the different formats—bilateral or multilateral meetings, where we had the veterans organizations at the table last February on a multilateral basis at our committee.

Our commitment to continue to engage with veterans organizations remains.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Tell me if I'm wrong, and it wouldn't be the first time today. Is there a group that has made upwards of 500 recommendations and that is saying publicly that only three have been adopted?

4 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

Veterans Affairs Canada has implemented more than 160 of the 250 recommendations. There are many recommendations that have been made from outside of government, from individuals, but the ones I'm talking about are the ones we formally had from those advisory councils that had made recommendations. VAC has acted on a number of those ones.

You may be referring to the implementation of the new Veterans Charter enhancements that came recently, through which we improved some of the benefits and services.

We've acted on a majority of those recommendations.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

Ms. Locke, your title is regional director general of the Atlantic region as well as the national contact centre and the treatment authorization network. What is the national contact centre?

4 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

The national contact centre is the network whereby clients can call in to the department.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

So it's a call centre.

4 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

It's a call centre, yes, and the treatment authorization centre is for providers to contact the department.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Where is the call centre?

4 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

We have call centres at three sites across Canada: Dartmouth, Kirkland Lake, and Winnipeg—sorry, we have a fourth centre—and Montreal.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

We're right up against the time, Mr. Casey, so just ask a quick one.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Okay, thank you.

We now go to Mr. Harris for five minutes, please.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Colleen and Krista, we appreciate your presentation.

Although I came to the social media age late in life, and I'm still kicking and screaming to not get into it, I know that it's really effective. Could you give us an example? Let's talk about the introduction of a Twitter account. Can you just give us a little capsule look at how successful...? It looks as if it's been pretty successful. How does it work for you, and how do you start off getting something out on it on a regular day? What's the procedure?

4 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

I'm not as familiar with our Twitter account. I'm a little bit the same as you on some of that new technology.

Mr. Chair, if there is an announcement that's going out, we take advantage of Twitter to create some awareness. We send it out. There are some people who subscribe and are followers of Veterans Affairs Canada on Twitter, and we disseminate messages that way.

We continue to build the reach of our Twitter account to make sure we have people who want to follow and want to know that they can follow us on Twitter.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Are you getting the feeling so far that it's achieving the things you originally thought it could achieve?

4 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

I'm not necessarily the best person to answer that. However, from the perspective of using social media as a whole, we've had much success with our Facebook page and our YouTube account. They've been cited as good practices by those companies. So we have been on the forefront of using social media.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

I want to stay on this subject as to how you're gauging your success. I know the department is actively pursuing ways to enhance the service provision to our vets and there are a lot of ways you can do that. To find out how you're doing, I see that as part of the transformation you're using public opinion research, focus groups, polling. Typically, what types of people would come to a focus group?

4:05 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

I'll speak to that.

Typically, the people who would come to focus groups would probably depend on what you're trying to achieve with the focus groups. We're carrying out some focus group work, and at this point we're recruiting participants to join our focus groups. We have two projects under way on focus groups. One is assessing knowledge of Veterans Affairs Canada's programs and services for Canadian Forces members, particularly the new Veterans Charter. Our second project is linked to gaining an understanding of how effective our communication is to CF veterans. So we're carrying out two separate focus groups.

On the one to assess the knowledge of programs and services in the new Veterans Charter, we're looking to establish qualitative survey results on how well individuals understand our programs. This will form a basis for us for future surveys to understand where we need to continue to improve our outreach and our consultation and engagement to make sure that CF veterans who have access to those programs and services know that they're there. It's going to help us enhance both how we communicate and how we reach out.