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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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thanks. Sorry, our time is up. That's fascinating, though. It was good stuff.

We'll go to Mr. Lizon, please.

May 10th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for coming here this afternoon.

I will maybe continue on the outreach activities you do.

Madame Soltermann, in your presentation you mentioned that you have a presence at the military bases. You do a lot of work informing future veterans of the services.

As a committee, we have travelled to several places in Canada. We have heard from witnesses. It seems that despite all the work you are doing, there's a gap in information. It looks as if some people still do not get the information. Would you elaborate on that? You said that your team has been around for only one year.

4:15 p.m.

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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

From your experience, what should be done to narrow that gap in information?

4:15 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

Thank you for the question.

The efforts Veterans Affairs Canada has been making over the last year have been primarily to establish a focus area. My unit, the outreach, consultation, and engagement unit, was established. We work with our colleagues in the field.

We now have a team called community engagement. They're located across the country. This is a relatively new concept within the organization. We have taken some individuals who had other broader responsibilities and we include them in how we are going to develop our strategy for outreach in the future.

Veterans Affairs Canada has done some outreach in the past. What our team is looking to bring is a more integrated and coordinated and strategic approach to how we're going to do those three functions: consultation, outreach, and engagement.

We've been working with the Canadian Forces and National Defence. Over the last year and a half we carried out those information sessions on the bases. We reached a number of individuals, but we know that there's more we can do. The Integrated Personnel Support Centres, which have both Veterans Affairs Canada staff and DND staff, are really helpful in ensuring that we interact with and have an opportunity to inform veterans and serving members of their benefits and services. In addition, what we're looking at doing is working collaboratively with the Canadian Forces to identify other opportunities we can carry out.

One of the examples I'd like to use is the second career assistance network sessions they have on the bases. These are sessions that prepare people who are ready for their departure from the CF. They're retiring. They're releasing. That's a key moment. We can ensure that we have the appropriate information so that they can be informed about the programs and services and can make decisions about what they are planning to do.

Would you like to add something, Krista?

4:15 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

Sure. I would just add that as Colleen said, we're doing more and more every day to reach out. Two years ago, the IPSCs began to be set up. It's only since that time that we've had more of a presence on the bases. We have VAC staff working side by side with their DND colleagues.

To share a story, one of the case managers said that there were all these opportunities now to go out and meet with reservists, because he is located in an IPSC and hears what's going on, on the DND side. If they can be part of that group, they can put up their hands and offer their help by sharing some of the outreach and information. Actually, by being there, we have more of a presence than we had, definitely, two years ago.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

To continue on the outreach activities and social media, you mentioned that you use Twitter. I use social media, but maybe not to the degree that some people use it. I still prefer telephone conversations or a face-to-face talk.

Of course, with the veterans population we have—we have traditional veterans who are at the very late stage of their lives—social media would most likely not be the best tool to use to reach out to them. What are you doing to continue to have some outreach activities with those veterans?

4:15 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

As you indicate, many of these war veterans are advancing in age. We don't necessarily think they will be using social media to the same extent as our younger veterans.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

I know some who do.

4:20 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

Some do, but it won't be the majority of them. What we will be able to do through the social media, as we continue to develop it....They often have family support around them. Often at that advanced age they need the support of their family. So our social media will continue to support them and help their families.

In addition, because we're going to be using more social media, it doesn't necessarily mean we're going to stop meeting with them, ensuring that we're following their needs. There are still opportunities for face-to-face meeting, working with them when they need the services.

Social media is not to replace but it's to complement how we provide services to veterans. Many of our younger veterans want to find out what they can get at ten o'clock at night or two o'clock in the morning. Our technology will help them do that. As we move in our transformation agenda and we're smarter about how we use technology, we will be able to reach them, but we are not giving up how we need to be engaging with our older veterans.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much for that. Time is up.

Ms. Adams, five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Thank you very much for coming and presenting today.

The department has certainly undertaken considerable improvements at reducing the amount of red tape that our veterans face. Can you tell me how that initiative to reduce red tape will affect your outreach initiatives?

4:20 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

The red tape is part of the transformation. My role in the transformation is to support outreach, consultation, and engagement on the programs and services that we have. It's also an opportunity to be more integrated and strategic about how we do things, bringing best practices forward, making use of new technologies, as we've been indicating, not only to serve individuals but to inform them.

As part of where we're going with cutting red tape and moving on our transformation, there are opportunities that we might not have explored to the same extent in the past to ensure that we are reaching out. Part of our transformation was establishing my team. That was a transformation commitment, and also what we recently added was a group of individuals we now call “community engagement”, located across the country. In part their role is to support my team in how we are going to ensure that we're effective in sharing information about our programs and services, and also hearing about what veterans and their organizations are saying at the local level on programs and services.

Through our public opinion research, we will also have the opportunity to know whether our transformation agenda is having the success we're looking for. They will, through our public opinion research, be able to tell us whether our outreach is effective.

There will be lots of opportunity through my group to contribute to the transformation agenda.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

You had mentioned Conception Bay South and the covenant that has been undertaken there with the community, with city hall and so on, to ensure that we're recognizing younger veterans.

The country has certainly done quite a bit to recognize the contributions of our World War II veterans, but what more can we do for newly returning veterans?

4:20 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

My colleague Derek Sullivan is going to be coming to the meeting on May 15. He will be able to give you some more information about what we're doing to recognize members when they return.

The community covenant is a really good example of an initiative that provides support to veterans in their community and helps them integrate into the community. It's recognizing that maybe they need some specific support in order to help them integrate into the community, and that the community is supporting them as a whole. They're making a conscious decision to do so.

4:20 p.m.

Regional Director General, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

I would just add that I see more and more community-driven events throughout the Atlantic region that do recognize Afghanistan veterans. We are seeing an increase in the recognition events out there for modern-day or younger veterans.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Generally speaking, has the transformation initiative strengthened your relationship with DND?

4:25 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

I would say that our relationship with DND certainly has been growing stronger in the last ten years, but particularly in the last five years we've been really strengthening our relationship. Also, there are a number of initiatives under way with DND. There is the VAC-DND steering committee, which provides strategic direction as to how the two departments can collaborate for the betterment of veterans and how we can jointly support their transition.

As for outreach, in my area of work we were really fortunate to have the support of the chief of military personnel in DND and the Canadian Forces on our outreach that we did on the bases across the country. We visited 20 bases. We did 26 sessions on our programs and services.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Did you notice any differences that cropped up based on geography? Were there different concerns, or was there a different focus in different portions of our country?

4:25 p.m.

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

Colleen Soltermann

Our outreach in those information sessions was around the new Veterans Charter. We were explaining to CF members, veterans, and their families the new Veterans Charter programs and services. There were many similarities across the country as to the questions individuals had around their benefits and services. They were really pleased to have a better understanding of the new Veterans Charter programs and services.

Certainly they had questions. They still had concerns. Some of them had their own personal concerns, and through those sessions we were able to enable individuals who had questions about their own situation to speak to VAC staff to sort it out or to get some explanations.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

I just would add that when you're talking about communities' involvement, we saw a great example. I'm talking about Annapolis Valley, where the Greenwood base, the Legion, and community groups got together to do a welcome home ceremony, and it was really quite something.

You're right, the communities are paying a lot more attention to welcoming back the veterans, and it's a good thing, a very positive thing.

I want to thank you very much for coming in today and being with us.

We're going to suspend now for a couple of minutes and then continue in camera.

[Proceedings continue in camera]