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Evidence of meeting #35 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 process.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Heather Parry  Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs
Charlotte Stewart  Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs
Bernard Butler  Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

4 p.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

Thank you very much.

As we look to preparing for the returning veterans from Afghanistan, it's very important that we consider what's going to happen on the ground and our relationship with some of our partners. We want to make sure our case managers are ready.

Let me just move through quickly some of the points around what we're going to do.

First of all, we did set up an Afghan and seriously injured casualty support unit. The purpose of that was to make sure that those who were injured in Afghanistan and had a need for very quick decisions were able to receive that. They were given an accelerated review of their needs and they were given an answer in a very short turnaround time.

In addition to that, we've added case managers, as I mentioned, where we need them the most, and we've reduced the workload of case managers.

For those returning from Afghanistan, while some of them will remain within the Canadian Forces, other will begin the transition to civilian life. In that transition, our partnership with DND is key. We've invested in the integrated personnel support centres, and we've put over 100 VAC personnel into those centres. So they get to meet those returning veterans very early in the transition process.

I noted that in your recent report you mentioned how early intervention is so key to success, and that's why we've taken that step. We have in fact put procedures in place so that we ensure VAC case managers work earlier in the transition process, reducing the wait time for Afghanistan or any other veteran who is transitioning.

The partnership with DND is very important, and operates at many levels in the department, not just at the front line. We've taken some key steps to reduce broader risk by strengthening that partnership.

At a very senior level, we have meetings on a quarterly basis with DND. The intention is to know what they are working on in terms of their programs and services so that we have good communication from our side as well and so that we integrate and plan together. That way, a still-serving member, as they receive services in DND, as they begin to take the steps in civilian life, will be matched and have a harmonized approach within Veterans Affairs Canada so that when they take those steps towards civilian life they'll have the supports they need.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Now we go to Ms. Perreault for five minutes, please.

4 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Good afternoon and thank you for being here today.

At page 22 of your report, you refer to a new Scientific Advisory Committee that will be set up to provide advice on veterans' health issues. Has that committee been set up already?

4 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

Thank you for that question.

Yes, the committee has indeed been created. It has been established. It has now met several times. It is now in the process of beginning its literature review, and beginning to direct its mind to the question that has been posed to the committee by the minister as it relates to health effects and the issue of depleted uranium.

So the committee is well under way.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

You say that the committee has already had several meetings. Can you tell us how many?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

I believe the committee has had three meetings to this point in time.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

There have been three meetings. Very good, that is what I wanted to know.

At page 21 of the report, there is a table entitled Disability and Death Compensation. It mentions that 65% of veterans feel that the disability benefits they have received have been disability-based. This means that 65% of veterans receive the benefits, but what about the other 35%? Are they veterans whose benefit application is under study?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

Thank you for the question.

I believe you're looking at the 65% target for performance indicators as it relates to the results for the disability pension program. Is that correct? The target is designed to try to ensure that this percentage of recipients of Veterans Affairs disability benefits effectively recognize the contribution they have made that has resulted in their service-related disability. So for us the issue becomes one of trying to measure how recipients of these benefits perceive the value of the benefit they're receiving.

The idea is that these are driven by the principles of recognition and compensation for service-related disability. From our perspective, we want to try to measure that in the population of veterans receiving the benefits, and our target is that at least 65% of them will feel that this is recognition for the loss, the disability, they've experienced.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Allow me to rephrase my question. If 35% believe that their disability has not really being recognized, is it because they feel that their benefits should be higher? I would like to know how that works.

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

That's a very good question.

I think it's more a question of how satisfied the recipient of the award payment is. It's that issue of recognition and compensation. There are, however, many elements of it. So if any given veteran is not satisfied or does not feel recognized, that could be because they think they should be receiving more or they should be receiving something else. Each veteran who receives the benefits paid through our programming perceives them differently.

You're not wrong to suggest that there may be any number of variables, but it would be very difficult to say that any given one applies in all cases.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

I am new on this committee and I am asking many questions because I really want to understand.

Is there a way for those dissatisfied veterans to lay a complaint so that their application be reviewed a second time?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

Yes. That's a very good question, and thank you for that. I am pleased to tell you that Veterans Affairs programming has various levels of appeal and review. There are in fact many opportunities and many ways for a veteran who is unhappy with a decision of the department to appeal it. Those include review levels and appeal levels within the department itself, but it also includes the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, which is a separate agency dealing with those issues.

The answer is yes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Mr. Storseth, you have five minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much to the witnesses for coming again today.

I'd like to follow up where we just left off, Mr. Butler. We talk about streamlining the processes. We talk about more case managers, more front-line staff. You were just talking about how there are several different layers of appeal for a veteran who, say, was just getting something outfitted in his house and only got approval to get a certain amount done. I've heard from a veteran who got the upstairs approved for a wheelchair lift, but not the downstairs. Those who are dissatisfied obviously have another mechanism to go through.

Have we increased the number of managers or streamlined the process on that secondary tier as well?

4:10 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

On the issue of redress, in our programming on the disability benefits side we have a fairly multi-layered structure for reviews and appeals up to and including the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. On the health benefits side, we basically have two levels of redress. So if an individual is not happy with a decision made by a case manager on their application for a benefit, the person can go at this time for a review at a higher level. The issues are looked at and then reconsidered.

There is currently a second level of redress for those issues, and that level that has been considered for streamlining in the future as a function of the transformation and budget process.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

At those two levels, what percentage of the previous decisions are overturned or benefits increased on appeal?

4:10 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

I will just check that for you, Mr. Storseth.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

You can table that.

4:10 p.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

Maybe we could table that with you because we do have the performance statistics on all of these elements.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

If you could table that, it would be excellent.

Do you have any other comments, Ms. Stewart?

4:10 p.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

I was just going to mention when you asked if we had removed or streamlined the number of management levels that we indeed have streamlined our decision-making in the department. I think this is important. It's a bit of a different angle on your question, but what we've done is we have allowed our front-line case managers, through delegation of authority to them, to make more decisions. So the front line now has the ability to make decisions on those who need case management services, whereas in the past those decisions sometimes had to be referred to a higher level, either within a regional office or even in Charlottetown.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

I understand that. To be honest with you, most veterans in my area are satisfied with that process. The frustration comes in the follow-up process, which Mr. Butler and I were talking about. I'd be happy to get those numbers from you.

One of the other aspects we were talking about is accessibility, particularly accessibility for rural communities and service delivery there. I note that you talked about how the department has continued to implement an outreach plan to strengthen relations with veterans, stakeholders, and CF members to basically make sure that we maintain our relationships. How much of the service delivery or more importantly, the advocacy, would we be leaving up to our partners in rural communities, for example, the Legion?

4:10 p.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

Those partners are very important to us and veterans. But on the ground, we work very hard through our district offices and our areas to provide outreach and to make sure that there are stakeholder committees set up outside of major areas as well, and that there's representation so that Veterans Affairs Canada continues to take an active role in that function.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

When you have a community where you have a Veterans Affairs office but the vast majority of veterans there still wait for the Legion advocate to come once every two weeks, my concern is with finding a way for Veterans Affairs to become, not necessarily more accessible, but.... We were talking about client satisfaction earlier and how perceptions can differ, and so I think we need to find a way in which Veterans Affairs' officials can become the go-to people in these situations.

I understand that advocacy in communities where we don't have a VA office is important for our legions and our partners, but in places where we have the office, one would think that should be the first place of refuge for our veterans.

One last question I'd like to ask you, and I think it's especially important for many of our older veterans, is on simplifying the forms, simplifying the answers, simplifying the responses. Can you talk to us a little bit about how this has come about and if there are any further plans to make it a little bit easier to manoeuvre through the maze of the bureaucracy?

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

Yes, one of the cornerstones of the transformation is reducing complexity, which came about because many of our processes, programs, letters and forms were too complex. We've spoken about this before, that as we expanded or changed our programs over the years we didn't necessarily streamline things at the same time. So for many of our veterans, not just our war service veterans, things became very cumbersome and difficult and, frankly, added a lot of time to the process.

So we've taken this as a very high priority. We're streamlining all of our major forms and letters. The intention of course is to make sure that at the end of the day we have processes that are much simpler and that they are in layman's terms or plain language, so that clients can understand them easily and at the same time, if there are any questions, that we have an accessible agent within Veterans Affairs Canada who can answer those questions directly.