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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

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Yes, it's a $44.8 million increase over last year's budget and is made up of changes relating, in large part, to the new Veterans Charter program benefits being increased, and some decreases in benefits in our traditional veteran programs.

Bernard, did you want to speak to the increases around the new Veterans Charter?

3:50 p.m.

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

I can.

The increases under the new Veterans Charter are a good example of where we are having greater uptake by the younger veterans. As you know, with the passage of the enhanced new Veterans Charter legislation in the fall, $189 million was committed to enhancements over the next five years. What we are seeing is an uptake of these programs. We're having increased entry into the earnings loss program. We have folks staying in that program somewhat longer than anticipated. We have an increased uptake, obviously, in our rehabilitation program and in allowances such as the permanent impairment allowance.

Those are changes impacting directly on the younger, modern-day veteran, and are seen through the enhancements to the new Veterans Charter.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

To be very clear, these are new additional dollars being provided to veterans because of the enhancements that were announced by our government.

3:50 p.m.

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

Bernard Butler

Some of it would be new dollars provided by the enhancement. Some of it would be simply uptake on existing programming, like the disability award program. We have increased applications from new members for disability awards.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

You have a bit of time left.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Can you tell me about the memorial program and the new money that is in there for that? It's the Canada remembrance program. We had forecast spending of $44 million for that, which will be up to $47.4 million in 2012-23. I'm looking at page 13.

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Yes, I think this was the first year that the community program was included in the main estimates. That is probably where that difference comes in.

3:50 p.m.

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

Bernard Butler

I'm trying to find it here.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Perhaps I could suggest, since we're out of time, that you find that answer and come back to us.

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Yes, we'll come back.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Thank you very much.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mr. Andrews.

By the way, welcome back to the committee.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

It's a pleasure. I was explaining to Ms. Stewart that this is where I started out in '08. It doesn't seem that long ago, but time has gone fast.

I have a couple of questions. Recently, 200 client service officers received letters advising them that they would be impacted by the transformation deficit reduction plan, and they were also told they could apply for the 74 jobs that would be maintained.

Is that factual? Is that correct? Exactly how are they to re-apply for these jobs? What is the process for this reduction? Is everyone starting from a level playing field again and will they have to re-apply? How will this work itself out?

3:50 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

I'll begin, and Heather may want to add something from a human resource perspective.

First of all, you're speaking about a group in the department, the client service agents. There are approximately 250 client service agents. Over the last year and more...and certainly as we look forward into transformation and introduce more technology and streamline our processes, some of the work they are currently doing will be eliminated. They'll no longer be doing certain routine administrative functions, and technology will have an impact on certain of their duties as well. In fairness to this group of individuals, the decision was made that we would carry out a departmental process that would be managed at a national level.

We are managing most of our cuts through attrition, and that will be our main objective. It's good human resource planning and moving people to where the jobs are needed, but at this point in time we decided that in fairness we should embark on a process. With regard to the actual steps involved, Heather can speak to those.

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

There's a process. It's called the selection for employee retention and lay-off. Basically, as you indicated, all of the client service agents received a letter in April advising them that their positions were affected.

We then have a process that all client service agents will go through, all of whom are considered qualified for their job. This will look at which employees will be retained. It's a staffing process that looks at competencies, or in other words is competency-based. We have had a number of staff who have already indicated that they have plans to retire and that they will not be undergoing the process. So at the end of the day, the number of staff who may be declared surplus will be reduced from the original 75 we had thought of.

It's a standard, fair, and transparent process that we're using across the country. Managers are involved in the selection process. Staff have received information packages to advise them of how the process will unfold. And such communication needs to continue on an ongoing basis, because, as you can imagine, employees have lots of questions and we want to make sure that we can communicate with them.

We're expecting the processes to take place over the next number of months and staff will be advised of the outcome of those as soon as the processes are complete. At that point, the managers will make decisions on how we're going to move forward at that time.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

So will these employees have to reapply for their old jobs? Is that how this is working?

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

They're not reapplying for their old jobs. What we're doing is determining which jobs are going to be retained as a result of the reduction of 75 positions.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Okay.

Will Veterans Affairs require greater call centre capacity as a result of the transformation? Will that come from the public sector? Or will that be a combination of the public sector and Veterans Affairs?

3:55 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

We have a national call centre network, as you know. We have four centres right now, and we answer between 900,000 and a million calls a year, so the volume is quite high. However, with the transformation, and as we work on reducing the complexity of our programs and services and on increasing our ability to serve some veterans who wish to use Internet-based service delivery and other technologies, we're actually seeing the reduced costs at the call centre at this time. So there's been a slight reduction. We believe that those reductions will continue over time as we move through transformation and see the impact, in particular, of our business process re-engineering.

Many of our calls right now to the call centres are follow-up calls from veterans seeking information on applications they have put in for disability pensions, for instance, or for the veterans independence program. We've reduced the turnaround times, for instance, for disability pensions. We reduced it by over 70%. We've gone from 24 weeks to 16 weeks, which is very significant. The calls are actually declining, so I guess at this point in time I would not say that we will have an increased need for call centres.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

You mentioned, Ms. Parry—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Sorry, Mr. Andrews, but you're actually past time, but thank you for that.

We now go to Mr. Chisu for five minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much to the witnesses on our panel.

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Veterans Affairs clients rose by 6.5%, increasing from 205,129 in 2001 to 218,388 in 2011. Of these veterans, how many are from the Second World War and the Korean War, and how many are modern veterans? How many veterans are from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Do you have these statistics?

I'm asking because I understand that there will be a spike, probably in the next year, due to the 40,000 people who have served in Afghanistan. I was also serving in Afghanistan, so you can understand that I am expecting there to be some kind of increase for the difficulties that we have had in Afghanistan. So perhaps you have some kinds of statistics related to this.

I am asking because I want to know what you are doing to mitigate the risk related to program service delivery, keeping in mind that a spike will eventually happen.

4 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Since there are a couple of things in that question, maybe I could provide a list of the statistics that show all of the numbers of all of the various groups. It might be more helpful than my reading them out.

Then we could talk about your questions about risk and what we're doing to support the veterans coming back from Afghanistan.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Absolutely.

4 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Charlotte was relating to the risks around program and service delivery with the veterans coming back, so I'll speak about general risk, because we talk about that in the reports on plans and priorities.

Risk is something that we have to manage on ongoing basis. Not talking about it isn't the right thing to do. You need to talk about risk, determine what the issues are, and look to mitigate them.

In fact, my background is in IT, so whenever I'm implementing systems, I'm always making sure and asking, was the testing robust enough? Did we get all the scenarios? Do we have a strong governance in place? Did everybody do the right review and sign-off? Were there other options available that we should have looked at? How do we manage that? As part of our normal process, that's what we're doing.

Certainly when you look at risk you also get an opportunity to see what opportunities might be there. When you look at something, you may think you know the way you're going to go, and then you see other options that open up for you. That's generally in terms of risk; we do that as part of our normal, everyday decision-making, and it's very key to that.

In terms of the service delivery piece, I'll let Charlotte speak about the specifics around how we're managing and how we're preparing for, as you say, the potentially many more veterans coming to us.