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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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

When can we expect that to be finished?

4:15 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

The first letters that impact a number of clients have already been improved, and our minister has spoken about that. The intention is to proceed as rapidly as possible through the coming months to complete this.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much. We're a bit over time.

We'll go to Mr. Lobb, for five.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My first question deals with a point on page 10 about the ratio of case managers to veterans. Let's assume, in theory, that the net increase in veterans who are going to need to be actively managed this year is a thousand. How is that triggered in the department so that new case managers are added? How does that work?

4:15 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

First of all, it is a very dynamic process in the sense that our case managers, as we've spoken about, are the front line for the department. They have to make a determination when they have a new client as to whether the person needs case management.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

No. I guess my point is that they've already determined that. What I'm saying is that if there's a net increase of a thousand who need to be actively managed, how does the department hire the extra 25 people to keep them at the 40:1 ratio?

4:15 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

First of all, we'll make sure that the workload for each of them is managed appropriately so that it stays within 40:1. The department has a commitment to 40:1.

Because there's a natural turnover of case managers, our managers on the ground do anticipatory staffing. They run processes so that there is an availability of case managers who meet the qualifications for the department, which include having a professional degree. Through anticipatory staffing, we would be able to draw on people who are qualified to take the job and could add them to our ranks rather quickly if there were a surge in the workload. We've done that in areas such as Quebec quite recently.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

If a case manager is actively managing 40 cases, to use an easy number, and his or her caseload doubles in a year—even if that's not realistic—explain to me how long it would take for a new case manager to be hired so that you would have another case manager who would take up the workload.

4:15 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

I can give you a candid response: It depends on the availability of that skill set in the area. In our high-demand areas, we've been running processes to make sure that we can have people ready to come into the department at fairly short notice. In Quebec, for instance, through that staffing process I mentioned, we have a roster of qualified case managers who could be added very quickly.

In other areas, if a case manager leaves, it may take longer because of the availability of the skill set or because of the desire of the individuals who might have that skill set to come into the department.

I can't be more precise than that. But we have been very successful bringing people in quickly in areas of high demand.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

By quickly do you mean six months, a year, or two years? What does that timeframe look like?

4:20 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

It's been less than six months, for sure.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

All right. That's good.

I'll move along to consulting members of the Canadian Forces and their families.

Before we get into it, I would like to recognize all of our distinguished guests here today. It's great to have people such as you in here to support the committee. Thank you for being here today.

On consulting, how does the department consult with members of the Canadian Forces? And how is that information used to actually make a change or make an improvement? Oftentimes, whether it's in business or in government, there are consultations and then a report and then nothing. This process is to actually produce a better outcome for Canadian Forces members. How does that work?

4:20 p.m.

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

Bernard Butler

How it works is this way. The department is very sensitive to the needs and the concerns of Canadians, of still-serving members, of veterans. Over time, the department has used a number of methods such as establishing committees like the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group or the Gerontological Advisory Council. All these groups have generated reports over time. All those reports are taken by the department and considered in the light of future policy and strategies.

A good example of that would be the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act, which was largely drawn from many of the recommendations that had been made to the department regarding perceived gaps in the new Veterans Charter, particularly as it relates to the most seriously disabled veterans. That's a concrete example of how input is taken and then used to try to improve programming by the Government of Canada.

In a more recent example, the department engaged in an extensive consultation across Canada. It appeared on all of the major bases and wings of the Canadian Forces, in concert with our Canadian Forces colleagues. We did presentations on the new Veterans Charter, but we also recorded concerns and questions that were being identified. All of that is brought back to the department to be collated and analyzed, and it all serves as the foundation for future planning. It asks questions we need to consider. Where should we be going? What are the most pressing needs that are being identified? Where are the issues that we should be pushing to resolve the future?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mr. Stoffer.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you, and my thanks to the witnesses for coming today.

I'm looking at your section on managing change, and I'm wondering if at a future date you can write us an explanation of what you mean by “mitigate the risk”. I don't have time to ask all the questions I'd like, so if it's possible to get a response later on, that would be great.

The priority hiring of veterans was a key aspect of the charter. How many veterans has DVA hired as employees since 2006?

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

I don't have that number with me. We have been looking at that for a long time. But we have numbers for medically released veterans hired through the Public Service Commission.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

No, I'm asking about Veterans Affairs. How many employees have you hired?

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

Until recently, we were not aware of whether people were military or not. It was not a requirement when they were being hired to identify whether they were ex-military. We now have gone out with a survey to our staff and asked for them to identify military people. This was prior to our putting in place a process where we ask if they are former military or not.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

The answer is actually 23. Since 2006, that's how many you've hired. Less than a thousand veterans have been hired since the Veterans Charter, most of them through DND. There have been very few from any other public offices.

I say this with great respect. Don't you find it just a little alarming that when someone applies for a job at DVA, the question “Did you ever serve in the military or RCMP?” isn't asked? Is that what you're saying to this committee?

4:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Heather Parry

That question is now asked. In the past, through the normal staffing process, that question would not have been asked. It would be a personal decision whether or not to identify if you were a former member of the military.

May 17th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

The Veterans Charter was clear. Priority hiring for veterans was a policy, was a priority, was going to happen. Nevertheless, the department that authorized the charter, which was supported by all of us, did not ask new employees if they'd ever served. I understand what you said. I just find that a little bit challenging.

On page 25, in black letterhead, it says, “The unemployment rate of Canadian Forces Veterans will not exceed that of the Canadian population”. According to Stats Canada, the unemployment rate is around 7.3%. I was wondering if at a later date you could tell us how many veterans there are in the country, how many are working, and how many are not. I know you wouldn't have the resources to answer that right now. But at a later date, if it's possible to get that, it would be greatly appreciated.

I thank you all for coming.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Now we go to Mr. Harris, for four minutes, please.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you very much, and welcome.

I'm new to this committee too, so I'm playing catch-up on a lot of the operations of VAC.

I know clearly what the mandate is. It is to provide service and benefits that respond to the needs of veterans. With that in mind, when any department is in a transformation mode there is always a fear that the services it offers may be cut in some way. Given that you stated earlier that if you found that your budget projections were going to come up short you could apply—and I understand that you have, for many years, applied and never been turned down—for a budget top-up, what are you doing to mitigate that fear or perception? What mitigation plans and measures do you have?

4:25 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

Let me begin the answer, and if my colleague would like to add to it, then I'll turn it over to Heather.

During any very significant change, managing risk is key. Right now at Veterans Affairs Canada our transformation agenda is about reducing complexity. But there are many things under way in the department, so we have a very close eye on our procedures.

The intention, of course, is not just to maintain our service. We certainly aren't going to let it decrease, but what we want to do is improve our service, even though we're in a transformation mode.

For our transformation agenda we have a very detailed plan. We have put a full-time team in place to help us manage that plan and do the careful project management that goes into it. Governance structures have been set up in the department at senior levels to allow for very close oversight of the changes, and with those structures senior managers have the ability to make very quick decisions when they see that there is a factor that has changed or that we may need to adapt to a potential issue.

Those are some simple ways. On another front, though, for the staff on the front lines where many of these changes are taking place, we've given case managers, for instance, more authority, as I mentioned. We've also given them more training and support. We've given them better tools to do their job and better access to technology so that they can apply their professional skills full-time to serving veterans rather than, as in the past, doing things that just added steps to the process without adding value to the veteran.

The risk management approach is certainly at a very senior level in the department, as I mentioned, through governance, but it carries through all of the department, down to the front line.

We also monitor things very closely. We know at the front line how many cases are being managed, about how long it is taking case managers and others who support them to work with clients. We are managing our turnaround times very carefully, and in many cases, as we've described at this committee, we've been able to reduce our turnaround times for disability awards—first applications, as an example, and secondly, for our rehab program.

So even though we're in transformation, we have made significant gains because of good oversight and good planning as well.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

We are over time, Mr. Harris. Time passes.

Mr. Chicoine, please.