Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon.
As noted, my name is Charlotte Stewart. I, as well, will not go through our respective titles. I'm pleased to be here with Krista Locke and Bernard Butler.
I am pleased to be here again today to talk about transformation and build on the presentations you have already heard.
Our commitment to serve Canada's veterans is at the forefront of our Transformation Agenda. Our objective continues to be to improve the quality of life for veterans—and to do so by ensuring they receive the benefits and services they so rightly deserve.
VAC's transformation was formally initiated in May 2010, after a strong record of service since the department's establishment. The department at that time, though, was at a critical juncture, characterized by a dramatic shift in veterans' demographics. This called for fundamental changes to VAC's programs, service delivery, and organizational structure so as to better respond to the needs of veterans.
The transformation agenda is therefore set in the context of demographic change. The group of Canadians that VAC has traditionally served—veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War—are declining in number. At the same time, the number of Canadian Forces veterans is climbing. Although the latter group will be smaller than the traditional veteran population, its members have more complex needs and higher expectations. This challenges the department to serve these clients differently.
As you heard in David Robinson's opening remarks for this study on transformation, this is a five-year plan. We will continue to see improvement as each component is implemented and becomes fully operational. Each year of progress builds on the progress of the previous year.
Our vision for 2015 is that Veterans Affairs Canada will be a responsive and efficient department capable of providing services and benefits to veterans in the method of their choice. The department will be smaller, but service to veterans will be improved.
l'd like to talk about the department's commitment to the transformation priority of reducing the complexity of policies, processes, and practices. The policy renewal project, since inception, has helped to provide a simpler and more responsive policy environment to assist departmental staff in delivering benefits and services in a less complex manner while providing a more effective service to clients.
The project includes a standardized format for all policies, revised and simplified policies, quality assurance, a formal policy review cycle, and online access. By March 2013, more than 400 policies will have been revised, some will be consolidated, and outdated ones eliminated.
Revised policies are now in a user-friendly format, with built-in links to legislation, business processes, and other related information, all searchable by program area using the internal VAC website. This gives staff the resources they need to confidently make decisions for veterans.
Now l would like to explain how we have embraced the challenge of transformation from a veteran's perspective. l will also describe the changes we are making, which will benefit them over the next five years. The handout you have been provided today provides more details on our five-year transformation plan.
In year one, we laid the foundation for change. Veterans and their families are already seeing a commitment to change and the results of progress to streamline processes to improve turnaround times.
The following are a few examples. Veterans are getting payments quicker, as we introduced direct deposit for VIP and treatment benefits—a decision that has already positively impacted almost 50,000 veterans. Veterans are getting decisions faster, as we increased decision-making authority for front-line staff. Veterans are also noticing less red tape, as we eliminated the requirements for subsequent pre-authorizations for 77% of our treatment benefits. Furthermore, most veterans' calls are being answered in two minutes.
By the end of year two, veterans will see further improvements in turnaround times and communications with the department through the use of more modern technology. For example, they will have online access to policies and they will receive decision letters that are easier to understand.
For the next couple of years, the focus will be on enhancing our new technological capabilities, enabling veterans to contact the department with a call, click, or visit. More information will be available online to help veterans understand our policies and track their claims. Veterans will be able to connect with Veterans Affairs Canada through multiple communication channels. Veterans will know that the department will identify their needs as they release from service so they can experience a smooth transition; and veterans will be able to apply online, receive decisions in a timely manner, and access treatments without delay and from preferred and approved providers. They will have electronic access to details on treatment benefits. They will only have to complete one application for benefits and services, and will deal with staff who are empowered to make decisions. Veterans will receive professional service from employees who understand the military culture.
Before I close, I would like to say that it is important to remember that this type of fundamental change will take time. The progress the department is making is steady. We will know that we have succeeded when veterans tell us we have.
I will now ask Krista to speak about how these changes are being implemented and viewed at the regional level by those employees who work mostly closely with the veterans.