This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #36 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 dnd.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Charlotte Stewart  Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs
Krista Locke  Regional Director General, Atlantic Regional Office, Department of Veterans Affairs
Bernard Butler  Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Okay.

We go to Ms. Perreault for four minutes, please.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Good afternoon and thank you for coming here.

You have come at a good time because last week, I did in fact meet with a group of veterans, including Mr. Bessette, in my riding. I will ask you the same question he asked me. He told me about his concerns. He said that the cutbacks in the Department of Veterans Affairs were definitely going to have a long-term effect. He asked me which services would be disappearing in the long term. I would like to know what you think.

5:10 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

The department, as we've spoken about, is going through a transformation and there will be about 550 positions that will be impacted by that. That's because we're able to reduce a paper-based system and build in streamlining. So there will be some positions that will be impacted. In addition to that, you do know that there were impacts on the department because of Budget 2012.

This is about improving service to veterans by using new technology and new ways of doing business. It's not about reducing service to veterans. No programs or services are being cut and veterans will continue to receive the benefits and services they are entitled to.

In terms of the frontline staff—that is, case management, our cornerstone—there are 250 case managers located across the country, including those with our DND partnerships at IPSCs, and those will be maintained. As for our client service agents, while there will be some reductions in that area, they provide a support function to the case managers and the majority of the client service agents will remain in place providing direct client service.

The job of the department, the commitment of the department, is to maintain frontline services at appropriate points of service across the country; but benefits, programs, and services to veterans will not be impacted.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

I wanted just to make sure that I have understood correctly. You have just said that 550 positions are at stake. It seems to me that, in previous weeks, we were told that 550 positions were going to be abolished, but that we also had to take into account the 250 additional positions that were going to be eliminated.

By cutting so many positions and reducing the budget by several million dollars per year, how are we going to improve service? The department's budget is being cut back considerably.

5:15 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

The transformation of the department is driven by demographics, and overall, the number of clients and veterans that the department is serving is going down. It's going to decrease, and the department has to adapt and respond to that and to make sure that our resources are put to the best use. That means the department's resources will be there for those who are most in need in the places where they need them. So our frontline case managers will not be cut. The other supporting services around them will remain in place to the extent we need to have them in place to support the number of veterans we will have. Demographics is a key part of this.

When we talk about the shifts in the department and transformation, I would point out that the changes will happen throughout the department. They will happen in head office positions. We've already spoken about other areas of the department where we're streamlining decision-making by letting frontline staff make decisions. That gives us the flexibility to reduce our investment in areas that used to be part of the decision-making process. We're re-engineering all of our programs. This means we're cutting out steps and making things simpler. Krista has spoken about some of the improvements in telephony.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

We're past time.

She's trying to squeeze in another question there but we really don't have time to do it.

I understand that Mr. Chisu would like to get back in, if Mr. Harris doesn't want to go.

Okay, Mr. Chisu.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

You mentioned the new veterans in your presentation. The old veterans from the Korean War and the Second World War are getting fewer and fewer and the new veterans are coming on board.

As you know, we have two components in the Canadian army. We have the reserves and we have the regular force. I was in both of them, and I retired from the regular force, so I have seen the services. They were okay; no problem.

What about the reserves? I'm asking this question because 25% of the people deployed in Afghanistan were from the reserves. I'm not aware of any programs covering the reserves who are retiring or require medical services. I don't know how the medical coverage is working, if they have a medical problem. They became veterans because they served not only one tour in Afghanistan but also two tours in Afghanistan, and they served in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are the new veterans. They are a sizeable part of the people who were deployed overseas.

I know that DND has a process with the regular force people, but I'm not aware of anything going on with the reserves.

5:20 p.m.

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

Thank you for that question, Mr. Chair.

It's a very important issue for Veterans Affairs and, undoubtedly, for the Canadian Forces. What I might do is assure you that for reservists who have the type of service that you've categorized—service in Afghanistan—those folks do have access to all of the same benefits and programs as regular force members of the military have. They can access the new Veterans Charter programs. They're eligible for disability award compensation if they have service-related disabilities. They can access the various other program elements of the new Veterans Charter, such as rehabilitation and so on. For that group, it's a very similar process at the time of release and so on. Those are the class B reservists, with over 180 days of service, and the class C reservists. The ones whom we do have some challenges with at times may be the class A group with less than 180 days.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I'm sorry to interrupt you, but class B and class C service can occur in different periods of their careers. They don't look at the class B and the class C, because they are different. But if somebody has class A service and has 20 days of class B service, that is not making a difference.

When they retire what is the interaction between DND and you with the reserves? That is my question. The regular forces are okay. But I'm just asking you about the reserves, because they are an important component of those who were deployed overseas. Twenty-five percent of the people who were in Afghanistan came from the reserves, and not the regulars—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

You have to give him a chance to respond, please.

5:20 p.m.

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

Bernard Butler

Perhaps I'll let my colleague, Charlotte, speak to the issue around the service delivery piece in terms of the transitioning of those folks from the military to civilian life and to Veterans Affairs. I think maybe that's what you're getting at, so maybe I'll turn to Charlotte to speak to that point.

5:20 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

First of all, it's very important that we reach them and get information to them. Our expanded outreach strategy recently has had a key focus on making sure that we find our reservists, that we connect with them. DND is helping us with that because it's key. They have a different career path and it can be harder to connect with them. So our outreach strategy has taken that into consideration.

When they do need transition services, they are eligible and they receive exactly the same approach that regular force members would get. They can have a transition interview. They can get information and be assessed for a future career, and they can have support along the way in that regard as well.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

You'll have to be very brief, please.

5:20 p.m.

Regional Director General, Atlantic Regional Office, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

I can also add that case managers are going out more and more often to reserve units and ensuring that they're giving information sessions about Veteran Affairs Canada. Even if they release, they can come back at a later date.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Krista.

We have time, Mr. Stoffer, to put in a few quick questions.

May 29th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you very much.

You indicated, Madam Stewart, that the number of veteran clients is going down, yet your report on plans and priorities showed an increase in 2011 by 13,000 more clients. I'm a little confused as to how you could say they're going down when your plans and priorities report—DVA's own figures—actually showed an increase.

Second, you indicated that the RCMP are a major client, yet they're nowhere in here. I would suggest in future that you have something symbolizing the RCMP in here to show that they are indeed a major client.

Also, you indicated that services won't be cut. Well, technically they will be, because if you're in Charlottetown or Sydney, you right now get to go to a district office and actually meet a human being and that human being can sit with you and talk over problems, similar to what a gentleman like this would do. These fine folks here would probably use the Internet, because they grew up with that, but I don't think he did. So those individuals who are in their sixties and beyond like the idea of having a warm body and not having to drive four hours to Halifax, or somewhere else, to see someone. In essence, services will be cut in that regard, because veterans won't be able to see someone. They'll have to talk on the phone or go on the Internet.

Would you agree or disagree with that statement?

5:25 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

Mr. Chair, I would respond to that question by saying that while our Canadian Forces member veterans are increasing in number, the overall decline in our client numbers is, unfortunately, precipitated by the disproportionate number of war service veterans who are passing away, and the overall decline is led by that.

With respect to frontline service delivery, I want to clarify that we are making sure that by establishing frontline services where we have the most need, we're actually responding to the needs and expectations of the newer veterans. We have to put our frontline services in areas where there is a need—and where the need may, indeed, be increasing. Some of our offices may get smaller, and others, where there is a very low forecast demand, may close gradually over time. However, case management services and other frontline support will continue to be delivered in those areas.

That's a very important message I would like to leave here, that while we may have to find a different way of providing frontline service, veterans will still get case management services from frontline staff in those areas. They will continue to get home visits and they will continue to be supported by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Our opportunity to use online service delivery is for those veterans—or, in some cases, the children of veterans, or the power of attorney of veterans—who may wish to receive services in that way.

What we're doing is expanding our service delivery to ensure that every veteran will be served in the way they choose to be served.

5:25 p.m.

Regional Director General, Atlantic Regional Office, Department of Veterans Affairs

Krista Locke

I can add that we have veterans living all over the country where we may not have district offices right now. For example, in Yarmouth, if there's a veteran who wishes to meet with a case manager or a client service agent, we ensure that we have a staff member who will go down and meet with them in person, if that is their need.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

The last question I have for you is on the VIP payment now. I think it's a good thing, giving them the money in advance into their account, but is there going to be an audit or a monitoring system to ensure that the money they receive goes to VIP services. I ask because I can readily imagine someone in January getting a cheque for, say, $1,400 and saying, “Hmm, I need prescription drugs, but maybe I can go on a trip.” I don't know and I'm not being devilish here, but they may use that money for other purposes you intended.

Will there be a periodic audit to ensure that those people who receive money for VIP definitely spend it on VIP services?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

I'll need a very quick yes or no on that one, I'm afraid.

5:25 p.m.

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

Charlotte Stewart

Yes, there will be follow up to ensure, generally, that this is working appropriately.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you for that.

That is pretty much our time. We could squeeze in one more question from the government side, if there's a really important one, but otherwise not.

I would simply let everybody know that on Tuesday we're going to take a very few minutes at the start of the meeting to deal with the terms of reference the analyst was referring to.

Mr. Stoffer.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

For the committee's knowledge, the Legion's convention is in Halifax this year and Pat Varga will no longer be the president. I thought it would be a nice gesture, when that changeover occurs, for the chair on behalf of the committee to write her a letter thanking her for her service.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

For once I think I was almost ahead of you. I had the same thought.

Thank you very much to our witnesses.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Yes, thank you, folks.