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Evidence of meeting #37 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 transformation.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Guy Parent  Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
Keith Hillier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

4:05 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

From both serving and veterans, and people who are retired from the forces and the RCMP, yes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

How do you promote? How do you go out to the units to tell them what you're doing and what your role is?

4:05 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

We have an outreach campaign. In fact, this year saw me starting in Quebec City, to the Maritimes, Northern Ontario, out in B.C., and then to Saskatchewan, where I met also with the RCMP units out there. Our outreach campaign includes having some town hall meetings with veterans and their families, and meeting with local organizations of veterans, elected officials like mayors and ministers of the province, if that's possible, to promote the healthy veterans. It's a program that we pursue every year from here on in. The theme is different. The one for the current year is to educate them on my role and to educate them on what our team can do for them.

I also think it's important to realize that when an organization does outreach, it's a dialogue. It's a feedback process. We also track what the concerns are. We bring them back, and then we inform Veterans Affairs Canada. We also make a point of visiting their office, and whenever the session is over, we report to them what it is that we found.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Hillier, how many cases do you have yearly? You mentioned there is a downward trend in veterans issues. Can you explain to me how many cases you have yearly, or what the trend of the cases is?

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chair, generally we are seeing a downward trend because of the mortality of war-era veterans. We are seeing modern-day veterans coming in. We are seeing that the rate of mortality of war-era veterans is exceeding the rate of intake of modern-day veterans at this time. I just want to note—and I know Mr. Parent noted this—that we actually look at these things quarterly. We do have projections for numbers of years, but every quarter, we actually look at where we are and where we're going.

I think what's important, Mr. Chair, is that we have in excess of 200,000 people today who have received or are in receipt of a benefit or a service from Veterans Affairs. I think one of the key indicators we look at is those whose cases are being managed. These are people with serious injuries that may require rehabilitation that is both social and vocational. These are people who may have a multiplicity of physical and mental injuries. Our general caseload is around 7,000.

So when you start off with 200,000 in the system, and you take out caregivers and so on, so that you are looking at the ones whose cases are actively being managed, it ranges between 7,000 or 7,100. It fluctuates because there are people who come into the program, and happily, there are people who leave the program. They are rehabilitated. They're reintegrated back into society. We're seeing the number at around 7,000. I might add that the number of 7,000 includes both post-Korea veterans and war-era veterans.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I have another question if I might. I'll be very brief. You were mentioning the public service, and you mentioned hiring in the public service. There was a trend at DND and Veterans Affairs to hire retired members of the CF. But there is now no age limit on how long you can serve in the public service. However, in the army at 60, on your birthday, you are out.

So what kind of measures can be taken so these qualified veterans can apply for the internally advertised public service positions, such as those at Foreign Affairs or CIDA, if you are going into a war area when you have the qualifications?

I just want to mention to you very briefly that Helmets to Hardhats is a program. But many of our retired Canadian Forces people are working in the Bruce Nuclear and Pickering Nuclear plants, and that is also a public service.

Could you please answer? Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

I can just make a comment with regard, Mr. Chair, to the issue of people in the Canadian Forces being able to apply for jobs in government. I can tell you that at Veterans Affairs, all of our competitions are open to members of the Canadian Forces. In personnel or human resources speak, it's also an asset qualification that we use, and certainly we would encourage more departments of government to ensure that their competitions are open.

I guess finally you make a good point. Members of the Canadian Forces generally are extremely well trained in whatever their profession may be in the Canadian Forces, and many of the people leaving Canadian Forces do not need our transition services. As a matter of fact, many already have jobs in the private sector or in other sectors of government or in commissions or agencies because their skills are well recognized in Canadian society. Many people take off the uniform on a Friday and go to work on a Monday.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Hillier.

Now it's Ms. Mathyssen for five minutes.

May 31st, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here. It's always a pleasure to see all of you, and we welcome the input from the veterans ombudsman. It's very helpful in terms of what we're doing.

Mr. Parent, you have said in your brief, and I'm just going to quickly quote from it, that as of 1998 to 2007, 54% of released personnel reported physical health conditions, 13% mental health conditions, and many have chronic health conditions, and yet these individuals are not necessarily being looked after by VAC. You also said that the reality is that current needs are unmet, and you expressed concern about the department's ability to meet not just current needs but the future needs, given the fact that there are so many service personnel out there who have retired or who haven't been released, and they're not accessing the system yet.

I wonder, are you concerned about the loss of personnel in Veterans Affairs? Very clearly, we don't know, as you said, what the impact of budget reduction and staff reduction is going to be.

Secondly, do you think perhaps that veterans' homelessness, the kind of homelessness we're seeing in so many other communities, is a symptom of that unreported or unconnected group of retired or released personnel?

Finally, how does VAC get out in front of this? Clearly you've raised a red flag here. What does VAC need to do to get out in front of what seems to be a considerable and quite frightening problem that our country and our veterans are going to face?

4:15 p.m.

Veterans Ombudsman, Chief Warrant Officer (Retired), Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Guy Parent

Thank you.

That's a very good question. I'm going to try to hit all the answers, but certainly I think I'll start off with saying that our concern—I've expressed this, I believe, to the committee before—is with the fact that a lot of people are suffering in silence. Some of them do this because they're proud. Some of them because they don't know what's available for them. Basically, I think that point in my address speaks to that. There are a lot of people out there, and the statistics come from the study that was actually done by Veterans Affairs Canada and DND, in a life after service study.

Basically, I think that's what the important thing is.

In the past, people had to self identify, and there was no advertising done about VAC programs, so people suffered in silence, not knowing that something's happening to them. Also, as I mentioned before in front of this committee, we have people now who are serving in uniform both in the CF and the RCMP who are suffering in silence because they don't want to lose their careers. There will be unmet needs there as well that will flow over to Veterans Affairs Canada when they fully retire.

Also, in regard to your question related to homelessness, homelessness, of course, is only a factor. There are other things associated with it, like dependencies and those sorts of things. The thing is that what's important there are again the communications and the strategy at Veterans Affairs Canada. We have been pushing for a national strategy on homelessness, and I think it's an important thing to do, and we're certainly pushing Veterans Affairs Canada to come up with that.

Basically, I think that covers pretty well the aspects that you've asked about. Again, I think communication is by far one of the key elements in all of this. Veterans have to come forward and communicate with the department, but the department also has to be straightforward with the veteran community and advertise what it is that's available for them.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

I want to follow up briefly on Mr. Casey's question. He asked if there had been any investigation of the impact of Bill C-38, because we know that it is going to profoundly impact the entire social safety net of Canada. Would it not make sense, or is it not prudent, to look at that bill and estimate or think about what the impact is going to be on veterans?

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

You have to tie that into transformation, because that is definitely off topic. The question is about transformation. You're talking about a specific bill. Your question is about transformation in what way?

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Bill C-38 is going to have a profound impact in terms of money and personnel. They're looking to have these savings. How will that impact transformation? Doesn't it make sense to look at this and say that we see a potential problem or that this has significance when it comes to what we want to do?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mr. Hillier, give a brief answer, please.

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Certainly we have examined the impacts of the budget. The budget is consistent with the transformation of what we've been doing. It's about eliminating some of the red tape and inefficiencies in the system. In fact, the provisions of the budget that relate to Veterans Affairs Canada, including those that have staff reductions, are consistent with our transformation agenda.

We at Veterans Affairs Canada would argue that we're actually out ahead of the system. We've started doing the re-engineering and the types of things some other departments are just starting to move to.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Hillier.

Go ahead, Mr. Lobb.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Actually, Mr. Lobb is going to share his time with me.

Mr. Hillier, is it correct that budget 2012 is actually a win for our veterans, and that there are no reductions to the benefits extended to our nation's veterans?

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

That is correct. Certainly, the big win has to do with the VIP, which we've talked about. Also, it's giving us other opportunities for streamlining.

If you go to the budget documents, you will see that the smallest percentage decrease of any government department is at 1.1%. Those are in the budget documents. As a result of that, and as I've testified in front of this committee before, there are no reductions in the services and benefits to veterans or to the programs, given the fact that we had a very small decrease of 1.1%.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

In fact, at this committee, the NDP would not vote to support $3.6 billion in expenditures for our veterans. Previously, under a Liberal government—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

We're now straying off transformation again. What's in the air here?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

I will pass my time to Mr. Lobb. Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mr. Lobb, please.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Hillier, what is the number of new veterans getting into your system every year, now that the mission in Afghanistan is well on its way to being wound down? What is the number of new clients you're receiving now? Is the number starting to taper off, or are we still experiencing an increase in the number of new veterans entering into Veterans Affairs?

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

We have forecast that we will continue to see increases in the number of individuals coming in.

I want to make sure I give you the correct numbers. There is a bit of a myth out there as it relates to Afghanistan, in my view. Others may disagree, Mr. Chair. Generally speaking, about 35,000 men and women served in Afghanistan, and that would be somewhere in the vicinity of 55,000 to 56,000 deployments, I would say.

There is this myth, and maybe it's driven a little by the media, that if you served in Afghanistan there must be something wrong with you. The vast majority of men and women who've come back from Afghanistan have not been injured and are not injured. I want to give you some numbers here.

I'm going back to our December quarterly report. Of the 35,000 men and women who have served, 4,181 are clients of Veterans Affairs as a result of their service in Afghanistan. That's not to say there will not be issues of late-onset PTSD, and as my colleague Mr. Parent has noted, some may be suffering in silence, but I just want to put that in perspective. When you look at the numbers, as you project, yes, hundreds of thousands have served. But when you relate it just to the Second World War, one million Canadians served in the Second World War, and the legacy this left in terms of the needs to be met lasted over generations, I would say.

I want to give you the perspective in terms of the numbers because there is a sense out there.... Some Afghanistan veterans have said to me they're a little concerned that people look at them and ask if they're okay because they've served in Afghanistan. There is a certain stigma, and I think we have to be very careful we don't oversell that.

The other thing I think is important is that many of the cases we have are challenging, but I want to give you another statistic, just to put things in perspective. If you look at people who are seriously injured, who are at 78% or above, the numbers who are currently in the system receiving or eligible for earnings loss is about 800. When I look at Afghanistan using that same criteria, those who were seriously injured number about 450. So I'm not saying these individuals are not important. They're extremely important and certainly the more severe your disability, your illness, or your injury, the greater support you need and must get from Veterans Affairs. Everybody is injured, and most of the disability awards we pay out are for fewer than 25%. That's not to say that this isn't important.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

We are over time, so could you have one brief question and a brief answer, please?