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 #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

4:35 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Yes, but I would reiterate, Mr. Chair, that we are also reducing the workload by an equivalent amount. We are not asking the approximately 2,000 people who will be staying to do the work of 4,000 people. We're actually reducing the work.

As it relates to Ste. Anne's, that responsibility goes and so do the employees. And in many of the transformations and also in terms of the budget reductions, it's about doing work very differently. It's about using technology, using alternative service provisions, so I want to be very clear. We're not asking 2,000 people to do the work of 4,000.

Regarding your question on long-term care and the current eligibility, you suggested that modern-day veterans do not have the same eligibility to contract beds as war-era veterans. As I've testified at this table before, modern-day veterans have access to a community bed with respect to any injuries they would have sustained in terms of their service to Canada. There is no change to what I've testified previously on that front.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Mr. Chicoine, you now have less than a minute to ask one question.

May 31st, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you.

While we are on that topic, Mr. Parent, do you have any concerns regarding the Ste. Anne's Hospital transfer of responsibilities?

4:35 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

That is a good question. Equity is always paramount in our view. When we examine any program or project that concerns veterans, we look at it from the equity perspective in particular. Can we guarantee that the veterans or patients who are in Ste. Anne's Hospital will continue to receive the same quality of care as they are entitled to now? Will those who have a right to hospital care continue to have access to it without any problem?

Another thing that concerns us regarding the hospital is the fact that it is also a centre of expertise on post-traumatic stress syndrome. We would like to be sure that the coordination of Canadian clinics will be done from Ste. Anne's Hospital. It is important to us to ensure that we will not be losing their expertise on that.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much, Mr. Parent.

We'll go to Mr. Harris now for four minutes, please.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming today. We sure appreciate your input.

It's unfortunate that some people at our committee around our table seem to think that the word “streamlining” is somehow a nasty word. I think even some of my colleagues would admit that bureaucracies—I speak of departments, not the people, but the departments—the longer they've been around, the more likely they are to acquire money-losing symptoms, such as waste, duplication, and redundancy. And like a business that's entering some challenging times and has to streamline the business to make it through, every department in the government is faced with the same challenge.

I would suggest that Department of Veterans Affairs, given a number of 1.1% to streamline their budget by, was easily able to find it by eliminating waste, duplication, and redundancy. They coupled that with newer, better, and more efficient ways of offering the services. You were indeed able to get those reductions without touching one single service you are offering your clients.

Mr. Parent, you had a very good closing conclusion. You said, “Transformation is about people, and the department must ensure that improving service to veterans remains at the centre of these changes”.

Mr. Hillier, shortly after that you said, “Our commitment is to provide the best quality services and benefits to veterans and their families.”

That is complementary to what you said, Mr. Parent.

Mr. Hillier, you also said, “We will accomplish this by ensuring that we have the right people in the right places with the...skills to get the job done.” That's exactly what streamlining is all about.

I need to get you to just maybe explain this once more, so that it's very clear. When you looked at streamlining your department, you had to be keeping in mind that your mandate and your goal was to offer better quality service to everyone who needed it in Veterans Affairs. Maybe you can explain that a little bit so that we really get that message driven in.

4:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chairman, throughout the transformation process, we're looking at the initiatives we're taking through the eyes of a veteran. What is this going to do for a veteran? As I noted earlier in my testimony, if it doesn't make a difference to a veteran or his or her family, then why are we doing it? It's just bureaucracy kind of running around.

What we did was look at some business re-engineering processes. The methodology we use is called the Hammer methodology, which is well accepted for business re-engineering. It's not driven by people like me, because quite frankly, I don't know the work. It's driven by the workers, the people who work with veterans every day—case managers, doctors, nurses, and file clerks. We use that methodology, which has been very successfully used in other government departments around town and in the private sector.

What we do is lay out our business process and ask what we are putting the veteran through. How many times are we asking the veteran for the same document? How many forms are we asking a veteran to fill out? Do we need all these forms? Can we just get the information once? Can the veteran use his or her service number as opposed to some Veterans Affairs number?

When you do that, you actually find, as has been mentioned, that a lot of interesting process builds up in a system that's been around for many years. What you do is extract the duplication, the overlap, and the waste.

From my standpoint, transformation is not about reducing jobs. It's about improving services to veterans. As a result of that, there will be some job losses, because there are things people used to do at Veterans Affairs that computer systems do. In some offices, we were spending a lot of time printing off letters, signing them, and sending them out. That's not how we do business anymore. How we do business is that we send a data file to PWGSC, Public Works, and they actually mass print tens of thousands of letters for us in minutes.

Sadly, there are HR consequences. The reality is that, as we go through this period when we will be reducing 800 jobs, over 1,000 people in the department will be eligible for retirement on full pensions or reduced pensions. Through good human resources management, we think we can make this as painless as possible.

In addition to people retiring, we probably lose about 100 people in the department every year. We're looking at the efficiency, the balance. Certainly, Canadians expect veterans to be well taken care of, but they actually expect value for their tax money. We have a responsibility to our staff to treat them in a fair and humane way as we go through this process.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you, Mr. Hillier.

I think we are back to Mr. Chicoine, this time for four minutes.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Gentlemen, I want to take the time to thank you for having come here to share your expertise with us.

I would like to go back to the health care issue. Mr. Parent, you mentioned that veterans who come to see you most frequently raise issues regarding access to health care. Is that indeed the main reason why veterans come to see you?

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

They come to talk about access, and the quality of health care and the cost of travelling to access it. So the overall administration of programs is involved.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Is there a standardization issue from one province to the other? Is the care the same everywhere? Is this a specific problem in one province rather than another?

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Let's just say that there are a lot of differences from one province to another. The provinces do not all have the same health care network nor the same administrative structures. This does cause problems for some veterans.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

One case made the headlines. I don't know all the details. It concerned the use of personal information. One veteran sued the department for the use they made of his information. I did not really follow the whole story closely. Have you received a lot of complaints concerning the use of personal information?

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

No, but that is a good question. Our first level of intervention consists mainly in providing information and helping to guide people to where they need to go to have their complaints resolved.

As for access to private information, if that is an issue, we refer complaints to the commissioner. That office deals with that. We send veterans in the right direction, and we do follow-up to ensure that the problem was resolved.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

With the transformations that are going on, is there a risk that that issue might get even worse?

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

The mechanisms put in place by the department seem to be a step in the right direction.

After what happened publicly, we reviewed the processes we use to make sure that the members of our team respect standards regarding access to private information.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

In another connection, it seems to me that I read in one of your reports that it might be advisable to publish the decisions of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Is that the case? Would there be benefits to doing that?

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

Another good question. A few weeks ago, we issued a report on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Even the decisions of the Superior Court are published on its website. I would go so far as to say that the majority of quasi-judicial tribunals in Canada do the same thing. That is one of the recommendations in our report. It would really help veterans. Then they could know, before they took legal action or filed an appeal, what their chances of success were. It is a necessary tool that should be made available.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Indeed, they could consult those. If they saw a negative decision, they might decide to not bother, or vice-versa. Perhaps more veterans could then try to get their rights upheld.

4:45 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

It would give them a starting point. They could compare their case to others where a decision has been handed down.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Greg Kerr

Thank you very much.

Mr. Lizon, for four minutes, please.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to join my colleagues in thanking you gentlemen for appearing this afternoon before the committee, and I thank you and congratulate you on the great work you do for our deserving veterans.

Mr. Chair, if I may, I would like to direct the first question to Mr. Parent, and maybe Mr. Hillier would comment.

In your presentation, you used a quote from a member of your advisory committee, Mr. Gollner. I am not going to read the quote because you know what I'm talking about. In your opinion, would you say that the current transformation the department is doing addresses the issue that's contained in the quote? Or do you have some other view that something else should be done in that respect?

4:50 p.m.

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

Guy Parent

No. Thank you. It's a very good question, Mr. Chair.

In fact, I think it goes back to what Mr. Harris was saying before. Eventually over the years the programs become complex. The administration of the programs become so complex that changes are made to facilitate the administration of the program. In the end, we spend more money on administering than we're spending on people. This has to do a lot with the streamlining aspect of the transformation. The department, in looking at it in that perspective, is going in the right direction.

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Department of Veterans Affairs

Keith Hillier

Mr. Chair, I would agree that as we got into the re-engineering—and we're still doing it, it's not done—we did find things of unnecessary complexity in the system, multiple control points. There has to be balancing. When you have a budget of $3.6 billion, there has to be adequate financial control to make sure that the money is going where it should be. You can go a little bit overboard over time and find that you have someone doing the work, then you have a checker, and then you have a checker checking the checker.

It's not that people made bad decisions. They made informed decisions at a point in time, Mr. Chair, but now with new technology and so on, there are ways that we can achieve the same controls without the same amount of human oversight.