Evidence of meeting #106 for Veterans Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was homeless.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

William Webb  As an Individual
Stephen Gregory  Founder, Respect Campaign
Brenda Fewster  National Director, University Outreach and Program Evaluation, Respect Campaign
Ralph Mahar  Executive Officer, RCMP Veterans' Association
Karen Ludwig  New Brunswick Southwest, Lib.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

I call the meeting to order.

Last week the committee ended its study on the needs and issues of specific indigenous veterans, and the report will be presented to the House on Friday, or maybe early next week. An invitation to the Minister of Veterans Affairs for the supplementary estimates has been sent in the interim.

Today we have a panel of three organizations with four witnesses. We are pleased to welcome from Courtenay, B.C., retired Sergeant William Webb, and from Quebec, Honorary Colonel Stephen Gregory, co-founder of the Respect Campaign. He's accompanied by Ms. Brenda Fewster, national director, university outreach and program evaluation. From Ottawa, we welcome Mr. Ralph Mahar, executive officer, RCMP Veterans' Association.

After our opening statements, a round of questions will follow. When we get short on time, I'll start waving my hands, which means that you have 30 seconds left, but we'll try not to be too stringent with the time today.

We'll start with Sergeant Webb. The floor is yours.

3:35 p.m.

William Webb As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank my MP, Gord Johns, for inviting me, and thank the committee for the work you're doing.

I've asked myself a number of times over the past few months why I'd want to come here and testify to the veterans affairs standing committee. What impact would my voice bear on the decisions that this committee will make? To me, from sitting on the outside, you're all just a bunch of pretty faces, wearing pretty clothes, without the lived experience of a veteran. Veterans seem to perceive a lot of finger-pointing, paper-shuffling and talking, with little or no direct outcome to assist the struggles that the contemporary veteran in Canada faces today.

To me, talk's cheap and seemingly meaningless. Veterans are used to receiving orders, conducting our mission analysis and assigning our groupings and tasks while carrying out the mission. This does not happen at Veterans Affairs. The mission and tasks are being passed down, but they're not being understood or received at the local level. Case managers are not aware of what to do when a veteran, like me, is soon to be homeless and then becomes homeless. We're told to contact our local Legion, and yet the Legion at the local level can't assist us.

The current system is designed to place roadblocks in the way of veterans. For example, since my release in 2016 I've had nine case managers, two of whom were actually qualified for the position. All the others were, typically, three-month contract hires with no experience. They, the contract hires, were unable to provide me with any support or answers to any questions I had.

Case managers are kept at a distance, yet federal offenders have better access to their parole officers than I do to my own case manager—and I served my country rather than commit crimes. I was released against my will six months before my 20 years, medically released. Those extra six months could have been the difference in keeping me from being homeless.

Last year I called the director of Veterans Affairs to inquire about the Veterans' Land Act. I was told on the phone, by their staff, that I needed to pick a fight I could win rather than one I'd lose. So, as a fighter, I chose to fill out my application and mail it off, with support from the Chief of the K'ómoks First Nation and their chief land claims negotiator, Mark Stevenson, and I've yet to receive a reply from the director to my application for the land act.

My journey to homelessness began post-deployment in 2012. I was not provided with decompression upon returning from my deployment. I was given five days' leave and then thrown into a high-stress teaching position, which pretty much ended my career. Upon my release from the royal Canadian Army, I was living in Shilo. I was paying $800 a month in rent, then moved back to Vancouver to be closer to my two sons, one of whom has autism and requires specialized care. The cost of rent for suitable homes in B.C., as most know, for me was $2,500 a month—that's all I could find. That was taking two-thirds of my income and all of my pension. I was unable to provide any support to my boys. I couldn't provide food. I couldn't provide insurance coverage and health care.

The housing crisis is only one issue facing veterans in B.C. Those of us who require medical service dogs are at a huge disadvantage.

On January 1, 2016, the B.C. legislature put into force the B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act. This act does not recognize any service dogs or guide dogs from outside British Columbia. It recognizes one agency and one organization, an American organization. This is a complete violation of my charter rights. The human rights act of Canada is being violated, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This act has prevented me from obtaining housing in B.C. because I have a service dog that isn't trained by this American organization. This was one of the main driving forces for me, in May of last year, to go homeless and live in my trailer in the parking lot of Walmart. The only reason I was able to find housing was that a former veteran sat on that board, and he was a Commonwealth veteran, not a Canadian veteran.

Upon my release in February 2016, a mountain of paperwork was thrown at me, with little to no help from the release section. At that time, I completed three TD1 personal income tax forms: one for my pension through Public Works Canada, one to Manulife and one to Veterans Affairs. None of those forms was actioned, which subsequently left me with a tax bill of $6,700. Without a fixed address, I was unable to access a post office box, as Canada Post requires a fixed address to obtain a post office box. I was unable to to get access to information from the Canada Revenue Agency because I didn't have a fixed address. I was unable to renew my B.C. driver's licence because I didn't have a fixed address.

Once I was able to access the information, I was informed that my request for my tax forms was not processed. I contacted each office, and only Public Works apologized and realized they had made a mistake. Veterans Affairs' answer was that they hadn't receive it, and so was Manulife's. I again filled out the forms and filed them. Once again, none was actioned for the 2017 tax year, leaving me with a tax bill owing to the CRA of $12,000. Right now, that's going to be require me to pay the CRA $1,184 a month over the next two years to keep from going into arrears and to keep my pension from being garnished by the CRA.

The disability tax credit must be reinstated for veterans with complex PTSD and OSI. Currently, we are not able to receive those benefit deductions.

I currently receive benefits from Manulife for long-term disability. The private contracted insurance company required me to file for early CPP disability. I am now going to have less when I’m 65. I am now going to be paying more in taxes and have even more medical forms and paperwork to fill out. Members receiving LTD benefits from VAC are not required to file for early CPP. Again, there are two classes of veterans: those of us prior to 2006, and those after that; those of us who are on Manulife long-term disability benefits, and those who are on VAC long-term disability benefits. Because I was forced to file for CPP or lose my long-term disability benefits, I'm unable to claim my medical forms on Manulife, but those who are on VAC can claim their medical form expenses. This past year I spent over $400 that I can't claim—Manulife does not reimburse.

This past week I received a letter from Public Works, which administers my pension, requesting a lump sum payment of $8,167.76. Because of Manulife’s requirement for veterans to file for early CPP, I'm now required to pay back my bridge benefit that Manulife wants two and a half years' worth of. I’ve also incurred over $11,000 in credit card debt as a direct result of the eight-month delay in receiving benefits upon my release.

After just finding housing, I'm again facing homelessness because of the two-tier benefits system we're facing. I suspect that in the next six months, because of the financial pressures placed on me and my kids by my four service providers—yes, four financial service providers—I will become homeless again.

To navigate the financial requirements of all these providers requires weeks of research, volumes of paperwork that a veteran with complex occupational stress injuries is unlikely to manage, and it's too much to bear. This is a prime example of why veterans commit suicide.

What I want to see change is that the minister immediately needs to step in and move me off Manulife long-term disability benefits and onto Veterans Affairs long-term disability benefits. It's unfair for me to pay more to get less. I pay $211 a month to top up my pension so they can take away $486 a month.

Members on the Manulife plan who have been deemed 100% disabled should be moved. Any members on Manulife should have their medical documentation covered 100% like VAC. The disability tax credit for veterans suffering from complex PTSD and OSI must be reinstated by CRA. That difference could save a veteran from being on the street.

Access to the Veterans Land Act could provide a similar structure to Habitat for Humanity's and provide homes for veterans. There's an act in place; let's tweak it and move it so we can find affordable housing for veterans. Right now, affordable housing is set up for the hard to house, not for those of us who have children.

The support received from VAC financially is an emergency fund, yet case managers are either unaware of it or don't know what to do or how to administer it. It doesn't reflect the cost of living in communities such as in the Comox Valley, and it's not accessible to those of us who are homeless.

Support from Legions doesn't even recommend it. At the local level where I live, there's no help. They're unaware of what the contemporary veteran is facing in today's reality.

Community organizations won't touch a veteran in my area because they assume that Veterans Affairs will take care of us.

Salvation Army won't assist us. When I became homeless, they told me to go to the Legion or call Veterans Affairs. The military family resource centre at CFB Comox can assist vets, but they're very limited because they believe that VAC will help, and the local executive director is even unclear about his mandate to assist veterans. No one is able to track veterans' homelessness at this time.

Ontario has good numbers. I know of three veterans who are on the street homeless in our area, who I'm working with. From the numbers I've received from OSISS, it's probably more likely that there are six. Veterans' assisted housing is always in larger metropolitan areas, leaving those of us in rural areas with no help, unless we move to a large metropolitan area.

I served my country and never questioned it for 20 years. The oath I took was not just an oath to serve, but to give my life if needed. If a sitting MP can receive a pension after six years, why is it that I have to fight and scratch my way through a system designed to fight me every inch of the way, destroy my family and break me down.

My former MP Pat Martin joined the CAF the same month and year I joined. We served the same amount of time, yet he's receiving an annual lifetime pension of $93,000 to a tune of $3.8 million. I only receive $14,400, $10,000 below the Canadian government's target for the poverty line.

Many studies and reports have been done since 2006 regarding the prevalence of PTSD and homelessness among combat veterans. In particular, the last study on the reasons why veterans become homeless was done in 2011. “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and the Mental Health of Military Personnel and Veterans” was the name of the study.

Every morning I wake up, I have a choice. I can choose to fight the system and spin my wheels, become disillusioned, frustrated, downtrodden, or I can choose suicide. Those are the choices that contemporary veterans face.

Today, I choose to live and fight the losing battle only so my sons don't have to live on the street again. However, this is a battle that I am slowly losing.

I ask you, what choice will you make when you wake up to address the reality that we veterans face every single day in our country?

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Mr. Gregory.

3:45 p.m.

Stephen Gregory Founder, Respect Campaign

First off, I want to thank you, Sergeant. As a fellow Canadian, it makes me proud to sit beside you. I'm sorry for your situation. The testimony I have is nowhere near as compelling. I'm a business guy from Montreal who has taken up the cause of our veterans, and my efforts seem insignificant after your testimony.

Thank you for having us here. It's an honour to be here. I think this is a very important study, and I encourage you to continue your efforts.

I am pleased to introduce my colleague, Brenda Fewster, who is here in her role as national director of university outreach and program evaluation for the Respect Forum.

I don't live the difficulties that you have just heard the sergeant say he faces. What I see are some of the things you're doing well, specifically your conferences where you bring people together to be heard, like this meeting. We as Canadians need to hear the cry for support and help by the sergeant and others. Please continue doing that.

Your well-being fund is one of the reasons I'm here today, which I greatly appreciate, along with your support for real guys on the street with practical programs like the Veterans Transition Network at UBC, Can Praxis, and VETS Canada, just to mention a few.

As I said, I've never served, sergeant, but I have many friends who are veterans who share your struggles, some very tragically. However, I have seen some solid efforts that need to be recognized on the part of leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces, specifically Support Our Troops, and OSI clinics. They are run by good people trying to do the right thing.

The Respect Forum organizers believe that the problem of homelessness among veterans is too big for you alone to solve, but the good news is that there are many organizations with good people who are trying to contribute to that solution. It's important to acknowledge their efforts, because there are literally thousands of them. Whether it's conducting point-of-time homelessness counts, producing data, or trying to bring specific practical solutions, we have to recognize that there is work being done.

We've seen significant strides being made since 2010 to help us begin to understand the scope and the nature of veterans' homelessness, and listening to the sergeant, I don't believe all of those messages are getting across to the decision-makers. The practical things that the sergeant mentioned really need to be taken into consideration—the dysfunction with respect to regulations. However, I will let Brenda speak to the situation from a more academic perspective.

3:50 p.m.

Brenda Fewster National Director, University Outreach and Program Evaluation, Respect Campaign

Thank you.

Beginning with the Gulf War, Canada entered “an era of difficult Canadian military operations and an accelerated tempo of deployments to the heart of many of the world's most complex conflicts.” This was at at time accompanied by simultaneous cuts in personnel and a downturn in recruitment. As we know, we have not traversed this era unscathed and we are now confronted with such phenomena as PTSD, homelessness, suicide and adverse impacts on the families of veterans.

Much of the suffering can be seen in research, which discerns a downward spiral towards homelessness, including financial distress; trouble finding or keeping a job; broken ties with one's family, friends and community; addiction; and mental health problems. In the 2010s we have seen a spike in research, particularly policy facing research in veteran health and well-being to help us to respond to the suffering.

This research has been catalyzed by new investments in research infrastructure that focus on military veteran and family well-being. To name a few, in 2010 we see the first life-after-service study by VAC's research directorate, as well as the establishment of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. One year later, Ray and Forchuck produced their eye-opening study on veteran homelessness. This was followed in 2012 by the launch of the Veterans Transition Network, an initiative focusing on mental health that evolved from UBC's veterans transition program, which began in 1998. In 2013, authors Van Til and others produced a research synthesis report on homelessness. The ombudsman for DND and the Canadian Forces submitted a report to the minister of national defence assessing the well-being of Canada's military families. A review of the literature on mental health and well-being of military veterans during military-to-civilian transitioning was produced by Shields and others in 2016, and in the same year we see the publication of a Canadian model for housing and support of veterans experiencing homelessness.

On a closing note, I would add that the Respect Forum was fortunate enough to be able to host a presentation about this model with Dr. Forchuck herself in Montreal in 2017.

3:55 p.m.

Founder, Respect Campaign

Stephen Gregory

Thank you, Brenda.

These studies that Brenda cites, to the sergeant's message, just sound like more words, and yet they're necessary for us to get a better understanding. We still have a problem with homeless veterans despite all the efforts, and, as you say, all the words and fancy language.

There are other problems. Of course, there's data-informed policy, research to understand the scope and the nature of the problem. The specific issues that were raised by the sergeant aren't unique to the sergeant. He would attest to the fact that very many of his peers have faced that mountain of paperwork. Despite the fact there are many people who seem to be out there to help, access to them is quite restricted, and as he points out so well, in rural areas it's nearly impossible.

The challenges faced by the homeless in shelters are a whole other issue, just in identifying them, understanding the military culture and how to approach them, securing financial support and housing, and providing psychosocial supports. A shortage of physicians in some areas, and the relationship that non-VAC physicians have with VAC in trying to get things done by the latter, and the duplication of effort, are just tragic. There are significant and seemingly endless administrative hurdles in front of our veterans, who, as the sergeant pointed out, aren't equipped emotionally to deal with the frustrations.

What's worse, from my perspective, as that we estimate there are nearly 2,000 organizations across the country that are actively trying to support our veterans. When I started the Respect Forum in 2015, my brigade commander said there were too many of us. He thought a dozen was too many. In my first meeting there were over 48 organizations that were present. The problem they face is that they don't know about each other and don't know how to work with each other, to the point where collaboration that would seem to us to be obvious is just not happening.

The consequence of such a dysfunctional state of affairs is being experienced by our veterans and their families, who are falling through the cracks. It doesn't need to be this way at all. In light of what you've attempted to do and the accomplishments made, there's a wider landscape of uncharted services that provide support to you and to our veterans. My question is, what can Veterans Affairs do to enhance its role vis-à-vis these many organizations serving veterans?

We propose an answer. First, we think that VAC should keep doing what it's doing well. There are many veterans who are very pleased to get a pension cheque thanks to you, and your administration of their pension can't go unnoticed, but the need to streamline the claims approval process for known issues and access to emergency funding are pretty obvious. Beside me we have a veteran who served us all, and we're not helping him.

I think it was a very strong move to support community programs with your veterans' well-being fund. I'd suggest you consider adding to and expanding it. With every dollar that you spend reaching out to community organizations, there are other people who match that funding and who outperform. You get much more for your money; you're stretching every dollar.

I think you can continue to leverage your stakeholders through even better outreach, through your conferences and other supporting systems. I think you have to continue to work harder at the retraining and reintegration of veterans.

I believe the second and most important part of the answer is leadership. The leadership that VAC can bring to many organizations providing services to veterans, I don't think can be underestimated. To this end, VAC could support initiatives that help to locate and make better use of data sets so that we can better understand veteran homelessness, from the municipal point-in-time counts, HIFIS—homeless individuals family information systems—and studies that map the service environment for our veterans: who's doing what, how and when, and where they get funded. You can promote more collaboration and the leveraging of resources and expertise.

I know for a fact that if you approach someone in Calgary, sir, you'd get all the support you needed to fill out those forms, hand over fist, from the Legion.

It's not happening in his area, and that shouldn't be the case.

Veterans Affairs could promote the sharing of formal and informal experiential knowledge between service organizations and researchers; research collaborations; innovative approaches to service delivery; the creation of tools that help service providers to better deliver their services; research that maps and measures the business models and the impact of those models to service providers. And you can help us to deliver more expansive and practical job transition training and support.

With this in mind, I would now like to tell you about the Respect Forums, if you haven't heard about them. The Respect Forum is a national networking initiative that strives to help improve the services for Canada's military veterans, retired first responders—police, firefighters, paramedics—and their families. If you wore a uniform and you ran into danger, we want to be there to help you.

We want to help them in their fight against the phenomena that you referred to as PTSD and homelessness, which can result ultimately in the tragedy of suicide.

The Respect Forum meetings are designed to promote collaborative approaches to service delivery, knowledge sharing and knowledge development. Forum meetings bring people together from health, social services, all levels of government, universities and community and peer support organizations. Participants have the opportunity to talk about their organizations, the services they provide, the challenges they face and the research and community engagement activities they're undertaking. This paves the way to explore possibilities for collaboration.

I started them in Montreal, and they are by invitation only. The reason they're by invitation only is that not all of these organizations actually want to work together, and some denigrate each other. When they do that, we disinvite them to future meetings. Our attempt is to create a collaborative environment, one that promotes working together, not nasty, critical sessions—you can fill in the words.

With the support of Veterans Affairs and the family well-being fund, we were able to move from seven cities—in which we were being funded privately—to 19 cities across Canada. By the second week of April, we will have held 19 sessions across the country. Some are in small towns like North Bay and places like Thunder Bay, as well.

The Respect Forum is an initiative of the Respect Campaign. It's a completely civilian project. Without going into it, I'll just tell you that there is permission to play. You don't come to the meeting unless you're prepared to respect each other. You don't come to these meetings unless you're prepared to share knowledge and the contacts that you might have. We don't just want not-for-profit. We're looking for commercial partners as well. They have something to provide in the way of solutions. We want different perspectives. The meetings are all non-partisan.

What we're doing, very practically, is running two meetings a year—one in the spring and one in the fall—across these 19 towns. That's our intent. We're going to be surveying them to find out what the gaps are and where we can better support them in the exchange of knowledge. By the end of the year I'd like to be able to present a map, and I think it will be of nearly 2,000 organizations across the country, so that in each brigade people know who is doing what, how and when, and we can facilitate better collaboration. I think if we're able to establish a collaborative environment, sustainable governance and an enduring financial model, we'll be able to be a part of the solution that's so desperately needed.

Thank you very much.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Mr. Mahar.

4 p.m.

Ralph Mahar Executive Officer, RCMP Veterans' Association

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for your invitation to the RCMP Veterans' Association to appear before you today with respect to the issue of homeless veterans.

I am the executive officer of the RCMP Veterans' Association. I report to our president and board of directors. I am a veteran of the RCMP. I joined in 1974 and served until 1984, performing general police duties. I left the RCMP in 1984 and spent the next 23 years in the law enforcement and security domain, and have worked for the past 12 years on a range of issues in military support and in continuing in law enforcement elsewhere.

I want to tell you a bit about our association. The RCMP Veterans' Association had its origins in 1886, only 13 years after the establishment of the North-West Mounted Police itself. Since its creation and establishment, it's matured and evolved over the past 133 years. Since 2014, we've been incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. We have 30 divisions across the country, with almost 7,000 members in large cities and smaller communities, from Vancouver Island to Whitehorse to Newfoundland, and many points in-between.

Our association offers membership to former RCMP members and employees, both sworn officers and civilians, who served with the force. Many of our members will have served an entire career with the force, for 25 to 35 years or more. Many others have served for shorter periods of time and moved on to other career paths within law enforcement or other fields.

Our purpose and objectives are articulated within our constitution, and they include to promote and assist in the promotion and advancement of the best interests of Canada; to be of service to the Government of Canada when required and requested; to co-operate and render assistance to the police, especially the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in all matters of common interest and concern; to promote the physical, social and economic welfare of the association's members, or the members of their immediate families; and to provide support to worthy community services or organizations of a charitable or benevolent nature.

In achieving our objectives, our strength is our members. Our members bring energy, commitment, diverse experience and talent to the volunteer roles they perform within the association. They devote tens of thousands of hours annually in support of worthwhile causes, and for the good of the association. Across the breadth of the association, our members are actively involved in many good works within communities. This includes advocacy and support for our veterans, their families and surviving spouses to assist them in understanding the range of benefits they may be eligible for if they are suffering from service-related injury or illness.

We offer guidance to our veterans in helping them be aware of the resources and groups within their communities that are providing physical and mental health services. We visit RCMP veterans and surviving spouses who are in hospital, care homes, or in their residences if their mobility is impaired and they are amenable to seeing old friends and colleagues. We support our members and their families in the time of bereavement when a veteran dies by attending celebrations of life to show respect and gratitude for their service to Canada. We serve as honour guards, if the family requests, at those celebrations of life. We offer information to surviving spouses to help them navigate the difficult time of bereavement through providing them with a guide for survivors and executors, prepared in close consultation with the RCMP, which identifies survivor benefits and the responsibilities of executors.

Our divisions are also actively involved in supporting communities and charitable causes through fundraising, as volunteer international couriers of bone marrow donations in collaboration with the Bruce Denniston society, by collecting and shipping toys to northern communities in need at Christmastime, and in a host of other ways.

We participate in RCMP events to honour and celebrate the history of the force, to ensure that our history is told, understood, respected and recorded for future generations.

Our members are deeply proud of their service with the RCMP and are grateful for the incredible work done today by the men and women of the RCMP as they serve and protect Canadians. We maintain a close and collaborative relationship with the RCMP in every region of the country. As stated within our objectives, we remain ready to render assistance to the RCMP and other police forces when requested.

We're well aware of the challenges facing police personnel and front-line officers, as we have walked that walk ourselves. That said, we appreciate that the demands upon police officers are ever-increasing and the complexity of the investigative environment is also evolving at a rapid pace. It is a heavy burden they bare.

The plight of homeless veterans is deeply felt by our association. We've been considering ways whereby we could be supportive in an effective and sustainable way. We have participated in focused dialogue on homeless veterans in round table forums hosted by Veterans Affairs Canada. We've met with organizations such as VETS Canada, Soldiers Helping Soldiers, the Legion, and recently with Steve and his group, the Respect Forum, to educate ourselves, to learn about what they are doing and, potentially, to find ways to collaborate.

Our association was proud to be a supporting sponsor of the Veterans' House Gala hosted by the Multifaith Housing Initiative here in Ottawa this past September as they raised money to build Veterans' House, a 40-unit residential centre for homeless veterans and veterans at risk on the grounds of the former CFB Rockcliffe. Veterans' House is an inspired initiative that will provide homeless veterans with a safe and welcoming place to find peace and to recover. We wish MHI and their strategic partners every success in this incredible project as it proceeds to completion.

The association has supported VETS Canada through their Guitars for Vets program. But our capacity as an association to provide direct financial assistance to homeless veterans is limited. Our association is financially supported by our dues-paying members and supplemented by some funding by a few generous sponsors. We don't have deep pockets. Our annual revenues closely match our annual expenses and discretionary spending is modest at best.

We're grateful for our dialogue with significant players within this environment, such as VETS Canada, which has a decade of experience and a legacy of substantive contribution and active help to homeless veterans, and veterans at risk.

VETS Canada's establishment this past year of a drop-in centre in Ottawa, and their partnership with the Province of Alberta in the establishment of the veterans service centre in Edmonton offers safe places, active support and hope for veterans who are struggling.

We intend to be a helpful partner with others in support of homeless and at-risk veterans. However, given our own limited financial capacity, while we've participated in initiatives for the broader veteran community, our direct efforts have been and remain focused more exclusively upon RCMP veterans who are struggling, who have experienced homelessness, or who are at risk. This makes sense because RCMP veterans are not eligible for support through programs such as the veterans emergency fund established by Veterans Affairs Canada to support homeless or at-risk veterans.

The veterans emergency fund was established to provide emergency funds to military veterans in immediate need of food, clothing, rent, mortgage, medical care and other expenses to maintain safety and shelter, but RCMP veterans who have emergency needs do not have access to these funds.

The incidence of RCMP veterans who are homeless or at risk is negligible, but not non-existent. There have been cases, including recent ones. I'm in the process of dealing with one that came in today, and there will continue to be cases in the future.

As an association, our knowledge of RCMP veterans in need of support is reliant upon being informed of cases when they exist. That knowledge may come to us from a Veterans Affairs Canada case officer who is in contact with the veteran. It might be from a friend or a former colleague, but rarely by the veteran themselves.

It is fair to say that we don't have an accurate assessment of the number of RCMP veterans at risk. While we expect that the incidence is low, it is also likely under-reported.

We became aware, after the fact, of one tragic case of an RCMP veteran who died of exposure in a harsh winter living while living in his vehicle in 2015, after being evicted from a low-income property. The veteran had served 20 years with the force and took his discharge in the early 1970s. His life later unravelled and he hit bottom almost 40 years after he left the RCMP. When our association learned of his death, we collaborated with RCMP and the local funeral home to afford him a dignified laying to rest. He was subsequently buried at the RCMP cemetery at Depot Division, Regina. We mourn his tragic passing, and we wish we had known of his struggles earlier so that we might have been able to offer help, if he were willing to accept it.

The primary source of financial support that the RCMP Veterans' Association can potentially extend to RCMP veterans in need is through the administration of a $50,000 allotment of benevolent funds made available to the RCMP Veterans' Association by the RCMP. Entitled the RCMP Benefit Trust Fund, as stated within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations 2014, regulations permit the RCMP to grant funds to the RCMP Veterans' Association “to maintain a program to seek out and assist former members and their dependants under terms and conditions set out by the advisory committee”.

When our association becomes aware that a former member or their dependants are in financial distress, we can engage the member or the dependant to assess their needs and extend defined and reasonable financial support. This program has provided meaningful and welcome assistance and relief to RCMP veterans for many years, and our association is grateful to the RCMP for making a portion of the fund available for veterans and dependants, and for entrusting our association with its administration.

Understandably, there's an assessment process that takes time, and criteria must be met for the extension of financial support. While the financial support extended can—and has—proved critical to a recipient in supporting human dignity, it is not designed for emergency response. In reality, veterans are often very reluctant to reach out for assistance. Their needs are often acute and immediate, particularly for emergency transitional accommodations.

If our association is unable to respond quickly, there is a great likelihood that the veteran will lose hope and refuse further contact, putting them at risk and rendering them desperate.

The veterans emergency fund is ideally suited to these kinds of immediate demands. Our association will be writing to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, asking for the criteria for the fund to be broadened to include RCMP veterans.

In a similar vein, our association was very pleased to learn of the creation of the veterans and family well-being fund, established in the spring of 2018 to provide grants and contributions to private, public or academic organizations to conduct research and implement initiatives and projects that support the well-being of veterans and their families.

The type of projects that the fund was designed to support included such things as suicide prevention research, initiatives to help homeless veterans find housing or any innovative project that contributes to the well-being of veterans and their families.

Our association submitted a sophisticated proposal seeking to conduct research upon the RCMP's international peace operations program over its 30-year history, to interview deployed personnel and their spouses, to determine their experiences and to learn about the impact those operations had upon their physical and mental health. Admittedly, these peace operations in Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan and other venues have been particularly challenging for RCMP members.

Our objective, in part, was to record oral histories of those experiences and make that product available to the RCMP, historians and the public. Our proposal would have resulted in a historical public record in an accompanying documentary film to acknowledge the contributions of these deployed RCMP personnel and their families. In honouring their contribution, we believe it would certainly support the well-being of veterans and their families. There were more than 100 submissions to Veterans Affairs Canada seeking funding. Twenty-two outstanding organizations, including the Respect Forum, were approved for funding. Most certainly, their work will benefit veterans and their families.

While we were disappointed not to be chosen, we were much more substantially disappointed to learn that our proposal was rejected from the outset as being ineligible, as RCMP do not have the same status of veteran within legislation.

Certainly, RCMP personnel in deployed peace operations face the same risks and are subject to the same challenges as many of our military colleagues. In many instances, RCMP and Canadian military are co-deployed. Their deployments are of comparable duration, and their families at home in Canada experience the same dislocation, worry, loneliness and often the burden of single parenting while their spouse is in a risky theatre of operations.

Our association will be petitioning Minister Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the eligibility of RCMP veterans for submissions for grants and contributions to the veteran and family well-being fund.

Recently the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Craig Dalton as the veterans ombudsman, succeeding Mr. Guy Parent, who served with great integrity in that capacity for the past seven years. The RCMP Veterans' Association has the deepest respect for Mr. Parent and is very grateful for his service to Canada, both during his time in the Canadian Forces and as ombudsman. We welcome the appointment of Mr. Dalton to this critical position. Considering his long and distinguished career in the Canadian Forces and his considerable experience with the governments of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, he is eminently well qualified to understand and represent veterans. We wish him the best in this post.

Our association was proud to have one of our past presidents, Dave Leblanc, serve on Mr. Parent's advisory committee, and we're equally pleased that our most recent past president, Al Rivard, has been invited to sit on Mr. Dalton's advisory committee. Mr. Rivard looks forward to working with Mr. Dalton and will ensure that the perspective of RCMP veterans is articulated with clarity and integrity.

This concludes my prepared comments. I want to thank you again for this opportunity to be here and I look forward to your questions.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you. We'll begin our questioning with Ms. Wagantall for six minutes.

February 4th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Six minutes?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Yes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Okay. Thank you, Chair.

I'd like to start by speaking with Sergeant Webb. I have just a really quick yes-no question, and then I'll get you to expound more later.

As you were serving in the armed forces for very close to 20 years did you ever imagine that you, as an individual who had served, would find yourself homeless?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Thank you.

As I'm looking through everything that you've said today, a lot of these issues arose prior to your becoming homeless, but seem to be related to your experiences in trying to navigate through what supposedly was available to you. The first thing I will note is that just six months before reaching 20 years of service, you were released.

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

That's correct.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

You weren't provided a method of decompression from serving, coming back on your last appointment.

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

On my last appointment, that's correct; I wasn't decompressed.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Okay.

You mentioned service dogs. We have a lot of information coming our way in regard to service dogs. There's no question in my mind that a service dog can make a huge difference to the health of a veteran, to the point where they won't end up in difficult circumstances; yet we see a lot of disjointed efforts on that front and not a clear directive on how service dogs can be beneficial and how to set the standards. There's a great deal of that competition that I believe Stephen was speaking of.

Your service dog is not acceptable in B.C., correct?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

That's correct.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Okay. We can go into that as well, but really quickly.

Were none of your forms actioned by all of the organizations you sent information to?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

None of my personal income tax deduction forms were actioned.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Personal income tax forms.... Did the one organization that apologized say why they apologized and what happened?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

They said it was mishandled in the email transfer between their two departments within Public Works.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Okay.

You also talked about the emergency fund. We've had a lot of conversations on that as well, the fact that it is there but is very difficult to access. Actually, case managers are sending Veterans Affairs Canada here in Ottawa a number of people who are in emergency situations because they've had trouble accessing that fund.

Also, community organizations, I think, are very important in this picture, yet they assume that, well, VAC will help you. So that's been the struggle where you are.

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William Webb

It's a huge struggle.