Evidence of meeting #62 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 organizations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John W. Boerstler  Executive Director, NextOp

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

Absolutely. I think it's a question of educating employers on the value of hiring veterans and on the skills that we bring and showing that if combat and operational stress is an issue, it's acute, typically, not chronic, and that we can make it more acute and less chronic the faster we get them into a new mission, role, or opportunity to lay a foundation for their family and make an economic and social impact on their communities.

When we go in and talk about it, we have a specific slide that says “Working with Warriors”. It's the “W3” training that we provide. It's an adaptation of what the Wounded Warrior Project has developed, called “Working with Wounded Warriors”, or W4. It specifically addresses the misnomers by which post-traumatic stress and combat operational stress are mis-reported in the media. A host of government programs and NGOs have been set up to deal with this issue. When we conducted our initial landscape analysis, when we set up the Combined Arms system, that showed.

There are 15 organizations that serve veterans in mental health and only three that serve veterans in employment transition. Obviously, the data we're seeing in employment transition shows a much higher need, in real-time data and statistics coming to the Combined Arms system, and mental health is on the bottom.

In order to prevent further mental health issues from occurring in their transition and reintegration into civilian life, we need to focus more on the employment and career transition instead of putting more dollars and media attention and efforts into explaining why veterans are broken rather than why we're civic assets and we will be the best employees at your company.

October 3rd, 2017 / 9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

I think that's absolutely brilliant. I hope you have some empirical evidence to show that a little work on the front end getting people transitioned will solve all those problems on the back end.

You talked about the frustration of veterans facing walls and barriers from time to time wherever they go, but you also spoke about the difference between your organization and what you're doing in Texas and another organization it looks as if you will be partnering with. It's doing some great work in California and then there's a completely different platform on the eastern seaboard.

I can only imagine that a veteran moving from one area to the other, who is familiar with the services of one.... Would they find it frustrating switching from your organization if they were to come from, say, Syracuse or someplace like that? I'm assuming your approach is collaborative across the country, but if you're working on different platforms, that might create that barrier. What's being done to resolve that?

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

We originally went in very punky about it. We have these terms like API, and all these data and technology terms; we have to make sure the APIs measure up. One dumb marine infantry guy came into the room, and he asked why we didn't open an account with one community hub and an account with the other community hub. We could then bilaterally refer between New York and Houston, Memphis and California, or Seattle and Missouri to make sure that these veterans, who are either transitioning out of the military or moving because they want to be closer to family, or for economic or housing opportunities, are handled successfully from one community hub to the other. So far we've achieved that with AmericaServes out of Syracuse University and with America's Warrior Partnership, which covered about nine communities in the southeast, but in terms of national [Technical difficulty—Editor] we're a long way.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Do I still have a little time?

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

We were far from national interconnectivity between the community hubs, but we have set up MOUs and partnerships with AmericaServes and America's Warrior Partnership, which are two of the larger community hub programs that represent about 24 different communities collectively. We've set up accounts from one community hub to the other so we can bilaterally refer and track that progress for veterans who are either transitioning from the military installations in those regions or migrating for business or economic opportunity.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Ms. Mathyssen, you have three minutes.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

John, I want to go back to a question I didn't get to ask before. We talked about the skills gap, and you talked about the fact that the air force had credentialing within the service. Marines did not.

Here we have the opportunity to go to a post-secondary institution or to get training. The problem is that there's a time frame—you have to apply within two years of leaving the service—and there's a monetary ceiling.

Is that a situation you encounter, and if so, does it present some problems because some veterans just aren't ready? It takes them some time.

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

Absolutely, and our new GI Bill.... In the old GI Bill you had to spend it within 10 years. Now it doesn't have a ceiling in terms of time frame, but the money does have a limit. If I serve 48 months, or four years, in the army, for example, I am only eligible for 36 months of school, which doesn't really add up, but that's one of the.... As all of you know as ministers, it's one thing that was decided on to save quite a bit of money for the taxpayer.

There are gaps, and we are finding that of those eligible to go back to school, be it technical or professional programs, only 50% of eligible users are going back to take those two- or four-year degree programs.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

It's my understanding that you travelled in order to see what other countries were doing. You discovered that Denmark had embedded clinical psychologists and chaplains in units during pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment. I wonder if you could explain to the committee any value you saw in integrating clinical psychologists and chaplains at all phases of military deployment.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

I saw tremendous value. I'm an infantry guy, and we don't believe in a lot of that stuff, because we believe in our team first, and that's probably an old, outdated mentality. But we saw the results, having them not just at pre-deployment and post-deployment but also during down range in Afghanistan or Iraq. Then, there was also the fact that they aren't rank-holding officers. They don't have to call the chaplains and the psychologists “madam” or “sir”. The customs and courtesies traditionally associated with an enlisted officer, those barriers, are removed, so the soldiers are able to talk to them one on one at the client-to-practitioner level or as client to mentor or client to chaplain.

I think that relationship is a lot more effective than what we have in the United States, for example. They're rank-holding officers. So whenever I saw our chaplain—and I never saw him, by the way, because he was just not around where we were in Iraq, for example—I would have to say “sir”, or I would feel inclined to say “sir”. Even though he said it was no big deal, it's just part of our customs and courtesies and what's drilled into us. It's the same thing for the psychologists.

I think eliminating those barriers and also being part of the unit.... Even though they're not rank-holding military officers, they had to pass all the physical qualifications to deploy. So being part of that training process, being part of that deployment and post-deployment, I really think increases the success of a lot of Denmark's veterans when they transition into a military life.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you.

Mr. McColeman.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'm wondering, John, if you could send us a list of the 40 organizations or NGOs that are part of your group.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

I'd like to have that as a frame of reference to compare to our system.

I'm going to make a comment that I'd like you to react to. It seems to me that our system is weighted heavily on creating a government bureaucracy to handle all the issues associated with this topic area of transitioning veterans. You're a fresh-start organization in the sense of the words you've used today. They indicate to me that you want efficiencies; you want effective results; and you're setting your targets and goals to demonstrate that to the organizations that provide the service, and to your individuals.

First, feel free to comment on my observation. I'm not sure that this exists in the United States to the same degree it does here, but it just seems that we keep going back to try to do it differently, to get a better result; and your approach is quite innovative in my opinion. That, along with.... I've lost my other train of thought. I'll think about it while you're reacting to that.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

That's exactly what we were going for in terms of being the antithesis of the existing top-down process that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and their services provide. Obviously, the transition assistance program process is fundamentally flawed, and that's why we have such high unemployment rates of veterans, or we did for the past 10 years, and we're finally catching up with that.

As the other gentlemen said, all politics is local. Transition is local, too. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of the communities that receive these veterans and their families to ensure that they successfully transition and reintegrate into civilian life so that we can make a more significant economic and social impact. If we can't do it, no one else is coming. It's truly up to us, because they're left and displaced workers from the DOD, and they don't know. They don't have a network. They don't have a support system, so it's truly incumbent upon us.

We created this, really, in the vision of what a social enterprise could look like, so that we're a lot more agile, a lot faster and more effective in delivering these services, and holding those organizations more accountable, with the ultimate goal of having no veteran fall through the cracks.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Thank you for articulating it that way.

I'm doing a lot of comparisons in my mind. I've had a lot of years in the disabled community. These would be individuals who are ready, willing, and able to work, but who have some form of intellectual...or a disability. They're kind of the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.

I'm thinking of all the organizations that are somewhat in silos. You try to pull them together, and it's a very difficult task, because they all have their own personal interests.

I know that our tendencies as a society are somewhat different than those in the United States. I lived in a small college town in the U.S. for my graduate studies, and I noticed immediately the responsibility that the community took for individuals who were having struggles. It wasn't just veterans. Society, in general, took it very seriously—at a community level. It's a much different reaction than what we have in our country in many ways. Not that we don't have them, we just don't react with as much buy-in, as I think a lot of Americans do in bearing that responsibility.

I don't have any more questions other than to thank you again. This has been very enlightening.

I'm going to yield to my colleague for her question.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Thank you.

In regard to enabling the veterans to be employed, I can't help but think of the infantry, the boots on the ground, the young guys who go in. Their skill set is not quite as transferable to civilian life. We're looking at engaging them right when they start in the military, to understand that, yes, they want this to be a lifelong career, but it may not be: What else are your interests? What would you like to study as you go?

How do you deal with that when we're talking about the guys who are serving as boots on the ground?

10 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

That's a great question.

The preponderance of the people we serve in our employment services are army and marine corps, many of whom are combat arms and don't have skills and experience transferable into most civilian industries. I think it's an awareness and education gap. We educate them about the opportunities that are available to them in the region they return to. For example, Houston is the energy capital of the world. We also have the largest medical centre in the world.

They don't know what it is to be a field service technician for Chevron or Exxon and the great economic and training opportunities. They can use the “soft skills” they have as infantrymen and combat-arms types to be better team players. They can make their companies more productive, more safe, more respectful. They'll show up early. They'll stay late. They'll learn things faster. Typical companies aren't finding those qualities in the millennial generation these days, and we talk about that a lot. I'm sure that's discussed at the government levels.

Military millennials very much have those soft skills that are missing in a lot of the younger generations. They're the same age. They're tech savvy, so they use Instagram and Snapchat, while I have no idea how those work. They can also show up and not be on the phone all day, and actually be more safe. That impacts the bottom line. The retention impacts the bottom line, and the productivity impacts the bottom line.

If you educate them on the opportunities they can pursue via a technical college or by going straight into an industry and doing on-the-job training, that's where we have found the secret sauce, so to speak.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you.

Mr. Bratina.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thanks again for the opportunity, John.

My aunt married an American who served in the American navy in the Second World War on the Bunker Hill aircraft carrier. It's a great story, but I'll get on to my point. He received his education as a result of his service and had a very good career, with IBM, I think.

I'm curious to know why at the end of the Second World War so many veterans got their careers coming out of the military and why we're having this problem currently.

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

Absolutely. I think that's a great observation and it's totally true that the greatest generation, as we refer to it here in America, is because of that GI Bill, the original GI Bill, which is still better than the post-9/11 GI Bill we have now, which is good, but still not as good. And there's that funny math that Congress has done so that if we serve 48 months, we get only 36 months of school. Under the old GI Bill, you got 48 months of school. So my grandfather was able to go to not only university but also law school and make a much greater impact on his life after being an electrician's mate on a submarine.

I think one in three entrepreneurs after the Second World War were veterans and then there was that whole middle class that was created because of the GI Bill. Giving those returning service members that opportunity to upskill themselves really created what America is today. I think if we're able to continue to prop up our service members and soldiers when they return even though we're a much less significant population than we were back then per capita in the United States general population—and it's the same in Canada, much smaller these days—then we're still able to not only educate these individuals but also ensure that they have access to tools to create a small businesses and to be entrepreneurs as well.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

To the point of the modern day reluctance regarding PTSD and what is published about it, his aircraft carrier was hit by three kamikazes. Over a thousand sailors died, and there were terrible burns below, all that awful stuff. I'm sure there must have been a lot of PTSD among that cohort and yet we're seeing this difference, as you've just outlined.

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

Obviously, I can't speak from direct experience of being in that war and returning home, but if we compare it to the situation in Israel, it's like that shared experience, that shared resilience with 75% of the population in Israel every year going into military service. And they protect their country, right? We don't have that in Canada. We don't have that in the United States whereas we did back in the Second World War where one out of every two or three people would be going into the uniformed services to protect our interests across the world, whether in the Pacific or the Atlantic theatre.

I think that shared resilience, that shared experience of World War II, is very different from what we have today, because we're a fraction of the population, and the regular civilians don't understand it.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Okay, this is not quite about transition, but I am just curious about the third element, the cemetery one, which we're not really talking about. Could you just give us an idea of how the death benefits and military honours work for an American veteran?

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, NextOp

John W. Boerstler

Absolutely. I think a lot of people joke that the National Cemetery Administration is the most effective part of the VA, and it's a terrible joke but it is what it is. I think that the benefits extended to us, to our family, when we do pass, to really take that burden off the family, both financially and in terms of organizing and being able to be buried in a veteran-specific cemetery in many major communities across the United States, is one that's afforded.

Although I don't know the specifics on dollar amounts and funeral arrangements and expenses, I can definitely find out more of that information and direct that to the committee along with the list of our organizations and perhaps our slide deck as a follow-on, sir.