Chair, Committee Members:
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you as you begin your study of services to Veterans in other jurisdictions.
I believe it is important that we monitor what other countries are doing in support of their Veterans in order to stay abreast of best practices. However, I also believe that it is paramount to find Canadian solutions to address Canadian issues and problems.
So, as you start your study, I want to put forward three elements that I believe are important factors as you weigh the testimony you are going to hear from other countries.
They are: Context, Complex Design, and Outcomes.
Understanding context is important when looking at services provided by other countries to their Veterans. If a country has a national health care system or a high cost of living, both aspects can greatly effect why a service is or is not being provided and the dollar value of that service.
Let me give you an example of what happens when context is overlooked.
In June 2009, this Committee published a report that compared Veterans’ services offered by member countries of the Commonwealth and G8. In that report, some cautionary statements were made to remind the reader that direct comparisons are not always possible. However, a significant portion of the report was dedicated to comparing Veterans lump sum payments between Canada, Australia and the UK. Because of the way the report was laid out, what Veterans and the media focused on was the fact that, at that time, a UK Veteran got $1 million and the Canadian Veteran only $267,000. Without the context of the social and economic environment and health care considerations within which those benefits were provided, the focus on the actual dollar value did not provide the meaningful insight we needed to improve things here in Canada.
Last year when we examined compensation for pain and suffering as part of our Fair Compensation to Veterans and their Survivors for Pain and Suffering Report, we researched the programs offered by other countries, what other Canadians with similar work-related injuries would receive and what the Canadian courts award. When we looked at other countries, we found that the types of programs tended to be similar – for example, most provided some form of compensation for pain and suffering, but often the way in which the programs were delivered, the level of support, and the eligibility criteria varied. While it is worthwhile to learn from others when developing new programs, we found that it was difficult to draw direct comparisons because each country designed and administered their programs differently to meet its own needs, national imperatives and economic realities.
Context also extends to how the benefit is implemented. In the US there are three GI Bills that provide education for Veterans based on years of service. In 2016, I visited the US Department of Veterans Affairs and received the same briefing that had been provided to Veterans Affairs Canada while it was designing the Education and Training Benefit. One of the things that I learned was that the US Department of Veterans Affairs had not consulted the Department of Defense in the design of their GI Bills, so there were issues in alignment between the Departments. I also recognized that the Canadian Armed Forces has significantly longer training and shorter deployment cycles than the US military, which could affect the outcome if a US benefit was transferred to a Canadian context without consideration of and adaptation to those contextual differences.
On returning to Canada, I discussed these concerns with Veterans Affairs Canada and the good news is that the Department engaged with the Canadian Armed Forces on the new Education and Training Benefit, and structured the eligibility to take into account CAF training and deployment cycles, as well as supporting CAF retention initiatives. So, while we are waiting for the final program details, understanding the context allowed Veterans Affairs Canada to create a Canadian solution for a Canadian problem.
The second point is design. We need to consider the design of our existing Veterans’ benefit and support structure before we add another new benefit. What we have now is too complex to administer and communicate effectively to Veterans and their families. We need to simplify and streamline the system of benefits for Veterans.
I have provided you with two diagrams to illustrate this point. The first diagram is not a process map, rather it shows how all the CAF and Veterans’ benefits interrelate and how complex this system is. You can see the complexity. If I was to walk you through this diagram one benefit at a time, it would take the entire meeting time allocation today. If you or any of your staff want to be briefed on this diagram, we can walk you through it at your convenience.
As you know, Budget 2017 announced a number of new benefits. What now needs to be done, is to look at all the benefits from a strategic design perspective and determine whether or not everything is in place to provide Veterans and their families with the supports they need, including easy access for eligible Veterans. I have made a number of recommendations that would help, but above all, it is important that the overall design covers the basic elements that need to be in place to support all Veterans.
The second diagram, illustrates the key components of support to Veterans. Not every Veteran will access all of these components, but they should be available if needed. For example, if you release with no medical issues or requirement for transitional support, only the areas in blue would apply.
Benefits are wide-ranging and diverse – both in terms of their intent and design. They include financial benefits, such as a military pension, and support benefits, such as being provided educational assistance or help in finding a job. They also include services and treatments that Veterans require as a result of a medical condition related to their service. The challenge is how to “simplify” the current ‘complex design’ while ensuring that we meet the needs of Veterans.
Finally, when addressing Veterans’ issues, we need to identify the outcomes we are trying to achieve and the benchmark we are going to use to measure success.
In my 2016 Fair Compensation to Veterans and their Survivors for Pain and Suffering Report, I recommended that the Disability Award maximum amount be aligned to that of the maximum amount awarded by the courts. The outcome that is being achieved is that Veterans receive, as a minimum, no less than what other Canadians suffering a work-related injury would receive, and the benchmark that is being used to measure success is that which is used by the Supreme Court of Canada. I also recommended that additional compensation, due to the uniqueness of military service, be provided for exceptional suffering.
In addition, I have recommended using an income replacement model for ensuring financial security, so that a Veteran is provided with what they could have received had they had a full military career. If the salary and pension provided by the Canadian Armed Forces is seen as fair compensation, then ensuring that a Veteran with a diminished earnings capacity, as a result of a service-related injury, is topped up to that benchmark is the right thing to do.
Clear outcomes are necessary to define the end state. We need to ask ourselves:
- Are we fairly compensating Veterans for pain and suffering?
- Are we replacing their income as if they had a full military career?
- Are we paying for all out of pocket expenses due to their disability?
What is next?
In conclusion, finding out how other countries are reducing complexity, removing barriers to accessing programs and effectively communicating with Veterans and their families can provide useful insight on how to improve our Canadian system. There is no downside to this. But, as I cautioned earlier, while it is worthwhile to learn from others when developing new programs, it is difficult to draw direct comparisons because each country designs and administers their programs differently to meet their own national needs, imperatives and economic realities. Above all, we need stay focused on finding Canadian solutions for Canadian problems, and we need to always consider context, complex design and outcomes.