Good morning, Mr. Chair and Committee Members.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you again as you come towards the end of your Comparative Study of Services to Veterans in Other Jurisdictions.
As I said on May 1st, as you began your hearings, I think it is important to look at what other countries are doing to support their Veterans in order for Canada to keep up with best practices. At that time, I put forward also that it is imperative to develop Canadian solutions to address Canadian challenges and problems. I left you with three elements to consider as you weighed the evidence you heard. Those elements are context, complex design, and outcomes.
I provided you with some examples of the difficulty of drawing direct comparisons between countries because each country designs and administers its programs differently to meet its own national needs, imperatives and economic realities. I also provided you with diagrams to illustrate the complexity of the Canadian system that supports Veterans as a reminder that any design changes need to consider simplifying the system, not making it more complex. Finally, I spoke to the necessity of having clearly defined outcomes that define the end state we are trying to achieve. Without a clear understanding of what outcome for Veterans is expected, we have no benchmark to measure whether we have achieved success or not.
You have now heard from five countries and they have provided you with a good overview of their efforts to support their Veterans. I commend you for the quality of questions asked and for making it possible for this information to be collated in your future report. For my Office, this body of evidence provides us with useful insights to better discern how to improve support for Canadian Veterans.
As you have seen, the scale of effort the United States requires to support its Veterans is huge due to the size of the United States Armed Forces and its very significant differences in national social programs to the Canadian context. The fact that the United Kingdom does not have a department of Veterans Affairs creates a very unalike dynamic for providing services for Veterans to the Canadian experience. France’s colonial past or New Zealand’s small size puts a dissimilar perspective on Veterans’ services. Australia is perhaps the country with the closest comparator to a Canadian context with its similarly sized armed forces, national social programs and geographic challenges, but there are still significant divergences that require one to consider context.
One of the problems with looking at how other nations support Veterans is how to replicate a good idea in our already complex system. Over the last few years, Canada has layered numerous benefits to address gaps without considering this as an opportunity to consolidate and simplify existing benefits. Even though these new benefits have made a positive difference for some Veterans, it has also made it even more complex and difficult for Veterans to navigate the system. It is for this reason that I have repeatedly recommended that a personal navigator would be a valuable addition in terms of helping Veterans who need it most.
Although looking at what other nations do is useful, my Office still struggles with the fact that what we as a nation are trying to achieve for Veterans is not clear. Simply stating that we are going to meet the needs of Veterans and their families is not enough. What does meeting their needs mean?
For example let’s consider a Veteran who has a service-related injury and cannot work. We know that such a Veteran needs to have their income replaced. Does income replacement mean we only replace the salary at time of release? Do we consider career progression? What do we mean by career progression? Is it only until age 65? Is there a retirement component? A survivor benefit? Are we trying to replicate what the Veteran could have received had they had a full military career? Or is it a recognition benefit that recognizes some aspects of a full military career, but does not fully compensate for it? How do we determine where we draw that recognition compensation level?
This example illustrates why I have continued to push for clearly defined benefit outcomes. When we know what we need to achieve for the Veteran, then we can design our programs to achieve that outcome. The current approach to income replacement has been to enhance existing programs or create new programs without any real understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. No one has taken the time to clearly define what level of income replacement should be provided to the Veteran.
In addition to defining the outcomes for what benefits are provided, we also need to define the outcomes for how those benefits are provided. If we look at homeless Veterans for example, local authorities at municipal and provincial levels are better positioned to meet the immediate needs of these Veterans. So we should define how the federal government is going to work with those organizations to enable their efforts so that these Veterans in crisis can then access the federal programs that will take them out of homelessness. With clearly defined outcomes, through partnerships we can leverage the expertise of other levels of government and third parties to meet the immediate and long term needs of Veterans more effectively.
Without clearly defined outcomes, we cannot measure success and we cannot communicate effectively to Veterans. If we could focus on specific outcomes, then we can focus the support to what the Veteran actually needs and we can communicate clearly the types of programs available. From the Veterans perspective, this makes the system easier to understand.
In conclusion, 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. These comparisons are made more challenging when we do not clearly understand the outcome we are trying to achieve in our own system.
Above all, we need to stay focused on finding Canadian solutions for Canadian problems.