Photo Credit: Cpl. Katharine Hodges, CFSTG Imagery, CFB Borden
Good morning Chair and Committee Members.
Thank you for inviting me to appear on the subject of the Continuum of Transition Services.
Before I begin, I would like to thank you for your unwavering support of Veterans and their families. The recent announcements by the Minister of Veterans Affairs are narrowing the gap in areas of the New Veterans Charter that you identified in your June 2014 report, The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward.
The announced changes do not encompass all that is needed for Veterans, but they have kick started the renewal process and your leadership played a big part in making that happen. As Veterans Ombudsman, I thank you and look forward to continued progress.
I have read all of the testimony to date from your hearings on the transition of our servicemen and women from military to civilian life and I find most of it focused on individual services and programs. While that is important, I believe that it is of equal importance for you to look at transition from a holistic Veteran-centric and strategic perspective.
The complexity and confusion of the transition process, accessibility to programs and services and the eligibility requirements is evident in the testimony. In order to make meaningful recommendations, we need to understand the transition process, issues and requirements. That is why my Office has joined together with the Office of the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman to identify the hurdles experienced by our servicemen and women medically releasing and to suggest solutions.
As I see it, a key transition issue that has been overlooked by almost everyone is the impact of military culture and ethos. From the time a young man or woman joins the Canadian Armed Forces, everything is mission-oriented and almost every detail of his or her life is looked after in order to accomplish the mission.
Our servicemen and women are known for their ‘can do’ attitude, for making the impossible possible and for protecting the weak and the vulnerable. We need to make the transition process mission-oriented and CAF should provide ongoing support to members throughout the transition process. That will give our releasing servicemen and women a positive, focused experience that will generate hope.
Our joint systemic review began in early 2014 as a result of the well-documented need to ensure that the transition process be as seamless as possible. The goal of this joint effort is to identify and recommend ways to streamline processes and support services for transitioning members and their families.
During the initial phase of our review, we mapped the transition process and experience of a medically releasing Regular Force member from the time a permanent category is recommended until the member is integrated into Veterans Affairs Canada. In the course of this work, over 50 recommendations and responses from recent House of Commons, Senate and Auditor General Reports were reviewed.
There are five core issues to a seamless transition that our team has noted so far: Governance, Program-Centric Service Delivery, Financial, Families and Communication.
There is no integrated CAF/VAC accountability framework with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. We have two departments supporting transition with each operating within their own accountability framework. This results in duplication of effort, gaps, and inconsistencies across groups and geographic regions. There is no single, central tracking, monitoring or follow-up system for all medically releasing CAF members. There are no integrated CAF/VAC service delivery standards to measure successful transition outcomes or criteria to evaluate the transition process.
Program-centric service delivery
The programs and services for medically releasing servicemen and women need to be Veteran-centric. At the moment they are not. Here are some specific areas of concern:
- Business Processes: Within the CAF/VAC there are at least 15 key organizations, each with their own business processes, often delivering transition services in silos.
- Case Management: Currently, both CAF and VAC case managers work independently with no formal coordination or monitoring. Resource constraints, including the number of available CAF and VAC case managers result in interview delays and inconsistent service standards across the country.
- Today, approximately 10 percent of all medically releasing members are deemed to be complex cases and receive an Integrated Transition Plan. All medically releasing members should have the opportunity for planning and coordinating their transition.
- There are two primary vocational rehabilitation programs – Service Income Security Insurance Plan’s (SISIP) and VAC’s Rehabilitation Program – and each program has different eligibility criteria, different assessment requirements and different benefits. A third-party review is needed to make an informed decision prior to any changes.
- VAC must be engaged earlier in the transition process to ensure benefits and services are in place at release. Currently, VAC’s initial engagement begins with the Transition Interview after receipt of the release message, generally within six months of the release date. This is too late.
- Quality and Consistency of Service: Available services at the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) and Integrated Personnel Support Centres (IPSCs) are not consistent across the country, and the partners are not always co-located under one roof to provide Veteran-centric “one stop support.” Importantly, only those medically releasing CAF members with significant medical employment limitations are posted to the JPSU.
- Privacy: Individual consent is a barrier to seamless transition as consent is required from each service provider to share information. Without it the service provider cannot share information nor engage in a substantive discussion about transition needs.
The 2013 Life After Service Study identified that those who had a medical release, experienced a 20 percent decline in post-release income. This stresses the importance of ensuring benefits and services are in place at the time of release to alleviate the financial strain for vulnerable CAF members and their families. The current 16-week delay of the Canadian Forces first pension payment is problematic, as many CAF members do not have sufficient financial resources available to compensate for the delay.
Transition services and programs are not easily available or accessible to spouses and children. If spouses work outside the home or have child-care responsibilities, they may not be available during regular working hours to participate in the Integrated Transition Plan interview, attend SCAN seminars or assist to interviews with service providers.
As others appearing before you have also emphasized, the volume of information a member receives during transition is currently overwhelming and may contribute to what is already a stressful and confusing situation for an injured member who may not be leaving the CAF voluntarily.
There is currently no single point of contact or face-to-face “navigator” to advise, assist and monitor the development and implementation of the transition plan. Some CAF members are not aware of the IPSCs and services offered while others are still reluctant to access IPSC services. Unfortunately, as attendance at the SCAN program is not mandatory and occurs late in the release process, members may not be prepared for their transition.
In conclusion, a successful transition for a medically releasing serviceman or woman is key to financial independence, quality of personal and family life and improved health. The goal of our joint project is to build on the mission-orientated military culture and ethos and work towards ensuring that through clear communications and an integrated approach to transition, services and benefits will be ready at the time of release. I hope that our final product will be as useful to you and the Veteran’s community as was my 2013 Report on the New Veterans Charter.
I believe that with focused effort, leadership and vision, we can create a world-class transition experience to integrate medically-released Veterans and their families into civilian life. They have so much to offer Canadian employers due to the skills, experience, leadership and personal attributes acquired while in service to their country. Investing in their successful transition is not only good for Veterans and their families; it is also good for business and good for Canada’s economic prosperity.