Good Morning Mr Chair and Committee Members,
I thank you for the opportunity to be here today to address this most important review of the New Veterans Charter.
May I first introduce to you the members of my team:
Mr. Gary Walbourne, Executive Director of Operations and Deputy Ombudsman and the retired Colonel Denys Guérin, Team Leader for the New Veterans Charter Review.
I have a few short introductory remarks and then Denys will follow with a presentation that summarizes my recently released New Veterans Charter reports.
I would first of all like to thank the Honourable Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, for having agreed to my recommendation for a comprehensive review of the New Veterans Charter, with special focus placed on the most seriously disabled, support for families and the delivery of programs by Veterans Affairs Canada.
The men and women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces willingly accept the risks to their health and life that are inherent to military service. If they are injured or become ill and can no longer serve in uniform, the Government of Canada has a recognized obligation to help them rebuild their lives and restore, to the greatest extent possible, their health, financial independence, and quality of personal and family life.
This obligation, on the part of the Government of Canada to its Veterans, is stated clearly in the preamble to such legislation as the Pension Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, and the War Veterans Allowance Act. Each states that the acts shall be liberally construed and interpreted so that the recognized obligation to those who have served their country so well and to their dependants may be fulfilled.
I fully support the recent calls from Veterans’ advocates and organizations to include this recognized obligation in the New Veterans Charter, as in past Veterans’ legislation, and I applaud the request of Minister Fantino that this Committee decide how best to articulate Canada’s obligation towards its Veterans.
Since April of this year, I have published a series of reviews and reports to serve as a common factual reference to guide discussion, but more importantly, to channel action on specific New Veterans Charter program areas that need improvement. I have put forward evidence-based facts, analysis and recommendations on how to address shortcomings in the three program areas that are of most concern to Veterans.
- First, financial instability and decreased standard of living;
- Second, a vocational rehabilitation program that is overly rigid in its focus on existing education, skills and experience, which constrains education upgrade and employment options; and
- Third, difficult family environment situations due to insufficient family support.
On the second item, I am pleased to report progress. On October 8th, I joined Minister Fantino in announcing a change to the Veterans Affairs Canada’s vocational rehabilitation program. The change gives the more than 1,300 Veterans taking part in vocational rehabilitation greater flexibility to access the funding envelope for the program, while reducing red tape.
My office has analyzed the more than 200 recommendations for improvements to the New Veterans Charter proposed by various expert advisory, House of Commons and Senate committees since 2006, including many of the 160 recommendations mentioned by Minister Fantino when he appeared before you last week. We also held exhaustive stakeholder consultations.
Many recommendations that deal with the three key transition areas – financial support, vocational rehabilitation and family support – have not been implemented and are continuing to affect Veterans and their families.
The most pressing shortcomings to address are those related to financial support. There are five. These are:
- First, the insufficiency of the economic financial support provided after the age of 65 to totally and permanently incapacitated Veterans;
- Second, the drop in income for Veterans who are transitioning from a military to a civilian career because the Earnings Loss Benefit only pays 75 percent of pre-release salary;
- Third, access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance and the Permanent Impairment Allowance Supplement continues to be a problem for many severely impaired Veterans;
- Fourth, the unfair practice of providing a reduced Earnings Loss Benefit to part-time reservists who suffer an injury or illness related to service;
- And the fifth financial shortcoming is the non-economic benefit designed to compensate for pain and suffering – the disability award. This benefit is supposed to have kept pace with civilian court awards for pain and suffering, but it has not.
Mr. Chair, I respectfully submit that most of the analysis and review of New Veterans Charter deficiencies has been done. The path to improving the New Veterans Charter is clear. I believe that my report on improving the New Veterans Charter, and the actuarial analysis that supports it, can serve as a baseline for how this living charter is reviewed by the Committee. The report’s analysis of benefits and programs pinpoint exactly where the current suite of New Veterans Charter benefits are failing some Veterans today, and will continue to fail more tomorrow unless changes are made quickly.
If we address these five financial issues and fix, at minimal cost, the shortcomings related to vocational rehabilitation and support to families, I believe that we will make a significant difference for Veterans and their families.
Too often the debate that swirls around Veterans’ issues centres on the question: “Am I better off under the Pension Act or under the New Veterans Charter?”
The reality is that we have two very different benefit schemes operating in parallel. When he appeared before you last week, LGen Semianew provided a very good overview of why Government implemented the New Veterans Charter.
My view is that we need to accept the fact that Veterans are supported under two different benefit schemes and that we are not going to rewrite the past.
Mr. Chair, I believe that we must focus on addressing the challenges faced by Veterans and their families today and tomorrow. If we do not deal with these challenges now, we will have to deal with the human cost later. And if we study history, we know that more improvements will be required in the future because as the nature of conflict changes, so too do the needs of men and women in uniform.
This is why I am recommending that a regular two-year review of the New Veterans Charter be enshrined in legislation so that it continues to adapt to the evolving needs of serving men and women, Veterans and their families and that it continues to live up to the Government’s affirmation that it is a living charter.
In closing, as you are all well aware, next year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. When Canada entered that war, it was not well prepared to deal with the thousands of returning casualties and with the ensuing demobilization.
Today, Canada is much better prepared to care for and support its ill and injured Veterans and their families.
However, better is not synonymous with sufficient and there is still work to do to ensure that this generation and future generations of Veterans receive the care and support they need. The year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and the year we end operations in Afghanistan, should also be heralded as the year we fix the problems with Veterans benefits and built a solid foundation of care and support for years to come.
Mr. Chair and Committee Members, we built on the past to get to the present. Let us now build on the present to get to the future. Our Veterans and their families deserve no less.
Mr. Chair, I will now turn the microphone over to Denys Guerin to provide a quick overview of the New Veterans Charter report.