Chair, Committee Members:
Thank you for inviting me here today and for providing me with the opportunity to share the results of our 2019 Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (OVO) Report Card. I would also like to take this opportunity – my first such opportunity to appear before you – to highlight some of our ongoing work as well as outline my priorities going forward. I am joined today by the Deputy Veterans Ombudsman – Sharon Squire.
As you know, the mandate of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman is to respond to individual complaints from Veterans and their families and, in cases where Veterans are treated unfairly, to work for fair outcomes. We are also mandated to investigate systemic issues and, where appropriate, to make recommendations to improve Veterans Affairs Canada programs and services. The OVO Annual Report Card, first introduced in 2017, is a tool that we use to capture, track and report on action taken in response to recommendations that we have made to Veterans Affairs.
The aim of the Report Card is twofold. Firstly, it is to acknowledge and highlight progress – to recognize where government has acted on and implemented OVO recommendations to improve services to Veterans. Secondly, and most importantly, the Report Card provides us with an opportunity to shine a light on areas that need further attention; to highlight areas where more work needs to be done to ensure fair outcomes for Veterans.
The 2019 Report Card does just that. Over the past year, the Government has fully implemented 6 and partially implemented 4 additional OVO recommendations. Of particular note, the following changes have been implemented to improve programs and services for Veterans:
1. Veterans will now be retroactively compensated for treatment benefits from the date of disability application as opposed to the date of decision;
2. at the age of 65, Veterans with a diminished earnings capacity will now receive 70 percent of their Income Replacement Benefit; and,
3. issuance of a Veterans Service Card
These are much needed and well-received improvements. At the same time, it is also important to shine a light on areas that have not yet received the level of attention necessary to effect change. At present, there are 13 outstanding OVO recommendations that have yet to be implemented. The majority of outstanding recommendations are in the areas of “Health Care Supports” and “Service Delivery” – the two areas that continue to make up the majority of complaints that we receive from Veterans. Of these outstanding recommendations, I have recommended the following as priority action items to the Minister of Veterans Affairs:
- Expanding access to caregiver benefits that assist injured Veterans with meeting their daily needs, ranging from activities like household tasks, transportation to medical appointments, and child care.
Providing fair and adequate access to long term care and the Veterans Independence Program.
- Covering mental health treatment for family members in their own right.
The OVO will follow the Government’s actions closely on remaining recommendations and will keep you and Canadians informed as we continue our work to support fair outcomes for individual Veterans and make recommendations to improve programs and services.
I would also like to take this opportunity to share my priorities with you – priorities that have been developed over the past few months based on what we have heard from individual Veterans and their families and through engagement with Veterans organizations, Veterans advocates, the Veterans Ombudsman Advisory Council and a variety of stakeholder and partners.
My priorities are:
- OVO direct support to Veterans – to enhance front-line ombudsman services to Veterans and their families (this work is ongoing);
- Health Care Supports – to examine health care supports provided to Veterans and their families with a particular emphasis on those with a mental health diagnosis;
- Transition – to begin with an evaluation of vocational rehabilitation program and service outcomes;
- Families – to evaluate the effectiveness of VAC programs and services provided to families;
- Women Veterans – to evaluate the effectiveness of VAC programs and services provided to women Veterans;
- Reserve Veterans – to evaluate the effectiveness of VAC programs and services provided to Reserve Veterans (this work is ongoing); and
- Financial Security – to monitor implementation and complete a financial analysis of Pension for Life (this work is ongoing).
In summary, the 2019 Report Card highlights a number of improvements to Veteran programs and services. It also highlights areas where more work needs to be done. We, at the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman remain committed to doing our part and to working with Veterans and with any and all Veteran stakeholders and partners to continue to advance fairness for Veterans and their families. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.