Chair and Committee Members.
Thank you for inviting me to appear today to discuss the changes proposed for the New Veterans Charter in Division 17 of Bill C-59. I also want to thank you for the critical role that you have played in the past couple of years that has brought us to this juncture.
Your report, The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward, published in June 2014, helped to focus the debate, establish priorities and bring the Veterans’ community together. It also provided Government with a unanimously approved blue print for moving forward to address Veterans’ issues. It cannot be denied that this is now happening.
In retrospect, I am particularly pleased that the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman’s Report and Actuarial Analysis of the New Veterans Charter, published in October 2013, was able to assist your work.
The proposed legislation represents significant progress on several issues of longstanding concern to Veterans and their families. Because it is narrowing the gap on needed changes, it is important that it pass quickly and be implemented without delay.
The work of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman has been effective to date because it is evidence-based. Results are measured against the fairness principles of adequacy (Are the right programs and services in place to meet the needs?), sufficiency (Are the right programs and services sufficiently resourced?), and accessibility (Are eligibility criteria creating unfair barriers, and can the benefits and services provided by VAC be accessed quickly and easily?).
It is too early to offer you my opinion on the effectiveness of the proposed legislation. It is still before Parliament and its regulations have not been published and, as a result, implementation has not been initiated. However, I can share with you today my perspective, in principle. So, let us look at the proposed initiative through that lens.
Do they address the fairness principles of adequacy, sufficiency and accessibility? I believe that they do. In principle:
- Adequacy is addressed by the new Retirement Income Security Benefit, which would provide moderately to severely disabled Veterans with continued assistance in the form of a monthly income support payment beginning at age 65. It also applies to the hiring of new front-line staff to improve one-on-one support for Veterans.
- Sufficiency is addressed, in principle, by the parity of the Earnings Loss Benefit for injured Reserve Force Veterans, who will now get the same minimum income support payment through the Earnings Loss Program as Regular Force Veterans. The hiring of new frontline staff to improve one-on-one support for Veterans also addresses sufficiency.
- Accessibility is addressed by the broadened eligibility criteria for the Permanent Impairment Allowance (PIA) which, together with the PIA Supplement, provides approximately $600 to $2,800 a month in lifelong monthly financial support to Veterans whose employment potential and career advancement opportunities have been limited by a permanent service-related injury or illness. It is also addressed by the proposed new Critical Injury Benefit (CIB), which will provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and Veterans.
Going forward, while the changes put forward in Bill C-59 are going to have a positive effect on meeting the needs of Veterans and their families, we need to address non-economic compensation for pain and suffering, transition from military to civilian life, and Veteran-centric service delivery. We also need to always remember that the New Veterans Charter is a “living” document needing timely reviews and updates.
Collectively I think that we should be encouraged at this juncture that our efforts are making a difference in addressing long-standing issues affecting Veterans and their families. This does not mean that the gap has been closed. However, if these new initiatives are looked at as steps in a commitment to continuously improve and adapt benefits to the evolving needs of Veterans, then this is a very positive indicator for the future. Now we need to keep the momentum going.