Mr. Chair, Committee Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today on this very important matter.
The Veterans Hiring Act – Bill C-27 – has the potential to make a significant difference for the financial security and quality of life of Canadian Armed Forces members who are medically released for injuries related to their service by increasing access to hiring opportunities.
The Bill honours the sacrifices made by serving members and their families and is good news for medically releasing members and their families. The expansion of eligibility to all Reservists, including Cadet Organizations, Administration and Training Service personnel as well as Canadian Rangers is particularly encouraging as it supports the theme of One Veteran, where all Veterans are treated equitably regardless of when, where or how they served.
The fact that Canadian Armed Forces members who are medically released for service-related injuries/illnesses will be raised to the highest level of Statutory priority, ahead of other priorities, shows a solid commitment by the Government to those Veterans who are medically releasing. It should also enable more appointments of former military members in the public service in the future, as well as greater access to public service competitions. Taken together, these proposed actions should offset the decline in military public service appointment in recent years, which has dropped from 158 three years ago to 43 last year.
Let me clearly make three points:
- Bill C-27 is a good initiative for Veterans and should be passed expeditiously.
- Providing service attribution earlier in the process and closer to the point of injury or illness is a positive step in the right direction.
- The processes to administer Priority Hiring need to be clearly articulated and designed in concert with the Veterans Affairs Disability and Rehabilitation programs so that there are no negative follow-on consequences for Veterans. (For example could an unfavourable decision regarding Priority Hiring preclude a Veteran from accessing Rehabilitation benefits later?)
We need to look at this initiative from the Veterans’ perspective. Its success will depend on the fairness and the transparency of the application, adjudication and review processes. Over a year ago, I raised concerns about the complexity of the process, and potential delays associated with the bureaucracy that is needed to administer the process to determine service relationship.
For example, the draft legislation proposes that Veterans Affairs Canada adjudicate the service relationship of the injury or illness. However, one must keep in mind that determining service attribution of a medical release is not the same as determining disability benefits for a specific, chronic illness or injury. Not meeting universality of service requirements may be a result of many factors and not just a specific medical disability or diagnosis. It is important that when the legislation comes into effect that the application package, evidence requirements and adjudication process clearly reflect such potential differences because, as we all know, the processes that are put in place are going to determine the success of the initiative and… the devil is in the details.
I raised the following issues publically in November 2013 and I am presently working with the Department to address them:
- How long will the process take?
- Will the program be transparent to the Veteran and will all the documentation be disclosed to the Veteran?
- How will the process be communicated to ensure all medically-releasing Canadian Armed Forces members can benefit from priority hiring?
- Will there be a timely formal or informal appeal process?
- If a decision is made that the medical release is not service-related, will it affect the decision-making for other benefit programs, such as the disability award or entry into Veterans Affairs Canada’s Rehabilitation Program?
In conclusion, I re-emphasize to you that I believe that the Veterans Hiring Act is a good Bill that needs to be passed expeditiously because giving ill and injured soldiers speedier access to potential jobs in the public service is important to Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans. I encourage you in your deliberations to view it from the perspective of Veterans. In addition, if you decide to append observations to the Bill when you send it back to the Senate Chamber for Third Reading, I would appreciate if you would note my concerns as stated, as well as my readiness to help the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Affairs Canada advance C-27’s regulatory and business process development. When implemented, it is important that this legislation is not diminished by narrow policy interpretation or unnecessary red tape. Its implementation must be simple, open and generous for the benefit of our Veterans and their families.