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Progress or Just Stagnation
By Perry Gray, Chief Editor VVi
VVi 03 Oct 2017 pd db
“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing
to do. The hard part is doing it.” General Norman Schwarzkopf
Now that the new Minister of Veterans Affairs, Seamus O’Reagan,
has been in the position for one month, it is appropriate to review
what his department has achieved after 700 plus days since the last
The previous minister seemed to have lots of energy
and was adamant that he would fulfil all of the goals outlined in
his mandate letter. He shared his optimism for more than a year and
then seemed to either lose interest or just lack the ability to
implement changes. He repeatedly told Canadians that the goals would
be achieved, but was reluctant to say when. By his last few months,
he seemed more interested in preparing for his re-election campaign
than doing his ministerial job.
To recap, here is what Kent
Hehr was instructed to do for the Veterans Community:
with the Minister of National Defence to reduce complexity, overhaul
service delivery, and strengthen partnerships between Veterans
Affairs and National Defence.
2. Re-establish lifelong
pensions as an option for our injured veterans, and increase the
value of the disability award, while ensuring that every injured
veteran has access to financial advice and support so that they can
determine the form of compensation that works best for them and
3. Expand access to the Permanent Impairment
Allowance to better support veterans who have had their career
options limited by a service-related illness or injury.
Provide injured veterans with 90 percent of their pre-release
salary, and index this benefit so that it keeps pace with inflation.
5. Create a new Veterans Education Benefit that will provide
full support for the costs of up to four years of college,
university, or technical education for Canadian Forces veterans
after completion of service.
6. Improve career and vocational
assistance for veterans through ensuring that job opportunities for
returning veterans are included in Community Benefits Agreements for
new federally-funded infrastructure projects.
7. Deliver a
higher standard of service and care, and ensure that a “one veteran,
one standard” approach is upheld.
8. Re-open the nine
Veterans Affairs service offices recently closed, hire more service
delivery staff, and fully implement all of the Auditor General’s
recommendations on enhancing mental health service delivery to
9. Create two new centres of excellence in
veterans’ care, including one with a specialization in mental
health, post-traumatic stress disorder and related issues for both
veterans and first responders.
10. Provide greater education,
counselling, and training for families who are providing care and
support to veterans living with physical and/or mental health issues
as a result of their service.
11. End the time limit for
surviving spouses to apply for vocational rehabilitation and
12. Increase the veteran survivor’s
pension amount from 50 percent to 70 percent.
the “marriage after 60” clawback clause, so that surviving spouses
of veterans receive appropriate pension and health benefits.
14. Double funding to the Last Post Fund to ensure that all veterans
receive a dignified burial.
15. Work with the Minister of
National Defence to develop a suicide prevention strategy for
Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans.
, tracks the progress of the Liberal Party’s commitments including
those made to the Veterans Community:
1. Double funding to
the Last Post Fund.
2. Increase the value of the NVC
disability award ($360,000).
3. Invest $40 million each year
to provide injured veterans with 90% of their pre-release salary
with inflation indexation (Earnings Loss Benefit).
Re-open the nine Veterans Affairs
5. Cover the cost of four
years of post-secondary education for every veteran who wants one.
6. Eliminate the marriage after 60 clause.
7. End the
time limit for surviving spouses to apply for vocational
rehabilitation and assistance services.
Hire 400 new service delivery staff.
9. Include provisions for the employment of veterans in the
Community Benefits Agreements of federal infrastructure projects.
10. Increase the veteran survivor's pension amount from 50% to
11. Invest $100 million each year to expand the circle
of support for veterans' families.
12. Invest $25 million
each year to expand access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance
(now the Career Impact Allowance).
13. Re-establish lifelong
pensions as an option for injured veterans.
14. Invest $80
million every year to create a new Veterans Education Benefit.
15. Spend $20 million to create two new centres of excellence in
According to the website, the first for have
been achieved; however, there is less evidence to indicate that the
Veterans Community has actually benefited from these successes. For
example, very few receive the $360,000 lump sum as the average is
The remaining 11 commitments are either
stalled or are rated as broken.
This is not a very good ratio
of success to failure. It means that the new minister has to do a
lot before the 2019 election to complete the list. Given the slow
progress to date, is he likely to achieve complete success?
Several goals from the mandate letter are not monitored by the
website including working with DND to improve the working
relationship between both departments, and develop a suicide
prevention strategy. Reportedly, VAC and the DND will release their
joint suicide prevention strategy soon (fall 2017). It is unclear
what progress has been made in improving their overall working
Fun facts, VAC staffing levels fell from 2,873
prior to the 2015 election to 2,272 by 2017. Only 115 Veterans are
employed by VAC, and only 18 were included in the new hires as of
March 2017. So VAC has not increased its employees and has not
provided leadership in hiring Veterans.
The new minister has
announced yet another plan to improve priority hiring of Veterans.
The new initiative will help Veterans adapt to civilian employment
and employment in the federal public service. It is unclear how this
latest attempt will be better than older efforts.
Some of the
outstanding goals seem like “no brainers” like ending the after 60
years clawback and ending the time limit on spousal applications for
vocational rehabilitation and assistance services. What is so
complicated that these have stalled?
Missing from both lists
are important reforms to both the older Veterans Charter (pre-2005)
and the New Veterans Charter (post-2005). It seems that VAC is
unwilling to consider anything beyond the current 15 point mandate.
This is evident from the agendas of the most recent VAC Stakeholders
Summits. Despite a very critical presentation by two Veterans, Mark
Campbell and Bruce Henwood, who compared the Pension Act and the NVC
in terms of financial benefits.
The disparity between old
and new benefits remains the “elephant in the room”.
last Liberal government claimed that the NVC would be “living
legislation”, but no action has been taken to implement the hundreds
of recommendations to ensure that the NVC is still living.
The Conservative government did make some changes, but no where near
the amount necessary to redress the many flaws in the NVC.
Kent Hehr did form new advisory groups to provide guidance and
feedback on some important issues. The six groups formed in April
Care and Support
VAC has information on each group on its website. Here are some
samples from the most recent meetings:
Policy - The co-chairs
and members indicated they were encouraged by the comments from the
Minister’s Office but questioned the purpose and utility of the PAG.
Members were particularly dissatisfied that their Chapter One
recommendations, presented at the October 2016 Stakeholder Summit,
were not all reflected in the Budget and hoped that this meeting
would provide them with the status of these recommendations. Members
also highlighted that information on issues of interest to Veterans
is not reaching the community and that strategic communications need
to be a priority. The co-chairs finally stressed that at the end of
the meeting, members need to feel confident that this advisory group
is moving in the right direction, in a trusting environment, and
that a two-way dialogue exists with VAC.
Service Excellence -
Highlights: Disability applications submitted through regular mail
system and/or My VAC Account are sent to the appropriate Disability
The Department does not have a list of trades
that are generally associated with certain disabilities.
stream-lined decision-making models were introduced in 2015 to
improve processing times for disability benefit decisions. These
models recognize the inherent risk involved in some specific trades
within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and allow non-nurse
adjudicators to render decisions involving straightforward cases
where less evidence is needed to determine the relationship between
the condition/disability and service, provided there is no
contradictory evidence. These include some musculoskeletal
conditions, cumulative joint trauma (these deal with osteoarthritis
claims of weight bearing joints), hearing loss, tinnitus,
post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric disorders
(Generalized Anxiety, Major Depression and Adjustment Disorder) as a
result of Special Duty Service or high-risk peacetime trade.
VAC considers the CAF Military Occupational Classification Task
Statements, which outline the physical aspects of a trade, when
rendering a disability benefit decision. Information regarding
trades and task statements that no longer exist with the CAF can be
accessed via the CAF Liaison Office to VAC.
applications related to illness are usually more complex and require
additional review before a decision is rendered.
applicant's statement regarding why a disability or illness is
related to service is a very important piece of evidence considered.
VAC's service standard target is to render 80% of disability
benefit decisions within 16 weeks. Current average service standard
is 17.5 weeks, including consultation with a VAC Medical Advisor, if
Consider removal of
the compensation principle and move to 24/7 coverage for all CAF
Consider removal of partial entitlement in
disability benefit adjudication (removal of fifth's)
disability adjudication model to a Canada Revenue Agency model -
grant benefits quickly and then evaluate applications after to
determine who should/should not have been approved.
link to the applicable legislation and/or chapter in the Table of
Disabilities in the decision letter so the individual knows exactly
what was considered when the decision was made.
statistics provided by the Department can be very misleading. As of
March 31, 2016, it is recorded that 84% of the first application
decisions rendered were favourable, however, the claim may only be
Mental Health - Members discussed
priorities for the Group’s work moving forward and agreed that
suicide prevention will be the major focus. Also considered
priorities are marijuana for medical purposes, Mefloquine and
The Group also expressed interest in assessing
the effectiveness of programs and treatments related to mental
health conditions. It was agreed that the Advisory Group itself
could not undertake this work but that presentations at meetings
about the state of research on issues the group will address, such
as marijuana for medical purposes, would be beneficial. It was noted
that the Canadian Armed Forces evaluates programs through a
treatment standardization committee, a formal process that looks at
an established set of criteria. The CAF is also looking at programs
that might help treatment but that are not scientifically based.
The group discussed a more open-minded approach to assessing
program effectiveness, noting the distinction between
evidenced-based assessments and anecdotal evidence. They felt that
sticking strictly to science was limiting and noted that
“practice-based evidence” can help support programs that have
consistently demonstrated factors that net promising results but
which would not meet rigorous medical evaluation criteria.
The amount of information on the VAC website varies from group to
group. This is also reflected in the meetings of each group with
majority having had no meetings in 2017.
VAC has had a
chequered relationship with advisory groups. Prior to 2016, VAC
disbanded all of its groups and largely ignored their advice. The
practice of ignoring advice is apparent from the comments of the
people, who were members of older groups, and the fact that the new
groups are still discussing the same issues!
What is the
point of having these groups, given the resources expended in their
operations, if their input is not valued? Even if some of the people
are not paid to participate, there are still the salaries (many
attendees are VAC or government employees), travel expenses and
other costs that VAC covers. This is money that is not available to
fund the many financial benefits provided to the Veterans Community.
A cynic may consider this the same as burning the money.
The federal government can not afford to squander its funds
because it has too much debt (combined federal and provincial debts
are more than $1.3 trillion). It is in the best interests of ALL
Canadians to reduce the annual increase, but this is unlikely given
the forecasts of many respected economists. The federal increase
could be more than $20 billion by the end of 2017, which is double
the amount that the Liberal government expected.
have a significant impact on how much money will be provided to the
Veterans Community. While the Liberal government has repeatedly
stated that it will spend billions, much of this money may be
deferred to budgets after the 2019 election.
There is a
significant impact on the Veterans Community now. VAC continues the
malicious practices of “lowballing” disabilities and withholding
My cynical friend would say the more things
change, the more they stay the same or plus ça change, plus c'est la
même chose. Or to put it more bluntly, same shit, different day.
Perry Gray is a
Regular Force veteran, serving as the Chief Editor of VVi. Perry has
been with VVi for 16 years.
See Periodical No 201784...http://veteranvoice.info/archive/Periodicals/Periodical_17_5Sep.htm
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