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Proceedings of the Subcommittee on
Veterans Affairs

Issue No. 5 - Evidence - May 4, 2016

OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 12:05 p.m. to continue its study on the services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces, to veterans, to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their families.

Senator Joseph A. Day (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Honourable senators, today we are continuing our study on the services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces, to veterans, to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their families.


We are very pleased today to welcome back Gary Walbourne, Ombudsman, Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. He is accompanied by Robyn Hynes, Director General, Operations in the Ombudsman's office.

Thank you both for being here today. We look forward to learning more about your work as well as any challenges you are facing.

I understand, Mr. Walbourne, that you have some introductory remarks. However, before I go to you, honourable senators should have a copy of the introductory remarks which have been prepared. I want colleagues to know that it looks like the Senate will be asking us, as the overall committee, to look into certain amendments to legislation that pertains to veterans. The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence will be asked to look into elements contained in Division 2 of Part IV. I have made copies that we can circulate to you so you can start familiarizing yourselves with those particular sections.

As I understand it, we will have to have a reference from the parent committee. I will ask the chair of the committee, Senator Lang, if you could tell us the procedure and when you anticipate that we might have this referred to us.

Senator Lang: Prior to getting into the business of today, if you don't mind, I will excuse us from the witnesses for a minute.

Mr. Chair, I recommend that at the end of this meeting we reconvene a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence because we will have a quorum and we can officially have a motion and transfer that request to the subcommittee. That way we will not have to set up another forum. Maybe we could ask for the clerk's advice, but this just came to me as we sat here. Perhaps the clerk has something to say about that.

Adam Thompson, Clerk of the Committee: There is a notice requirement for the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. I could issue that for, say, one o'clock and we could then reconvene. Let me step out for a moment and get those wheels in motion. The worst case scenario, if we can't make that happen, is that we can deal with it when we next meet. I'll get the wheels in motion now.

The Chair: As we are travelling, that makes it difficult. That is what we will try to do. We'll assume that works.

Mr. Ombudsman, with that delay, it may well be we will be talking to you about these amendments when they come. You now know the process we are going through in order to get ready to look at the amendments that the Senate has asked us to take a look at in the budget implementation bill, Bill C-2.

You have the floor with respect to the business at hand today.

Gary Walbourne, Ombudsman, Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces: Mr. Chair and honourable senators, thank you for inviting me here today to talk on the topics of services and benefits for transitioning Canadian Forces members and their families.

I thought it might be helpful to give the committee a frank, holistic overview of the current transition challenges from my perspective as the current Ombudsman for the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence and the former Deputy Ombudsman at Veterans Affairs Canada.

Despite best efforts, seamless transition for most ill or injured military members remains a concept, not a lived reality.

A veteran recently described the transition process to me as "trying to untie a large knot in the dark.''

There are a number of programs and services available to transitioning members, but some are overlapping and others are frustratingly complex to navigate. In addition to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada and SISIP — all three of which offer their own case managers and vocational programs — there are numerous third party programs and services available to members. The risk, of course, is best summed up by the old adage, "too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth.''

Some of the offered programs become inaccessible to members through sheer lack of awareness on the part of the departing member or due to the complexity of the eligibility criteria — perhaps I can come back to this issue during your questions.

For a member being medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces, the bureaucratic labyrinth they must often follow adds angst to an already stressful situation. Old school paperwork — and lots of it — remains the primary method to obtain benefits and services.

It's no secret to committee members that veterans often complain of being overwhelmed by endless forms and long delays in adjudications. Don't get me wrong: There are all manner of dedicated VAC and DND personnel engaged in trying to help members transition as smoothly as possible. The problem lies, though, in a service delivery model that has largely been designed for the World War II and Korean War veteran cohort.

New programs have been bolted onto existing service delivery models. On legislation alone, I can tell you that there are 29 acts of Parliament going back over 100 years that have helped define the current VAC suite of services and benefits. DND and the CAF, for their part, also have an array of criss-crossing policies, programs and benefits developed over decades.

The current service delivery model for support to departing military personnel is heavily process-driven with far too many moving parts. Why, for instance, does the Canadian Armed Forces outsource the determination of attribution of service for illness or injuries to Veterans Affairs Canada? The Surgeon General's office already has 100 per cent of the information required to medically release a member from the service. In the vast majority of cases, the causal link to service is obvious. It's right there in the records.

In fact, the Canadian Armed Forces has already been doing this for ill and injured reservists for decades to enable receipt of compensation through the Government Employees Compensation Act or through the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve Force compensation itself.

Complexity and process delays should not be underestimated as a barrier to a successful transition.

My concern is that there are people leaving the military service without seeking the support they need, especially those with operational stress injuries. My office has handled a number of such cases.

I have one final observation about complexity. There are arguably five categories of Canadian Forces members from the point of view of services and benefits. Each class of sailor, soldier and aviator has different benefits and services in the event of an illness, injury or death. The question I have to ask myself is: "why?''

If a member is wearing a uniform in service to the country, why treat them and their families differently with services and benefits when they are ill, injured or worse?

Mr. Chair, I'd be happy to take any questions you may have.

The Chair: Thank you for your succinct and somewhat provocative presentation in terms of some of the questions you are raising. We look forward, Mr. Walbourne, to expanding on those questions.

Senator Wallin: Thank you. We have spoken on this issue before. I think you have been very clear in your language, particularly with the 29 different acts of Parliament that layer on.

My first question is a simple one. Mr. Parent appeared before us as well. We keep seeing these two systems further complicate. Why do we have two ombudsmen: one for the military and one for veterans?

Mr. Walbourne: Thank you for the question. That is an interesting question.

Oftentimes as an ombudsman — and I have been on both sides; I've been with Veterans Affairs and I've been with the Canadian Armed Forces — when I look at what both ombudsmen are trying to accomplish, maybe there are synergies there. I think it is something that should be considered; maybe the timing as well. I have three years left in my mandate, as does Mr. Parent. Maybe that conversation needs to be started. We talk about two departments trying to handle an entity. We are doing the same thing as ombudsmen. Many of the clients are the same and many of the issues are the same.

Parts of my constituency base are all former members of the Canadian Forces, so there is overlap. We have worked well together on our transition review that we have done. We have released three reports to this point in time. We work well together, but I believe you may have a point. We could probably come closer together and maybe be one entity at the end of the day.

Senator Wallin: I know you cooperate and have handover and work together. What are the one, two or three largest stumbling blocks? I realize they are bureaucratic. I don't think there is ill intent on anyone's part.

Mr. Walbourne: Stumbling blocks to combining?

Senator Wallin: Yes.

Mr. Walbourne: In the environment we have seen over the last several years, there is a level of distrust from the veterans toward the delivery of services and benefits in many cases. We hear about the ones that slip through the cracks, the major cases.

Some of the stumbling blocks I think we would encounter if we decided to go this way is that you have to give back to the community. To collapse two offices and make them one entity doesn't give any benefit to that whole community. Maybe collapsing the office in legislation and making them report to Parliament would bring value and show the veterans, former members and serving members that there is real intent to make sure that their voice is heard at the right level at all times.

We will come up against some obstacles in how we come together and there will be some changes in mandates. If there was a legislated ombudsman for both sides of the coin, I think we could probably do a better job.

Senator Wallin: On the other side of the issue, not just stumbling blocks for some kind of amalgamation but the stumbling blocks for the veteran or serving member who is preparing to leave, we have heard all this testimony. For example, that DND collects the military, the CF collects the information. They make some assessments. There are awards granted or plans made. That transition over to then being the responsibility of VAC seems to inject time, distance and repetition in the process. It seems to me that if there is a determination about a member's status it should somehow be able to hold through that transition period. Or, do we not have adequate assessment at that front end?

Mr. Walbourne: As I said in my opening comments, contrary to popular belief, the Canadian Armed Forces is not in the practice of casting members out to the streets; that doesn't happen.

As I said in my opening comments, I believe all the evidence we need for the determination of attribution of service sits with the Surgeon General. Before they will release a member, whether they are in breach of universality of service, they do a lot of work with this member. We know where, when and how the soldier has become ill or injured. I think the biggest stumbling block, if we want to talk about ease of transition, probably starts right there.

I firmly believe the Canadian Forces, as the employer ± if I can use that phrase ± is responsible to the member while they wear the uniform. I believe if the Surgeon General's office determined attribution to service, then Veterans Affairs can deliver their programs based on the needs of the client and not the determination of attribution.

What happens now, senator, as you may know, is that the file is transferred to Veterans Affairs, it then goes to an adjudication process that can take up to 16 weeks, and longer in some cases if there is complexity. I believe there will always be a need for some type of adjudication at Veterans Affairs, especially for operational stress injuries that sometimes manifest themselves later.

I have heard testimony here in front of committee that we will hire X number of hundreds of new case managers and expand the ability in Veterans Affairs. However, my question is: To do what? To do more of the same? I don't know how that changes the delivery model.

I think we have an opportune time right now to make a decision to change the delivery model and put the right emphasis on what we need to do. My position is that the Surgeon General's office — and I am sure there will be a resource implication there — has the ability to determine of attribution of service. Then Veterans Affairs looks completely different as a delivery model.

Senator Wallin: That's the key. This is what we keep coming back to on this attribution of service: establish that if it needs to be rethought or re-evaluated because circumstances have changed. Then no one would say there is anything wrong with that.

Mr. Walbourne: Not at all. There will always be a need for an adjudication piece.

If the determination is made of attribution of service when the member gets notification of release, the six months prior to their release is a different time. Now we can talk about what their future looks like and what their career looks like going forward. Maybe I don't need a case manager; maybe I need a career coach, whatever that looks like. I believe we can actually change the delivery model to bring benefits to that transitioning member.

Senator Wallin: Thank you. I will come back on the second round.

The Chair: Next I will go to Senator Lang, chair of the parent committee, from Yukon.

Senator Lang: I want to thank our witnesses for appearing here.

Mr. Walbourne, perhaps you could clearly identify what your authority is.

Do you have the ability, through your office and on your own initiative, to initiate reviews of an issue for analysis and recommendation? Do you have that authority?

Mr. Walbourne: Yes, I have full authority to investigate any systemic issue that I see. The only anomaly in my mandate is that for anything prior to 1998, if I should so wish to investigate or there is a request to investigate, I need ministerial authority to do that. However, anything from 1998 to current day is well within my purview of authority.

Senator Lang: That's important to establish. Obviously there are some very significant, outstanding issues. You said either in your opening remarks or in reply to Senator Wallin that you had three years left in your term.

In view of the various issues that are outstanding, it would be very beneficial for our committee if an office such as yours were to establish a review and analysis of a number of the issues out there and bring forward recommendations.

One that comes to mind is this just-released Auditor General's report and how it applies to the reserves. If you were to take it upon yourself in an undertaking that over a period of time you are prepared to get a serious look at those recommendations to see what the government is doing to rectify it and report back to this committee, that would be of help to us. That's number one.

Number two, the other area that I would like to ask from your perspective has to do with the RCMP. You have been the Ombudsman for some time. You know what your office does and how it responds to those you are responsible to.

In the case of the RCMP, they have no ombudsman, as you well know. They have a system that was put in over the last number of years for grievances which outlines what they can do, but there is no independent ombudsman for the rank and file of the RCMP. I would like to hear from you on this issue and whether or not you think it would be ideal to have an ombudsman position for the RCMP in view of the issues they face, not unlike the military.

There are two questions there: one, an undertaking to review the reserves; and, two, whether or not you would support that concept being put in place for the RCMP.

Mr. Walbourne: I will take the second question first, if I could, senator. There is an ombudsman for the RCMP. It falls under the purview of the Ombudsman of Veterans Affairs. The RCMP is considered part of his constituency base. When I was at the ombudsman's office of Veterans Affairs we did work on the RCMP file, but they are clearly within his mandate and are part of his constituency base.

Senator Lang: That is interesting. Go ahead.

Mr. Walbourne: Concerning the first question, I am very interested in the Auditor General's report from yesterday. A lot of what we have been reporting over the years was again captured by the Auditor General.

With any report issued along that line that has recommendations, we always follow up on them. When we release a report to the minister, there are recommendations in it. They will come back with a response as to whether or not they accept. If they accept them we will ask for an implementation plan, but we never let the recommendation die on the vine. We have a cyclical view. We will go back every six or twelve months, depending on the size of the report and what we have asked them to do, and always get an update on what is happening.

The issues raised by the Auditor General were not new to us. We have raised all of those to the department. Recommendations have been made to move forward on some of these files. As I said, cyclically we go back. We never let anything die on the vine. As we get updates we post them on our website and make them public to all our constituents.

Senator Lang: In dealing with the question of the multitude of programs, it has been stated here on many occasions that it must be confusing for the rank and file to understand what they can apply for, what they are eligible for and how it works. You have reinforced this in your opening remarks. Basically, that is the whole premise of your opening remarks.

Would you give us an undertaking, with your knowledge, to look at those programs and bring forward to us a report of what you would see that could be amalgamated in respect to these programs in a common-sense approach that would meet the needs of the beneficiaries of that legislation and policies so that we have something we can deal with?

Your office and the expertise that you have would be invaluable for us to be able to consider making recommendations, perhaps to the government, if we can bring some order to this confusion that is out there presently.

It must be very difficult for the membership to understand how you go about applying for these benefits and also from the taxpayers' points of view. The taxpayers should be concerned that there is this confusion. Obviously there is duplication, and obviously some monies are being spent that could be redirected right toward the veteran as opposed to within the process and the bureaucracy.

Could you take that as an undertaking?

Mr. Walbourne: Yes. If I may respond for a quick moment, both I and the Veterans Ombudsman, Mr. Parent, have started the transition review and we are looking at many of these programs and benefits. We both have the same obligation to report to our minister. We will be meeting hopefully by the end of this month to bring our conclusions on what we have studied at this point in time with recommendations to both ministers.

We are moving that way, and our mandate says we have to go back to our minister. They have the prerogative to hold those reports for a period of time. That is how that will happen. For my minister, it is 28 days; for the Minister of Veterans Affairs, it is 60 days.

Senator Lang: Do I take it then that, as a committee, we would see these reports within, say, three months?

Mr. Walbourne: Once the minister has had them, 28 days from that point you will receive them. We publish everything we do.

Senator Lang: Can you give us an undertaking to send them to the committee?

Mr. Walbourne: I will make sure you receive them.

The Chair: You would automatically do that?

Mr. Walbourne: We do.

The Chair: It is interesting that there is a different timeline within the two ministers, but that is symptomatic of what you have been talking about.

Senator Wallin: Exactly.

The Chair: I will go next to Senator Manning, replacing our deputy, Senator Dagenais today. Senator Manning, welcome — a senator from Newfoundland.

Senator Manning: I am and proud of it. Thank you for your appearance here today.

I have a couple of things from your opening remarks. When I sat on this committee several years ago there was, and there seems to still be, a concern about the lack of awareness — and you touched on this — with regard to what is available to members of the forces.

Are you aware of any efforts that have been taken in the last couple of years to afford an opportunity for members to have more awareness of what is available to them when they need that instead of, as you touched on also, the stressful situation that arises when a member needs assistance but doesn't necessarily know where to go, where to turn or who to turn to in order to receive that?

It has been out there for so many years — it is in bold print in your opening remarks — it strikes me, this lack of awareness. Perhaps you could touch on that first.

Mr. Walbourne: Both from my Veterans Ombudsman days and from the current position, one of the main obstacles we run up against are the communications tools used by both departments to relay this information and how it is done.

I will give you the example of reservists, which is a good example. We try to get to these folks through CANFORGENs, which is an order issued by the department, but then we find out the reservists are parading one night a week or one weekend a month. They don't have access to email, so they are not getting this information. We need to find better and different ways to do this.

I have personally taken this upon myself. I am a source of information, education and referral. I have taken the education piece and started to say this is what we need to do. We have put a major push on education, just to explain this. We were the first group to ever map out the reserve force process of transitioning or going through any compensation.

We are doing these types of things and publishing them as quickly as possible, but it will be an evolution. I think we are starting to make headway. We are going to different forums, using social media more and doing more town halls and outreach than we used to. I don't think there is one solution to this. The bigger problem with communication is the different stories coming out of different organizations, where one group says, "You do have access and are eligible for it,'' and another group will say, "No, that's not how it works.''

Regarding my comment about too many cooks in the kitchen, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence need to collectively define one communications plan to send the information.

I know Veterans Affairs are trying to do their best to educate their clients, and I know the Department of National Defence is trying their best, but there are different messages are coming at different times, and probably not at the right time to be of value to a transitioning member.

Senator Manning: Definitely one set of communications would be the answer.

In another part of your opening remarks you touched on "old-school paperwork.'' There is no doubt that, as we move ahead with technology of today, we should be moving ahead with the application processes and those that are in place. Could you touch on what exactly you see as the problem there? Is it the applications themselves and lots of it? Maybe you could elaborate on that.

Mr. Walbourne: There are some applications that are 18 pages long for access to benefits and services. They had to be renewed periodically. We hear about these horror stories in the media. That's for just one entrance into Veterans Affairs Canada. If I layer Reserve Force compensation or SISIP in there, it's another different type of form to get the same type of information gathered yet again. SISIP is the first player. It has to be the first application process, and from there you move to the next delivery model and that's another application process. There is no ease of transferring these files from one entity to the next.

You're right. We're in modern times where technology allows us to engage electronically, but we have to understand the demographics that we're managing. There are certain groups of demographics that have lived with paper and will continue to do so. There is another group in the middle who are a bit of each. Then we have a new cohort of people who are all electronic. It will be morphing into the type of delivery model that you want, but I think the first thing we will have to do before we get to any one common platform is clean up the platforms we currently have. There are too many of them: it's too complicated and too convoluted.

Senator Manning: Certainly, another important point when you talk about serious issues out there, the media over the past couple of years has highlighted — and I am sure we don't hear all the stories — the stories in relation to suicides. I understand that the Minister of National Defence's mandate letter calls on him to work with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence to develop a suicide-prevention strategy for Canadian Armed Forces personnel and its veterans.

What are the key steps to taking and preventing suicide among Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans? Is your office part of that discussion or process? Can you give us an update on that?

Mr. Walbourne: Thank you for the question. I wish I had an answer to how we solve it, but I don't think any one thing will solve it. It will be a series of moves we will have to make.

When someone has an operational stress injury and go through a release process, and then we turn them loose to an application process that is cumbersome and difficult, sometimes we put people in difficult situations. First we have to clear the decks. Let us make this process easy for these people. If it will be that someone has to release from the Canadian Armed Forces, let's make sure that we've explained there is as much life in front as there is behind, and we give them that path. Those 16 weeks of adjudication that I think is a waste of time right now, that's the time when that person could be coached, helped and mentored through what is to come.

The other issue is the stigma around mental health still resides. I have to give kudos to the chain of command inside the Canadian Armed Forces. I think they have done a good job of trying to raise that level of awareness and have people come forward.

But universality of service, if someone breaches that, they're going to be released. Is universality of service today what we need? Shouldn't this be looked at through a modern lens? Universality of service was brought in a while ago. There are things we can do to ease that burden. I don't think any of us have the solution, but I think our job is to remove as many obstacles as we can.

I talked about the types of soldiers. We have Class A, Class B, less than 180; Class B, greater than 180, Class C; Regular Force. That is fine, but when I put them in the environment, especially Reserve Force, they're managed differently by each environment. There is different paperwork to follow each of them. We have created a lot of the issues we have.

I know — and I have personally worked with people with PTSD — the last thing they need is more complication in their life. They are looking for someone to give them a hand up, not a handout. We need to make sure we've cleared the decks and make that process as easy as possible. I think we have the opportunity to do that.

Senator Manning: Does your office plan to be part of developing that strategy with the ministers? Are you part of that conversation and consultation?

Mr. Walbourne: We try to insert ourselves into every conversation we can. We will be making recommendations to the minister over the next 30 to 45 days on some steps that I think are key to help removing some of the obstacles we find in the environment today.

Senator Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Walbourne. I am interested in the issue of sexual misconduct and your jurisdiction, and in response to the Deschamps case you indicated it isn't within your mandate. Can you tell us why it is not? Have I got that right? The mandate of your office did not extend to investigating individual cases of sexual misconduct. Is that true?

Mr. Walbourne: Thank you for the question. First of all, let me see if we can clear the decks here.

This office was created in 1998. Any of us who were around that length of time might know it came out of sexual assault, and sexual harassment was the catalyst that caused this office to be created. Through the jigs and reels — I wasn't here at the time — I don't know what authorities or latitudes were given to the ombudsman to do with that. This service on handling sexual assault and sexual misconduct has been with my office for 18 years. We have done it, and we continue to offer that service.

I have several issues with the current structure that has been established. First and foremost, we have not considered 30,000 civilian employees into that mix. Civilian employees both manage and are managed by Canadian Armed Forces members. There is opportunity for that type of behaviour to happen in that environment, but we are not including them in this sexual misconduct response team. They were not part of the questionnaire and do not have access to the services coming out of that.

That is a major issue for me, because if we are to have a program that is going to be holistic and cover off the full gamut of what possibly could happen we need to include everybody in it.

Second, we have offered this service for 18 years, going on 19, and will continue to do so until the point that I am personally satisfied that standard operating procedures in place are adequate to deal with the issues and cover everyone. We still offer the service and still take the calls.

Senator Mitchell: Excellent. Okay.

You may have covered this, but I want to be sure.

You don't have any jurisdiction over RCMP, or did you say you do?

Mr. Walbourne: No.

Senator Mitchell: None at all.

Would it be something you could have jurisdiction over or would be appropriate to have jurisdiction over? They don't have an ombudsman.

Mr. Walbourne: I think this leads a bit, sir, back to the question that Senator Wallin talked about. Maybe there is an opportunity to bring these offices together. The RCMP are covered by the Veterans Ombudsman right now.

When the New Veterans Charter was introduced the RCMP elected not to be part of that, and I think a big part of the work being done at the Veterans Ombudsman's office is to wrestle that monster to the ground. I know he has done work on behalf of the RCMP. Again, it is two entities doing a very similar job.

Senator Mitchell: Thank you.

Senator White: Thank you very much for the response. The indication that I had from your earlier response was that the RCMP members are taken care of, but they're not. They have nobody representing their interests in any way with the Government of Canada like you do with DND and CF. The veterans do, but serving members do not — 29,000, right?

Mr. Walbourne: I think so.

Senator White: You would have to double your office size, and that is not our problem.

Our problem is we are RCMP members, and I can go through my emails because I receive them every day now, concerned about the changes taking place in a national police service, and they have nobody they can go to who will actually stand up for them with government.

If that were happening in National Defence today, you would be there taking those complaints, responding to them and doing something about it. Is that right?

Mr. Walbourne: Yes. The only nuance about the RCMP is that the Veterans Ombudsman is their representative if they are a client of Veterans Affairs.

Senator White: No, I understand if they are retired. Look, I am a retired RCMP member. I know who represents me. But if I were a sitting member in the RCMP, I would have nobody representing me. The veterans have complaints. It's life. They are dealing with those.

The concerns from the membership now within the RCMP is that they have an RCMP Act which we will probably see changes to, not indifferent in many ways to the Queen's regs, yet they have nobody representing their interests. I think that is their concern and the concern that at least a few of us are trying to raise here, that you are taking very good care of serving members of the CF and DND, but nobody is taking good care of the RCMP members right now.

That wasn't a question. It was a statement.

Mr. Walbourne: Understood. Thank you, sir.

Senator Lang: This goes back to my opening question of the meeting. There was some confusion because I was referring to the rank-and-file RCMP who are presently serving, not the veterans.

The question I put to you was: In your opinion, would the position of an ombudsman, whether combined into one or one by itself with the RCMP, have merit? It is a recommendation that we had in our report that I believe Senator Mitchell referred to in respect of our report on harassment. We felt there should be an independent body that the rank and file could feel comfortable with, be prepared to put their case forward to and feel that it will be heard in a forum where they are comfortable.

I would like to hear your comments on that because there are some 29,000 members in that particular organization.

Mr. Walbourne: Looking at the two organizations, I see many similarities. I thank Senator White for his compliment on the service we do. Over the years this office has developed a very good service delivery model. We'll handle 12,000 inbound phone calls a year. We get 2,000 cases; and 95 per cent of those cases are turned over in favour of the member. We do good work and have built good rapport.

I believe if there is a need for representation that instead of reinventing the wheel we should look at what exists to see if there is synergy between my shop and the Veterans Ombudsman shop, whatever that looks like. I believe there is value in having a look and considering that. I'm sorry I misunderstood your question at first.

The Chair: To clarify or to be further precise with respect to RCMP and Veterans Affairs, my understanding is that the role Veterans Affairs has with retired RCMP officers is based on an MOU or contract between the RCMP and Veterans Affairs. You made the point earlier, Mr. Walbourne, that the RCMP decided not to expand the service with respect to the New Veterans Charter. That indicates the service is not the same for retired RCMP as it is for others.

Mr. Walbourne: There are some differences in the suite of services available but it's handled under an MOU, as you say. VAC administers those funds on behalf of the RCMP, but the RCMP transfers the funds to VAC to provide those benefits to the RCMP members who are clients of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The Chair: I thought it would be better to clarify the record on that.

Senator White: My point was to follow up and get clarity around representation, because I think the national organization and their membership deserves to be represented nationally on these issues. It was more to ensure clarity around RCMP members.

The Chair: The record might have been a little unclear earlier. It looked like everything was exactly the same when Senator Lang was asking the question, but we've clarified that now.

I would like to clarify the record with respect to your comments on attribution of service to understand what you mean by that for the viewing public. Can you explain what you're talking about when you talk about attribution of service?

Mr. Walbourne: For a transitioning member or a veteran to receive services, there are certain services and benefits available to a member should their illness or injury be caused by their service — attributable to service.

My suggestion is: We have done a full file review on any transitioning member who has received a release notice. We know how, when and where that soldier has become injured. I say that decision should be made when the release message is given to the soldier. That gives them at least six months to talk about what their future looks like.

Currently, once the member is released the file is sent to Veterans Affairs Canada where they do an adjudication. We need to get back into our own lanes of authority and clean that up. Sometimes Veterans Affairs gets a bad rap because we don't do the best we can on our side in getting them the information in a right and clean manner.

We have added an extra step to this process that shouldn't be there. I testified before this committee last year when you introduced veterans' retiring legislation. I lobbied that the authority to determine attribution of service be given to the Surgeon General. At the same time, the then Acting President of the Public Service Commission said they didn't care who gave them the names as long as they got them. Veterans Affairs seconded some employees over to the Department of National Defence to manage the file. We found out there were some problems with that and the people have been sent back to Veterans Affairs Canada.

My point on that has been and continues to be that getting to that list early provides better opportunity. Jobs come on and off that list at a rapid pace, so getting there early and understanding how that works is important.

The decision was made to give the authority to Veterans Affairs Canada. I have some angst about how that is performing. We've asked for the latest stats and we're following up on that to see what's happened. Until I receive those and have a full review, I'll hold further comment.

This is the exact same issue. The attribution of service should be determined by the Surgeon General's office. We should then be able to pass a clean file over to Veterans Affairs.

The Chair: You made that point clearly a year ago with the legislation we were dealing with. I recall that. You continue to have concerns about that decision and that piece of legislation that allowed Veterans Affairs to start dealing with uniformed Armed Forces personnel during that last six months.

Mr. Walbourne: Veterans Affairs Canada has to be involved with the transitioning member during the last six months, but they should be involved from a different perspective than they currently are. The first engagement is adjudication to determine attribution of service. Veterans Affairs Canada is delivering a suite of services and benefits. The conversation from Veterans Affairs Canada should be, in my humble opinion, about what the future looks like for that soldier and not whether his malady is attributable to service. That's the point I stick on.

The Chair: There was no sunset clause in that legislation, as I recall. It has been implemented and is forever until amended.

It would be very helpful if you, when you do your review, could share any information you have with us. We're asking you now so you don't have to say "I have to report to the minister first.'' If you could provide us with that information it would be helpful to us because we like to follow up on legislation as well, especially when someone of your stature has raised concerns about it. That will be a service to the transitioning Armed Forces personnel.

Mr. Walbourne: We'll take that too.

Senator Wallin: Maybe it would be helpful, for the benefit of everyone, to walk through a case in point. I'm making this up, so it's not about an individual. We have a pilot who has served overseas. There was some action and the pilot lost his eyesight. Obviously, he cannot be a pilot any longer.

Let's walk through those: Attribution of service and figuring out what will happen next, the universality of service and whether that person would end up in a Joint Personnel Service Unit or whether they would start to transition out and how that decision is made. This is complicated for people who are not following it all, but let's say we're dealing with a pilot who lost his eyesight. What happens?

Mr. Walbourne: I hate to say this, but it depends.

Senator Wallin: Exactly. We're not blaming you.

Mr. Walbourne: I need to say that if that type of malady showed up, the first thing that will happen is the Canadian Armed Forces are going to rally around that individual. I've seen it time and time again. There is no doubt about it. They probably breach universality of service so there will be a release message coming at some point in time.

But, prior to that release message happening, there will be medical reviews and all these things that have to happen. Then that member's release date will be given in consideration of any service or help they need to be as stable as possible prior to the transition. That happens in house. They do a good job.

Senator Wallin: And they might spend some time in a Joint Personnel Services Unit?

Mr. Walbourne: It's a possibility. It will depend, again, on the needs of that member. It's a possibility they could end up there or in some other entity.

Senator Wallin: But they know that this person is going to have to transition out?

Mr. Walbourne: Yes.

The Chair: Who is doing this? What department within the Canadian Forces? You said they do a really good job.

Mr. Walbourne: It's under the Surgeon General's group. They rally around the soldier and start plotting and planning the future forward and what it looks like, to make sure the member has every bit of service, benefit and help they need to move forward, or modifications, whatever it might be. And then we start the actual transition process out.

Even though we know the member is blind and very clearly breaches U of S, the file will go to Veterans Affairs and they will do an adjudication to determine if indeed the malady is as a result of his service to Canada. Once they've made the determination that it's attributable to service, then they will decide what level of disability payment they may receive and what type of service they will be entitled to. Then they become a client of Veterans Affairs and hopefully move forward.

Senator Wallin: So that's the process we're at.

Mr. Walbourne: That's a very simplified version of that process.

Senator Wallin: The eyesight is lost. It's attributable to service because the plane was shot down and so that's all declared and they decide what his or her earning potential might have been over the lifetime if they had stayed in. They make those determinations. So what you're saying is bring in Veterans Affairs six months earlier, once that determination has been made to say, "This person is transitioning out. This is what we've determined. This is what we have assessed. Do you want to read our notes and then carry on as opposed to waiting six months and doing it all over again under the banner of Veterans Affairs?

Mr. Walbourne: My response is if the determination of attribution of service is made by the Surgeon General's shop, I don't believe there is much that Veterans Affairs Canada needs to assess in that medical file. What they do need to assess are the limitations now imposed on this individual and what services and benefits they will need to have the best life they possibly can. I think Veterans Affairs does a good job of determining the level of disability and what the client's needs are in consultation with the client.

I believe that if we could draw those lines clearly it becomes a different conversation. Instead of waiting 16 weeks for adjudication, it's a different conversation. Those 16 weeks can be used so when the member leaves they know what they will be paid, when it will come to the bank and what their future looks like. Right now we have to wait for that period of time to pass.

You're talking about blindness, but let's talk about an operational stress injury, with someone under that type of stress waiting for some decision on their future. The calls I get at my office are not always the big issues. When you get someone who calls and says they don't know how they're making the mortgage payment next month, that's a little close to home, or they have three kids to send to university but those plans are gone now. Those are the types of things that end up on our desk. It's a very personal and emotional piece. I believe there is an opportunity at this point in time to change the delivery model completely to make it work.

Senator Wallin: Thank you very much. I think that's clear.

The Chair: We understand your difficult role and the recommendations you're making.

You made a comment, Mr. Walbourne, during your presentation about a number of people who are no longer in uniform and are your constituents. Can you explain that? My understanding is you're the ombudsman for people in uniform.

Mr. Walbourne: I am the ombudsman for all current serving members, all former members and all their families. For a former member who needs to come back into the Department of National Defence for access to a file or whatever, we're probably one of the only offices of recourse for them. For all the families, we are the only office of recourse if they need to come back to the department for information on whatever it may be.

Our constituency pool gets quite large. It's the current serving members, both military and civilian, it's former military and civilian and their families, so the pool gets quite large and is part of our mandate.

The Chair: How is your mandate described to make sure that you're not dealing with something that Veterans Affairs will be dealing with?

Mr. Walbourne: Therein lies another rub. There are serving Canadian Armed Forces members who are clients of Veterans Affairs and drawing some benefit from Veterans Affairs today. If we look clearly at the mandates of the two offices, that client group would fall under the Veterans Ombudsman's office because if there are any inquiries about the benefits you're receiving from Veterans Affairs, as a client you'd go through the Veterans Ombudsman's office. But also, as a serving member he has access, should there be something, through his chain of command or working environment or whatever that is, to come to our office. So we can see how the lines get a little blurred and muddied.

The Chair: This hypothetical Armed Forces personnel of Senator Wallin's, that person is determined to have had an injury as a result of a service activity while on service, he or she is going to receive a lifetime pension for that injury, not able to see any longer, whatever we can do to help make that person's life as comfortable as possible with that traumatic injury, is that person's compensation primarily from the Armed Forces through SISIP? SISIP is an acronym for an insurance program for serving personnel.

Would the pension be as a result of coming through the Armed Forces, DND, or a pension would be through Veterans Affairs or both?

Mr. Walbourne: I hate to do this again, but it depends. SISIP is the first payer, but we're going to run quickly into some issues with SISIP because, as you're well aware, you're looking at the earnings-loss benefit moving it now to 90 per cent, and SISIP is at 75 per cent. We will have to consider a balancing of those programs.

SISIP, as the first payer, probably has the first run at this, but there are nuances inside of SISIP. They have a vocational rehabilitation program but it's only up to $20,000. Veterans Affairs Canada has one that's up to $78,000, and the CAF have another one. There is a labyrinth. Where does this person go and how do they get there?

SISIP comes with other issues. Any other money earned is deducted from your SISIP piece. It's not the same with the earnings-loss benefit. Under SISIP you can do no job or earn any money or it will be clawed back. Under the New Veterans Charter you have to have the capacity to earn at least 66 2/3 per cent. It just keeps getting more complicated the further you go into this, but SISIP is called the first payer.

The Chair: The injured Armed Forces personnel person has to go into all of this and has to have somebody go with him and take him through this. I guess it's good that we deal with you on this and hear what you have to say so we can put this out to the public and get an understanding as to the complexity.

You talked about a sheer lack of awareness of the programs and the complexity of the eligibility criteria in your comments, and you said perhaps we can come back to this issue during your questions. We have had a number of questions that have touched on this. Do you have anything you wish to add that we haven't been clever enough to ask you about?

Mr. Walbourne: The only thing I'd like to add is we're talking about this in a very short period of time and it's a slice of what I'm trying to share with you, but the problem is much larger than that. The complexity is quite severe at times; it really is quite severe and it's of our own doing. It's layer of bureaucracy on top of layer of bureaucracy. That's my concern.

Of all the complaints that come to my office, 50 per cent are about end of career. This year our complaints are up 25 per cent over last year. I consider this a little bit like the canary in the coal mine. Where it's starting to happen to us is a ramping up across the board.

Those are our areas of concern. We spend a lot of our time, effort and manpower explaining to people how programs work and how services are delivered. I am glad we have the ability to do that and can help as many members as we can who contact us, and we try to push education out.

The complexity can't be underestimated. It really can't.

The Chair: I think you've explained things very well. Honourable senators, is there any follow-up on any of those points? I see none.

Ms. Hynes, I didn't give you a chance to add anything, but I assume you adopt the points that have been made? Excellent. Thank you for being here to back up the ombudsman and the work that you and your office are doing.

Thank you very much. I am sure we will be talking again.

(The committee adjourned.)