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Proceedings of the Subcommittee on
Veterans Affairs

Issue No. 6 - Evidence - March 1, 2017


OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 12:06 p.m. in public to study 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; and in camera, for the consideration of a draft agenda (future business).

Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Today we have a very full agenda and we'll start with Veterans Affairs Canada. Ms. Andrews is Acting Director General of the Service Delivery and Program Management, and Faith McIntyre is Director General, Policy and Research Division. I understand you've come from P.E.I. That's why we couldn't do this last time because of weather issues. We certainly appreciate your being here.

We will try to go for 45 minutes, and then we have another presentation. We'll see how the questioning goes. I understand this is a joint presentation. Please start.

Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research Division, Veterans Affairs Canada: Thank you, Madam Chair. We certainly appreciate the opportunity to be present with you today. Kim and I are both very honoured not only to be able to be part of the Public Service of Canada but, more notably, to be able to serve veterans and their families in our respective positions at Veterans Affairs Canada.

We'd like to walk through certain slides in the presentation. I'll ask you to turn to those slides when we reference them to maximize certainly the time that you would have for questions afterward. If there are certain slides that we do not touch upon that you would like us to, you can certainly bring us back to those as part of the question period as well.

I'll start on slide 3. The mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada is set out in legislation through the Department of Veterans Affairs Act. The act provides for the care, treatment or re-establishment in civilian life of any person who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. It also provides for the care of dependents or survivors or any other persons referred to.

It's a dual mandate. We have the mandate for the provision of that re-establishment in civilian life for that particular population, but we also have as part of our mandate the very important responsibility to commemorate and to ensure that Canadians are aware of all of the achievements and sacrifices of those who served Canada in times of war and peace.

We meet our responsibilities through various ways. We have several programs. These include programs for disability pensions and disability awards, which we will speak about later. We provide compensation or financial remuneration for eligible veterans and their families, and the very important piece of recognition as well.

[Translation]

Turning to page 4, we have three strategic outcomes. I will speak to each of them in general terms. First, of course, from both a strategy and a responsibility standpoint, we work towards the financial, physical and mental well-being of all eligible veterans and their families who have access to our programs and services. As I just mentioned, we deliver a wide range of support programs and services, not only to veterans, but also, in the case of some programs, to members of the Canadian Forces, their survivors, spouses and family members.

Next, further to our second mandate, we deliver commemoration programming to ensure that Canadians remember the men and women who served in Canada's efforts during war, military conflict and peace and that they demonstrate their recognition of this invaluable population.

Third, we are part of the portfolio of the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Affairs portfolio has two other components. The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman is one. The ombudsman reports directly to the minister and is responsible for the independent and impartial review of complaints from veterans and others. This is a crucial function.

The other component is the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, which operates independently from the department. A veterans administrative tribunal dedicated to hearing applications for review and appeal examines systemic problems and represents veterans, as set out in its mandate.

As page 5 shows, our mission lays out very important objectives based on care, compassion and respect for veterans. That means that veterans are at the centre of everything we do and all the actions we take. They are at the heart, the very core, of our mandate. They are truly the single most important reason we do what we do, the driving force behind all of our measures and decisions.

Furthermore, we want Canadian Armed Forces members to have a seamless and successful transition from military to civilian life. It is therefore important that we work in partnership with our Canadian Armed Forces colleagues to make that transition seamless.

Lastly, as part of our mission, we endeavour to deliver excellent service to veterans and their families. By that, I mean service delivery, which my colleague will discuss in more detail shortly.

[English]

This is my final part, and then I will turn it over to Kim.

I wanted to speak about the importance of our stakeholders. There is reference to this on slide 14. I apologize for jumping around a bit, but I certainly just wanted to give you the main highlights of who we are and what we do.

For our stakeholders we certainly need to, as we have been, ensure a very regular engagement of various organizations that are veteran focused at the national, regional and local levels. Our priority is to ensure that we have positive and productive relationships among those organizations to foster an open and frank discussion so that we can work together on priorities for veterans and their families.

Our minister has put in place various bodies in order to be able to do so. He holds stakeholders' summits which bring together a very large variety of individuals from stakeholder organizations. He has also formed six ministerial advisory groups specific to six different topics that then provide recommendations to him.

We also have a Have Your Say online engagement tool, which is on our external website, where we're looking for Canadians, for the public, to be able to speak to us about our programming and what we do and provide that feedback.

Kim Andrews, Acting Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Veterans Affairs Canada: Turning to slide 7, I'll speak to whom we serve, how we serve them, and the benefits and services that we provide to our veterans and others whom we serve.

As noted on slide 7, there is a pictorial of whom we serve. As a bit of context, in carrying out our mandate in the past number of years we've been affected by the rapidly changing demographics and expectations of those we serve. As you can see, the number of Second World War and Korean War veterans has been steeply declining, while the number of modern day veterans post Afghanistan is on the rise.

There are approximately 670,000 Canadian veterans, and of those we serve about 195,000 Canadian veterans. As of September 30, 2016, as you can see in the diagram, we served about 27,000 to 28,000 Korean War and Second World War veterans. Of interest, their average age is 91.

In Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans, there are about 90,000 to 91,000 that we served as of September 30, 2016, whose average age was 57. Also we serve about 12,000 RCMP members, and then about 64,000 survivors, those being spouses or dependents.

Turning to slide 10, how do we serve these veterans and the others that we serve? We have a network across the country of staff and partners that we work with in carrying out the delivery of and the provision of benefits and services to those that we serve.

For instance, on the map you will see that we have 34 offices across the country that individuals can walk into and receive personalized service and get information on benefits from our staff. As you will note from the map, we also have 31 integrated personnel support centres. Those are centres that veterans can walk into. There are 24 integrated personnel centres and there are 7 satellite centres, which add to the 31 in the schematic on page 10. Individuals and veterans can walk in there to get support, as well as information on the benefits and services we provide and receive some services from them.

As you will also note from the map, there are also 20 operational stress injury clinics. There is a network of 12 of those plus 8 satellite offices across the country.

Also on the map you will see a number of green dots where we utilize the services. We work with Service Canada, which helps provide information on benefits and services to our veterans, and there are about 558 of those offices across the country.

Through all of those different offices and partners we offer telephone service. In the year 2015-16, we received about 588,000 telephone calls through the different channels to telephone numbers that we provide. We have a national client contact network across the country, with both English and French lines, where veterans or their families can phone to find out information on benefits and services.

As I noted, we also partner with Service Canada, and they received calls on our behalf. That was up until the end of January 2016.

Blue Cross, which actually administers a number of treatment benefits on our behalf, receives calls directly from veterans as well related to the benefits they receive. As noted, we receive almost 600,000 calls a year related to benefits and services.

We also have online services. As I mentioned already, we have changing expectations from those that we serve. The younger individuals, and even older individuals, are getting more tech savvy and are expecting more online services to be available to them. We, as most departments and most organizations, have a website, www.veterans.gc.ca. We also have information on the Service Canada website. We have a number of tools on there that veterans can use.

We also have an online service called My VAC Account whereby veterans or others can go online to find information, apply for benefits, track the status of the benefits and see how much they're receiving in payments through that tool. We're always looking to improve that tool and have plans in place to actually enhance the benefits available through there.

There is another number of online tools as well. There's PTSD Coach and OSI Connect. There are also other tools available for caregivers, operational stress injury information for caregivers.

As with most organizations we still have the old-fashioned mail. We have an address where all incoming mail would come into. We receive approximately two million pieces of correspondence through that each year.

Moving on to slide 11, I'll talk a bit now about what we provide to veterans. As you see here, we provide a number of veterans benefits and services. We have an extensive suite of benefits and services targeted for veterans either from the Second World War or Korean War and their family survivors, modern-day veterans, RCMP and others.

Of interest, veterans come to us over their life course. Some would come to us immediately upon release. Others would come to us later in life. For example, approximately one-quarter of the individuals that come to Veterans Affairs for benefits do so while they're still serving. We have another quarter who come to us within 15 years after release. Half of the veterans that we serve come to us 15 years or more after their release, and some as late as 63 years in one example that we have.

They come to us in different stages and at different times throughout their life course, and we have benefits and services available for them during each of those periods of time.

For the war service veterans, again Second World War and Korean War veterans, we have a number of benefits available for them to help them maintain themselves in their homes through the Veterans Independence Program. We have opportunities for them to be cared for in long-term care facilities for which we will provide financial support, and a number of treatment benefits.

For modern-day veterans, if you will, the New Veterans Charter was implemented in 2006. It provides a wide range of benefits ranging from rehabilitation services. It is intended to help people integrate into civilian life. It is to ensure that they and their families both have the support and services they need each step of the way, be it financial benefits, be it rehabilitation, vocational assistance or treatments and benefits throughout their life course.

I'll very quickly talk a bit more about some of our benefits. As I noted, we have support for health care and well- being, including mental health support. We have case management, which is an important piece of how we deliver the services in that our case managers work with individuals who have complex health needs to help them integrate successfully.

As well, we have peer support or other individuals who would work with the veterans. They understand their situation and are able to assist them through their transition to ensure continuity of care while they're transitioning out.

We have support for individuals immediately after an illness or injury. For instance, if they require rehabilitation of some sort, we have programs and benefits available for them.

We have support for families. In the case of a death we have death benefits, funeral and burial assistance, et cetera. We have educational assistance programs for their children.

As I noted already, we have a number of benefits in place for them to transition. We have career transition services. There is priority hiring to ensure that veterans have access to public service jobs and vocational assistance.

In the year 2016-17 the department plans to spend $3.6 billion on these programs for veterans and their families, of which about 91 per cent flows directly to their pockets and for the services for veterans and their families.

In closing, I would like to say that Veterans Affairs Canada cares. We care about the well-being of all of those we serve: veterans, CAF members, RCMP and their families. We recognize that each veteran's and each family's experience differs and their situations are different as well. Our objective is to provide everyone with timely access to all the supports and services they need to honour the veterans, their sacrifice and their service, and that of their families.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentations. We will now go on to questions.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our witnesses. Yesterday, I was watching the U.S. president give his speech to Congress. He acknowledged the tremendous debt that the country owes to its men and women in uniform, who serve the country in an effort to keep citizens safe around the world. I think Canada should do the same for its members in uniform.

Either your presentation or the documents I have — I'm not sure which — refer to the mandate letter from the Prime Minister to the Minister of National Defence and the top priorities it establishes in relation to veterans. Those priorities include care and pensions. I have no doubt you are familiar with those priorities.

Could you tell me how much progress has been made on those priorities? In terms of the mandate letter from the Prime Minister to the Minister of National Defence, what has been done, and what do you plan to do in 2017?

Ms. McIntyre: Thank you very much for the question, senator. I will answer first, and then I will ask Ms. Andrews to round out my response with respect to service delivery.

For the first time, the Government of Canada has made the mandate letters of all federal ministers public. The mandate letter given to our minister, who is also the Associate Minister of National Defence, sets out 15 top priorities. While we have already implemented a number of them, we still have some work to do. The 2017 budget is currently under review to determine what elements will be included. Nevertheless, we will no doubt focus on items we have not been able to address thus far.

Budget 2016 set out a fairly sizeable investment in support of veterans, $5.6 billion, I believe.

The budget provided for a number of noteworthy measures. As of April 1, 2017, the disability award paid to members and veterans who are injured as a result of their military service will increase from $310,000 to $360,000, the maximum amount payable to someone receiving 100 per cent of the benefit.

On October 1, 2016, the earnings loss benefit was also increased. As my colleague explained, when veterans are in rehabilitation, they need transition support. They receive a monthly benefit for their loss of income. That benefit went from 75 per cent to 90 per cent of a veteran's pre-release salary. That is another significant change.

In addition, on April 1, 2017, the permanent impairment allowance will be expanded. When veterans have a permanent impairment, they are eligible to receive only 66 2/3 per cent of their salary, and so, in light of the fact that they cannot return to work owing to a serious disability, another allowance is available to them. As of April 1, 2017, the allowance paid to veterans currently receiving it will increase. Although the change will not increase the number of people receiving the allowance, it will change how the money is administered in relation to those accessing the benefit.

Now, I will ask Ms. Andrews to provide details on the service delivery component. All of this is clearly laid out in our minister's mandate letter.

[English]

Ms. Andrews: I will just add to what Faith has already provided. To enhance or to ensure that we're providing the best benefits and services to veterans we have hired more staff and more case managers across the country. We have already engaged over 330 new employees and are working toward having a ratio of veterans to case managers of no more than 25:1.

We have also reopened a number of offices. In the mandate letter it mentioned that we're going to reopen nine offices. We have already reopened seven of those offices across the country so that veterans and their families can walk into an office and have conversations directly with staff in those offices, be it case managers or others. We'll have the other offices opened by May 2017.

There are a number of benefits and services, some of which Faith alluded to, that will benefit the veterans and their families, as well as the means and ways in which we provide benefits and services to them.

As I also noted, we have invested in our online service tools and a number of other ways of delivering benefits and services to our veterans.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you to both of you for an excellent presentation. I am especially interested in the changing demographics you talked about.

I see that, in 2008-09 — which is not all that long ago — you served roughly 75,000 Second World War and Korean War veterans and that, in 2018, the number is expected to drop to less than 20,000. The bulk of your clientele will be made up of members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

What impact will that have on the type of services you provide? I am not so much interested in the financial aspect, in terms of allowances and so forth. Rather, I am curious as to whether you will have to make a larger investment in psychological care and mental health services. Are the issues facing families the same? I would like you to speak to the impact in that regard and the way you intend to keep pace with the needs of your changing clientele.

Ms. McIntyre: Thank you, senator, for that excellent question. It's an issue we try to examine on an ongoing basis. Not only are our clients changing, but modern-day veterans are also not homogeneous as a group. We have to take many factors into account when it comes to programming, service delivery and, even, the resources we use to provide services.

Changes have already been made. For instance, Second World War and Korean War veterans fall under the Pension Act, which dates back to 1918 and was compensation-based. It did not address rehabilitation plans or the transition to civilian life. Military members would come back from the war injured and receive a pension. The dynamic was much different from today's.

In 2006, the new legislation, the New Veterans Charter, put the focus on the financial, physical and mental well- being of veterans. It was at that point that issues such as compensation, rehabilitation and transition began receiving attention; in other words, consideration was given to how the department could support veterans and their families. In the case of seriously injured veterans and those unable to benefit from rehabilitation, the same services were provided to the spouse in order to support the family in a balanced way. Similarly, in the case of a death, support was provided to dependants. It was that type of thinking that led to the new charter.

As changes are made, we plan to make further improvements that build on certain elements such as mental health. Consider the fact that we have opened clinics geared towards the treatment of post-traumatic stress, clinics that did not exist a decade ago. The number of services available, in terms of not only clinic staff, but also software and computer- aided services, clearly reflects the demographic change in our clientele.

Nevertheless, the retirement age is between 50 and 55. Younger members do retire, but, as of now, that is the average age of retirement. We realize that things will continue to change, so we always have to be ready to make changes in response.

[English]

Ms. Andrews: I can add to what Faith has shared.

A number of the mandate items are to look after veteran families, spouses, survivors, et cetera. For instance, one the mandate items is to increase the veteran survivor pension amounts from 50 to 70 per cent. That is to ensure that the survivors who are with us after the veterans pass have sufficient resources available to them as well.

Over the course of time the benefits have changed that we provided to our traditional veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War, as opposed to what we did in 2006 with the New Veterans Charter. As those elderly traditional veterans have gone over their life course, we have put more benefits into the VIP services. We've also had long-term care available to them. We have continued to look at how we can expand and ensure the veterans who need long-term care will have access to beds.

Recently, we have been working with the provincial health authorities to broaden the availability of beds to veterans so that they can have preferred access in other facilities as well. We are trying at all ages across their lifespan to ensure that we have benefits available to the veterans and their families so that they can have what they need at the time they need it.

The Chair: You talked about PTSD and medical help. Can you tell us how easily available it is and how far veterans have to travel? Is it near their homes? I don't mean next door. We have recently had some tragic incidents. I don't want to talk about those cases, but can you give us an idea of how easily it is available?

Ms. Andrews: We have a number of areas whereby people can get assistance with mental health issues if they are looking for help or information around those. They can go into any office, as I noted, and we have more of those now than we had previously.

They can go into the integrated personnel support centres, which is shown on slide 10. There are 31 across the country. We have 20 OSI clinics across the country. Also there are a number of online tools. Faith alluded to a PTSD Coach. There is the OSI Connect. There are a number of online tools that they can use in the comfort of their home wherever and whenever they want to learn more about or to get information on. It will direct them to Veterans Affairs, if they are so interested to come to the department to get further information on those benefits and applications.

They can apply online for some benefits through the My VAC Account at home. They don't have to travel at all. If they chose to go into an office, they can go there and get assistance with that.

There are a number of ways and areas through which they can get access, some in the comfort of their home and some in an office, whether it be a Veterans Affairs Canada's office, a Service Canada office, any of the OSI clinics or the other areas available to them.

Senator White: I have a question about some of the benefits we talked about, the RCMP in particular and not just the Department of National Defence. Do you have any statistics on the number of benefits being provided to RCMP officers involved in UNCIVPOL, the United Nations Civilian Police, as a result of events?

Ms. Andrews: I don't have that at hand. We would have to get back to you on that.

Senator White: If you don't mind, thanks. Do you know if there has been discussion around also providing benefits to non-RCMP officers who are working for the RCMP in the UNCIVPOL in locations like OPP, SQ or municipal police services? Almost 60 per cent of officers who are working and sworn in under the RCMP Act are actually non- RCMP employees.

Has there been discussion about extending benefits outside of the RCMP to other agencies operating on behalf of the RCMP?

Ms. Andrews: Again, we would have to take that back. What I can share with you is that we administer benefits on behalf of the RCMP under the Superannuation Act.

Senator White: There's an agreement in principle. It's not actually a part of the act.

Ms. Andrews: Exactly. We can see what we can learn and bring it back. Some of that would be under the RCMP and what their future plans would be.

Senator White: Just so that you understand what I'm trying to do, I know you are provided under an agreement in principle that is not part of the act, but I think there is a gap in benefits being provided to other agencies operating on behalf of the RCMP, doing the same job at same place and under the same risk.

I'm very keen on getting the information on how many RCMP officers are identifying and obtaining benefits as result of their UNCIVPOL activities.

Senator Lang: Senator Wallin, Senator White and Senator Dagenais will recall that over the course of the last number of years there was a great deal of discussions about the number of programs available to veterans. I believe there were 17 different programs that a veteran could access or had the possibility. Quite frankly, I made the statement that by the time I got to the seventeenth program I was confused and I think any veteran would have been confused as to exactly what they were eligible for.

Could there be some streamlining of the administration of these programs so that we would save on the question of the administration and also make the access for the veteran and the veteran's family easier and more productive from the point of view of applying for it? Have you done any studies on that? If you have, can you table them here?

Ms. Andrews: I certainly can. We are always looking at ways to improve the service delivery model we have at Veteran Affairs Canada to try to ensure we are delivering benefits and services in the way that is most convenient and easiest for veterans and their families.

You are correct. There are quite a number of veteran benefits available. We have looked recently, and the minister has asked us to look in the department at how we are delivering benefits and services. Exactly to your point, how we can streamline those? How can we make them easier on veterans and families who want to or need to and have requirements for our benefits and services?

We have looked at a number of different things. As I mentioned before, more individuals are wanting to be able to apply online. We have put some benefit applications online. We have looked at streamlining those benefit applications as well.

How can we make it simpler? How can we use information we have readily available to us? For instance, pre- populating the form so they don't have to complete all the demographic information on that form when they fill it out.

We are looking at many ways to simplify the administration of those different benefits as we move forward.

Senator Lang: In all deference, I don't think that the question I asked was answered. I recognize that you are trying to modernize and use technology as you move ahead.

My question was: Were there any studies done and completed that you have had access to which you could table here to let us know what would be the various options to look at from the point of view of streamlining and making it easier for veterans? Do you have any studies? If you do, can you table them?

Ms. Andrews: My apologies for the earlier answer. We are in the midst of doing a review called the service delivery review. A report has been drafted, and it will be presented to the ministers in April, I believe.

Unfortunately, I don't have a report that I can table today. We would be able to table it, I expect, in the next month or two.

Senator Lang: Were there no reports done two, three or four years ago that are available to you? I want to get a sense of where we are and what could be made available.

Ms. McIntyre: I can certainly take that back and take a look at it specific to your point as what reports might assist you. I understand your question.

It is the first mandate commitment in our minister's mandate letter: overhaul, reduce complexity. It's important to understand too that sometimes eligibility is linked to a particular population. All of those 17 programs might not be for the same individual. I understand your point, sir. If you would allow us to take that back and have a look, we would be pleased to provide whatever we can to assist in your work.

Senator Lang: I think that would assist us in recognizing what we're dealing with. I understand that it's just not what Veterans Affairs provides; the provinces provide services. In my view this becomes a kind of collage for a veteran who in some cases, unfortunately, may be having some very personal trauma and troubles. Yet, at the same time he or she is trying to understand how to access these and how it will benefit.

Can I follow up on that a little more? I want to ask a question. You indicated you have 300 new case managers. You are talking about a ratio of 25:1 and nine new offices. Exactly what is the projection for the growth of your department in respect to where you were last year and where you are going at the end of 2018?

Ms. Andrews: When you say the projection, do you mean the veterans that we will be serving or the service delivery model that we have?

Senator Lang: The service delivery model you are adding to as we move ahead. I am wondering where it's going because once again that's more administration, which means less money and in some cases maybe fewer services because we are spending more on the administration, depending on how you view it.

Ms. Andrews: As I noted earlier, as part of the mandate we are opening nine new offices, seven of which have been opened and two more will be opened in May. The total complement will be 36 Veteran Affairs Canada specific offices across the country.

We are hiring 400 new case managers, of which we have hired 330. Those individuals are to specifically assist veterans with complex needs. Some veterans choose to self-serve. They choose to use the telephone. They choose to use online services. Some individuals need some more one-on-one personalized help.

To your point about the complexity and the number of benefits and services we have, their role would be to help those veterans find their way through that and identify the appropriate benefits and services, be they provincial, be they community or be they Veterans Affairs benefits.

In answer to your question, at the end of next year we will have opened an additional two area offices for a total of 36. We will have engaged up to 330 case managers to work one on one with veterans, and the objective is to hire 400.

Senator Wallin: I want to start by saying that we have been looking at this issue for a long time. I will speak for myself. I want to say I'm happy with how VIP works. There are lots of programs and information available online and at service offices.

The issue we keep coming back to, as we look at this, is the actual handoff, particularly when it comes to OSI- and PTSD-affected CF members and that transition them from leaving the military into your hands at Veterans Affairs.

We are told repeatedly that there are huge delays. They have to be sometimes rediagnosed with either an operational stress injury, PTSD or even a physical injury. They need to go through that process. It's hard enough to find doctors in the medical system the first time around. It's not any easier the second time around.

We've heard from the ombudsmen on both sides from Veterans Affairs and DND, but from your perspective what is the sticking point? What is the problem? What could we fix to allow that transition to be smooth and quick?

Ms. McIntyre: That is a very important question. Tying it back to the minister's mandate letter and the fact that he is Associate Minister of National Defence, the government realizes this is one of the main issues that needs to be resolved, worked on and improved in order to ensure the seamless transition I alluded to earlier.

Certainly we have taken steps in the right direction. It's simple things like access to medical files pre- and post release, redacting that information, collocation of Canadian Armed Forces members, staff who support transition, and Veterans Affairs Canada staff who support transition.

There is policy work where we now sit down jointly with the Canadian Armed Forces in developing the pieces. We have joint task forces on employment post release.

Certainly there still is a way to go. There is active work ongoing. Looking at this part of it, there are authority issues and part of it is legislation.

Senator Wallin: That's what I'm getting at because I know the work and everyone's mindset seems to be right. I'm trying to figure out the specific or technical things. There might be six things. What is the biggest problem? Maybe it is authority issues. Maybe it's that he belongs to us or she belongs to us until they don't. Where is the problem?

Ms. McIntyre: I think authority and accountability are key. We have certain provisions under our legislation to be able to pay an individual when they are still serving and to adjudicate certain benefits while they are still serving. We are paying particular attention to a warm handover of individuals with mental health conditions.

As Kim said earlier, sometimes those conditions only become known many years post release. Only 25 per cent of individuals come to us immediately upon release, but to me that is part two. Maybe we need to get more engaged. We are actively wrestling with those accountability and authority questions now.

Senator Wallin: I'll take as an answer that's one the key sticking points.

Senator Meredith: Thank you both for your presentations. I will go back again to a question raised by the chair and by Senator White about those suffering from PTSD.

I am going to be current here. We know the situation with respect to the recent tragedy with the Desmond family in Nova Scotia. Treatment was provided to him but in the link between the health care facility and the region where he lives there was a disconnect.

What sort of mechanisms are being put in place now, given the fact that there are probably several other families suffering like this? Is there a hotline for family members to be able to call in? Has a response team been put in place? It's paramount that there is an education piece for family members. Whether it be a male or female in crisis, what do they do? How are they supported? How are these families being supported post this particular incident?

Ms. Andrews: I can answer that in two ways. First, as veterans they as any other Canadian citizen are part of the provincial health care system. Unfortunately, if they don't wish to indicate they are a veteran, they don't want to share their information with us, we would not be privy to that information. That's an unfortunate [art of that.

Having said that, if the family member wants to reach out to Veterans Affairs and wants assistance, some services and support from us, we are there. They can phone. There is assistance lines available 24-7 that they could phone. There are counselling services available through that. If they indicate on that phone call that there is an immediate urgency, they can or we will phone 911 on their behalf. If they want information on benefits and services, we will put those in place.

There are a number of areas we are actively working on in the department. We are working with CAF on developing jointly with the Minister of National Defence a suicide prevention strategy, another one of the minister's mandated items. We are actively working on it and we anticipate that it will be available to the spring of the year.

There is a lot of work happening between the two departments so that we can be prepared. We are putting more benefits and more assistance in place so they can come to us in our offices or they can learn and get the information online.

There are a number of tools, like PTSD Coach, which is a mobile application developed in partnership with DND and the Canadian Mental Health Association. It is available to download free of charge. We have an OSI Connect tool as well. It is another mobile application developed by the Royal Ottawa OSI clinic, with the support of VAC, to download free of charge. It is updated regularly and it can help people find information on OSIs and how to support their veteran spouse or themselves.

We have put out a number of tools. We are continuously looking at what more we can do on that front, what we can learn from these instances, and how we can improve things going forward.

Senator Meredith: You talked about it being a provincial matter. I understand that in this particular case they sought help at a hospital, and it was refused.

How can we ensure that doesn't happen again? Is there a part of your strategy that will ensure the health care system is linked to these crisis situations by the psychologists or psychiatrists who are referring the cases to say there is an alarm to be raised here so that tragedies like these can be prevented? I would like to see a strategy put in place among those links. No Canadian family should go through this again.

My other question is with respect to supporting our veterans. I understand that some receive lump sums. Is a financial planner brought in to help them manage their funds so they are not further disenfranchised by spending this lump sum and being left without benefits and so forth? Can you elaborate on that?

Ms. McIntyre: The disability award is a lump sum payment. There is an option to take it otherwise as well. There is financial counselling available to individuals who will be receiving a disability award, as well as for the top-up I mentioned earlier that will be coming into place on April 1, 2017. There is financial counselling available for individuals as to how best manage the money that's coming into their household.

Senator Meredith: Can you provide us with a list? You talked about being in touch with the Toronto Military Family Resource Centre and the geography of where these vets have to come from to this particular centre to get help.

Can you provide a list of those centres that are coming online where veterans can actually go? I would personally want to accept that because I have been fielding some calls with respect to veterans not knowing where to go. If you can provide us actual details to the committee rather than saying these centres are here, it would be greatly appreciated.

Senator Boniface: Thank you for your presentation. It was extremely helpful. I admire the work you are doing.

My question will drill down on the PTSD. I'm interested, particularly given the amount of profile this has had in a number of professions.

The question particularly for you is: How do you do an after-action report so it feeds back into the work you are doing? If I use suicide prevention, it kind of surprises me that we are just doing that now. I would have thought that would have been in place for some time. How do you feed that back in so you get feedback on what services you are providing and whether or not they are effective?

Ms. Andrews: We would have had a number of services and supports in place for a number of years, but we may not have had them all pulled together under a document called a suicide strategy. We needed to take those services and supports and look at them holistically to make sure we do have everything covered that we need to have going forward.

Ms. McIntyre: To the second part of your question, yes, there is a multidisciplinary team of individuals that do group together during a significant type of event, of which unfortunately and tragically suicide would be an example, to look at the file in detail. A complete file review is done, the details of which would never be available publicly. There are steps taken to ensure, if there were issues or challenges, how we best learn from that moving forward. This is a multidisciplinary team, including medical, case management and field staff directly engaged in that work.

Senator Boniface: This really relates to the prevention side. You mentioned the Canadian Mental Health Association. Have you done any work with police who find themselves in the response to some of these, in terms of what you might learn from each other in handling it onsite as well as follow-on?

Ms. McIntyre: Again, that is a very pertinent question regarding first responders. Certainly there is much that we need to learn from each other. Interdepartmental committees and networks, all of our staff, my team and me from a policy research perspective, and the medical health professionals team are plugged into those conversations. Public Safety Canada has been moving forward recently as well with some key pieces of work into which we are directly linked with them.

Senator Boniface: The point that I'm getting to is actually the response. The only caution I would give is you that you may want to look at your local offices making that linkage, because it's not just the federal police force that would be doing the response. In fact in many cases it will not be.

Ms. McIntyre: Understood. Thank you very much.

Senator Lang: I would like to follow up. First, I echo Senator Wallin's and Senator Boniface's comments about the department itself and the work you do. It's very much appreciated by Canadians and I think Canadians can be very proud of what you do.

The welfare of veterans is a common cause across the country. The contributions that Canadians make allow them to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other country in the free world to say that we are putting our best foot forward.

I want to go into another area. The year that we're in is a year in which all Canadians are going to get the chance to celebrate with the 150th anniversary. At the same time there is the question of Vimy Ridge and what it did for us as a country to make us the country we are today. Can you tell us and let other Canadians know as well what your plans are to celebrate Vimy Ridge?

Ms. McIntyre: Thank you for your kind comment. It is a privilege for us to be able to do what we do.

This year is very important year on many fronts. We have the one hundredth anniversary of Vimy Ridge in April. We have the seventy-fifth anniversary of Dieppe, which will be celebrated in August, and in November the one hundredth anniversary of Passchendaele in Belgium.

In Budget 2016 there was a significant investment of money. This is an important part of our mandate. This is very much in line with the recognition that has to happen. Aside from the financial compensation rehabilitation, this too is key and certainly as important for Canadians.

There will be many events. There is information available on our website for individuals who want to find out the specifics. One of key events will be in Vimy in early April. It will also tie into the opening of our new visitors centre on which we have partnered with the Vimy Foundation. That will be one of our main pieces, as well as a significant celebration on or around April 9, and some smaller ones in France. There are also events being planned in Canada. I don't have the specific details, but I know there is information on our website. I encourage all Canadians to access it and to stay tuned as the date approaches and celebrate with all of us.

Senator Lang: Another area that's very important is the symbolism of monuments and investments that are made by Canadians to remember the past.

Perhaps you could update us with respect to the Victoria Cross monument that was projected to go ahead. Where is that at? Perhaps you could brief us on that.

Are there any other monuments planned in the upcoming couple of years on behalf of Veterans Affairs?

Ms. McIntyre: Certainly, sir. I must admit I'm not familiar with the Victoria Cross monument, but I do know that a war memorial for Afghanistan is being considered. That was discussed as part of the budget considerations we are looking at moving forward with in the short term.

Certainly recognition monuments are part of our important mandate when it comes to commemorations. I can find out more information regarding the Victoria Cross monument.

Senator White: Thanks again to both of you.

I am just trying to figure out the breakdown. You are responsible for a lot of money through VAC. Could you break down, as much as you can, what percentage is payments and what percentage is programs? It is not that you are delivering but do you actually issue payments to individuals, so that I have a better understanding on the scope of the work and not just the scope of the money.

Ms. McIntyre: Slide 12 of the presentation we provided gives an outline of our departmental budget as of September 30, 2016. Approximately 90 per cent of our current budget flows directly to veterans, their families and other eligible recipients, possibly RCMP and so forth.

Senator White: So 10 per cent of the $3.6 billion is program delivery. The rest is a cheque being cut.

Ms. McIntyre: Correct. The earlier $5.6 billion was the investment in 2016 that was made. Some of that was for the office openings. I don't have the specific breakdown, but a significant amount of that was to benefits to veterans for the increase in the earnings loss and the disability awards.

Senator White: The ongoing is $3.6 billion and not the $5.6 billion you just said.

Ms. McIntyre: Correct. No, the $5.6 billion was the investment made in Budget 2016.

Senator Lang: Was some of that retroactive?

Ms. McIntyre: Yes.

The Chair: I thank you both for being here. We appreciate your making a special effort to come here. This is our first meeting with you. I'm sure we will have others.

If you can provide the clerk with the information that you have said you would, he will make sure we all get it. Thank you for being here.

(The committee continued in camera.)