THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
 OF THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 2:30 p.m. to examine the subject matter of those elements contained in Division 2 of Part 4 of Bill C-15, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2016, and other measures.

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

[English]

The Chair: This is an extraordinary meeting of our committee to deal with Bill C-15 on a pre-study basis, which means we study it before we receive the bill after it has been reviewed by the House of Commons. The House of Commons has not, as I understand it, reviewed the bill as yet, but Division 2 of Part 4 has been referred to this subcommittee for consideration.

This morning, we heard from Veterans Affairs Canada. We will now proceed to hear from witnesses who may be able to help us in relation to the potential impact of the proposed changes so that we can assess their appropriateness.

Appearing via video conference is Mr. Brian McKenna, Veterans Council Representative, Equitas Society.

Mr. McKenna, sorry to keep you waiting, but we're now ready to proceed. Once you finish your comments, I will go to the other two witnesses in the room with us. Then, if you would just stay on the line, we'll be able deal with the questions and dialogue following all of the presentations.

Brian McKenna, Veterans Council Representative, Equitas Society: I understand. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. You have the floor, sir.

Mr. McKenna: Good afternoon, senators. My name is Brian McKenna. I live in North Delta, and I'm speaking to you from Vancouver. I am a veteran of deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan and was medically released, so the files and the provisions you are looking at today impact me directly.

The veterans community as a whole has been advocating for years for some of these changes. This bill is indeed forward progress on a number of files. It would be remiss of me to skip the obvious, which is that the biggest issue facing modern veterans today remains largely unaffected, that being the great disparity between how veterans are treated financially depending on which side of the year 2006 they happen to have submitted their claim.

That said, these changes contain some good and substantial progress, and I want to pay particular attention to the changes in the dignified funeral coverage that even I wasn't expecting. I'm certainly happy to see that more veterans will be able to use those services if these changes are pressed forward.

I do want to take some time with you to look at the items you have asked for comments on and highlight my concerns. First, I'll address the change of the Permanent Impairment Allowance to the "Career Impact Allowance." What's in a name? It's often quite a bit. Veterans have noticed this change, and in fact the department has often referred to this benefit when presented with the disparity of lifetime support between the two groups created by the charter. What message are we supposed to get when something that was called "permanent" is no longer referred to as such? There are some in the community that worry this is the start of a process to move what used to be guaranteed funding under a pension into temporary funding that is revocable, constantly reassessed and can be pulled at a moment's notice. If this is the case, I challenge the government's assertion that the PIA, now the "Career Impact Allowance," is part of aiding veterans in moving on. My assessment is that a "Career Impact Allowance" that needs to be constantly reassessed needs to be constantly reapplied for and requalified for. Essentially, it requires that veterans stay sick to continue to qualify and is a disincentive to progress and healing.

We have also heard that the criteria for acceptance is to be changed or altered. Is the department then going to offer those previously denied a new look at their files under the criteria? I asked this last week to the department at the stakeholders meeting, and the senior ADMs didn't know. And when that answer is known, will the onus be on the veteran to reproduce his application, or will the department inform him or her that they are being reexamined? I also asked that. They also didn't know. These answers need to be known, and they need to be communicated to the veteran community, not just to the civil service.

Next, I'll speak briefly about diminished earning capacity. Again, the removal of the word "permanent" is apparent. Along with it, we have to admit that those morbidly wounded, the double and triple amputees, those wrecked by guilt and depression, those with PTSD so severe they cannot leave the house let alone find gainful employment, these folks have had their career aspirations destroyed and eliminated, not altered or diminished as the new terminology might suggest. We did see some progress with the Earnings Loss Benefit, as it moves from 75 per cent to 90 per cent. I do question whether the time when we are medically releasing people is the right time to offer a pay cut of any sort, but a cut of only 10 per cent verses 25 is better for the veteran than it previously would have been.

Since all forward progress is significant, a 15 per cent shift is significant in that nature, unless it's actually only a 3 per cent increase for some. This highlights one of the biggest concerns that we need you and your counterparts in the House of Commons to realize. Often, the policies the government announces get trimmed down by the criteria and parameters that the civil service place on them, and that's happened here. I am sure everyone in your chamber has seen the death stats from Afghanistan, and the wounded do follow the same pattern. With few exceptions, the injured and dead come from the lower ranks. While this government announced a 15 per cent increase in the Earnings Loss Benefit, the fine print lowered the threshold from a Corporal 0 pay to a Corporal 3. That means a 3 per cent increase for the lower ranks, not 15.

As well, it's normal that serving members receive not only cost-of-living increases but those based on rank as well. It's normal that a promotion occurs in a career every three to five years. Where is that recognition in the proposed legislation? Why should a corporal who loses his legs at six years be permanently locked into that pay gap? It's normal that that corporal at six years would be a warrant officer at 20. The bill should have included a rank escalator to recognize the natural progression that would have happened absent the individual being wounded.

I'll close now and say that we have seen significant progress on a number of files. I think the items that you're looking at in front of you, in general, are good things. It does seem at times that the government still can't help itself from putting restrictions, criteria and guidelines in place that deviate from the original intent of the announcements, and certainly alter towards the low side of what veterans were promised.

Temporary benefit adjustments are helpful, but they provide little or no stability and cannot be counted on. No bank in this country will approve a mortgage based on you temporarily receiving the Career Impact Allowance from Veterans Affairs.

So please study these changes. If I were you, I would help make them law as they do advance the cause. I believe they do make veteran's lives better. But don't confuse this with solving the issue that's holding back our modern vets from living healthier lives. Long-term guaranteed financial stability is still absent.

I'm happy to answer any questions that you have. Thank you to the ladies and gentlemen of the Senate for letting me speak and hearing me.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. McKenna.

Next we'll go to Sharon Squire, the Deputy Veterans Ombudsman. Welcome back.

[Translation]

Sharon Squire, Deputy Veterans Ombudsman and Executive Director of Operations, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman: Committee members, thank you for your invitation to appear today to discuss Bill C-15, the Budget Implementation Act, as it pertains to Canada’s veterans.

I am appearing on behalf of Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent. Yesterday, he shared his opinion on Bill C-15 at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. However, today he was committed to be in Quebec City for the annual director general meeting of Military Family Resource Centres, so I am appearing for him.

The Chair: In Quebec City?

Ms. Squire: Yes.

[English]

The Veterans Ombudsman and his team frequently meet with and listen to the concerns of veterans and their families across the country. Whether in individual meetings, town halls, events or Twitter chats, we hear up front what is and what is not working for veterans and their families.

We believe that Bill C-15 addresses several of our key recommendations from both the 2013 report on the New Veterans Charter and the 2014 report on the Permanent Impairment Allowance. Although it is too early to provide you with an evidence-based analysis on the effectiveness or fairness of the proposed legislative changes to Bill C-15 because we simply don't have the details, we do consider it to be a movement in the right direction, albeit with some reservations.

Division 2 of the budget implementation bill takes steps to help veterans and their families by, first, increasing the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 per cent of the eligible veteran's military salary. According to Veterans Affairs Canada's numbers, this will provide increased short-term financial support to approximately 3,000 veterans while they participate in the department's rehabilitation programs. It will also provide increased long-term financial support to around 2,000 of the most seriously ill and injured veterans for life.

However, what we do not know is, for those veterans in receipt of SISIP long-term disability benefit, which is at 75 per cent and not 90 per cent of their pre-release salary, whether this will be increased to ensure fairness.

Second: changing the Permanent Impairment Allowance grade determination. Although we do not have the details of what this change will be, we are hopeful that it will better support veterans with career-limiting service-related injuries by providing access to higher grade levels. Also, we are pleased to see the program renamed "Career Impact Allowance" to better meet its original intent.

Third: replacing "totally and permanently incapacitated" with "diminished earnings capacity." There is no definition of diminished earnings capacity, so it is difficult to assess the impact of this change without knowing the details. However, we need to clearly understand how it will be defined and applied to ensure that it meets the needs of veterans.

Fourth: raising the disability award to $360,000. This change will align the disability award with what Canadians can receive through the courts. It will also retroactively provide approximately 55,000 veterans with a one-time increase to the disability award that they have already received.

Fifth: increasing the death benefit to $360,000. Once implemented, this will provide better support to the family members of those who have paid the ultimate price.

These changes, especially those to the disability award, will have a positive impact on all veterans receiving benefits under the New Veterans Charter. Other changes, such as those to the Earnings Loss Benefit and the Permanent Impairment Allowance, will provide greater lifetime financial security to the veterans who are the most vulnerable and have the greatest need for support.

However, although many of the initiatives that were announced in the budget may indirectly support veterans' families, no action was taken to provide financial compensation for family members who give up their employment to become the primary caregivers for severely ill and injured veterans.

It is also paramount that we define and achieve the desired outcome for veterans for lifetime financial security.

These are the priorities of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman and are critical to ensure that our most vulnerable veterans and their families are supported.

In closing, we believe that Budget 2016 is a promising start. Now we need a clear action plan and evidence-based evaluation to determine what the impact of these changes will be on veterans and their families. They deserve no less in return for their service and sacrifice for Canada and Canadians.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Now we'll go to the Royal Canadian Legion and Mr. Ray McInnis.

Ray McInnis, Director, Service Bureau, Royal Canadian Legion: Good afternoon, Senator Day. It is indeed a pleasure to appear in front of your committee again. I am pleased to speak to you on behalf of our Dominion President, Mr. Tom Eagles, and our 300,000 members. The Legion has been asked to discuss specifically Division 2 of Part 4 of Bill C-15.

The Royal Canadian Legion is the only veterans’ service organization which assists all veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. The Legion's advocacy program is core to our mission. We have been assisting veterans since 1926 through our legislative mandate in both the Pension Act and the New Veterans Charter. Our 23 professional command service officers are located across the country and provide free assistance — I stress, free assistance — to veterans and their families with obtaining benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada. Please note that veterans do not have to be Legion members to request our services.

Our national Service Bureau Network provides representation starting with the first application to Veterans Affairs Canada, through all three levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Through the legislation, the Legion has access to service health records and departmental files to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost. Last year our service officers prepared and represented disability claims on behalf of more than 3,000 veterans to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. There is no other veterans group with this kind of direct contact, interaction, provision of support and feedback from veterans to family and caregivers.

The Legion recognizes the progress being made for veterans and their families in this budget and recommends that Bill C-15 be passed as soon as possible. Is it everything we have been advocating for? Does it answer all of the top priorities? No, it does not, but it is a step forward. This bill lays out important enhancements that will improve the care and benefits provided to veterans and their families, especially for seriously ill and injured veterans.

Two recommendations addressed are the maximum disability award being increased to be consistent with what is provided to injured civilian workers who receive general damages in law court; and the increase in the percentage used to calculate the Earnings Loss Benefit. We would have preferred to see a 100 per cent ELB. Once you are unable to be suitably and gainfully employed once rehabilitation is completed, you should be paid at 100 per cent.

However, we do have some additional questions. The ELB has been increased to 90 per cent. If a soldier is on LTD, he or she is paid at 75 per cent, and SISIP is the first payer. Will this percentage be increased to 90 per cent as well? We need to see an alignment of long-term disability and vocational rehabilitation programs.

Budget 2016 proposes an expansion to the Permanent Impairment Allowance. Expanding access to the PIA will better support veterans who have had their career options limited by a service-related illness or injury. If approved, the program name would change to "Career Impact Allowance" to better reflect the intent of the program, which is to compensate for loss of employment, potential and career advancement opportunities. The CIA is ill-defined. Is it just a title change from PIA? Will there be new grades? What are the criteria to access the CIA grade levels?

The term "totally and permanent incapacitated" is being changed to "diminished earning capacity." What does this really mean? Will it affect other programs?

It is absolutely essential to get the financial benefits review right, and the review should focus on lifetime financial security for veterans and their families. That does not mean going back to the Pension Act or re-establishing pensions as an option for our injured veterans. It means use due diligence, do the analysis, and consult with the ministerial advisory committees and relevant stakeholders. The department has an excellent opportunity to make the necessary changes to improve the lifetime financial stability for our ill and injured veterans, and their families.

Finally, I want to address the issue of communication and accessibility. The New Veterans Charter was developed to meet the needs of the modern veteran. It is based on modern disability management principals. It focuses on rehabilitation and successful transition. We all have an obligation to understand the complexities and interrelationships, and VAC must increase its efforts to inform and explain the New Veterans Charter. Our veterans and their families deserve nothing less.

The New Veterans Charter and Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act are comprehensive and complex. Our veterans and their families need to know what programs are available to assist them and how to access them. Whether they are financial, rehabilitation, health services or family care, the government needs to ensure that resources and programs are in place to meet their needs and to review the accessibility of these programs, while ensuring front-line staff are available and knowledgeable to assist veterans and their families. This must not be a self-serve system.

Most veterans and their families do not have a good understanding of the New Veterans Charter. I would suggest this highlights the ineffectiveness of the government's communication of the program and services available in the New Veterans Charter for our injured veterans and their families. It highlights that it is time for this government to start proactively communicating and reaching out to all veterans across this country and ensure they are aware of the financial compensation, rehabilitation programs, health care services, and the family care programs which are available and how to access them.

Lastly, it is also time for all of us to understand the New Veterans Charter. This should be a priority. Our veterans need to know not only the weaknesses but also the strengths behind the legislation, the programs, the services and the benefits. We, too, can help our veterans and their families.

Our advocacy in programming will continue to evolve to meet the changing demographics while still supporting our traditional veteran community. However, notwithstanding the capacity of the Royal Canadian Legion, we certainly believe that the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada have a responsibility to ensure that policies, practices and programs, supported through a sustainable research program, are accessible and meet the unique needs of all veterans with the goal of enabling the healthy transition of all veterans and their families through this changing and sometimes difficult life course.

Since the New Veterans Charter was adopted in 2006, we have been steadfast in our advocacy for this change to better meet the life-long financial security needs of our veterans and their families, and we will continue to do so in the future. The passage of Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction.

Thank you.

The Chair: We understand there is more to come in terms of the mandate of the Minister of Veterans Affairs and a life-long pension. We should be anticipating something in the future in that regard. Is that your understanding as well?

Mr. McInnis: That was in the mandate letter. Again, I will stress that we are looking at the lifetime financial security and whatever form it comes in. But it has to be reviewed. It has to be done based on a career progression model, more so like both of my colleagues discussed today. That will benefit all of our veterans if it's done correctly so that it's fair across the board; from the time you're injured, the age you are, career progression up until the time of whatever rank you achieve.

Most of us had a lengthy career in the military. We have a pension and we can still go out and work. Many of our ill and injured cannot.

The Chair: You mentioned SISIP. I'm not going to ask you what it stands for, but could you explain what it is and how it impacts you? You said 75 per cent is the basis for those on SISIP benefits.

Mr. McInnis: SISIP is a long-term disability insurance program. When you get injured, you're paid 75 per cent of your release salary.

The Chair: Are these people in uniform?

Mr. McInnis: No, they are not in uniform.

The Chair: They can apply for SISIP after they are no longer in uniform.

Mr. McInnis: Correct me if I'm wrong, because I haven't gone through the program myself. They can apply as they are leaving the military. I believe SISIP is an acronym for Service Income Security Insurance Plan .

The Chair: The Armed Forces personnel in uniform are paying into this in part at least. It's their health insurance program?

Mr. McInnis: An LTD program.

The Chair: Thank you.

We will begin with Senator White from Ontario.

Senator White: Thanks for being here. Thanks for your service as well, Mr. McKenna.

We had a presentation earlier today which talked about the shift from Permanent Impairment Allowance to "Career Impact Allowance" and the need for 2,700 veterans to actually go through the evaluation process again. Does that make sense?

Mr. Chair, the 2,700 would have to go through the evaluation process again?

The Chair: I think that's an outstanding question.

Senator White: I'm just trying to figure out whether it's necessary. From your perspective, is it fair? In reality that means it is more than name changes we're talking about. We could have people fall off the benefit program and not likely be added on since we're not looking at new groups.

Ms. Squire: In our various reports on the Permanent Impairment Allowance, you can see that our issue is the grades themselves are not well allocated. For example, 92 per cent get the lowest grade and only 1 per cent receive the highest grade. That's a big issue for us. We believe that has to change.

We're not aware how the department will implement that and whether they are going to reassess people because we have not seen the criteria they are using. Our preference is that wherever possible they should be using what knowledge they do have and not causing an added burden on veterans to reapply. That said, we do not know their criteria.

We believe that the new approach has to reflect career progression loss. Just as Brian had said, there is a promotion every X number of years. We are suggesting a formula which would look at years of service using career advancement data from the forces as a key component of what that PIA or CIA should be.

Senator White: Thank you very much for that. Those are some of the concerns we found this morning as well.

The second piece we learned about today does involve progression. Do any other countries use a formula now? If so, can you advise us how they use it?

My background is policing. If we had somebody injured as a result of an accident, that was part of the WCB and part of the civil suit. As a chief, I wrote several letters identifying an individual's KSA — knowledge, skills and abilities — plus their education, and I anticipated they would reach a certain rank. It may not have carried exact weight because they may not have had an interest, but at least it gave a judge or a jury an indication of what I thought of the individual. There was something in place. Are any other countries using such progression now?

Ms. Squire: I'm personally not aware of them, but I know our approach to PIA does include that approach. It includes compensating for career progression. Some of the work we're doing on financial security for life includes looking at when you're injured and what your potential could have been in order to ensure that you receive what you could have had had you stayed in the forces for the duration.

The Chair: Could we have a clarification of that? You say it’s your approach. As Veterans Ombudsmen, you're not applying and qualifying people in your role?

Ms. Squire: No, no. As Guy Parent mentioned the last time we were here, we've been looking at outcomes and benchmarks. For example, if an outcome is reasonable long-term financial disability for a seriously injured veteran, our benchmark was that that individual who is TPI would receive the same had they served for 35 years.

We've done projections and early modelling, and we've used the force's career progression model, which shows us where there are deficiencies and gaps in terms of that. So we're doing early modelling so that once our actuarial analysis is done we can provide good ideas and ways to simplify the current approach.

The Chair: Have you undertaken to share that with us at the appropriate time?

Ms. Squire: Yes. Once the actuarial analysis is done, probably in early September, we'd be pleased to come back and share our findings with you because we think they'll be very interesting.

The Chair: You indicated to Senator White that you weren't fully aware of the approaches being taken by the department.

Ms. Squire: No, we don't have the details on the PIA or CIA, whichever acronym you wish to use. We have not been briefed as to what the changes will be. We certainly would like to participate and influence if we can, but we have not yet been briefed.

The Chair: Presumably that will be in regulation as opposed to —

Ms. Squire: And probably policy as well.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Wallin: We have heard over the years that communication about the services is not adequate. We try and do our best here by repeatedly talking about these issues.

I have in front of me a document from the ombudsman's office — the CF Ombudsman as opposed to vets — and it's really clear. All the different programs are laid out very clearly. It's on web sites. The Veterans Ombudsman office has the same, and the CF office itself has the same.

I'll declare my interests: I'm a member of the Legion and I'm the service officer for my Legion. We talk about this stuff all the time. What is the communications problem? It's all here; the information is here. The people who need the information are vested and need to have it. Where is it breaking down?

Mr. McInnis: I mentioned this at the veterans’ summit when we had meetings. I believe it's about consistent messaging across the country. I can have a transition interview conducted in one part of the country, and it's totally different from a transition interview in another part of the country. I can have a 35-minute transition interview; other people get a 15. It's the consistency of the training of their staff. I would say it's to make the message "keep it simple."

Depending on the programs of Veterans Affairs, there is a multitude of policies and directives to keep it simple. I always say "write the policy." In the military we used to have what we called a Canadian Forces general message: Keep it simple so everyone understands it. It's consistent messaging on what they're trying to get out and also to include the families in messaging.

Senator Wallin: The assessment process being varied is kind of at the core of this then?

Mr. McInnis: Yes, it's consistency.

Senator Wallin: Can I have a comment on that from Mr. McKenna?

Mr. McKenna: In regards to that, one of the things we've asked for is instead of just an approach of Veterans Affairs to the veteran, we almost need a case manager, which is the front-line conversation with the veteran, to essentially be an ambassador to the entire federal government for that individual.

In my own personal case, I was handled very respectfully by the military, but once they're done with you they drop you. You then are moved on to Veterans Affairs. Some of the questions you might have a week after release pertain to items that were discussed before your release, but you can't get back to that military doctor, nurse or case manager. You now move on to Veterans Affairs.

Even from there, when you're applying for other government benefits, a perfect example is the tax credit for those who are disabled through the Canada Revenue Agency. You're off on your own again to get new doctors' notes or letters, new X-rays and whatnot. You think you're done, but you're not because when you apply for the CPP disability benefit it's a new form and more doctors' letters and notes. So the veteran is potentially dealing with four different departments.

There is nothing malicious about it, ma’am; it's just that things get dropped because no one person stick handles your file from start to finish.

Senator Wallin: We've had that conversation here even about even the merging of the Veterans Ombudsman and the CF Ombudsman and making that transition smoother. Thank you.

I'm usually on the other side of this next issue, but I want to hear from you on the rank escalator and the career progression and the models that you're looking for. It's tricky turf. You have a 19 year old or a 20 year old, and if the world is perfect in the way it unfolds, maybe that would have been a career path track. They may have received all those promotions, but we don't know how it would have worked out for that individual.

Should we just err on the side of caution because the numbers are small and say that that handful of people might not have made that progression because of other psychological or behavioural issues or they decided to quit? Is that a significant issue or not in terms of those numbers? Is there any way to know that?

Ms. Squire: To answer the question of fairness, for us, we don't know, and so we have to give that person the benefit of the doubt. If they hadn't been injured or been ill, we don't know whether they would have achieved those ranks. That option was taken away from them. So for us it's a question of fairness and we believe that, yes, we should consider that.

Senator Wallin: There is no way to assess that, right?

Ms. Squire: No, but I think the career progression ranks take into consideration different occupations that have limited heights that they go to, but we considered that. So I think it's a question of fairness; we've taken away the opportunity to have that career option, so we have to look after it.

Senator Beyak: That's an excellent question. I had the same concerns.

The Chair: Mr. McKenna, could you tell us about Equitas Society? What is that group?

Mr. McKenna: Equitas Society involves a number of components, one being the six plaintiffs you probably heard about who are engaging in litigation as we speak. They're one part of it. Their legal team is another and the funding raising society is another.

I'm also part of Equitas. I am not a plaintiff, sir, but I work as an adviser. As you can imagine, we have various appointments, sometimes in camera sessions, and we need more voices than just the six. That's my role, sir.

The Chair: Thank you. And you're appearing today as an individual veteran or as a representative of Equitas?

Mr. McKenna: As an individual veteran. That is how I was asked and that's what I presented.

The Chair: Thank you. That's important for the record.

Next is Senator White on round two.

Senator White: Mr. McInnis, I'm trying to get my head around this. This morning I listened to a representative from Veterans Affairs, and there's a reason I didn't go into accounting. I'm trying to get my head around the financial difference this will make to veterans ultimately.

I heard you say 100 per cent would have been much better; it always is, I'm sure. What percentage of value do you feel the average veteran sees from this financially, or is it still too much up in the air now to walk us through it — taking a 10 or 15 per cent increase as an example?

Mr. McInnis: Going from 75 to 90 per cent is an increase. There will be more money in the pay packet. We would like to see 100 per cent; that's what we are advocating for. They shouldn't take a decrease if they can’t go out and get employment.

Senator White: Pieces of this are non-taxable; is that correct? Do you take that into account when you consider this or is it all taxable?

Mr. McInnis: No, some allowances are taxable and some are not. The ombudsman would have a better grip on all the taxes.

Ms. Squire: For example, the disability award isn't taxable.

Senator White: I'm walking through my background of someone on certain allowances. Non-taxable at 75 per cent would have hit the 100 per cent mark from a taxable perspective. Have you given consideration to that, Ms. Squire or Mr. McInnis, in relation to whether or not you draw that same parallel?

Mr. McInnis: I don't draw the same parallel to the point where we should not bring someone up to what I consider a poverty line just to get them by. If a soldier is ill or has been injured for this country, we should make sure he doesn't have to go to the food bank. We should make sure he or she is taken care of for the rest of their lives. I don't have the exact numbers or data that you have.

Ms. Squire: From our perspective, we are still working on that. As I mentioned, our actuarial analysis will consider all the changes made in the 2015-16 Budget.

Senator White: You will consider that as well.

Ms. Squire: We don't know that yet. We are still working it out.

Mr. McKenna: In response to the gentleman's question, when you receive SISIP or the Earnings Loss Benefit, they are income replacement; they are taxed.

It's also important to consider that when you receive either of those two benefits, they deduct one for one or claw back your actual Canadian Forces pension. The Canadian Forces Superannuation Act that you paid into from day one, as a member of regular force or bought back into as a member of reserves, is taken. That's something to be considered.

Think about that. As Mr. McInnis just brought up, if you serve a full career you will receive your pension and then you can go on to other things. If you are injured and put under the ELB or SISIP, you will not see that, even though your contributions have been taken and your contributions are not returned; so taxable and at the loss of your regular Canadian Forces Superannuation Act pension.

Senator White: Thank you for that information, Mr. McKenna.

If it's a disability pension, is that true as well? That is, under the Veterans Act if it's a disability pension, not a strict disability pension? I know that if you receive your RCMP pension, your disability pension is not a clawback from your RCMP pension. Is that the same?

Mr. McKenna: That was one the changes that happened with the previous litigation. The SISIP clawback, the Manuge case, if you will remember, did actually iron out that fact. No, those people collect their pension and they collect SISIP, as it were.

Senator White: Thank you very much.

Senator Wallin: I'm not sure who this question will be directed to because I missed the session this morning, but we seem to have a technical question of SISIP versus what will be called the CIA. If SISIP is the first place you go before you determine whether you are eligible for other things, you think that stays at 75 and only the other program changes, that is, the PIA to the CIA?

Mr. McInnis: No, it's the ELB, the Earnings Loss Benefit, not the CIA. We want to see the 75 to 90 per cent topped up to 90 per cent so that everyone is equal. The "Career Impact Allowance" is replacing the PIA, which is separate.

The Chair: Mr. McKenna commented on that earlier.

Mr. McKenna: Yes. I, myself, was placed on SISIP.

Generally speaking, when you are released from the forces, even if you are injured, if you've been declared to be immediately able to be re-schooled — released on July 23, say, and on July 24 you are able to go into a schooling program of some sort — that's where SISIP would kick in. To this date, it will pay you 75 per cent of what you previously made. Under the legislation in front of you, that will be unchanged.

If, at the date of release, it was deemed that you needed some vocational rehab, whether it was counselling or of a physical nature, before you went back to any schooling, that's where you would go not to SISIP but to the Earnings Loss Benefit under Veterans Affairs. Essentially you will now have 75 per cent for a guy able to go to school tomorrow and 90 per cent for a person that needs some more care before they're able to go to school down the road. That's what you are considering when you consider the two.

Senator Wallin: For the person under SISIP, such as yourself, who is going for schooling and retraining, you're at 75 because your potential to begin earning in a different way and at a higher rate is quicker?

Mr. McKenna: Honestly, I can't tell you what the intent behind that policy was; I can just tell you the effect on myself.

Senator Wallin: Do you see this as punitive? Do you get 75 because you are more able?

Mr. McKenna: I will put it this way, senator. At this point in my life, I am still dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I also have a severe problem in my intestine that was caused by service. You are handling the fact that your career aspirations are a lot narrower than they used to be, and the thing that you used to love to do, you don't get to do any more. That is the wrong time to cut somebody's pay.

Senator Wallin: What I'm trying to get at is none of us really know the motivation for that group being 75 per cent and the other group that needs more initial rehab, whether it's psychological or physical, would be at 90 under this legislation.

Mr. McKenna: It feels like it is a punitive incentive, as if they're trying to make it seem like we are trying to get back to work more, essentially applying the insurance model to Veterans Affairs. That's how it feels, but I can't offer you any more on the nature of the law.

Ms. Squire: The issue is that this law increases the 90 per cent ELB for the back side, but there's nothing parallel on the SISIP side thus far. That's the point.

Senator Wallin: Got it, thank you.

The Chair: And that would come from another source or direction if there were to be a change.

Senator Beyak from northern Ontario.

Senator Beyak: Thank you very much. I wish I was on this committee permanently. I'm only a replacement for other senators from time to time. I find all the work you are doing very heartfelt.

What I hear from my constituents when this is watched on CPAC is that it's confusing — not for us around the table, though. We seem to have a good handle on it and know where we are going. However, ordinary veterans watching at home and trying to find out where they should go are having trouble. Senator Wallin raised this and the Legion is working on it all the time. Does anyone have answers on getting rid of the silos and finding that one person you can talk to and make it simpler?

Mr. McInnis: That comes down to communication. We have been doing extensive outreach for the past five years in the Legion to reach reserve units; to our branch service officers through the local Legion; and through our command service officers and social media. We are also on Twitter. We are as many places as we can be to get the message out: Don't do it alone. Contact a command service officer, contact Dominion Command; go through the ombudsman; go through the VAC disability benefits officer. You don't have to go through it alone. There is assistance for you and it's free.

The Chair: I wonder if our other two witnesses would like to comment on that. That's a fundamental question.

Senator Beyak: I would like to thank the gentlemen from the Legion because that's one consistent voice that the veterans always talk about. They can go to you and you understand.

Ms. Squire: We also have a 1-800 number, a front-line and an online complaint form that you can use if you’re interested.

As well, I know that Veterans Affairs Canada has been called on to start having someone who is called a navigator so that once you begin your journey with Veterans Affairs Canada you have one person to help you through. That would be a huge improvement.

Mr. McKenna: I would caution people that in the modern era of high tech we keep some of the low-tech solutions, because what will work in Vancouver with a VAC office or an iPhone in my pocket will not be what works for a veteran in an isolated northern community that can't get to the Internet.

In terms of communication and making sure that we have one homogenous treatment of veterans coast to coast, we need to keep some of the traditional ways of reaching out to veterans. Mr. McInnis' organization is a classic example. We need physical places for them to go for information.

Thank you, sir.

The Chair: Thank you.

I have a question for each of you. Once this bill is passed, regulations need to be generated. Have you been consulted or is there any indication that you may be consulted with respect to developing regulations?

Mr. McKenna: I believe some of that will continue to come forward for the various folks involved in the advisory groups with the minister and the stakeholder summit.

In terms of communicating it deeper out to individual veterans, I'm not aware of how that's moving forward, sir.

Ms. Squire: My response is the same. We hope that the minister's advisory group and the policy group will be involved in this, and we hope we will be invited by the department to make comments. It's early on and the department is just beginning to work on these things, but we’re hopeful we will be invited to make comments.

Mr. McInnis: We are hopeful to be included. We are included on each of the advisory committees, and that's where the majority of the work will get completed. But once the regulations are drafted, we would love to review them first before they go public.

The Chair: Our subcommittee is hopeful you will be consulted as well. Part of the problem has been a lack of communication. It leaves a reaction that's not always favourable.

Mr. McInnis: But it's a good step forward with the advisory committees.

The Chair: Seeing no other questions from honourable senators, I will thank each of our witnesses for having been here. Thank you for the work that you are doing for our veterans.

(The committee adjourned.)