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5.0 Efficiency and Economy

5.1 Economy

Funeral and Burial Program administrative costs have decreased during the evaluation timeframe; however, costs should be closely monitored to ensure they align with workload requirements.

Administrative costs associated with Matter-of-Right decisions need to be more clearly recorded.

Funeral and Burial Program

Administrative costs and resources continue to be monitored closely in response to the 2009 evaluation of the Funeral and Burial Program, which recommended that the Last Post Fund review their branch structure to ensure greater efficiencies and to reduce administrative costs. At that time, the Last Post Fund had eight physical offices and 39 employees, with administrative costs of $2.7 million per year. To gain efficiencies and reduce costs, the Last Post Fund has reduced its physical geographic footprint and increased its national phone services capacity. Four offices have closed during the period of this evaluationFootnote 43, resulting in current administrative costs of $1.9 million per year. Overall, the Last Post Fund reduced administrative costs by 29.7% between 2011-12 and 2015-16. Table 13 shows expenditures by type and year.

Table 13: Last Post Fund Expenditures
Expenditure Type 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 % Variance
Program expenditures $6,417,427 $5,863,649 $7,202,276 $7,205,494 $7,844,701 + 22.2%
Administration expenditures $2,703,372 $2,567,819 $1,615,216 $1,716,445 $1,900,050Footnote 44 -29.7%
Total Expenditures $9,120,799 $8,431,468 $8,817,492 $8,921,939 $9,744,751 + 6.8%
Administrative costs as % of total costs 29.6% 30.5% 18.3% 19.2% 19.5%  

Source: Last Post Fund

Despite an overall reduction in administrative costs during the evaluation time frame, such costs have increased in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, even though there has been minimal change with respect to workload activities during the same time period. The evaluation team notes that VAC is working with the Last Post Fund to closely monitor administrative costs to ensure they are aligned with workload requirements. Table 14 shows workload activities relating to decisions and payments.

Table 14: Last Post Fund Decisions and Payments Workload Activities
Decision type 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Approved decisions
(includes MOR payments)
1,326 1,227 1,213 1,186 1,174
Declined decisions 1,799 1,569 1,077 1,165 1,065
Total decisions/ payments 3,125 2,796 2,290 2,351 2,239

Source: Last Post Fund

To ensure the Last Post Fund has the funding available to support program and administrative expenditures, VAC advances funds on a quarterly basis through the Last Post Fund grant. Table 15 shows the amounts provided through the grant as well as VAC’s own administrative costs.

Table 15: Last Post Fund Grant and VAC Administration Costs
Expenditure Type 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Funds available through Last Post Fund Grant $10,979,000 $13,908,000 $13,728,200 $9,328,000
Actual funds advanced to the Last Post Fund $7,949,251 $8,461,534 $8,547,329 $9,050,000
VAC administration costs $328,166 $274,554 $323,534 $550,332
Total Program costs (actual funds + VAC administration costs) $8,277,417 $8,736,088 $8,870,863 $9,600,332

Source: VAC Finance Division

The evaluation team found that certain workload activities associated with the Matter-of-Right decision making process are not currently being included as a program administration cost (death screening activities [completed by Veteran Service Agents] and eligibility decisions [rendered by Senior Area Medical Officers]). In instances where Matter-of-Right decisions are made for the primary purpose of determining eligibility for the Funeral and Burial Program, these costs should be reflected as an administrative cost of the Program.

Opportunities for greater efficiency and economy:

The evaluation team observed potential overlap in workload and administrative activities between VAC and the Last Post Fund and suggests that changes could help improve process in the following situations:

  • The Last Post Fund manually enters into its system Veteran demographic information (e.g., Veteran name, date of birth, date of death) that is available in VAC’s database. This is a duplication of effort by LPF staff.
  • The Last Post Fund requires all estates to provide a death certificate for the Veteran as part of the application package; however, VAC has previously confirmed the Veteran’s death in 95% of cases. This process creates a burden on both families and LPF staff.

Cemetery and Grave Maintenance

The administrative cost ratio for Cemetery and Grave Maintenance cannot be fully determined due to challenges associated with isolating VAC and CWGC administrative costs.

Overall program costs have increased during the period of 2012-13 to 2015-16, primarily due to increased costs for the CWGC maintenance of war dead graves (influenced by exchange rates) and recent funding allocated for the expansion of the Veterans’ Cemetery in Esquimalt, BC.

Administration costs for Veteran grave maintenance cannot be fully separated from other items not specific to grave maintenance, such as memorial maintenance administration/contracts and cyclical tour inspections of Veterans graves that are completed by the CWGC. A review of the combined figures shows that costs have remained relatively stable during the four-year period; however, further analysis of administrative cost comparisons between VAC and the CWGC cannot be completed.

Overall, VAC costs associated with the overall MemorialFootnote 45 and Cemetery/Grave Maintenance program, ranged from $5,307,700 in 2012-13 to $4,475,245 in 2015-16. Unfortunately, the administrative costs and contracts specific to memorial maintenance represent a large portion of these figures and cannot be fully separated from VAC’s administrative costs for cemetery and grave maintenance.

The costs associated with contracts for Veteran/war dead grave maintenance and for departmental owned cemeteries are identified in Table 16 below.

Table 16: Expenditures for Cemetery and Grave Maintenance Activities
Expenditure Type 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Annual Expenditures for the Maintenance of Veterans graves and cemeteries $1,216,000 $1,158,000 $1,228,000 $2,132,000
  • Expenditures for departmental owned cemeteries
$102,142 $112,582 $146,241 $155,723
  • Additional expenditures for purchase of land to expand Veterans Cemetery in Esquimalt, BC, project at Brookside Cemetery and other special projects
- - - $880,000
  • Expenditures by VAC for Veteran grave maintenance
$413,858 $345,418 $381,759 $396,277
  • Expenditures by CWGC for Veteran grave maintenance
$351,548 $390,000 $358,000 $375,000
  • Expenditures by CWGC for cyclical inspection tours and CWGC administration costs
$348,452 $310,000 $342,000 $325,000
Expenditures for the Maintenance of war dead graves in Canada and Overseas (CWGC Grant) $9,391,002 $9,714,969 $10,913,493 $12,040,538
Total expenditures for the maintenance of graves and cemeteries $10,607,002 $10,872,969 $12,414,493 $14,172,538

Source: VAC Finance Division/VAC Commemoration Division

It is important to highlight that different types of grave maintenance items result in substantially different costs, ranging from $75 for grave marker cleaning to $1,100 for a new upright marker. The number of graves that received maintenance have increased in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and associated maintenance costs per marker have been decreasing during the same time period. This analysis aligns with the findings from section 4.2 which highlight that improvements are being made for low cost items (such as cleaning), however, the higher-cost repairs of the most critical nature have been increasing during the same time period. Table 17 breaks down the expenditures and volumes of graves maintained by year. Further breakdowns for volumes of repair types and associated costs by repair type are not available.

Table 17: Expenditure per Veteran Grave Maintained
Breakdowns 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
# of graves that received maintenance 2,622 2,500 3,730 4,046
Amount of expenditures for grave/cemetery maintenance $765,406 $735,418 $739,759 $771,277
Average expenditure per grave maintained $292 $294 $198 $191

Source: VAC Commemoration Division

Opportunities for greater efficiency and economy:

Staff interviews revealed that the Veteran geographical breakdown of grave maintenance work between VAC and CWGC has created inefficiencies. VAC is now updating the Veteran grave maintenance contract with CWGC to ensure large projects focusing on fields of honourFootnote 46 and departmental cemeteries fall within VAC responsibility, leaving all remaining maintenance contracting to be completed by CWGC. Because it was found that CWGC could contract more efficiently for these areas, this change should improve future efficiency.

5.2 Efficiency

Funeral and Burial Program and Honours and Awards

The Funeral and Burial Program and Honours and Awards Program are both achieving current service standards, however new service standards and improved methods of internal communication should be implemented for Matter-of-Right related funeral and burial reimbursements and the issuance of Memorial Crosses.

Process improvements are required for those eligible for funeral and burial financial support through the Matter-of-Right gateway.

Funeral and Burial Program

As shown previously in Section 4.2, the Last Post Fund has been consistently achieving service standard commitments related to Means Tested decisions and payments under the Funeral and Burial Program. However, there are no service standards in place for funeral and burial payments for those deemed eligible through a Matter-of-Right decision.

Honours and Awards Program

With regards to the Honours and Awards Program, the evaluation team found that, during the evaluation period, there was inadequate tracking and storing of decisions, especially those pertaining to the Memorial Cross and the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation. This challenge prevented the evaluation team from fully assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of the decision-making process; however, it concluded that the processing of war service medals is occuring in a timely manner. Table 18 shows service standard results by year.

Table 18: Honours and Awards Service Standard Results by Fiscal Year
Commitment 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
% of first issue war service medals shipped within 8 weeks of receiving all information in support of the application (target = 80%) 92% 76% 79% 100%
% of replacement war service medal requests that have an entitlement decision within 8 weeks of receiving all information in support of the application (target = 80%) 96% 100% 89% 99%
% of replacement war service medals shipped within 4 weeks of receiving the request and payment. (target = 80%) 97% 94% 94% 100%

Source: VAC Commemoration Division

As of fiscal year 2016-17, the Honours and Awards unit has implemented new tracking tools to monitor and maintain workload information. This new tracking system will help to ensure decisions are monitored and tracked more effectively, as well as equip future evaluations to better analyze trends and identify potential areas for improvement. The Honours and Awards team should ensure that all types of workload is captured via these new tools, including processing of war service medals, issuing of Memorial Crosses and tracking of Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation decisions.

The evaluation found that processes for both the funeral and burial reimbursements and issuance of Memorial Crosses associated with Matter-of-Right (death attributable) decisions require improvement. For actions arising from a Matter-of-Right decision, the Department does not have any service standards against which to measure. The evaluation team determined that ineffective communications between the VAC groups responsible for rendering Matter-of-Right decisions and both the Last Post Fund (responsible for funeral and burial reimbursement) and the Honours and Awards team (responsible for the issuance of the Memorial Cross) is contributing to delays and, in certain circumstances, cases being missed. The evaluation team identified the missing cases to the respective responsibility groups for follow-up and action and has since confirmed that estates have been contacted for potential funeral and burial reimbursement and for the issuance of the Memorial Cross.

The evaluation team found that following Matter-of-Right decisions, it takes an average of more than 100 days for funeral and burial reimbursements to be paid and more than 500 days for Memorial Crosses to be issued. In both of these instances, there are periods of time during which the Department is awaiting information from the estate; however, the data is not available to determine how much time this waiting represents.

Recommendation 3:

It is recommended that measures be implemented to ensure that the estates of Veterans whose death has been deemed related to service receive the benefits (funeral and burial financial assistance) and recognition (Memorial Cross) to which they are entitled, in a timely manner.

Management Response:

Management agrees with this recommendation.

Management Action Plan:

Corrective Action to be Taken Office of Primary Interest (OPI) Target Date
The Director General, Commemoration will implement measures (e.g. generating detailed exception reports and establishing follow-up actions) to help ensure that the estates of Veterans whose death has been deemed related to service receive the benefits and recognition to which they are entitled, in a timely manner. Director General, Commemoration June 2017
The Department will implement system enhancements aimed at ensuring all favourable death-attributable-to-service decisions automatically generate a notification to the appropriate areas (i.e. Last Post Fund for funerals and burials; Commemoration Division for Memorial Crosses). Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM), Strategic Policy and Commemoration in conjunction with ADM, Service Delivery and ADM, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Services November 2018
Service standards will be established regarding the expected timeframe for a Veteran whose death is service-related to receive applicable benefits and recognition. Director General, Commemoration November 2018
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