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Summary for the Evaluation of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Goss Gilroy Inc., Management Consultants
March 2020

Evaluation Results

Relevance

  • Veterans expect an independent body to assist them when they believe their rights have not been respected. They expect the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (OVO) to have the authority to investigate any complaint or issue related to Veterans services.
  • The OVO’s mandate limits its ability to address key areas of concern, and the review/appeal system is complex and burdensome for Veterans.
  • Despite its narrow mandate, the OVO remains relevant both to address individual complaints and particularly to address systemic issues affecting Veterans.
  • While most complaints from Veterans to the OVO focus on the turnaround time for disability benefits decisions, there are a range of issues affecting Veterans that are varied and more complex since the war in Afghanistan, including mental health.
  • Independence and the ‘perception of independence’ is critical to the credibility, trust, integrity and effectiveness of an Ombudsman. The OVO was found to operate independently, while reporting to and acting as an advisor to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. However, external stakeholders do not always perceive the OVO as independent and think that the OVO should be fully independent from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).
  • Most stakeholders believe the OVO should have a legislated mandate and expanded powers to be more relevant.

Effectiveness

  • The OVO has been successful in addressing most inquiries and complaints within its mandate. Its performance in addressing/closing complaints within sixty days significantly improved over the last five years. The limits of authority within which the OVO can address Veterans’ issues is the key barrier to its overall effectiveness.
  • While the OVO treats Veterans/clients with respect in handling their complaints, the OVO could be timelier and more transparent in its communication with Veterans.
  • Most of the OVO’s recommendations to VAC made through systemic investigations have been implemented or partially implemented.
  • Many Veterans/clients are not aware of the OVO or familiar with its role. The OVO’s outreach has increased over time, particularly through social media, but more could be done to improve Veterans’ awareness of the OVO and its mandate.
  • OVO systemic investigations and advice to Parliamentarians have resulted in positive impacts for a large number of Veterans. However, few individual cases addressed by the OVO have led to a change in outcomes for Veterans. In spite of this, the impact of these changes for the individuals concerned can be significant.

Efficiency

  • The OVO has a robust and updated performance measurement strategy supported by timely and reliable data. Performance indicators used by the OVO are similar to those of other Ombuds offices. Performance information is used by VAC and taken seriously, but it needs to be clearer to Veterans on what can and cannot be implemented and why.
  • The OVO has a clear and stable governance structure, with clearly defined responsibilities with respect to VAC and the Advisory Council.
  • Organizational design changes have been made in the OVO to increase frontline efficiency. Workflows and micro-investigations are also being implemented to increase efficiencies. Further plans are being made to enhance training and integrate online tools into the management of complaints. Timeliness to respond to complaints has improved over time and the backlog is being reduced. Further efficiencies may be possible with staff specialization and greater familiarization with Veterans’ issues.
  • The key barriers to efficiency within the OVO include staff turnover and recruitment challenges, and reliance on corporate support and responses from VAC. Frontline efficiencies may be enhanced with OVO abilities to mediate complaints. From the Veteran’s perspective, there is inefficiency in the Government’s multi-layered review/appeal ‘ecosystem’ which involves multiple parties.
  • An alternative structure with one integrated federal ombudsman office, reporting to Parliament for independence, could lead to efficiencies for the Government of Canada. However, further study into alternative structures is warranted before any conclusive finding can be made on the most efficient and effective option for providing federal Ombuds service.
Recommendation to VAC Management Response and Action Plan
Recommendation #1
It is recommended that Veterans Affairs Canada conduct an assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of VAC’s review/appeal and complaint resolution streams and processes.
VAC’s Audit and Evaluation Division will conduct an evaluation which will include:
  1. Consultation with the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, the Bureau of Pensions Advocates, and VAC’s 1st/2nd level appeal units to determine the scope and specific questions, criteria and indicators that will be used for the assessment.
  2. Multiple methods of evidence, such as:
    • comprehensive data analysis (including Gender Based Analysis+);
    • feedback from Veterans, stakeholders and program decision makers;
    • documentary reviews of best practices, including informal/formal mediation and alternative dispute resolution methods; and
    • a representative file review of recent decisions.
  3. Formal recommendations, opportunities for improvement, best practices, and management responses/action plans.
Recommendations to the OVO Management Response and Action Plan
Recommendation #1
In considering the evolution of the OVO as VAC services continue to improve and address Veterans’ needs, it is recommended that the OVO routinely, through strategic planning, review and ensure its resources are applied to efforts that can have the greatest impact in ensuring fair outcomes for Veterans/clients.
The OVO agrees to this recommendation and will:
  1. As part of the Annual Strategic Planning exercise, assess previous years activities to reallocate resources if needed.
  2. Assess the effectiveness of Micro-investigations and implement recommendations.
Recommendation #2
It is recommended that the OVO optimize its outreach and engagement to continue to enhance its effectiveness in engaging key audiences and to increase awareness about the Office and what it can (and cannot) do for its clients.
The OVO agrees to this recommendation and will:
  1. Develop an engagement plan.
  2. Pilot new approaches to revitalize the engagement strategy and diversify channels.
  3. Rollout a quarterly online newsletter.
  4. Increase awareness of the OVO within the Veterans’ community using social media campaign and measure effectiveness.
Recommendation #3
It is recommended that the OVO continue to improve its client service approach for individual complaints by:
  1. Continuing to improve on providing timely and clear (written) responses to complaints;
  2. Ensuring training so that frontline staff members have knowledge of current issues and Veterans’ experiences; and
  3. Assessing the need for staff specialization.
To address the timely response and clear written response to complaints, the OVO will:
  1. Develop and implement a new monthly service measurement matrix.
  2. Update and implement new processes to support written responses to complaints.
  3. Develop new templates and client letters to reflect the fairness triangle.
To ensure frontline staff have knowledge of current issues and Veterans experiences, the OVO will:
  1. Develop a training package addressing the skills required to effectively fulfil the intake and intervention roles.
  2. Hold sessions to increase awareness regarding military life.
To address the need for staff specialization, the OVO will:
  1. Initiate a pilot project to assess the effectiveness of specialization.
  2. Assess the pilot project and develop recommendations.
  3. Institute a monthly training schedule for VAC subject matter experts to brief frontline staff on programs.

Program Description

  • The OVO was established in 2007 with a mandate to ensure that Canada's Veterans, serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), their families, and other clients of VAC are treated in accordance with the Veterans Bill of Rights, and receive the services and benefits that they require in a fair, timely, respectful and efficient manner. The core responsibility of the Veterans Ombudsman is to provide an independent and impartial review of complaints and issues related to programs and services delivered by the Veterans Affairs Portfolio and to uphold the Veterans Bill of Rights.
  • The OVO works in four key areas to: (1) assist and inform Veterans and facilitate referrals; (2) investigate complaints from those who believe they have been treated unfairly; (3) conduct systemic investigations to address issues facing Veterans; and, (4) provide advice to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Parliamentary Committees on Veterans’ issues.

About the Evaluation

Scope and Methodology:

  • Conducted by Goss Gilroy Inc. in accordance with the directive and standards of Treasury Board of Canada’s 2016 Policy on Results.
  • Covers fiscal year 2014-15 to 2019-20.
  • Conducted between September 2019 and February 2020.
  • Multiple lines of evidence were used.

Considerations and Limitation:

  • The evaluation relied on documents and performance data provided by the OVO. This information was not independently verified.
  • The evaluation interviewed a limited number of key informants due to timeframe and resources available.

Evaluation Report

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