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Record of Discussion – Advisory Group on Families

Thursday, January 26, 2017
Pearson Boardroom, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
150 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario

In Attendance

  • Yvonne Burke, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association
  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (member co-chair)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Trenton Military Family Resource Centre
  • Dave LeBlanc, RCMP Veterans Association
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Chris Lindford
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research (VAC co-chair)
  • Jenny Migneault
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Military Family Services
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard
  • Nora Spinks, The Vanier Institute of the Family
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support, Department of National Defence
  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)

Welcome

The Advisory Group on Families co-chairs formally welcomed members and introduced Parliamentary Secretary Karen McCrimmon. Ms. McCrimmon delivered opening remarks, noting that she is seeing increased recognition of Veteran families, and she is hopeful that this will also be reflected in Budget 2017. She appealed to members to focus on the positive, and to keep up the momentum of their work, looking towards future planning and Budgets, to continue making an impact for Veteran families.

Presentations

There were four presentations throughout the day’s agenda: a demonstration from Saint Elizabeth Health Care on the development of the online caregiver project; consultation with the Advisory Group on the VAC Veteran and Family Health Strategy; a demonstration from the Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) PEI on the accessibility and uses of a virtual meeting space; and an information overview of the VAC Assistance Service.

Saint Elizabeth Health Care

Members of Saint Elizabeth Health Care delivered a presentation on the development of its online caregiver tool for Veteran families. Advisory Group members provided valuable feedback, and discussed several key issues to consider for this project including:

  • The need to have military culture reflected in the tool, and to ensure that facilitators are well acquainted with military culture, and have training about the impacts of trauma.
  • Building awareness about the tool, ensuring it is named and branded appropriately to reach family members who are providing care to Veterans, who may not recognize themselves as caregivers.
  • Understanding the differences inherent in providing care to people with mental health conditions versus physical health conditions, including different impacts on the family/caregiver themselves.
  • Making sure it can reach young caregivers.
  • Consulting directly with caregivers, as the potential users, for their input into the program/tool.
  • The CAF Military Family Services representative provided additional information about the experience of developing the ‘Phase One’ online Operational Stress Injury Resource for Caregivers, noting that it was adjusted significantly on several occasions based on the feedback directly from caregivers. Further background on the process for the development of the tool was offered to the Saint Elizabeth team.

Veteran and Family Health Strategy Consultation

The VAC Acting Manager of Policy Development presented an overview of the proposed Veteran and Family Strategy to seek early advice and feedback from the Advisory Group, and to determine the best approach for on-going consultation.

This strategy will use a population health approach for all Veterans and their families, with a focus on the domains of health (physical, mental, social, spiritual functioning). Part of the work will look at VAC's programs and services, as well as how to achieve better outcomes in partnership with, and using emerging best practices in, health care. As the strategy is developed, the Advisory Group on Families will be updated regularly.

It was pointed out that the proposed strategy would be applicable to all Veterans and their families. Also noted was the need for better alignment between VAC benefits and services with the approach of the Canadian Armed Forces, and overall the application of a family lens when looking at all Veterans Affairs Canada policies, including considering how certain benefits and services for Veterans have an impact on families. Other specific comments were related to the Advisory Group’s role in identifying gaps in research regarding Veterans and their families, a clarification about the principle of addressing the strategy to include the broader population of Veterans, beyond those who are currently eligible for VAC benefits and services. Specific questions regarding possible improvements to the Veterans Independence Program and having dental coverage were put forward. The presenter indicated that all possibilities were on the table as options. It was noted the RCMP was not mentioned in the presentation, however, the presenter assured the group that the RCMP Liaison Officer to VAC has been consulted and providing feedback, especially related to RCMP families.

Military Family Resource Centre PEI – Demonstration of Virtual Meeting Space

A demonstration was provided by Military Family Resource Centre PEI’s Virtual Program Coordinator, to demonstrate the use of a virtual meeting space to reach a broader audience of military and Veteran families. The presenter noted that the virtual space can be used for social events to reach across geographical areas, as a collaborative meeting space, for training purposes, and as a way to connect peers for support and information.

The Advisory Group members indicated that a future meeting using this technology would be welcomed. A cautionary note was expressed regarding the need to balance the value of using of ‘high-tech’, with the value of ‘high-touch’, or in-person connections. There was confirmation from those group members who have experience in using this virtual space, of its effectiveness, especially to reach a wider audience. The virtual platform is available in French and is being made available nationally.

VAC Assistance Service

A presentation was provided by the National Manager of Business and Customer Relations, for the Employee Assistance Services of Health Canada. Health Canada administers the VAC Assistance Services for Veterans Affairs Canada. The presentation provided details about the VAC Assistance Service which offers free, confidential services including counselling, and follow-up services to Veterans and their family members, via the network of approximately 900 mental health counsellors across Canada. Depending on availability of counsellors in a particular area, remote telephone counselling services are available, with secured Skype sessions to be available in the spring of 2017. Demonstration of eligibility is not required, and users have up to 20 sessions per issue, per year available to them. The presenter offered to provide information sessions to any groups.

Highlights of the resulting questions and discussion related to:

  • Awareness about the service – how to ensure family members and Veterans are aware of this service. It is promoted currently on the Veterans Affairs Canada website, and during the transition interview and information sessions for the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • When asked about the process for ensuring providers contracted by Health Canada who serve as the mental health professionals for the VAC Assistance Service are monitored for quality assurance, Health Canada indicated they indeed do quality assurance, and invited users to contact the VAC Assistance Service directly to indicate any concerns about individual service providers.
  • The name of the service was questioned, as to whether it is appropriately named to indicate the overall value and relevance to Veterans and families.
  • Suggestion that a different look of the promotional materials could better demonstrate that it is geared towards Veterans and their families.
  • Health Canada administers similar Assistance Services for various Departments via the same phone number. Given the additional counselling sessions that are specifically available to Veterans and their families, it was suggested that the intake process should more clearly identify if the caller is a Veteran, or a Veteran family member/caregiver.
  • It was also suggested that the mental health professionals who are contracted to provide these services, should have training in military literacy.

Follow-up to this discussion will be provided at a future Advisory Group on Families meeting.

General Discussion and Next Steps

Budget 2017: The recommendations put forward by the Advisory Group to the Minister of Veterans Affairs during the Summit in October 2016, were reviewed briefly, and consideration made to the upcoming budget announcement. It was suggested that the group meet shortly after the Budget announcement to examine what was included pertaining to Veteran families, and how the Advisory Group will need to be active in supporting the development of any initiatives pronounced in Budget 2017.

Other general points of discussion included:

  • The importance of using a family lens, and a military lens for new VAC services and policies, and for reviewing current programs and policies. Desire of group to develop a family lens checklist.
  • The need to have ‘one stop shop’ for families, friends, and caregivers of Veterans to access supports, regardless of whether the Veteran is seeking or already receiving services from VAC.
  • Veteran Family Coordinators operating in the seven MFRC sites as part of the Veteran Family Program are proving to be very helpful.
  • Commendations currently awarded by the Minister of Veterans Affairs could be expanded to include family members or spouses who support Veterans.
  • It was suggested that the roles of the CAF and RCMP Liaison Officers at VAC be more fully explained to the Advisory Group, and that they be included in the Advisory Group as regular participants/presenters.
  • The value to focus on communications approaches, through a variety of information channels, to raise awareness of the many resources already in existence, rather than to focus on developing new resources or ‘rebranding’ existing resources.
  • A comment was made about the important role the Advisory Group has in terms of identifying research priorities, and indicated the wish to be regularly updated on all research that is happening related to families.
  • The importance of recognition, and identity is the centre of gravity for many Veteran families. It was noted that there is a cultural challenge in Quebec regarding the approach to the military, which impacts family members, especially those who are caregivers.
  • Comment was made that although there is appreciation on what has been done to this point by VAC for Veterans and their families, it is still not enough, as there are still those who are falling through the cracks. Also, that the Advisory Group must help identify the gaps and make appropriate recommendations so that Veterans and their families have access to all available programs and services applicable to them. It was noted that this does not need to be "negative" talk but it is absolutely "necessary" talk.

The meeting concluded with Round Table comments and closing remarks from both co-chairs.

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